|Dorothy Height, who has presided over the National Council of Negro
Women (NCNW) for nearly 30 years, is one of the nation's leading
voices on behalf of African-American women and families.
During the peak years of the civil rights movement, Height was often the
only woman included in top strategy sessions, working
shoulder-to-shoulder with Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins and other
leaders. Known for her ability to foster unity and heal divisions, her
counsel has been sought by many U.S. Presidents, from Eisenhower to
In the tradition of NCNW's founder, Mary McLeod Bethune, who said to
"leave no one behind," Height, now 84, continues to devote her energies
to organizing and educating at the grassroots, especially in troubled
communities. A coalition of service organizations reaching four million
African-American women, NCNW trains volunteer community workers to
organize at the local level, sponsoring day care centers, promoting
reproductive health efforts, helping teens stay focused on school, and
leading countless other activities. "Part of our whole job is to help people
influence their own lives," she says.
For many years Height worked simultaneously at the YWCA, where she
began in 1937 as a volunteer and eventually became the first director of
its Center for Racial Justice.
In 1986, under her leadership, NCNW began the Black Family Reunion,
which has grown to be an important annual tradition in a number of
cities. Drawing together tens of thousands of African Americans, from the
homeless to the famous, the reunion celebrates the historic strengths
and traditional values of the black family.
"The Black Family Reunion generates what I call community energy to
deal with problems," Height says. "It far exceeded anything we could
have dreamed. It was as if people had been waiting for something
positive like this."