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Black History Month Spotlight: Dr. Dorothy Height and Justice

Throughout Black History Month, we are recognizing the significant contributions African Americans have made—and continue to make—for the betterment of our city, country, and world.

We want to have a conversation with you, too. Throughout February, we will spotlight on our blog and Facebook page an African American who embodied one of our four core values—one value each week and somebody who lived out the value of dignity, justice, community, or impact. We hope you follow along and join us in honoring their contributions.

Impact: We make a measurable difference in people’s lives.

“We have to improve life, not just for those who have the most skills and those who know how to manipulate the system. But also for and with those who often have so much to give but never get the opportunity.”

Dr. Dorothy Height was a civil rights and women’s rights activist focused on improving the circumstances of and opportunities for African-American women.

Read her full biography here.

In high school, Height showed great talent as an orator. She also became socially and politically active, participating in anti-lynching campaigns. Height’s skills as a speaker took her all the way to a national oratory competition. Winning the event, she was awarded a college scholarship.

Height had applied to and been accepted to Barnard College in New York, but as the start of school neared, the college changed its mind about her admittance, telling Height that they had already met their quota for black students. Undeterred, she applied to New York University, where she would earn two degrees: a bachelor’s degree in education in 1930 and a master’s degree in psychology in 1932.

After working for a time as a social worker, Height joined the staff of the Harlem YWCA in 1937. She had a life-changing encounter not long after starting work there. Height met educator and founder of the National Council of Negro Women Mary McLeod Bethune when Bethune and U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt came to visit her facility. Height soon volunteered with the NCNW and became close to McLeod.

One of Height’s major accomplishments at the YWCA was directing the integration of all of its centers in 1946. She also established its Center for Racial Justice in 1965, which she ran until 1977. In 1957, Height became the president of the National Council of Negro Women. Through the center and the council, she became one of the leading figures of the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1963, Height was one of the organizers of the famed March on Washington. She stood close to Martin Luther King Jr. when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Despite her skills as a speaker and a leader, Height was not invited to talk that day.

Height joined in the fight for women’s rights. In 1971, she helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus with Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Shirley Chisholm.

While she retired from the YWCA in 1977, Height continued to run the NCNW for two more decades. One of her later projects was focused on strengthening the African-American family. In 1986, Height organized the first Black Family Reunion, a celebration of traditions and values which is still held annually.

Read her full biography here.