A Military Upbringing
One of six children raised in a military family, Donna traveled throughout our country and the world. She learned to appreciate and to listen, to make true friends, and to hold close to her family. In her words, “I had to be versatile and I couldn’t be shy … and wherever we went, we met wonderful people.” Donna’s father, John Edwards, was in the Air Force and his oldest son, John, signed up at the age of 18 along with his high school friends. It was the height of the Vietnam “conflict,” and Donna was a pre-teen. She vividly recalls the tragic sight of those who served and died in Vietnam making their long journey home to the United States. Through these experiences, Donna came to appreciate the sacrifices of military service and the value of friends and families. When it was her time to graduate high school, she was offered the opportunity to join the Air Force Academy in the first class to admit women. In the end, Donna chose to return to her birth state, North Carolina, and attend Wake Forest University, where she was one of only six African American women in her class. Donna studied English and Spanish and after graduation moved first to Silver Spring, Maryland, and then to Fort Washington in Prince George’s County, where she has lived for 27 years.
From Rocket Science to Superior Court
As a young professional, Donna worked for Lockheed Corporation at Goddard Space Flight Center with the Spacelab program, helping translate and test work being done by “rocket scientists” and engineers. After the devastating explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, Donna decided it was time to go back to school, and she chose Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire. At Franklin Pierce, Donna developed her love of law for the public interest. After graduation Donna settled in Fort Washington, Maryland, and clerked for a D.C. Superior Court Judge.
Lessons from her Parents: Give Back
Donna’s father died when her son, Jared, was just six months old and before her graduation from law school. Donna says, “He was my heart. My Dad was so proud that I would be graduating and he was especially proud to be introduced to his only grandson.” Donna remembers that last year with her Dad as filled with some of the best conversations, games of Scrabble, and political discussions (passions he passed on to her) that the two ever had. Donna also came to appreciate her mother even more. “She had to move six children every 18 months, and she never complained. My mother always sees the bright spot and the best in people. I like to think that my Mom’s optimism rubs off on me.” Donna says of her parents, “My parents taught me to be a person and to be a parent. I learned the importance of giving something back to your community and your country from them.”
Becoming a Champion of the Public
Donna came to realize that she would not be happy unless she used her law degree as a public interest advocate.
Against Domestic Violence
She co-founded and served as the first executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and though not a victim herself, she realized that battered women had no legal or political support. Donna received national recognition as she led in the successful fight to pass the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, providing comprehensive funding to shelter and services for victims of domestic violence and their children.
For Campaign Finance Reform
Donna also entered the national media spotlight after the House banking scandal, as she led efforts to reform our campaign finance system and lobbying laws, first with Public Citizen and then as the executive director for the Center for a New Democracy.
For Public Health and Well-Being
She created a successful national effort to force pharmaceutical companies to open markets for generic anti-arthritic medications, and in 2003, in her own community, she started a grassroots campaign against a multi-billion dollar development plan in order to improve the quality of life in existing neighborhoods, to protect the natural environment, and to bring quality services and jobs to the area. Donna negotiated a deal to bring more than $200 million in prospective revenue to the community, while also safeguarding the local air, water, land and wildlife. Since 2000, Donna has served as the executive director for the Arca Foundation in Washington, D.C. She has gained national prominence as a strategist and creator of innovative efforts to:
- Support “living wage” campaigns in Maryland and across the country
- Ensure the independence of the federal judiciary
- End capital punishment and wrongful convictions
- Protect Social Security from privatization
- Support labor and human rights internationally
She has led efforts to bring millions of dollars to programs that make a difference in the lives of working families and to hold our government accountable.
Running for Congress
When her son decided on a college, Donna decided it was time to become a member of the institution whose policies she has worked so hard to change, the U.S. House of Representatives. “I ran for Congress because I believe I represent the hopes and values that are the core of the Democratic Party — for workers, for families, for our country. It is an honor to represent Maryland’s 4th Congressional District and I believe much more work remains to be done to ensure that the voices of ordinary people are heard throughout our government.”