|Photo by Roger Farrington
|Gala Dinner keynote speaker Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, call on lawyers to use their power and collective voice to improve conditions for children.
Marian Wright Edelman called on lawyers to use their power individually and as a collective voice to change the dire circumstances children face each day in the nation and in the commonwealth.
As she addressed the 600 attorneys gathered for the Gala Dinner of Annual Conference 2004 on Friday, Jan. 23, the founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) said lawyers can use their skills to create sweeping reform as well as help children on an individual basis.
"We are blessed to experience a new century and a new millennium. How are we going to say thank you? What legacies and values will we stand for and send to the future through our children and their children," Edelman said.
Edelman, who was the Gala Dinner's keynote speaker, has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. During the Gala Dinner, MBA members also honored State Rep. Eugene L. O'Flaherty as Legislator of the Year. The festive evening also included prize giveaways. The Gala Dinner was followed by an After Party where attorneys enjoyed music during the cabaret-style event.
During her speech, Edelman cited several alarming statistics. More than 93,000 children have died by gunfire since 1979 and more than 450,000 children have been injured by guns.
"We need to do something about this," Edelman said. "We need to do something about what has happened to us that the killing of children has become routine."
Edelman praised Massachusetts for being a top state in the nation for non-partisan votes on issues that support children and children's rights. Still, she said, children are abused or neglected every 16 minutes in Massachusetts and killed by gunfire every three weeks. And 63 percent of children in the fourth grade are reading below proficiency in the commonwealth.
"Something is wrong with the values of society that prefers to spend $20,000, $30,000 and $40,000 to lock a child up rather than provide a head start," Edelman said. "… These facts are not acts of God. They are our choices … We can and we must change them individually and collectively … The first thing I hope each one of us will do is recognize our power and build a just system and a just nation. Lawyers must be visionaries."
Beyond addressing the needs of children on a policy level, Edelman said there are several important ways attorneys can help children on an individual level. She suggested attorneys serve as a mentor for a child in foster care, form a special group of attorneys to create transition plans for children who are aging out of the foster-care system and volunteer to provide services to the 28,000 grandparents in Massachusetts who are providing care to their grandchildren.
Edelman also called on lawyers to fight against resegregation and the resurgence of discrimination in the country that impacts children on a daily basis.
"Join me in the pushing forward the movement to leave no child behind," Edelman said. "… We are all vital players in the cause of helping children. It brings us together. It is worthwhile. It is noble. And it is divine."
During the Gala Dinner, the MBA recognized O'Flaherty, an attorney, as Legislator of the Year for his distinguished service to the legal community.
MBA President Richard C. Van Nostrand praised O'Flaherty, who was appointed House chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, for his sense of purpose, enthusiasm, energy and approach in advocating for the needs of the bar and judiciary on Beacon Hill.
"I have only known Gene a few years, but I can positively attest to his pride in being a lawyer and the support he has provided to leadership on the Hill," Van Nostrand said.
O'Flaherty pledged his commitment to continuing to advocate for the judiciary and he praised lawyers for their work in making Massachusetts a beacon to other states on the administration of justice.
"It is only through your work for the courts and advocacy that makes that happen," O'Flaherty said.
As he continues his work as legislator, O'Flaherty said he will remain committed to the needs of the legal community including work already begun on studying the merits of community courthouses.
"I will not retreat from the inroads we have made in reforming our judiciary," O'Flaherty said.
Another highlight of the evening included a drawing for several great prizes. Recipients included Liz Cremens, who won a weekend stay at the Nantucket Inn and Conference Center; Jane Zuroff, who won four club-level seats to a Boston Bruins game Feb. 28 at the FleetCenter; Lloyd Godson, who won a two-night stay at Tuckernuck Inn on Nantucket; Michael Sullivan, who won four "Disney's THE LION KING" tickets for MBA Night at the historic Opera House; and Bob Todesco, who won 17-inch flat screen monitor.