When Pastor Elijah Good stood in his pulpit in a small church in Clanton one Wednesday night years ago, chances are he had no idea the impact he was about to have on eight-year old Elizabeth Humphrey. His text that evening was Matthew 6:26: Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are you not much better than they?
Nor did the minister know that his brand new congregation member had endured more heartache in her eight years than some of us face in a lifetime. One of five siblings, she lived in a Huntsville housing project until her mother took her and her younger sister to live with their grandmother in Clanton. A few weeks later her 26-year old mother committed suicide. Both of her parents were drug dealers and her father certainly knew what a jail cell looked like. She was also sexually abused by an uncle once she moved in with her grandmother.
But Elizabeth was very bright and loved to learn. And she first discovered a new world when her grandmother sent her to a local pre-school program. Still, self-doubt was never far away which is why Pastor Good’s words resonated so with Elizabeth that night. Surely there could be a way to navigate the hand life had dealt her if she just believed that God valued her as much as any bird that flew.
Today Elizabeth Humphrey is better known as Liz Huntley, a successful attorney with one of Birmingham’s most prestigious law firms. She also serves on the board of trustees of her alma mater, Auburn University. She is the mother of three children.
Her truly remarkable journey has been chronicled in her autobiography of her early years, More Than A Bird, published by Salthouse Publishing.
It is a story of having the faith to constantly believe that doors can be opened if we knock on them hard enough. And it is a story of how, time after time, people entered her life who believed in her and helped her overcome obstacles that she could not have overcome by herself. A number of these were educators, beginning with those at her neighborhood pre-school and continuing through high school. Today Liz is a strong advocate for early childhood education.
It is also a story of the goodness that surrounds us all. The story of people who most think of as “ordinary” but are so much more. We all walk among them every day. At work, in the Kiwanis club, at church. People who look for the goodness in others and are willing to lend a helping hand when a need arises.
The inequities I see in education trouble me a lot. The fact that some seem intent on discarding so many of our young people through programs that ultimately separate too many into “winners” and “losers” early in life is disconcerting. Because each time we see a child, regardless the circumstances that trap them, we see someone who is more than a bird. A child just like Elizabeth Humphrey once was.
I have read the book. You should as well.