On Thursday, as President Obama delivers her eulogy, we will say goodbye to the godmother of the civil rights movement. But for me, it’s not a goodbye, because I will carry her in my spirit.
Dr. Height embodies the true definition of servant leadership. Her passion and determination was exemplified by her lifelong commitment to fighting for racial equality and women’s rights. Dr. Height faced critics, adversaries, and obstacles during her half-century devotion to equality. As I reflect on the life of Dr. Height, I imagine myself living during the civil rights movement. A time where separate was not equal. A time where I wouldn’t have had the same educational rights as others. If I had wanted to vote, it would not have been within my rights. Dr. Height saw the effects of economic instability, a lack of education, and other perils on women and their families. Her first priority was people, and she put herself second.
In my own life, I strive towards this spirit of servant leadership. Dr. Height’s leadership reminds me that there is a greater purpose beyond my small world. She once said, “Without community service, we would not have a strong quality of life. It’s important to the person who serves as well as the recipient. It’s the way in which we ourselves grow and develop.” This quote serves as a blueprint for my life.
One of the most valuable lessons in my life was a New Orleans Hurricane Katrina Relief service trip. My small world was opened up in more ways than one as I listened to the tears and struggles of homeless individuals in the Ninth Ward. Seeing the physical upheaval and chaos left in the hurricane’s wake was a turning point in my life. Homes were torn asunder, with the hubris and debris of people’s lives scattered like forgotten confetti after a celebration gone horribly awry.
The spirit of Dr. Height is in my work at the Law Center, as we remain committed to ending homelessness and poverty in America. I wake up every morning knowing that I must serve others like Dr. Height and the civil rights advocates who came before me. She has taught me the importance of the human condition and to work for something bigger than myself.
And for that I say, “Thank you, Dr. Height!”
-Ashley Shuler, Program Assistant/Executive Assistant