by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
Three weeks ago at the Medgar Evers College's Black Writers’ Conference Award Ceremonies, Susan Taylor, who was serving as hostess, made the announcement that Dr. Dorothy I. Height had been admitted to the hospital, “near death." According to Taylor, knowing she could leave at any time, Dr. Height had called Taylor and other prominent, avant guarde Black women to her side to discuss the carrying forward of her mission. "Everyone, please pray for Dr. Height,” Susan concluded, in that gentle, whispery way of talking she has (makes you lean in and pay attention to what she's saying). The following day all the newspapers, national and local, had prematurely headlined Dr. Height's death.
Being an Aries, I kind of knew that Dr. Height, also an Aries, was not going to go that easily. She was definitely going to try to make sure that things were in order, and in the right hands first, before she made her transition. She was not going to leave this plane of action all willy-nilly, no matter what the doctors or newspapers were saying. She was sent here on a mission, and she was definitely going to make sure that it had been accomplished. In other words, like Mark Twain, at that time, the news of her death had been greatly exaggerated; and she held every one at bay, telling them to keep her seat warm in Heaven, while she capped everything off. (again, it's my Aries ego, sorry - not))
Realizing, however, that Dr. Height was in her 90’s, I knew it really could be a matter of time before she might make her transition. Susan Taylor’s announcement started my consciousness circling back to days when Dr. Height was very much active and involved in the community; out and about, and in better physical condition. So, while I, along with the rest of the audience prayed for her complete recovery (or safe transition), I also silently thanked God for having known and had the blessing of briefly interacting with her.
When it comes to Dr. Height, I have always had her on a pedestal since childhood. As kids in Oklahoma we were required to know about all Black people who had done, or were doing anything positive and significant for us. Dr. Height and the National Council of Negro Women was pretty close to the top, along with Eleanor Holmes Norton, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Shirley Chisolm, Marion Anderson, Lena Horne, Constance Baker Motley, and others, who made up the pantheon of powerful Black women.
Dr. Height is an inspiration to me of what a Black woman (any woman for that matter) can be and do when she is working from the optimum of her spiritual, intellectual, mental, and physical capacity.
Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, is indeed an amazing and phenomenal woman. I am so proud to have known her, and prouder still that we are both proud members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which gave me the privilege of getting and receiving a “Delta embrace” from her whenever were in the same event or vicinity (okay, I used "proud" three times in the same paragraph - I'll try to restrain myself).
She is exemplary of a woman who loves her people so much, she devoted her considerable intelligence, creativity, time, talent, energy to whatever project there was that was doing the same thing. The NCNW is still viable because of the 40 years of unbroken leadership, and because she selected a successor who would be as devoted to the progress of the organization as she was.
Whenever I would see Dr. Height at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which she attended every year, practically from its inception, I would go over and compliment her on her beautiful hat, and she would likewise compliment me on mine (we both loved and maintain a fairly large collection of elegant hats). I thought I was walking in “high cotton” just to be able to get that close to this wonderful icon. She was always so pleasant, placid and poised. And as a Delta I always felt I had bragging rights just to be in the same sorority with someone of her personage and stature. Wow!!
But it took three Black men to rachet it up a notch and make it possible for me to know Dr. Height in a way I never imagined possible. And it’s also to show you how God works when he intends to do something for your good. The three men are, in their own right, Icons in my book. Each has distinguished himself in some way in his field. They actually had come together to do good for the community as a result of having benefited from their own efforts.
These three brothers* were the great Don King, Boxing Impresario and expert on the US Constitution; Samuel Brown, founder and Executive Director of Our Children’s Foundation (OCF), the best after school educational program - ever! And none other that Mike Tyson, World Boxing Heavy Weight Champion! *(For those who are not from the real school, "brothers" is another word for Black men).
Now, for those of you who are familiar with Our Children’s Foundation, you already know the story, so I know you’re saying, “Oh yeah, that’s right - I forgot.” To the sports writers who thought they were coming to a sports gathering and found that it was “just an old lady and some kids with the champ”, and so, were disappointed, you missed the opportunity to be in the presence of greatness, the aura African American divadom (diva is not about age, it's about quality).
Now how, you may ask, did these three Black men introduce me to Dr. Height? First of all, Sam Brown, founder of Our Children’s Foundation, has been in the forefront of providing unique opportunities for Black youth to know and interact with contemporary Black s/heroes for over 40 years. As a result he established the Children’s Hero Award, and allowed the children of Our Children’s Foundation to present awards to people they felt had been instrumental in doing great and positive things for the Black community. The award had nothing to do with politics or fame; it had to do with what the recipient had done for the youth in the community.
Don King, on the other hand, was still managing Mike Tyson at the time; and was trying to teach the champ to give something back to the community. As a result, each time Mike Tyson won a fight, he would donate 10% (tithe) to charitable organizations. Our Children’s Foundation happened to have been one of Don King’s favorite organizations because of the work they did with youth. It also happened that it coincided with the Children’s Hero Award that OCF was giving to Dr. Dorothy Height.
