Dorothy Height was one of the last living links to the social activism of the New Deal era. As a social worker, she believed that strong communities were at the heart of social welfare. Ms. Height was described as the grand dame of the civil rights movement and its unsung heroine. Upon her death in 2010, an article in the New York Times stated:
If Ms. Height was less well known than her contemporaries in either the civil rights or women’s movement, it was perhaps because she was doubly marginalized, pushed offstage by women’s groups because of her race and by black groups because of her sex. Throughout her career, she responded quietly but firmly, working with a characteristic mix of limitless energy and steely gentility to ally the two movements in the fight for social justice.
Dorothy Height set the standard for “service.” Beginning in her youth, she developed an unwavering dedication to those causes near and dear to her and, as it turns out, still relevant today. She understood that equality, in all its forms, is inexplicably connected. Ms.Height said:
No one will do for you what you need to do for yourself. We cannot afford to be separate. We have to see that all of us are in the same boat.
Ms. Height, as president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1997, oversaw a range of programs on issues like voting rights, poverty and in later years, HIV/AIDS. She understood that in order to make progress, the right people need to be “on the bus.” With Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan and others, she helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. Ms. Height was able to see the problems of equality for women and equality for African-Americans as a seamless whole, despite historical efforts to view the issues separately. In other words, Ms. Height said:
We have to realize we are building a movement.
While we may label our “movement” differently than Dorothy Height’s, the fact remains that we seek to improve the lives of all children and youth. In order to make that movement a reality, we need strong leaders like Dorothy Height, who believe in a better world and who are willing to work hard to achieve it. We need people with limitless energy and steely gentility—words used to describe Dorothy Height! ASHA needs your passion, persistence and power to help us achieve our goals.
Lest you think this is some kind of political endorsement, let me say this: ASHA needs strong leaders who are dedicated to its mission to transform all schools into places where every child learns and thrives. ASHA needs focused leaders, thinkers, and doers but it also needs dreamers. The ASHA Board of Directors has a roadmap to follow—the mission, Core Beliefs, and strategic plan. We need people willing to think big while still focusing on reality. Like Dorothy Height, we have been at this work for more than 80 years—and we have a long way to go to realize our dreams!
In the spirit of Dorothy Height, take your dedication and commitment to healthy children and healthy communities one step further: submit an application for a position on the ASHA Board of Directors (new deadline is June 15th!). Volunteer to serve on a committee. Most importantly, help us create a movement based on Dorothy Height’s words:
We’ve got to work to save our children and do it with full respect for the fact that if we do not, no one else is going to do it.
For more information on the amazing accomplishments of Dorothy Height, please go to: