“I would to take some time at the outset and thank you for what it is you do,” said author, attorney and child advocate Liz Huntley at Enterprise State Community College’s Professional Development Day on Jan. 7.
Huntley spoke to the faculty and staff of the college to talk about her harrowing life journey and the people she credits with helping her become a successful human being: teachers.
“Teachers are the artists of human potential,” Huntley said. “Just take a moment and let that sink in.”
After pausing a few moments, she expounded.
“There are only two institutions on the face of this Earth, in the entire world, whose sole purpose is to invest in human beings,” Huntley said. “It’s the only reason they exist. The first is the church. The only reason the church exists is to invest in human beings either pouring into people, going into their spirituality, shaping them. It is his (God’s) place to shape human beings.
“The only other entity on the face of this Earth whose sole purpose is based on investing in human beings is the education institution. That’s it, that’s the reason your job exists. Your job is to invest in human beings and shape who they become.”
Huntley’s story starts in the Butler Terrace housing projects in Huntsville with her four siblings and two parents that were drug dealers. She said she was exposed to the drug trade for years and never realized what was happening.
“I loved my momma and daddy, I didn’t know they were dealing drugs—I didn’t care,” Huntley said.
After a few years, her father was arrested and taken to jail leaving her in the sole care of her mother who continued to peddle drugs. Eventually her mother dropped Huntley and her sister off at their grandmother’s before driving back home and committing suicide.
It was at her grandmother’s that Huntley would experience poverty for the first time and suffer from sexual abuse from one of her uncles.
The trauma caused Huntley as a child to retreat and become soft spoken and “went into this shell,” according to those around her. She credited teachers, specifically her preschool teachers, with helping her out of that shell at five years old. The preschool had been opened by the church in the area to prepare the students for school and was filled with teachers who lost their jobs due to integration in the schools.
“When those preschool ladies came up to me and they put their arms around me and said, ‘Come on in here baby,’ I almost cried,” Huntley said. “Because for the first time I felt the nurturing touch of an adult and I melted under it. The same way some of your kids that are yelled at, commanded all the time and never nurtured get when they’re on your clock. It is powerful.”
Huntley ended up graduating as valedictorian of the class.
“I wasn’t trying to be valedictorian,” Huntley said. “I was responding to the love from those teachers.”
Huntley talked about her first grade teacher, Pam Jones, who when she met first thought she was Wonder Woman from the show on T.V. at the time. Huntley still describes Jones as “my Wonder Woman,” and always remembers what Jones said to her on her first day of first grade after learning that she had come to school alone and found her way to the classroom.
“She saw a child with a lot of potential,” Huntley said. “She didn’t look at the negatives going on in that situation. And doing so with tears in her eyes, Pam Jones bent down close to my face and looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Elizabeth Humphrey, you’re going to be the brightest student I ever had.”
Huntley credited all her teachers throughout with helping her become successful as well as one sermon, a sermon that she takes the title of her memoir from. A sermon that included the message if God takes care of the birds, God will take care of her because she’s more than a bird.
“His sermon gave me hope and guided me through some of the darkest days of my life,” Huntley said. “I want my story to let children in similar situations to mine to know that they can reach their dreams, and to encourage more adults to become advocates for them like so many did for me.”
Huntley said she hopes her story can help teachers grasp the impact that they can have on their students’ lives.
ESCC President Matt Rodgers said that after hearing Huntley speak previously, he knew the faculty and staff needed to hear her message.
“Her message is really powerful,” Rodgers said. “I had the opportunity to hear her at one of our president’s conferences and I thought our faculty and staff would appreciate listening to her and really get something from her message.”