Edwin Darden, Director of Education Law and Policy for Appleseed
Spotlight interviews advocates, community leaders and policymakers who have dedicated their careers to improving our communities, our nation and the world.
Edwin C. Darden is director of Education Law and Policy for Appleseed, a nonprofit network of public interest justice centers in the United States and Mexico that is dedicated to building a society in which opportunities are genuine, access to the law is universal and equal, and government advances the public interest.
Darden is a member of the advisory boards for Parents for Public Schools and the Mid-Atlantic Equity Assistance Center and also served as president of the Education Law Association. He was previously a senior staff attorney with the National School Boards Association where he wrote amicus briefs on major education cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appeals courts.
What (or who) inspired you to do the work you are doing?
My focus is on law, education and policy and how the three in concert can be used to lift people out of poverty. I draw inspiration from two sources.
First is my parents, who despite not being well-educated themselves understood the pure and simple power of knowledge. My father used to say, “once you are educated, no one can take that away from you.”
The other source is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose emphasis on poverty and justice was relentless. He understood that formal structures – whether private sector, government, or public schools – needed to be reminded that laws and rules cannot constantly advantage those who have, while placing barriers before those who have not.
What is your favorite book and why?
I have many favorite books, but the one I’d highlight is Strength to Love by Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr. It is a collection of his sermons, but in the process covers such topics as war, poverty, law, justice, protest, and a vision for a better America. I admire this book because it is eloquently written and speaks to the moral authority of treating everyone fairly. The book also merges King’s secular and sectarian views in brilliant fashion.
What is the biggest policy challenge facing the United States and how would you fix it?
I think the biggest challenge right now is the income gap between the wealthy and the working (or unemployed) poor. The oft-referred to “middle class” is shrinking daily. But the gap alone is not my main concern. Wealth translates to power, and power can provoke action.
Our three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial are slowly becoming more and more dependent on the largess of the affluent for their individual and collective success. Hence, laws, policies, regulations, rules, and practices are tilted toward those who can move the levers of power best. The result is that inequity is compounded over time.
There are two main solutions. First, I think it is incumbent on caring people to shine a light on injustice and to invoke the moral authority to demand change. Second, I think we must do a better job of demonstrating that our society is not engaged in a zero sum Darwinian game, and that win-win is an achievable goal. That idea may chafe against our rugged, democratic individualism and competitive streak, but if altruism and shared success has disappeared, then I fear for our future as a nation – economically, politically and socially.
What are your comfort foods?
Potatoes! Baked, mashed, french fried, au gratin, you name it.
How can people find out more about your work or get involved?
Who would play you in a movie and why?
No doubt, it would be Denzel Washington. He refuses to be type cast. He covers a wide range of roles and in each movie he has an underlying righteousness and goodness that comes through.
I like to think that I have a wide range of interests, that I refuse to be typecast as one type of lawyer and advocate, and that I can be persistent, righteous and good in the proper doses to be effective.
What advice do you have for young people who are interested in your field?
Working for non-profit organizations is inherently a people-driven occupation. Learn all you can, true, but also know as many people as you possibly can. In that vein, mind your reputation. Washington, D.C., and indeed the nation, is a large small town and your reputation will precede you – for good or ill.
How do you find balance in your life?
I am the drummer in a classic rock band. I also adore my wife, and build intentional borders around the time we spend.