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Marian Wright Edelman Keynote Speaker

“Movements don’t come from leaders, but from the citizens. How are we going to let the next generation have a chance?” asked civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman to the audience of the RISD auditorium, her voice ringing clearly throughout the packed building. “This country needs to keep moving forward, and we have got to confront these trends that will undo our social progression.”

Highly awarded social justice advocate and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman gave the keynote lecture to RISD’s Martin Luther King series, covering pressing issues such as the “cradle to prison pipeline” environment facing young Americans today. Edelman has dedicated her life’s work to helping disadvantaged citizens escape poverty and abuse, so that every child has the chance to change the world for themselves. As keynote speaker, Edelman urged the RISD community to use their talents to renew our efforts for social equality.

Edelman carried the whole presentation through the weight of her voice, conveying her message to the audience directly with her words.  Her experience and determined attitude were expressed through her effortless flow of her speech, and occasionally even the quick anecdotal joke.

Even music for the evening was carefully selected in accordance to the MLK theme—before and after the event, audience members enjoyed recorded pieces performed by a ten year old Carnegie Hall musician, demonstrating how American youth can excel when meaningful investments are made.

Edelman also led the audience in singing Pete Seeger’s “One Man’s Hand,” and even invited Tony Johnson from RISD’s Intercultural Student Engagement to join in as the low voice. The whole auditorium followed Edelman and Tony’s lead, practicing Seeger’s belief in the unification of communal song.

At the end of the lecture, Rosa Glenn, President of the Student Alliance, and Diana Wagner, President of the Graduate Student Alliance, presented Marian Wright Edelman with an award to express recognition for her work and appreciation for sharing her message with the RISD community. This brought a close to not only the keynote lecture, but also the Martin Luther King series as a whole, reminding RISD students the values of service, equality, and empowerment that King and Edelman worked hard for.

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