Marian Wright Edelman's ‘Stand for Children’ Day Set for June 1
By Max Millard
On June 1, 1996, nearly 300,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. for the first annual Stand For Children rally, organized by Marian Wright Edelman.
A 57-year-old attorney and civil rights activist, Edelman is president of the Washington-based Children's Defense Fund. Since founding the organization in 1973, she has become known as the nation's foremost advocate for needy children, of whom a disproportionately large number are African American.
Following the success of last year's rally, 170 Children's Action Teams sprang up in 38 states, led by children's advocates, clergy, parents and concerned citizens.
On a trip to the Bay Area last week, Edelman stopped by the Sun-Reporter to talk about the second annual Stand For Children, to be held on Sunday, June 1. But instead of a mass gathering in the nation's capital, this year's Stand will take place in communities across the country, with local events in all 50 states. It is headed by honorary cochairs Rosa Parks and Rosie O'Donnell. Parks, 84, sparked the modern civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. O'Donnell is the popular daytime talk show host and movie actress.
Some of Edelman's suggestions on how to mark Stand For Children day:
- Take a "child watch" tour of your local hospital's neonatal unit.
- Organize a community forum with teachers, school nurses and pediatricians to discuss children's health needs and solutions.
- Work on an immunization campaign to make sure every child gets all needed vaccinations.
- Put together a playground cleanup or a "safe corridors" walk against the violence that takes the lives of 5,700 children each year.
But Edelman's main focus this year is to garner public support for a bill that was introduced to Congress on April 8, the Hatch-Kennedy Child Health Insurance and Lower Deficits (CHILD) Act. Sponsored jointly by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, it would add a tax of 43 cents to each pack of cigarettes, and use the money to both provide funds for children's health insurance, and lower the federal deficit.
Said Edelman, "It is long past due time for America to give every child a healthy start, and we urge the Congress to the president to support the bipartisan CHILD Act."
According to the Children's Defense Fund, the number of children in America with private health insurance has steadily declined by 1.2 million a year since 1989, as companies have cut back on the health coverage provided for their employees. Currently, there are 10 million children in the nation without health insurance of any kind, private or public. Of these, 3 million qualify for Medicaid the federally funded health insurance for low-income families but are not enrolled in the program, mainly because they are unaware they qualify, or don't know how to apply.
The other 7 million children, caught in a no-man's land of bureaucracy and economics, are from families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but earn too little to afford private insurance.
The Hatch-Kennedy bill would use two-thirds of the cigarette tax money to provide vouchers to pay for all or part of the cost of private health insurance for children. The other one-third raised ($2 billion a year) would go toward deficit reduction.
The current high cost of health care forces many families to buy no health insurance for their children, and take the risk that they will remain healthy. This gamble often results in untreated illnesses, such as vision problems and ear infections, that can lead to permanent disabilities.
If the Hatch-Kennedy bill fails to pass, and recent trends continue, the number of uninsured children will rise to 12.6 million by the year 2000.
Edelman said the purpose of this year's Stand For Children is "to ensure every children a healthy start, the health coverage they need to grow, thrive, become productive adults, and healthy communities that allow them to breathe clean air and walk safely to school, and to learn once they're there, unimpaired by fear of violence or by untreated health problems. . . . It is disgraceful that every day in America, children are dying from diseases we could prevent; are being born too small to live and thrive because their mothers lacked prenatal care; are failing in school because of untreated vision, hearing and learning problems.
"We are standing for healthy children in 1997 because it is morally wrong that the world's leader in health technology ranks 18th in the industrialized world in infant morality rates and worst in low-birthweight rates," said Edelman. She pointed out that the statistics are far worse for black children than white children. Only 44 percent of black children have private health insurance, compared to 71 percent of white children. Out of every 1,000 black children born in the U.S., 16 die in their first year. For white children, the figure is seven per 1,000.
As June 1 approaches, the Children's Defense Fund will provide details about specific events in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information, call 202/234-0095, or check the Stand For Children website at www.stand.org.
San Francisco to Celebrate ‘Stand for Children’ Day at Yerba Buena Gardens
By Max Millard
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Children's Defense Fund, and a nationally syndicated columnist for the black press, has been traveling the country lately to organize the second annual Stand For Children Day, set for June 1.
Unlike last year, which was marked by a rally for nearly 300,000 in the nation's capital, Edelman decided this year to concentrate on a series of hundreds of smaller events in all 50 states, as a joint effort with local children's organizations.
