Children's advocate Marian Wright Edelman made an impassioned plea on Buffalo's East Side on Wednesday evening for support of the proposed federal Act to Leave No Child Behind.
The founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund spoke to more than 100 people in the Stanley Makowski Early Childhood Center on Jefferson Avenue.
"Children don't come in pieces," Edelman said. "We've got to stop fragmenting our approach to their problems. We've got to address the needs of the whole child."
The comprehensive bill is sponsored by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., as S-940, and by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., as HR-1990. Supporters say it would guarantee health insurance for every child; free children from hunger, neglect and abuse; and fully fund preschool, child care and after-school programs.
"Let your New York delegation (in Congress) get behind it," Edelman said, as petitions were distributed in the room. "Sen. (Hillary Rodham) Clinton came on board today. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-Fairport) did so last week. Sen. Chuck Schumer should soon."
The 62-year-old native of South Carolina was called from Chautauqua Institution to Buffalo for the hastily organized event by Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve, D-Buffalo.
"This act," Edelman said, "would help New York get $52 million to prevent juvenile delinquency and $65 million to help improve the state's juvenile justice system." A lawyer and 2000 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Edelman is widely considered the nation's most effective lobbyist for children. She was credited with bringing about a $500 million increase in spending for nine federal programs known collectively as "The Children's Initiative" in 1986.
"We come from a Judeo-Christian and a Muslim tradition," Edelman said. "Yet children are the poorest people in America, the richest nation on earth. So we've got to stop this one-day-a-week religion."
Children can see through adult hypocrisy, she said, and "they live up to and they live down to our expectations. If we lie, they will lie. If we abuse drugs, alcohol and tobacco, so will they.
"We've got to invest in them early," she said, "hang on to them, make sure they've got what they need, listen to them and intervene when problems develop."