CDF Appoints Its First New CEO As Founder and Civil Rights Leader Steps Down

For the first time in its 47 year history, The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) will undergo a leadership change, appointing Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson its new president and CEO.

Rev. Dr. Starsky WilsonRev. Dr. Starsky Wilson

Wilson succeeds Marian Wright Edelman, the civil rights leader who founded the children’s advocacy and research nonprofit in 1973, citing inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement. Now, “as America finds itself immersed in a new movement to end racial and economic injustice,” Wilson has vowed to continue Edelman’s legacy.

“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. “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 is a national thought leader in racial justice, community organizing, and movement building. He holds a longstanding relationship with the CDF, bringing literacy and empowerment programs to children and families in the St. Louis area and serving as a leader of the annual CDF Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. He also co-chaired the Ferguson Commission, created in response to the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown. In that role, he called for “sweeping changes” in policing, the criminal justice system, child well-being and economic mobility.

As he prepares to join the CDF in December 2020, it’s not lost on Wilson that this year also marks the first year in American history in which the majority of U.S. children are children of color. In a press release, he stated, “Child well-being and racial justice are intimately and forever intertwined. This makes the civil rights legacy and child advocacy vision the Children’s Defense Fund has woven together for nearly fifty years even more vital.”

Wilson is currently president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, a faith-based grant-making organization supporting child well-being in St. Louis. He also serves as board chair for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and vice-chair of the Forum for Theological Exploration. And from 2008 to 2018, he was a pastor for Saint John’s Church (The Beloved Community).