Saturday marks the 100th birthday of human rights icon Dr. Dorothy Height, who died in 2010. To honor the national leader in the civil rights and women’s movements, the Dorothy I. Height Education Foundation and the National Council of Negro Women issued a call for service during the week leading up to it.

Dr. Dorothy Height, seated, receives the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony in the capitol rotunda. (Robert A. Reeder/TWP)

“She showed us how to blaze trails and how to climb mountains,” said the Rev. Dr. Wallace Charles Smith, senior minister of Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Throughout her life, the civil rights activist inspired legions of women including former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, who now serves as president of the education foundation named for her mentor.

Height was chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women. At the commemorative ceremony, Herman said a special weeklong call for service is an appropriate way to remember Height’s birthday, which occurs during Women’s History Month.

Herman said that Height reveled in living long enough to see the election of the nation’s first African American president.

Some women donned red suits and dresses – in recognition of their shared affiliation with Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc., which Height lead from 1947 to 1956. Others paid their respect by wearing purple, Height’s favorite color. One of Height’s favorite hats, a green one she wore on St. Patrick’s Day, sat on a small table near the pulpit.

The Rt. Rev. Vashti Murphy McKenzie, presiding prelate of the 13th Episcopal district of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, issued a clarion call to those assembled, especially the women, to be brilliant.

“Her life is an encouragement to all of us, for the things she dared to do,” said McKenzie, the denomination's first female bishop. “She took the risks.”

McKenzie challenged the audience to push past entrenched practices to be innovative and creative risk takers. And she assured the mostly female crowd that “no one is brilliant at everything all of the time.” But by walking in love, focusing on helping the “least, the left out and the lost,” one can demonstrate the type of commitment Height embodied.

“Let love show in our voice and in our acts,” she said.

In her book, “Living with Purpose,” which was recently reprinted, Height wrote, “Women who have made a great contribution have done so through their service, their awareness, and their determination to be contributors to the empowerment of all.”

Suggested service activities for the week, ending March 24, include:

*Visit or support shelters for the homeless, battered or abused

* Mentor youth

* Spend time with a senior

Those who want to share photographs and stories about their acts of service should visit the Dorothy I. Height Education Foundation Web site.

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