Normally, the Children's Hero Award event would have been held at OCF’s headquarters in Harlem; but, because of the magnitude of the situation, it was held in mid-town Manhattan. I was invited by Sam Brown to cover the event. It would be the second time I had met Mr. King (the first was on a boat ride fundraiser that 100 Black Men used to give). I had the pleasure and privilege of being in the green room when Dr. Height arrived. I had had the opportunity to talk to Mike Tyson, who very excited and acted like a big overgrown kid around Dr. Height.
He had been reading her bio, and absolutely loved her. When he found out that one of the organizations that was benefiting from his winnings - in addition to OCF - was National Council of Negro Women, he insisted on presenting it himself (the kids were supposed to make the presentation). She was like the grandmother he never had. It took several reminders to kind of calm him down.
I, myself, got so tickled because the papparazzi would have had a field day had they been able to see the champ, “I-KNOCK-PEOPLE-OUT-TYSON" become putty in the hands of this gracious woman. And, since to them it wasn't headline sport because Tyson and King absolutely refused to talk about anything education or youth (despite the baiting of the press "Who you gonna go up again next time, Champ?) - they blew it. I from the Daily Challenge, and Howie Evens of the Amsterdam News, on the other hand, had the exclusive.
Mike Tyson and Don King surprised Dr. Height with a specially made electronic wheel chair when they found out that she was having difficulty walking. Mike could not wait for her to try it out. In fact, he fairly insisted that she try it out right away. And when she did, and gave him that smile, he was like a little kid who had just received a cookie and a hug from his grandmother.
When I asked Dr. Height how she felt about the adulation she was receiving from Iron Mike Tyson, heavy weight champion of the world. She laughed and responded “I appreciate his energy. He’s basically a good kid that needs love and guidance like everybody else.”
OCF Executive Director, Sam Brown, who is 90% disciplinarian, kept walking Mike back to his seat, but had an amused look on his face as he began to realize how much Tyson really liked Dr. Height. When Tyson made the presentation of his check to Our Children’s Foundation, he likewise made a presentation to Dr. Height. However, he stated, “I wish it was bigger, but I have to give to other charities too. Next time, Dr. Height, I promise it will be bigger.” With that, he hugged her again.
The unfortunate truth is that next time never came -- due to circumstances outside the purview of either the individuals. Other boxing interests came between Don King and Mike Tyson, causing a split in their relationship. A bogus charge of insurance fraud was brought against Don King. Our Children’s Foundation, however, continues to provide excellent guidance and service to the community.
Since the subsequent boxing matches were under a new management house, there was no urging on their part for Mike to give back to the community -- so both Our Children’s Foundation and Dr. Height, as well as the National Homework Program lost Mike as a benefactor. But Dr. Height never saw it as a problem or drawback. “The National Council of Negro Women has always been a self contained, self sufficient organization. We truly appreciate any contributions we receive, but we also will work to generate our own sources,” was her response to my question about continued interfacing with Mike Tyson. However, each time Mike fought, I thought, what a loss for him as well as the organizations he helped support.
On the up side, however, those three men made it possible for me to be in the presence of the greatness of Dr. Dorothy I. Height. A few years ago, the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity (A Phi A), held a luncheon in honor of Dr. Height’s birthday at a hotel out in the middle of Long Island -- I know nothing about Long Island, so don’t ask me.
At that time they were coming together to celebrate what they thought was her 100th birthday. It was a bitter cold day in March, and many of us debated whether it even made sense hold on such a cold day. Accolades on top of accolades were offered in her behalf. It turned out that she would not make it up from DC for the luncheon, because it was entirely too cold for her to be out. She was actually trying to make it, but her doctor stopped her. But when she also made it known that she had not yet reached 100, but was “only” 95, we realized that Dr. Height had not lost her sense of humor; and that she was as much respected by Black men as she was by Black women.
You cannot attend a family reunion without appreciating the Black Family Reunion founded to heal the disparities many Black families still face in a post-traumatic slave syndrome world.
Dr. Height’s life is a blue print in many ways for Black women who aspire to make a contribution to their community. She was graceful, articulate, intelligent, compassionate, humanitarian, business minded as well as philanthropic. She had an amazing sense of history and a deep abiding love for her people. She could interact with people from all stations in life because she had long ago learned that we really all gradations of the same theme -- the way the Great Spirit intended us to be.
I truly salute and revere this wonderful powerful genteel sister. I celebrate knowing her; and I congratulate the many Black men and women who interacted with her on a regular basis, for having the blessing of her wisdom rubbing off on them.
Dr. Dorothy I. Height, another Angel who’s returned to your rightful place in the African S/Hero Pantheon, Gentleman that he is, Dr. Ben Hooks is graciously holding the door open for you. My deep appreciation your faith, your blessing us; and for loving us so much that you stayed with us for nearly a century trying to help us get it right.
Thank you for your life, spirit and inspiration.
Stay Blessed &