I’d already heard Liz Huntley speak two times earlier, plus bought/consumed her book More than a Bird and bought copies for others.
So, I was quite familiar with her inspiring story when I decided to stick around for the last session at the Junior League of Montgomery Women’s Leadership Summit this past Friday. And I listened again to how Huntley overcame harrowing childhood experiences as God used one person after another to love her and save her.
Huntley credits many people, going back to the group of individuals who decided on their own to begin a free pre-K classroom so that, during these early days of integration, African-American children in her community would be ready to go to school across town.
She remembers the man who greeted her at the pre-K door that day – Mr. Willie – and the extraordinary words he said to her as she stepped into this terrifying new territory:
“Well, hello young lady. Welcome.”
That’s what she remembers for more than 40 years.
Mr. Willie said, “Well, hello young lady. Welcome.”
In the eyes of a vulnerable child, that’s what it takes to be “an ambassador of hope” – a friendly, warm and respectful greeting unlike any she had ever received.
Mr. Willie was nice, and it broke the ice. Which was very important, because that pre-K room was a game changer.
In that room, the ladies put their arms around Huntley and said, “Come on in here, baby.”
In that room, they hugged her, loved on her and praised her whenever she did something smart. She liked that kind of praise, so she kept doing smart things.
Just as importantly, without the pre-K room, Huntley wouldn’t have known how to look for the words “first grade” or find her name on the homeroom list when she went to her first day of school on her own. And when she found her way to that particular classroom, on that first day, it was there that she met her first-grade teacher – someone who has remained her friend ever since.
Thousands of people have heard Huntley tell of that extraordinary exchange between her and her first-grade teacher. If you’d like to hear more, here’s a 4-minute clip that sets up the words Ms. Pam Jones said to her that day: https://youtu.be/19EVXuI7ZFQ (Or get the book.)
Their experience has been a game-changer for countless other lives (whose names we may never know) because Huntley has become a passionate advocate for school readiness. “I hope you learn from my story the impact of a child being school ready,” she said.
Yet she also wanted to remind us: “You can do a small thing that can be a game changer for someone else.” Huntley said, “We all have an opportunity to be ambassadors of hope. It’s something we have the opportunity every day to give to someone.”
Whether it takes 100 or 1000 small things to change a life, you don’t want to miss your chance to do one of those small things. Even if it’s saying “Well, hello young lady. Welcome” in the doorway of a room someone needs to enter.
Enjoy your magnificent journey.
– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 6
Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and developer of the creative encouragement platform, Story Shaping.