Bennettsville, South Carolina
June 6, 1939
Marian Edelman is a human rights activist and lawyer (graduated Yale Law in 1963) who started her career as an advocate for the NAACP in New York and then Mississippi. She dealt with a number of racially charged issues that were tied to the civil rights movement.
In 1968 Marian’s work continued by organizing the Poor People’s Campaign of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Soon after she setup the Washington Research Project; a public interest law firm. This created a new passion to assist childhood development and poverty-stricken children.
Marian’s new passion lead to her creating the Children’s Defense Fund whose mission: “is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.”
The fund has 4 major focuses which are as follows: the securing of comprehensive health and mental health coverage for every child and pregnant woman; to prevent youth from taking life paths that can often lead to; the development of the next youth leaders who will be advocates for children’s rights in generations to come; ending of child poverty and stabilizing families.
Since the early 1960s, Marian has been a tireless advocate for human rights, but her work with the Children’s Defense Fund has persuaded Congress to overhaul foster care, support adoption, improve child care and protect children who are disabled, homeless, abused or neglected.
Children’s Defense Fund
Marian Wright Edelman Institute
18 May 1920 – 2 April 2005
John Paul II, formally named Karol Jozef Wojtyla, suffered great losses early on in his life as his mother and older brother died before he reached the age of 15. Attending Jagiellonian University, John Paul II studied poetry and theater for a short time until the Nazis took over the country and shut down the school. John Paul then secretly began to study at a seminary in Krakow until 1946 when he was made a member of the clergy.
After being named the bishop of Ombi as well as the archbishop of Krakow, John Paul was considered a leader in the Catholic Church and took part in the Second Vatican Council. Belonging to the group, John Paul aided in the recognition of the Church throughout the world. By 1967, he was a high-ranking priest, or cardinal. For the first time in over four hundred years, John Paul, a non-Italian pope, was leading the Catholic Church in 1978.
John Paul spread his belief in religion and advocacy in human rights as he traveled around the world and spoke to many groups of people. He voiced his stance in disapproving capital punishment, and is said to have helped in Poland’s halt in communism. Having much respect for the younger populations, John Paul II created World Youth Days, where populations were brought together throughout the globe.
On April 2, 2005, John Paul II died, as millions of people stood in front of St. Peter’s Basilica to pay their respect. Although one must wait five years to be named a saint, Church authorities carried out the process immediately for John Paul II to be recognized.
Erin Sehnert & Mary-france Oudin
Remembrances, Reflections, and Tributes
Tyler Town, Mississippi
September 8, 1954
At just six years old, Ruby Bridges became a girl that would be talked about for years to come in elementary schools around America during Black History Month. Ruby was among the first black children, among chants of “two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate!” to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. Accompanied by her mother and multiple armed US Marshals, Ruby went to school daily even though many individuals threatened bodily harm, families pulled their children from the school, and singled Ruby out until she was the lone child in her classroom.
With the help of that loving teacher and her own perseverance, Ruby triumphed through the first year of school and paved the way for other black students to attend the previously all white schools. Charles Burks, U.S. Marshal (Ret.) stated of Ruby Bridges: “For a little girl six years old…she showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier. And we’re all very proud of her.”
Even today, Ruby Bridges works towards equal education for all students through lectures and the Ruby Bridges Foundation. Ruby Bridges Hall states “I wish there were enough marshals to walk with every child as they faced the hatred and racism today, and to support, encourage them the way these federal marshals did for me. I know there aren’t enough of you, but I do hope that I have inspired some of you today to join me again by dedicating yourselves to not just protecting but uplifting those you touch because that will enable us to rise together as a people, as a nation, and as a world.”
Lisa and Zachary Leibrand
Lady Godiva was a pious noblewoman who married Leofric, the Earl of Mercia. She was a landowner in her own right and Coventry was one of her favourite properties.
Leofric had imposed a hated tax on his people and Lady Godiva reportedly stood up to him and demanded that he abolish the tax. He told her that she would have to ride through Coventry naked before he would change his mind.
Lady Godiva did ride through Coventry naked, surprising her husband so much that he abolished the tax. It is said that she was totally naked, with only her long blonde hair covering her body.
The residents of Coventry loved Lady Godiva so much that they stayed indoors with their windows shuttered so as to not see her naked. It is said that one man named Tom was the only person who dared look at her and he turned blind. This is where the term Peeping Tom originated from.
Lady Godiva was a hero for her people, showing care and selflessness by putting them before herself. She stood up to an oppressive husband and demanded he treat Coventry fairly. She put her dignity and honour at risk to save the common people.
