Issue No. 46

January 2015

The Godmother of Civil Rights

 

She is now considered one of the founders of the modern Civil Rights and Women's Movements in the US, but in the early days, neither group wanted her on their stage. Civil rights leaders didn't think a woman belonged in leadership and women's groups didn't think an African-American woman could represent their issues. With a resolute approach and a commitment to working together, she proved she belonged. She became a binding force in both movements.

Along with Martin Luther King, Andrew Jackson, James Farmer, John Lewis and Roy Wilkins, the name of Dorothy Irene Height became part of what is now considered the Big Six of the Civil Rights movement or perhaps they should be called the Great Six.

Born in Richmond Virginia in 1912 she grew up not far from Rankin, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh. She entered an oratory contest while in high school that was sponsored by the Elks Club. The topic was the US Constitution and Dorothy spoke passionately on the Reconstruction Amendments in the Constitution. She advanced to the national finals and was the only black contestant. The jury proclaimed her the champion and with that came a four-year college scholarship. She planned to go to Barnard College but was turned away since they only admitted 2 blacks per school year. She enrolled at New York University instead,

eventually obtaining a masters degree and began her career as a social worker, working at the Harlem YWCA. Her social justice efforts eventually led to their policy change of integrating YWCAs across the country in 1946.

 

Earlier in her life she met Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). Height would be force and leader in this organization for her entire life. Finding a mentor in Ms. Bethune, she followed her words of guidance to the letter..."The gates of freedom are half-ajar, and we must pry them open."

In 1963 Dorothy Heights brought a women's touch to the Civil Rights movement, during its most violent period. While serving as President of NCNW she joined forces with Polly Cowan, a Jewish activist and volunteer with NCNW. At the March on Washington in August of 1963, Dr. Height and Ms. Cowan were told that no woman would have an official role in the speeches to be given that day. After the March, they and other women of the NCNW decided that they must find a place for women in the movement.

The following spring of 1964, they came up with an idea they called, "Wednesdays in Mississippi." Black women and white women would fly down to Jackson, Mississippi on Tuesdays and fan out across the State to meet with other women on Wednesdays. Black women would meet with black women and white women would meet with white women. Meeting behind closed curtains, the women would share ideas and concerns about how to bring social justice to their communities. Out of these meetings came plans for helping black

families in Mississippi. They arranged for school breakfasts and school showers to help young black children become both nourished and clean. Day care centers and quilting cooperatives were set up and the NCNW arranged for vegetable seeds to be distributed so that families could grow their own vegetables to help sustain them through the seasons. They flew home on Thursday.

The women were in constant danger and the leaders assumed that by the end of that first summer, the project would end. The women of Mississippi, however, had a different idea and saw the vital importance the meetings were having in their communities. After two years the sessions were expanded across the State and were renamed "The Workshops of Mississippi," as their project picked up momentum.

Dorothy Heights continued her social justice work throughout her life and her contributions were celebrated through the many awards she received including the Presidential Medal of Freedom given to her by President Bill Clinton and the Congressional Gold Medal awarded by George W. Bush in 2004. She received honorary degrees from Harvard, Princeton, and Tuskegee. Perhaps most satisfying to her was when, in 2004, Barnard College attempted to make up for their previous error by

designating Dr. Height an honorary graduate. Her long and successful life concluded in 2010 at the age of 98.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, consider how the efforts of this movement, now over 50 years ago has enriched our lives and strengthened our communities. We learn much from others in our efforts towards respecting diversity and inclusion and we can all do our part to

strengthen the bonds of respect and dignity we show to each other every day.

 

Cartographic Happiness

 

Our lives, it seems, are geared to efficiency and that is demonstrated every day as we try to squeeze in one more activity so that we get out list done. Daniele Quercia shows us how his project at Yahoo to build mapping software gives us some new choices that might help redefine efficiency. Check out his inventive idea here and try being adventurous yourself.

 

 

2015 is starting off like a rocket as I have a number of new projects and speaking opportunities right from the start.

  • I'm starting a new project with several colleagues working with a large convenience store chain looking at strengthening their organizational capabilities and developing more "agile leaders."
  • I'll be doing a bit more travelling and will be adding Kentucky to one of the states I am now working in as I am beginning a leadership team development program at a manufacturing plant for one of our Pittsburgh based industrial companies.
  • I'm also scheduling my trips across the country speaking on Stress Resilience for another global Pittsburgh based company. This year I'll be adding some programs related to performance enhancement on and off the field, as we'll be exploring how to use resilience to improve performance at work and at play.
  • This week I'll be conducting a workshop to the Leadership Development Initiative group at Leadership Pittsburgh on Building Conflict Competence. Conflict management skills are some of the hardest to develop but we'll be having fun exploring some real life scenarios and getting some folks onto the "hot seat."

I'll be taking some training time for myself later in the month when I travel to Boston to meet up with my own Growth Cycle member partners. We are all part of the Alan Weiss consulting community and we meet several times a year with Alan as part of our professional development.