• Giving Voice

    Emma Jordan-Simpson, Executive Director Of The New York Chapter Of The Children’s Defense Fund, Fights For Children’s Rights


    Through her work with the New York chapter of the Children’s Defense Fund and as a proud mother of three, the Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson doesn’t often know what her days will look like—but, she says, that’s the X factor that keeps her going.

    Tell
    me about The Children’s Defense Fund.

    It’s
    an advocacy organization born out of the civil rights movement. We are focused
    on ensuring that every child gets a healthy, fair, safe and moral start in life
    and success through adulthood. We do that by providing a strong voice for
    children. For the past forty years we have paid particular attention to the
    needs of poor, minority and children with disabilities.

    How
    did you become involved with the organization?

    I
    got a call one day from Marian Wright Edelman [founder of CDF]. She shared this amazing
    vision about the work needed to dismantle the cradle-to-prison pipeline. I
    started learning more about the policies and factors that drive children in
    New York into this fear system.
    It brought together all the work that I had been focused on for the last 20
    years.

    Describe
    your typical day.

    I
    might meet with staff to brief on policy. I might do a conference call with
    local pastors on what’s happening with children in their neighborhood. I might
    end up at a rally in the
    South Bronx. It might extend into
    the evening, doing a workshop with parents helping them to understand their
    role in protecting their children from the cradle-to-prison pipeline. Typically
    it’s a long day, but the time goes by so fast.

    What
    has been your biggest accomplishment since working with CDF?

    What
    I am working on now. We are seeing that you have to make an investment in the
    communities that are feeding children into the cradle-to-prison pipeline. We
    are able to map out exactly where these children come from—the poorest
    neighborhoods with low-performing schools and high rates of admittance into
    detention centers. It makes sense then to invest in positive building of
    children in those neighborhoods. We still have a long way to go. Change happens
    in increments. But I see more and more of our public leaders embracing the idea
    that there is absolutely no way we are going to be successful if we do not
    invest in the neighborhoods where the most vulnerable children live. So, I am
    excited for what that means.

    How
    has being a mother affected your work with the Children’s Defense Fund?

    Being
    a mother has everything to do with my work. For me, I’m living one life and all
    of the issues that I am working on also affect my children. I get to see issues
    through their eyes. I’ll give a perfect example: on a policy level, we are grappling
    with the impact of zero-tolerance policies in schools. On the surface, it
    sounds wonderful for everyone to abide by these policies. Then I look at how my
    children have experienced the education system. It’s a reality check. It makes
    you see that, [in the case of] a lot of the things we are promoting on a policy
    level—on a real level, where kids are actually experiencing it, it does not
    work. So, my children keep it fresh for me.

    How
    do you hope to counteract the effects of these policies that you feel are doing
    more harm than good?

    One
    of the things that CDF is focusing on is promoting “freedom schools.” They are
    these amazing summer programs that stop learning loss. They are
    culturally-based and teach a love of reading. My children have been involved
    and to see the light bulb go off over their heads about their own ideas of
    vocation, of purpose, of career, and how they can have an impact in the world…it
    just brings it all home for me.

    Speaking
    of your children, what are your favorite things to do with them in the city?

    We
    love restaurants—everyone in the family is a critic. Also, at Christmas time, we
    get in the car and drive through the neighborhoods, like
    Dyker Heights, to see the
    decorations. It’s quiet in the car and we are just looking out at these houses,
    sparkling, and it’s a magical time for us. Also, the
    Coney Island aquarium and walking
    along the boardwalk. It’s a little kitschy, but that’s the kind of people we
    are. We like that nuttiness.

    For
    more info, visit cdfny.org.

    Photo: Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson and family.