- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dorothy I. Height, 97, is the only woman to stand among the Big Six of the civil rights movement — Whitney M. Young Jr. of the National Urban League, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Martin Luther King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality and Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She also is the only surviving member.

President emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women, Miss Height received a Congressional Gold Medal from former President George W. Bush and was seated among other dignitaries at President Obama’s inauguration.

The challenge facing the black family is creating a path for children to make their way in the world, she says. To help show families the way, Miss Height and the council started the Black Family Reunion on the Mall in Washington nearly a quarter of a century ago. This interview occurred Saturday at the annual event.

Q: How did the National Black Family Reunion get started?

A.: It started 24 years ago. There was a CBS documentary called “The Vanishing Family” and when you really followed it through it looked like all there was to the black family was teenage pregnancy. We said we cannot just object to what we see without doing something about it. Certainly we could not fight CBS, but what we could do was bring our families together, to celebrate who we are, to reinforce our traditions and the values that have kept us thus far. We are using this occasion to deal with some of the problems that affect us as well as the things that we hope to see happen.

Q.: What do you hope to see happen?

A.: The world is based on science and technology. Many of our people are not prepared. That’s why we are stressing education and helping them prepare for the jobs that are needed. Our economic situation is serious, but it isn’t one that we can’t do something about. We can do a lot about it if we prepare to get our children to go to school and stay in school, so that they can be ready for the jobs that are available. There will be no more handyman jobs because you can use machines to do those things. There will be real jobs that require an understanding of technology and of science.

Q.: Some sociologists are saying that one of the things that threatens the black family is that there are more black women in college than there are black men. What has to be done to get more black men in college?

A.: First of all, I have to say that if it weren’t for those women I don’t know where we would be. Many of those women suffer because they work for women’s wages, and they can’t get what they need. But I think it also means - and I was glad to hear the president say - we have to be more responsible. Men have to take more responsibility. We have to see to it that they not only have children, but they really father them in a real sense, of caring for them and helping to bring them up.

Q.: Are there some other ways black men can help to strengthen the black family?

A.: We have to recognize that regardless of all the discrimination, all the segregation and everything that we have gone through, that we, African-Americans, have the best opportunity of anyone in the world. We have to take more responsibility not only for ourselves but helping others in the African diaspora where they are struggling. We need to have a more global interest and not just our own self-interest. We really have to make ourselves responsible for our own families, our own children, our own community - all of their education and all of the things that will make the family strong. That’s what the black family reunion is all about.

• Joseph Young is a writer living in Washington.

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