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.
me about The Children’s Defense Fund.
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.
did you become involved with the organization?
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
your typical day.
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.
has been your biggest accomplishment since working with CDF?
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.
has being a mother affected your work with the Children’s Defense Fund?
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.
do you hope to counteract the effects of these policies that you feel are doing
more harm than good?
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.
of your children, what are your favorite things to do with them in the city?
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.
more info, visit cdfny.org.
Photo: Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson and family.