In 2014, Vincent Harding called Marian Wright Edelman and suggested that the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and the National Council of Elders (NCOE) create a formal partnership.  Suzanne Pharr and Jim Lawson from the National Council of Elders and Janet Wolf with the Children’s Defense Fund were asked to craft a draft partnership agreement which was then approved by both organizations.

CDF agreed to host elders during two retreats/year at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Alex Haley Farm just north of Knoxville, Tennessee. NCOE agreed to work with younger organizers identified by CDF in retreat sessions and workshops following council meetings as well as through intergenerational dialogue and collaboration including CDF Freedom Schools, CDF’s annual Samuel DeWitt Proctor Child Advocacy Institute, and local nonviolent direct action organizing to disrupt and dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline.

The agreement proposed that each fall and spring, three elders work with three young CDF identified organizers to create a strategy session around a concrete issue.  The focus for the first gathering, October 2014, was school push out – looking at the hundreds of thousands of students who boycotted school in 1964 and 1965 in a push for greater equity and connecting that with our work around the cradle to prison pipeline, zero tolerance, school push out policies now.  

The sessions provide an opportunity for reflection, collaborative strategy, critical analysis, and creative thinking.  Many of the organizers are dealing with personal trauma – past and ongoing – as well as the incredible trauma and violence in our communities.  This time together creates supportive community and safe space for healing, vision, and renewal. 

We confirmed three main goals for the ongoing partnership:

  1. To build a relationship between the work of the elders and the Children’s Defense Fund’s work with young activists around nonviolent direct action organizing
  2. To strengthen the National Council of Elders as an effective organization that mentors and accompanies new generations of organizers and movement builders
  3.   To create a partnership between National Council of Elders/elders and the Children’s Defense Fund/young organizers to facilitate discussions, workshops and conversation to build political analysis and strategies