Reno Award winner Marian Wright Edelman

The McCourt School of Public Policy conferred its first Janet Reno Women’s Leadership Award upon Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, during a ceremony at the school’s 2017 LEAD Conference.

The award, presented by McCourt’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR), recognizes an individual who has demonstrated a commitment and ability to effect change in her community or organization to benefit youth, particularly those at-risk of entering the juvenile justice or child welfare systems.

“I hope the one thing we will do to carry on Janet’s work is to remember that we will never go backwards; we are going to move forward,” said Wright Edelman in a speech calling for increased investment in children’s futures.

The McCourt School created the award last year for the late Janet Reno, the first female United States attorney general, who passed away in November 2016.

Wright Edelman, who graduated from Spelman College and Yale Law School, was the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar.

Her distinguished career organizing on behalf of children includes directing the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, serving as counsel for the Poor People's Campaign, founding the public interest law firm Washington Research Project, leading the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University and launching the Children’s Defense Fund.

She also is the recipient of hundreds of service awards and honorary degrees and has penned numerous books focusing on children’s issues.

President John J. DeGioia acknowledged many of her accomplishments at the ceremony.

“She is a transformative leader and a tireless advocate whose dedication to our community, city and nation is strengthened by her commitment to the common good,” he said. “She has sought to ensure children across our country live with dignity.”

Maggy (Reno) Hurchalla also reflected on the life and career of her late sister.

“Every time (Janet) got a chance, she told her audience, ‘it may be daunting, but I see America accepting the challenge,” Hurchalla said. “…I know that child by child, block by block, school by school and city by city, we will build a thriving community across this great nation,’” she said. “Neither Janet nor Marian set out to be famous – they set out to make the world a better place.”

Wright Edelman offered words of encouragement as well as a call to action for the many researchers, advocates and policy experts in attendance that she said is increasingly important to heed in the current political climate.

“Be confident that you’re doing the most important work that you, as a caring American, could be doing,” she said. “Just keep your eye on that child, stand up and fight and don’t go backwards. Don’t get discouraged.”