Dorothy Height, the famed civil rights activist and former president of the National Council of Negro Women who died in 2010, was renowned for her extravagant outfits and hats. (Courtesy of NCNW
Dorothy Height, the famed civil rights activist and former president of the National Council of Negro Women who died in 2010, was renowned for her extravagant outfits and hats. (Courtesy of NCNW

In celebration of its 80th anniversary, the National Council of Negro Women has revealed a “new agenda for a new age,” vowing to take urgent action on education, health, economic empowerment and public policy in an effort to build a stronger black America.

During welcome remarks at the recent 14th annual “Uncommon Height Gala,” NCNW chair Ingrid Saunders Jones shared the organization’s new “Four for the Future” strategy, which embraces a set of priorities, including:

• Educating and training young women and girls for the future workforce, with a special focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM);

• Continuing NCNW’s historical focus on health concerns in the African-American community;

• Promoting economic empowerment and entrepreneurship, and important issues like financial literacy and short- and long-term financial planning; and

• Developing new partnerships to encourage young African-American men and women to embrace the values of NCNW founders

“Our overarching priority is to build on our legacy of advocating for African-Americans through public outreach and increasing the efforts around social engagement, civic participation and public policy review,” Jones said. “We are more committed than ever to strengthen the African-American family and build our communities. That can only be achieved by education, economic empowerment, public policy and collaboration.”

As one of the oldest organizations dedicated to advancing opportunities for African-American women and their families, NCNW comprises an “organization of organizations,” with 240 community-based and collegiate sections and 37 affiliates that connect 3 million women worldwide.

Jones said it’s through her organization’s vast network that it will be able to achieve its goals with greater impact while attracting more young people to take on NCNW leadership.

“It is only through working together that we are able to reach, influence and effect major change,” Jones said. “We are stronger together.”

One of the first initiatives to support NCNW’s “Four for the Future” plan includes a three-city tour showcasing Dr. Dorothy Height’s legendary hat collection, which kicks off in spring 2016.

The “Messages of Our Mothers” tour will travel across the country and serve as a forum to dialogue with young African-Americans about the values and messages black mothers share to help children succeed and survive in society.

The conversation will focus on the core values of respect, education and financial stewardship as a vehicle to build strong families and communities.

“Dr. Height’s mother, Fannie Burroughs Height, always stressed the importance of dressing for respect. It was a lesson and value that she carried with her, her entire life,” said senior NCNW adviser Alexis M. Herman, former U.S. secretary of labor and close friend of Dr. Height. “We hope to instill the same values in today’s young people.”

After the “Messages of Our Mother” tour, the hats will go on display at the Smithsonian Institute, with a select number of the collection of 250 representing eight themes from Height’s life: historical; gifts; special occasions; NCNW moments; organizational partnerships; halos; her favorite color, lavender; and the future.

“The Future” features only one hat, the last one made especially for Height that she was never able to wear because of her death in 2010.

The red hat is symbolic of her vision and hope that NCNW future generations would embrace the organization’s core values.

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