Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson will be the new president and chief executive officer of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) in Washington, D.C. This is the first change in leadership for the CDF following 47 years of service from founder and civil rights leader Marian Wright Edelman.
Wilson, who will take the position in December, is a national thought leader in racial justice, community organizing, and movement building. He is a champion for children’s rights and has a longstanding relationship with the CDF, having led the effort to bring the CDF Freedom Schools literacy and empowerment program to serve children and families in the St. Louis area and serving as a leader of the annual CDF Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
In the wake of the 2014 shooting of teenager Michael Brown, Wilson co-chaired the Ferguson Commission, which released the “Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity” report calling for sweeping changes in policing, the criminal justice system, child well-being and economic mobility.
“I’m honored to extend the legacy of Marian Wright Edelman and serve young people through the Children’s Defense Fund at this critical time,” said Wilson via a statement. “As we wrestle with the politics of the pandemic, protests, and a presidential election, it’s a little too easy to forget about crafting policy for children who don’t get to vote, don’t have lobbyists and can’t make campaign contributions.”
Wilson has vowed to continue Wright Edelman’s legacy and use his own experiences to help guarantee the rights of all children through servant leadership. “Our mission to Leave No Child Behind® and ensure that every child has a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage into adulthood has never been more important than it is today during these perilous times for children and for our nation. Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson is the right leader at the right time for the Children’s Defense Fund,” said Wright Edelman via a statement.
“I’ve gotten to know him over the years and I have only grown more impressed. We’ve worked closely together on CDF Freedom Schools and he has a longstanding relationship with the CDF Proctor Institute,” she continued. “Dr. Wilson shares our sense of servant leadership and is committed to training the next generation of servant leaders. This is the right step forward for CDF at exactly the right moment.”
Wright Edelman founded the CDF in 1973 to serve as a strong and independent voice for all children facing challenges in America by advocating for solutions to improve their lives. From its inception, the CDF has challenged the United States to make children a national priority.
“Marian Wright Edelman is a legend — and one of my heroes. Under her leadership, the Children’s Defense Fund has touched many lives — including mine. Working alongside Marian decades ago changed the way I saw the world, and I am proud to add my voice to the chorus thanking her for her contributions on behalf of America’s youngest citizens,” said former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I am excited to cheer on her successor, Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, as he leads this vital organization through a moment of reckoning with racial and economic injustice, and puts his experience and dedication to work by fighting on behalf of America’s children.”
Since its founding, the organization has led efforts to enact meaningful policy changes, working with numerous organizations and policymakers on both sides of the aisle. Those policy changes have helped millions of children fulfill their potential and escape poverty by ensuring that they receive the health care, child care, familial support, proper nutrition, and quality education that all children need to thrive.
Wilson is currently the president and chief executive officer of the Deaconess Foundation in Saint Louis, Mo., a faith-based grant-making organization supporting a movement for child well-being in St. Louis through philanthropy, advocacy and organizing for racial equity and public policy. Deaconess, which Wilson has led since 2011, has invested nearly $90 million toward improving the lives of children. In response to the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism, leaders at Deaconess launched collaborative funds investing in Black-led recovery efforts and racial healing totaling more than $4 million earlier this year.
Wilson also serves as board chair for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), and vice-chair of the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE).
“Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson is the leader that the Children’s Defense Fund deserves at this pivotal time in our nation,” said Jurnee Smollett, actress and CDF board member. “I have no doubt that he will ensure that the most vulnerable amongst us, poor Black and brown children, have a steadfast and just leader who will bring the critical issues they face to the forefront. As my dear friend and mentor, the great Marian Wright Edelman, has always told us ‘If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.’ Millions of children have been impacted by the work of Marian Wright Edelman and I have no doubt that Dr. Wilson will do the same. He will stand up for children and amplify their voices as he takes the helm of this critical organization.”
Since reading “The Measure of Our Success” on the way to college, “Marian Wright Edelman has been a guiding light in my life. Her words are powerful but her actions are even more so,” Reese Witherspoon, actress and former CDF board member said via a statement. “I feel extremely honored to have been part of her tireless work on behalf of our nation’s children at the Children’s Defense Fund. Her passion for children’s rights will always burn bright in my heart.”