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Edelman Says Incarceration of Black Men is New Slavery

By VICKIE G. HAMPTON


Marian Wright Edelman has been a foot soldier in the battle to save black children for more than four decades. At age 70, you would think she’d be ready to hang up her boots. But no solider worth her salt would retreat when defeat would mean annihilation.

Are things really that bad? Edelman is emphatic.

“Black children are in a more perilous condition than ever before,” she said during an Oct. 13 visit to the College. “This is the worst condition since slavery. A third of black children won’t do better than the current generation.”

The founder of the Children’s Defense Fund has taken her battle cry on the road, mostly to college campuses as she did at the Leadership Center promoting her latest book, The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small. The book began as a report to Morehouse alumnus Martin Luther King Jr. ‘48 to update him on how well we have heeded his message to conquer the evils of militarism, materialism and racism.

“He would not be pleased,” Edelman said.

As the head of the CDF for 35 years, where she has been a staunch advocate for minority, poor and handicapped children, Edelman has witnessed some improvements, such as accommodations for disabled children in public schools, Head Start, Job Care and expanded health care.

But there is a litany of things Edelman believes are desperately worse, such as the achievement gap. Eighty-four percent of black children cannot read at grade level, and a full 90 percent do not perform math at grade level, she said.

The gravest of all: one in three 7-year-old black boys is in a cradle-to-prison pipeline, Edelman said. And, she added, their removal from society will lead to the demise of the black community.

“The use of incarceration is the new slavery and apartheid for our community,” Edelman said. “It’s a recipe for the disempowerment of black people and just a national tragedy.

“I would submit that this nation’s biggest catastrophe is the failure to invest in human capital,” she said. “Training a new generation of leaders is the single most important thing we can do.”

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