Cavite City, Philippines
March 5, 1981
“When people regard me as a hero, I always tell them that they should look inside them too because I believe that there’s a hero inside every one of us and all we have to do is just to open our eyes wide and feel what’s going on, then let our hearts be willing to accommodate the needy, the desperate and the hopeless simply by extending our hand to them, and there you will unfold the hero that is in you.”
Efren’s comments will hopefully ring true with many people and his work will become a monument for courage and commitment to something you believe in. Efren’s Dynamic Teen Company is an organization that uses a pushcart to re-create a classroom that can teach valuable skills in the most unusual of places, be it a trash dump or cemetery. He is reaching out to a youth population that often resorts to gang membership in an attempt to lift themselves out of poverty, despite the many associated dangers of gang life.
Efren knew from a young age that education was key to his upward movement out of the shanty towns. He was challenged daily at school by gang members and refused to be beaten. Since 1997 his courage has been the springboard that has facilitated over 1500 children being positively affected by his program. The children are learning to read, write, understand basic mathematics, as well as practical skills such as good hygiene.
Efren motivates his volunteers with the following words: “you are the change that you dream and I am the change that I dream. And collectively we are the change that this world needs to be.” In 2009 Efren won CNN’s Hero of the Year award recognizing his immense efforts to enact change in the Philippines.
Dynamic Teen Company
Signet, Maramures County, Romania
September 30, 1928
Elie Wiesel was born in a small town of Transylvania, where many different languages were spoken and various cultures practiced. Wiesel knew many languages including Yiddish, German, Hungarian, and Romanian and used them in his everyday living activities. Religion was his main focus, as he enjoyed learning the history of his practiced religion, Judaism. His family felt safe from the disturbing violence of World War II until 1944.
In 1944, all of those who practiced the Jewish religion living in Wiesel’s town were taken the the concentration camps in Poland. Wiesel, who was 15 years old at the time, was transported to Auschwitz and immediately split from his mother and sister who he never saw again. Managing to stay with his father for the following year, he was exposed to near death experiences as he was beaten, physically worn, undernourished, and transported like cattle to different camps. Wiesel’s father did not survive the last months of hardship, and Wiesel had to find a way to make it on his own.
After his liberation from the concentration camps, Elie moved to France to study the language as well as philosophy, working as a choir master and educator of Hebrew. His journalism career began here, as he wrote articles in French and Israeli newspapers. However, he wrote nothing of his experiences in the concentration camps for years until 1955, when he wrote, in Yiddish, a 900 page work, the title translated “And the World Kept Silent”. This writing was then downsized and titled “La Nuit”, or Night. Wiesel finally found a publisher after many attempts, however, sold very few copies at first. “Night” is now a well known publication throughout the world.
After moving to New York City, Wiesel became a U.S. citizen and continued to write for newspapers and publish many books, essays, short stories, and plays. He is now a professor at Boston University and continues to reside in New York City. He has been a chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and his awards include the Congressional Medal of Freedom and the Nobel Peace Prize.
Elie Wiesel Foundation For Humanity
Academy of Achievement
Kampong Cham province, Cambodia
Phymean Noun was a child living in extreme poverty in Cambodia. At the age of fifteen she lost her mother to cancer and the rest of her family fled to refugee camps, leaving her alone to care for and raise her two year old niece. In Noun’s home, school was not free. She had to pay a study fee to attend, while also finding a way to support herself and her niece. Noun struggled through this difficult time in her life, preserving her dignity and self respect as she went. Refusing to sacrifice her education, a value instilled by her mother, Noun hand copied books late into the night for just a few cents pay in order to make ends meet. She worked by day, attended school by night, her niece in tow, and worked again into the wee hours. Noun’s commitment paid off, allowing her to create a stable home for herself after many years.
Noun eventually worked for the UN and an international NGO, but ultimately sacrificed her job and all of herself to make a difference to other children living in poverty in Cambodia. After lunch one afternoon Noun threw leftover chicken bones into a trash heap and watched in horror as children scrambled to retrieve them to eat any bits left remaining. In talking with these children, she learned that they lived or worked in the trash heap, collecting cans and scraps to sell in order to support their families. Education was not an option for them, as their families depended on their income and could not afford school fees.
Noun quit her job within weeks to begin the People Improvement Organization, an organization committed to providing free, safe education to the children of Cambodia. Noun spent $30,000 of her own money to get her first school funded and running, and Noun now provides free education and health services to more than 240 children near the dumps in Phnom Penh.
Noun provides more than education and care to children. By devoting her own life to supporting their growth and development, she is acting as a role model, demonstrating how determination, commitment, and sacrifice can move one child, and a whole community, forward.
People Improvement Organization