Ex-Clinton speech writer makes Cherry Hill return

Edmonds urges Southside students to blaze new trails

March 24, 2001|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

It wasn't about race relations, welfare reform or foreign policy, but J. Terry Edmonds probably spent a considerable amount of time on a speech he delivered yesterday at Southside Academy in Cherry Hill.

After all, it's not every day that the former chief speech writer for former President Bill Clinton gives a speech "at home."

Edmonds, 51, grew up poor in southern Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood. He shared that and other details with Southside students in a speech that included original poetry and snippets from the eulogy he wrote for Clinton to deliver at the funeral of Texas Rep. Barbara Jordan.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption in yesterday's Maryland section incorrectly identified the principal of the Southside Academy in Cherry Hill. Her name is Peggy Jackson-Jobe.
The Sun regrets the error.

"I grew up in mostly inner-city Baltimore neighborhoods and lived a childhood close to yours," Edmonds told the nearly 130 students gathered in the school's auditorium. "Church was always a constant. I remember going to a little Presbyterian church in Cherry Hill."

Edmonds, a resident of Columbia, has also written speeches for NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, former Health & Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala and former Clinton aide Vernon Jordan.

But during a question-and-answer session, students wanted to know only about the speeches he wrote for the country's 42nd president. And it didn't take long for a question Edmonds was expecting: "No, I did not the write the Monica Lewinsky speech," Edmonds said.

The loudest applause came after Edmonds responded to a question about whether he would write speeches for President Bush. "No," he said, before explaining that as a Democrat, writing for Bush would be a no-no.

Edmonds, the first African-American to serve as a chief presidential speech writer, attended Cherry Hill elementary and junior high schools. He graduated from City College in 1967 and from Morgan State University in 1972 with an English degree. At one point, he sang lead for a group called The Phonics, though he declined a request to carry a few tunes yesterday.

He described himself as "an average student with an above-average mind," before stressing the importance of studying hard and doing well in school.

"Use the great education you're receiving here, not only to build a path for yourselves, but for others to follow," Edmonds said. He also encouraged students to learn as much as they can about the Internet and technology.

Now that he has penned more than 500 speeches for Clinton, Edmonds said he is free-lancing and hopes to write his autobiography. He also wants to spend more time with his wife, Antoinette, and daughter, Maya, 23.

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