The Queen of My Self

September marks the beginning of the school year. And even if we have not attended classes in ages, we are still affected through our children and grand kids, as well as our own memories.

Knowing through Her personal experience what is true and valuable, and having learned, usually the hard way, to be proactive, She pledges Her royal Self to defend and promote all that is precious.

Marian Wright Edelman stands for the safety of children. She is like the Hindu Mother Goddess Durga who rides a tiger through the jungles with her swords raised high in defense of her children. You don’t mess with Durga. And many a politician and bearcat have learned that you don’t dare interfere with Queen Marion, either, when the welfare of children is at stake.

Marian Wright Edelman is a lawyer, a passionate educator, activist, reformer, children’s advocate, administrator and the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Born in 1939, she grew up in Bennettsville, South Carolina, one of five children. Her father, a Baptist preacher, died when she was 14. He implored her on his deathbed, “Don’t let anything get in the way of your education.” And she didn’t.

She went on to study first at Spelman College, then abroad on a Merrill scholarship. Following her European studies, she traveled to the Soviet Union with a Lisle fellowship. She graduated from Yale Law School in 1963 and went to work at the NAACP first in New York and then in Mississippi, where she became the first African American woman to practice law.

Her work was in support of racial justice issues connected with the civil rights movement. She also helped get a Head Start program established in her community. “When I fight about what is going on in the neighborhood, or when I fight about what is happening to other people’s children, I’m doing that because I want to leave a community and a world that is better than the one I found,” she has written about her work.

If you don’t like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.

Marian met Peter Edelman, an assistant to Robert Kennedy during a tour of Mississippi’s poverty-ridden Delta slums, and the next year she moved to Washington, D.C., to marry him and to work for social justice in the center of America’s political arena. They had three sons.

Queen Marian continued her civil rights work in Washington where she helped to get the Poor People’s Campaign organized. She also began to focus more on issues relating to child development and children in poverty.

Service is the rent we pay to be living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.

In 1973, she established the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) as a voice for poor, minority and handicapped children. She served as a public speaker on behalf of these children, and also as a lobbyist in Congress, as well as president and administrative head of the organization.

The agency served not only as an advocacy organization, but as a research center, documenting the problems and possible solutions to children in need.

For decades, she has been tireless in her defense of children. She has also advocated for pregnancy prevention, child care funding, health care funding, prenatal care, parental responsibility for education in values, reducing the violent images presented to children, and selective gun control in the wake of school shootings. 

I’m doing what I think I was put on this earth to do. And I’m really grateful to have something that I’m passionate about and that I think is profoundly important.

Marian Wright Edelman also published her ideas about education and child welfare in several books, including the best seller, The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours.

Queen Marion was awarded the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Grant in honor of her dedicated efforts, and she is the recipient of 65 honorary degrees. Her father would be proud! As are we.

We are living in a time of unbearable dissonance between promise and performance; between good politics and good policy; between professed and practiced family values; between racial creed and racial deed; between calls for community and rampant individualism and greed; and between our capacity to prevent and alleviate human deprivation and disease and our political and spiritual will to do so.
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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to


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