There wasn't a dry eye in the room when Liz Huntley shared her story of triumph with city schools' employees on Wednesday.Huntley, an attorney, author and child advocate, spoke to the crowd of …
There wasn't a dry eye in the room when Liz Huntley shared her story of triumph with city schools' employees on Wednesday.
Huntley, an attorney, author and child advocate, spoke to the crowd of Jasper City Schools' employees at an institute held at Jasper High. Her speech served to inspire and give those in attendance an insight into how impactful their actions can be to young children.
She didn't hold back while sharing the realities and heartbreak of her childhood in Alabama.
Huntley said her parents were drug dealers when she was a young child, and she showed a picture of her 5-year-old self during that time.
"Look at those bright eyes. Look at that smile. This is a happy little kid, like many of the kids that come into your classrooms," she said. "Let me tell you something, I didn't have a clue I was in dysfunction. For some kids, their dysfunction is their normal. It's all they know."
Shortly after the photo she shared was taken, her father was sent to prison for drug dealing and her mother became a heroin addict. Her mother later tragically committed suicide.
Huntley then lived with her grandmother in poverty and soon became a victim of repeated sexual abuse by another family member.
"When you want to talk about darkness, I can talk to you about darkness. It doesn't get any lower than that," she said. "When you're at the mercy of adults, and there's hurt everywhere you turn, that is a terrible, terrible place to be."
She explained that preschool education quickly changed her life.
"God had a plan, and the plan that he had, that he used to literally save my life, was education," she said.
Huntley said she was very nervous on her first day of school and carried a lot of shame with her — the shame of sexual abuse, her mom's suicide and her father's prison time. She still found the courage to walk in those school doors, and it was the first action of a ripple effect that would steer the course of her life for the better.
Huntley was greeted by an employee at the school as she approached the door, and that simple greeting made all the difference.
"For him to do that, it was like ice broke," she said, explaining how she walked into her classroom and was in awe of the colorful, safe, inviting space. "When those preschool ladies came up to me and they put their arms around me and they said, 'Come on in here, baby,' I almost cried because for the first time in my little fragile life I felt the nurturing touch of an adult. And I melted under it."
"Those things that you all do," Huntley said to educators in the room, "I didn't know how much I needed it."
She went on to be valedictorian of her kindergarten class.
Huntley shared other educational experiences along her journey. Her first-grade teacher is still a part of her life to this day. Another teacher made a reading suggestion that eventually paved her way to being an attorney.
She even went on to marry an educator.
Education saved Huntley in a way she never thought possible, and she used the story of her childhood and the impact educators had in her life to inspire those who received her message on Wednesday.
"Every kid has a story behind their eyes. All of your children, when they walk into your school, are going to have a story behind their eyes, and how you respond to that child is going to mean everything," she said. "It's going to set the stage, in some cases, for the rest of their life."
Huntley shares her story in speeches around the country and in her memoir, "More Than A Bird." She is a leader in the expansion of Pre-K in Alabama and is on multiple boards related to children's issues.
"You all are superheroes to so many children," Huntley said toward the conclusion of her speech. "I can never begin to find the words to express my gratitude for what you do for children and how impactful it is to their lives."