June 1 is a Sunday this year, making it ideal for outdoor family activities. In San Francisco, Stand For Children Day will feature a Family Picnic Day at Yerba Buena Gardens, Third and Mission streets, from 1 to 4 p.m. Headed by Coleman Advocates For Children and Youth, and cosponsored by dozens of other participating agencies, it will offer live music, games, food vendors, clowns and other entertainment, prizes, and an advocacy fair providing information about children's health. Admission to the fair is free.
San Francisco has an estimated 20,000 children without health insurance, and 6,000 children on the waiting list for subsidized child care. The city has up to 5,000 children who are homeless, and 20,000 who are undernourished.
Joe Wilson, director of community outreach for Coleman Advocates, said this year's Stand For Children Day is especially relevant because "in the context of welfare repeal, the strain on poor families, particularly families of color, will be exacerbated. We must ensure job creation, quality affordable child care, family support services, a family resource center in every neighborhood, and youth employment opportunities."
Based in San Francisco's Mission District, Coleman Advocates is a nonprofit agency that receives no public funding of any kind. Every year, it lobbies the city government to allocate more money for the Children's Services Fund, which goes toward child care, family support and youth development.
For more information about Family Picnic Day, call Coleman Advocates at 415/641-4362.
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In an April visit to the Sun-Reporter offices, Marian Wright Edelman gave a wide-ranging interview on the state of children's health today. Small in stature, she is a colorful dresser who radiates an aura of intense energy. Her words pour out in a torrent, as if she were racing time itself, and she laces her sentences together with "ands," hardly pausing for breath. Her voice tends to rise at the end of each thought for dramatic effect.
On the evening of her visit, Edelman was the keynote speaker at the Founder's Day Banquet for the University of California at San Francisco. She was also one of four recipients of the UCSF Medal, the campus' highest honor.
The first black woman admitted to the Mississippi bar, she founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973. At 57, she is one of the nation's leading advocates for the disadvantaged, especially children and families. In historian Columbus Salley's book The Black 100, Edelman is ranked number 93 on the list of the 100 most influential African Americans of all time, just between Harry Belafonte and Marian Anderson, for whom she was named.
Following are excerpts from the interview.
Q: What are some of the major unaddressed children's health problems?
A: Violence is the biggest problem. But there are 10 million children without health insurance in this country. Nine out of 10 of them come from working families, and employers are dropping children's coverage at the rate of 3300 a day.
Basic health care is something that every other industrialized nation provides all of its children. We don't. A third of our children are born without early prenatal care, which means that we have the highest low birth rate in the industrialized world. Black babies are twice as likely to suffer from low birth weight as white babies.
Q: What happens when families don't have health insurance for their children?
A: Most people when they don't know how they're going to pay for a doctor wait until the problems become serious. They wait and pray that the ear infection will go away, or that the asthma will somehow contain itself. And some children suffer lifelong impairments.
Q: What are some of the common misunderstandings about children's health care?
A: Most people think that the only way you can get Medicaid is to be on welfare. When people start to get cut off from welfare because of the time limits under the new bad federal repeal law I hope that the agencies will tell them that doesn't mean they're going to be losing Medicaid. (Medicaid, called Medi-Cal in California, is a state-run program for the poor.)
In New York state we had hundreds of thousands of children who were eligible for Medicaid that didn't get it. We found there was a nine-page eligibility form to fill out. And many of the questions had nothing to do with Medicaid eligibility, which scared off a lot of people. We were able to get that form down to one page, and to combine it with WIC (Women, Infants and Children) eligibility. And we were able to convince New York state to reach out and put workers out where people live, rather than having them come in.
Q: What changes are happening with children's immunization?
A: One of the things that's been a big problem is the dropping of immunization among preschool children. We've been doing lots of immunization campaigns, trying to tell parents not to wait until your kid gets to be 6, when you have to be immunized.
It has really changed from when we used to go to school and the school nurse used to do them. But now, parents have to make about five visits before age 2, to get their groups of shots for children. I hope that we can begin to hand out these immunization sheets in churches and mosques.
In some cities, less than half of the preschool children are getting fully immunized. But we have made a lot of progress in the last two years. We had a big fight in 1992, and got Congress to pass a new federal Vaccines For Children Law. Because the cost of vaccines was going up and up and up. Our drug companies were charging so much more for vaccines than the research warranted, and they charged a lot more than they charged children in the Third World, or in Canada.
Right now, children under most income levels can go off to a clinic and get their children immunized free. In New York City, we've gone from 51 percent to 81 percent in the last year and a half.
