By Marian Wright Edelman
This week, clergy, seminarians, religious educators, community organizers, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates in the intergenerational, interracial, multi-ethnic, ecumenical community pursuing justice for our nation’s children will come together at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Haley Farm in Tennessee for the 25th Annual CDF Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. The theme for this year’s gathering is “Guide Our Feet: Pursuing Justice for All God’s Children.” As we focus on the many urgent challenges facing children and families right now, especially poor children, those caught up in the mass criminalization of children of color, and children at our borders, in the words of the beloved spiritual we will ask God to guide our feet as we seek to make our nation fit, safe and just for all children because we don’t want to run this race in vain.
Several years ago South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu sent Proctor attendees a video message. An outspoken defender of human rights and campaigner for justice for the oppressed, Bishop Tutu is a prophetic voice in our world today revered for his commitment to fighting poverty, racism and all forms of discrimination against any human beings and his dedication to reshaping our conversations about peace, equality and forgiveness. He shared this timeless exhortation for pursuing justice: “Justice needs champions. Good leaders with the ability to identify the challenges and the tenacity to address them. Good leaders driven not by personal ambition, but by an innate desire to improve the circumstances of the human family and the human condition.”
He continued: “We inhabit a moral universe. Goodness, righteousness, and fairness matter. We are born to love—all of us, including Black, Latino, and white [children] and everyone else. As members of the human family—God’s family—we were created with equal, infinite worth for interdependence. In conditions of harmony, equity and common purpose, the whole family thrives. God does not use strong-armed tactics to ensure justice is done. God empowers us to do the right thing. It is up to us—you, and you, and you, and me.”
Bishop Tutu then shared what he believes is God’s dream for all human children: “And God says, I have a dream. I have a dream that all of my children will discover that they belong in one family—my family, the human family—a family in which there are no outsiders; all are held in the embrace of the one whose love will never let us go; the one who says that each one of us is of incredible worth, that each one of us is precious to God because each of us has their name written on the palms of God’s hands. And God says, there are no outsiders—Black, white, red, yellow, short, tall, young, old, rich, poor, gay, lesbian, straight—everyone. All belong. And God says, I have only you to help me realize my dream. Help me.”
I hope America can realize God’s dream for all humankind. I believe we can realize God’s and Bishop Tutu’s dream if each of us holds ourselves accountable and realizes that it is up to us to do whatever is necessary to pass on to our children and grandchildren a better and more just country and world than we inherited. We can move America closer to being that family and nation where everyone belongs and everyone has worth. But to do so, we must wake up, open our eyes and ears, avoid convenient ignorance, seek the truth, speak up, stand up and never give up fighting for justice for all.
How long will it take? America’s own great 20th century prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed that question: “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the Black man. That will be the day of man as man. I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘How long will prejudice blind the visions of men?’ . . . I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’ How long? Not long, because ‘you shall reap what you sow’ . . . How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
How long? Not long, even in this difficult moment in 21st century America, if a critical remnant among us is determined to commit ourselves to being the good leaders and champions for justice that immigrant children, poor children, children of color and all children need right now.
Marian Wright Edelman is President Emeritus of the Children's Defense Fund.