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Local speakers shine the DNC spotlight on education and child welfare

On Day 2 of the convention, four Philadelphia advocates took the stage.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

After Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination for the presidency Tuesday night, four Philadelphians who work for better child welfare took to the Democratic National Convention stage in appearances designed to highlight how their work echoes the nominee’s lifelong commitment to children and families.

The one-minute speeches – some of the only convention messaging so far that’s been focused on education – had a bit of an infomercial feel, as they all ended with the same mantra, “and that’s why I’m with her.” Nevertheless, it was a chance for the local speakers to talk about their work and why it matters on a world stage.

Thaddeus Desmond, a social worker with the Support Center for Child Advocates in Center City, was the first in the group to speak.

Desmond, 28, in an interview before his moment, said he “is not really the type to want to be in the spotlight.” But he felt he could not turn down the opportunity to speak “not only for myself, but for other social workers.”

His brief speech started out by relating that when Clinton was in her early 20s, she researched child abuse at Yale New Haven Hospital. “The experience turned her into a lifelong champion for kids in need,” he said.

Desmond’s own story is compelling; he was in the child welfare system, and he knows how much good social workers can do.

“My decision to become a child advocate social worker was influenced by my own social worker,” Desmond told the crowd. “She was so committed to my future that she not only advocated for me — she adopted me. Today, I proudly call her Mom. Every kid deserves an advocate who truly cares for them, and they have one in Hillary Clinton. Hillary knows that when you fight for our kids, you’re fighting for our future.”

Desmond, who said he hopes his appearance can open doors to more local or national conversation about what support children need to succeed, allowed that the speechwriting and vetting was a bit cumbersome.

“Let’s put it this way – it was a process,” he said. “But in the end I was able to stay true to myself and what I believe in.”

Next up was Anton Moore, founder of Unity in the Community, a nonprofit organization working to educate youth on gun violence.

Moore recalled Clinton’s work in Alabama, investigating private schools that opened up across the state after the Supreme Court ordered public schools to integrate. The move was thought to be a way to continue segregation. By posing as a mother looking to enroll her child, Clinton was assured by administrators that no Black children would be allowed in. She shared her findings with the Children’s Defense Fund.

“As the founder of a Philadelphia nonprofit focused on education and community, I wake up every morning thinking about how to give more African American young people the chance to live the future they deserve,” Moore told the convention-goers. “I know Hillary Clinton wakes up thinking about the same thing.”

Like Clinton, lawyer Dynah Haubert went to work for the Children’s Defense Fund. She talked about how Clinton went door-to-door for the organization in Massachusetts, gathering stories about disabled children who were prevented from going to school.

Haubert contended that Clinton’s “research contributed to the passage of historic legislation that required states to provide quality education for disabled students."

“As a disabled person, I became a lawyer to advocate that disability is not a problem to be cured, but part of our identity and diversity,” Haubert told the crowd.

Last came Juvenile Law Center lawyer Kate Burdick.

Burdick recounted Clinton’s investigative work in 1970s South Carolina, where juvenile offenders were often placed in the same prison cells as adults.

“As a result of work she contributed to, after three years of litigation, the state ended this practice,” Burdick said. “From the moment a child touches the system, it’s important society lifts them up instead of letting them fall behind. That’s why I became a juvenile justice lawyer. You don’t often make headlines fighting for kids — but her whole career, Hillary has been quietly leading that fight anyway.”

The Philadelphians’ speeches came in the middle of an emotion-filled evening that featured an exciting roll-call vote that built enthusiasm to a fever pitch until U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s steadfast rival for the nomination, called for a suspension of the rules and Clinton was nominated by acclamation to the roar of the convention crowd.

Later, nine “Mothers of the Movement" – women whose children have died violently, often at the hands of police officers, spoke of their grief, Clinton’s support of their cause, and the message of healing and change that they feel compelled to deliver.

For Burdick, speaking at the convention was humbling not only because history was being made, but also because of the people with whom she was sharing the stage.

“It is an immense honor to be there with the other child advocates and to be speaking on the same night as the Mothers of the Movement,” she said. “… It is completely beyond what I perceived could happen.”

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