“I came up at a time when young women wore hats, and they wore gloves. Too many people in my generation fought for the right for us to be dressed up and not put down.” Dr. Dorothy Height as told to the Washington Post in 2010
Ever so often the world receives a present from the grace of the Almighty. Sometimes it is the way nature graces us with sunshine or a cool breeze and cool waters or luminous moon light to guide our darkest nights. Other times it is the way the human spirit manifests itself as kind deeds, motivating words, and triumphant examples of perseverance, activism and above all else, love.
Today on what would have been her 102 birthday, we celebrate Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, a towering figure of civil rights and a pristine example of the aforementioned human spirit. Growing up, I have always been told that words and names define people. Dr. Height’s last name is a testament to why she was able to surpass even her wildest dreams and bring out the best in people, the movement and the human spirit. And because of this lesson, I have never believed in the “Sticks and Stones” adage.
Today I write about Dr. Height because our lives have paralleled in phenomenal ways that have encouraged me to be and do better with non-coincidences, but events of fate and favor that have been bestowed onto my life. Like me, Dr. Height was born in Virginia–she was born in Richmond and I was born in Norfolk. She was a Southern woman who believed in being “put together” so when she stepped out into the public’s eye, it was always under the cloak of a hat and the skin of her gloves. My grandmother, Mary Peoples, certainly taught me those lessons.
Also like me, Dr. Height received an Elks scholarship to assist her in attending college. She and I came to New York City as young women; in her case she pursued an education during the Depression Era in America and in my case I came as the educator in America’s age of Terrorism. Furthermore, we both began our career paths in our 20s–she was 25 and I was 24.
From studying her life for the greater sum of my life, I have learned that she, like me, had an unyielding love and desire to see African Americans and women succeed; and, this was evident in her work with the Civil Rights Movement. Moreover, it was also present in other avenues of her impeccable life. We both used education, activism, and joined service-oriented organizations like the National Council of Negro Women (NCWM) and our sororities which we have used as our vehicles to effect change in our communities near and far. Dr. Height joined the Centennial ladies of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, of which she served as its national president from 1946-1957, and I joined the nonagenarian ladies of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, of which I served as the president of the chapter in which I was inducted, Phi Chapter of Virginia State University. For forty years, Dr. Height served as the President of the National Council of Negro Women, an organization founded by the esteemed educator, Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune to “represent the national and international concerns of Black women (ncnw.org).” Adding to our connection, the former Executive Director of the National Council of Negro Women was Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, a graduate of my Alma Mater, Virginia State University and my beloved department of Political Science.
Although I was never blessed with the favor of physically meeting Dr. Dorothy Height, a shining beacon of the human spirit, our paths will always be connected.