A nationally-renowned children’s rights advocate stopped by Rutgers-Camden Wednesday to talk about what it will take to tackle urban poverty.
Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to giving all children a chance to succeed in life, said escalating poverty and violence in U.S. cities like Camden and Philadelphia have made that mission increasingly harder to achieve. She said the rate that poor blacks and Latinos are going to prison makes the task even more elusive.
“It’s undermining everything,” said Edelman inside the student center.
“If you go to prison in this country, in many instances, you pay twice. You can’t vote, you can’t get into public housing, you aren’t entitled to public benefits. It’s a big red scarlet flag on your face for the rest of your life,” she said.
Edelman called the so-called “cradle to prison pipeline” the “new American slavery.”
She said the vicious cycle of poverty and violence the “pipeline” creates can be broken through investing in early childhood education, better job opportunities and hope.
“If you give them an alternative, you can see that there’s a job in the future, if you see you’re going to be better at 21 than at 18, [change can come],” she said.
Edelman spoke during a free symposium entitled “Youth, Civil Unrest, and the Fate of Urban America.”
She also led a panel featuring staffers from Temple University and Temple University Hospital.
Scott Charles, who directs Cradle to Grave, a hospital-based violence prevention program, agreed with Edelman: education is key. But Charles said urban violence also needs more immediate solutions.
“We need to see results now and I know that society is not going to wait for the 20 years for schools to improve,” said Charles.