Standing Up for the Young Is a Lifelong Quest for This ‘Warrior Chief’

Martha Thomas-Wiggins

Martha Thomas-Wiggins, a Philadelphia-based educator, thinks of protecting children when she votes. (Photo Courtesy of Denise Clay)

By Denise Clay

October 14, 2020

Martha Thomas-Wiggins, an educator in Philadelphia, has been named a Ghanaian warrior chief for her advocacy for children. She says Trump has “been doing a lot of harm to the children.”

“We should ask questions of more of the youth…”

That was a text that educator Martha Thomas-Wiggins sent to me during the recent debate between Republican Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris.

Thomas-Wiggins is always concerned about children. She votes for the children.

She works with children through the Young Legacy Network, her educational consulting business. The day we spoke, she was going to meet a group of students she mentors for lunch.

Thomas-Wiggins and the students planned to discuss voting. The conversation hasn’t been easy because the young people Thomas-Wiggins works with aren’t really feeling the process right now, Thomas-Wiggins said.

But fixing it requires their assistance.

“They’re right,” she said of her students. “Grown folks have messed this up and they’re smart enough to know that the system is truly broken. They don’t want you to lie to them, and we never should have gotten to this place where they’re this lethargic about voting. But I was raised at a time when we all had to get involved. I learned through my grandmother in North Carolina that through being involved, you can make change. You can hold folks accountable.”

“I’ve talked to a lot of young people, and I’ve told them that if you don’t get involved, you can’t expect change,” Thomas-Wiggins continued. “A lot of young people sat out the last election. They can’t do that this time.”

Education has been a part of Thomas-Wiggins’ life since she was a child. Her mother, Martha Young, was the first principal of the Prince Hall Elementary School in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, and many in her family are educators as well.

In fact, Thomas-Wiggins holds a distinction directly connected to her fierce advocacy for children that few Americans do: The Queen Mother of Ghana’s Ga people named Thomas-Wiggins a warrior chief for her advocacy for children.

Thomas-Wiggins earned the honor in 2001, during one of her regular trips to Ghana with students to learn more about the culture.

While education funding is a concern for her, especially since she believes that Philadelphia’s schools aren’t getting all of the federal funding they need due to the city’s distinction as a sanctuary city, the message that President Donald Trump has been sending the nation’s children has also concerned her, Thomas-Wiggins said.

Children learn from what they see. And, Thomas-Wiggins said, from Trump’s refusal to wear a mask to help keep the novel coronavirus at bay to his penchant for name-calling and other antics, he has been showing children all the wrong things.

“He’s been doing a lot of harm to the children,” she said. “This is not the America I remember growing up when I thought, ‘I want to be the president!’ I can’t see four more years of this.”

Voting has been a big part of Thomas-Wiggins life. Her neighborhood in West Oak Lane is a district well known in the city for having high voter turnout. She has served as a Judge of Elections in previous years, but because she takes care of her mother and has pre-existing conditions herself, she’s not doing that this year, she said.

But that doesn’t mean that she isn’t going to help her neighbors who need assistance going to the polls.

“If we look at when voting was first open to us, people became very fearful when we voted,” Thomas-Wiggins said. “So, I’m going around telling people that they have to get out and vote. I’m willing to take people to the polls if I have to.”

She continued: “It’s about what we leave for the children.”


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