A Towering Height


In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

I must admit: before the news came out that Dorothy Height, a civil rights matron and icon, passed away on April 20, I had never heard of Dorothy Height. I never knew that she was the only woman on the stage when the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” Speech. I never knew that this woman led the National Council of Negro Women for decades. I never knew that Dorothy Height, in the words of Princeton associate professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell, “used her voice to advocate for African American women’s inclusion in higher education, corporate America, world politics and community leadership.”

I never knew who Dorothy Height was. But, I should have known.

Ms. Height “had the ear of American presidents, and she used her role to speak for those whose voices and interests mostly went unheard,” wrote Professor Harris-Lacewell. And even though I was not even born yet, she used her voice to help my family and me live a better life in the United States of America.

I am a first-generation American-born citizen. My parents immigrated to this country to find a better life for themselves and their children. I am proud to call myself an American, and I love my country and my people so very much. Most importantly, I am thankful and blessed to be an American, because in this country I can reach my full potential as a son, a brother, a father, a husband, a citizen, and a Muslim.

And after God, I have Dorothy Height to thank.

If it were not for her struggle – and the struggle of all who stood up and demanded America be true to its values – I would not have been given the opportunities of which I was blessed to take advantage. Their sweat, their toil and their blood – in some instances – were sacrificed on my behalf, even thought they did not know me or even know that I would come to exist one day. The freedoms, opportunities, and privileges I have come to take for granted were hard won; won by people like Madam Dorothy Height.

And she was a towering Height, indeed.

As I heard tribute after tribute, I was taken aback by how much she contributed to not only the civil rights movement, but also the women’s rights movement. I was in awe at her role in American history. Barack Obama could not have been elected President were it not for Dorothy Height. Colin Powell could not have been Secretary of State, or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or a senior statesman if it were not for Dorothy Height. Condoleeza Rice, as much as I disagreed with her policies, could not have been Secretary of State or National Security Adviser if it were not for Dorothy Height.

I could not have been a doctor practicing in Chicago had it not been for Dorothy Height.

I thank God for her and for the towering legacy of all those who stood up, to great personal peril, and came to “cash a check,” in the words of Dr. King:

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.

Because those noble people refused to believe that the bank of justice was bankrupt, I am free.

I stand in tribute to Madam Dorothy Height for all her efforts on my behalf. And what a towering Height she was.

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