If you ever attended a National Council of Negro Women event, you ended up singing "This Little Light of Mine" at the end of the event. It was Dr. Dorothy Irene Height's favorite song, "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine". The civil rights pioneer, Fannie Lou Hamer, also loved to sing "This Little Light of Mine", and it is easy to see why. The song encompasses humility and empowerment, the recognition that each light is little, but that in choosing to allow it to shine, to amplify, it can be great. Dr. Maya Angelou wrote, "Fannie Lou Hamer knew that she was one woman and only one woman. However, she knew she was an American and as an American she had a light to shine on the darkness of racism. It was a little light, but she aimed it directly at the gloom of ignorance."
Dr. Dorothy Height and Fannie Lou Hamer embraced their light and shone it at our nation's deficiencies. On Saturday, I asked the 80 women who graduated from Bennett College how they might allow their light to shine. In so many ways, this is the issue that confronts young people, and indeed the issue that confronts us all. What is our passion? How will we transmit it? How will we let our light shine?
In the weeks since Dr. Dorothy Height's death I have been thinking of the many ways she let her light shine. She shone light on issues of equal pay, workplace inequities, global issues of gender inequity, health disparities, and other issues. And by her very presence she tackled racism, sexism, classism, and ageism, refusing to be marginalized because she was nearly one hundred years old. She didn't elbow her way to the table, but in her dignity she insisted on space. By just coming to work every day, well after the retirement age of 65, she shone her light on the capabilities of older Americans. She didn't just shine her light, she was incandescent.