This June 1st, we're going to be doing lots of health fairs and immunization campaign as part of the Stand For Children Day.
Q: Last year, Clinton signed what he called the welfare reform bill. What do you call it?
A: The welfare repeal bill. Because it didn't really reform it just took away. It didn't put anything better in place.
Q: Can Clinton change it, as he promised?
A: No, no. When you dismantle a framework that has been in place for 60 years, and disperse responsibility out to 50 states and in some states they're going to send it out to the counties how do you protect children and the poor in that context? That is not something I see as readily fixable.
Secondly, they have cut $54 billion over five years in the name of welfare reform, but most of it affects working people. Only about 10 percent of it had anything to do with welfare. It's going to hurt legal immigrants; they got $22 billion in cuts, and around $24 billion came in food stamp cuts.
They didn't put any money into guaranteeing a job in all of this. They didn't really require states to invest money in job training and education that would be adequate to make sure that people got on their feet, and stayed off welfare. States have a lot of options to do good, but you're going to have to organize and make them do good, and not put that money into new tax cuts and divert it into other things that are less important than our children.
The taxpayers of California are going to wake up and see that this has all been dropped in their lap, when the real impact of these cuts hits. Where are the legal immigrants in nursing homes supposed to be put? I think there's going to be a lot of confusion and a lot of suffering.
Q: The mainstream news media said last year that there are too many doctors in this country. New York State is even paying some medical school not to train doctors. What's your opinion?
A: There may be too many doctors in some areas, but there's a shortage of doctors in many medically underserved rural areas and inner cities. And there are not enough doctors who are working in adolescent medicine. So it's a distribution problem.
Q: Does Medicaid pose a hardship for doctors?
A: I was just hearing about how few doctors will take Medicaid patients in San Francisco. I heard this morning, at a panel at the University of San Francisco, that the reimbursement rates are going down and down, and bureaucratic demands and paperwork of Medicaid make this a deterrent. So there's a question about the quality of the kind of medicine you can practice with all of these sea changes going on.
One doctor said, "Why can't we have a single payer system instead of dealing with all these financial systems, none of which are paying us enough, and give us the burden of trying to figure all of this out?"
Q: What are the leading preventable illnesses of African American children?
A: Too many of our kids are getting preventable diseases like whooping cough and measles, that immunization would cure. AIDS is a very big, growing problem in the African American community. But violence is probably the greatest health problem that our children of all ages and races face.
Q: Do you believe in banning private ownership of guns?
A: I would do just about anything to get guns out of the hands of children and people who kill children. There really is no right under the Second Amendment contrary to what the NRA says to own guns, unless it's for militias.
If you keep a gun in your house, you're many times more likely to see that gun used against someone in your family. Most people are killed not on the streets by gangs although that's a serious problem but by someone they know in their own household. And so I think it's important for parents to understand that guns endanger more than they protect. Suicides are growing too.
Q: I've heard that African Americans have a lower suicide rate than white Americans.
A: It's true. But it's getting to be more.
We did a study of how many Americans had been killed by guns since Dr. King's death (1968), and we found it was 1.2 million. The majority of gun deaths were suicides, and 95 percent of those were white. The suicide rate among black young people is growing, and again, that's because of access to guns.
Homicides are the next big thing. All this growth in gun death is related to the easy availability of guns.
Q: Tell me about your family life.
A: I have three sons who are now adults. My eldest, Joshua, is 27. He's a teacher at Menlo Atherton High School in Atherton, California. He's running a wonderful mentoring program called Rise for 21 kids, black males from East Palo Alto, with a number of Stanford students. He's been doing that for the last couple of years.
My second son, Jonah, just got his Ph.D. at Oxford. He's now running Stand For Children. He's working and traveling as much as I am.
My third son, Ezra, just graduated from college and is working for CBS Sports, the Winter Olympics. So he's busy, traveling around the world and trying to do his new job.
My husband, Peter Edelman, is busy teaching at Georgetown Law School, since he resigned from the Clinton administration over the welfare program.
Q: What was his job?
A: He was Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services. He did not agree with the president's signing of the welfare bill, and he did not feel he could in all conscience implement it, and so he's gone back to teaching law.
Q: Are you still optimistic about the state of children in America?
A: There are a lot of good things that are happening, and I hope people will contact us about what's happening in their local communities.
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For more information about Stand For Children Day events throughout the country, contact the Children's Defense Fund at 202/234-0095, or check the websites at www.stand.org or www.childrensdefense.org.
For information about immunizations and other local health care issues, call the San Francisco Public Health Department at 415-554-2500.