When Birmingham lawyer and child advocate Elizabeth “Liz” Huntley describes her childhood, she says it was filled with “nightmarish events” and “tremendous adversity” that she overcame with the life-giving support of mentors and teachers who helped her see her potential.
In an inspiring 2015 TEDxBirmingham talk, she described her harrowing early life: Her dad was a drug-dealer who eventually went to prison. Her mother was a heroin addict who sent her five children to live with separate relatives in different towns and then committed suicide.
At five-years-old, Huntley was living in poverty with her grandmother and an uncle who physically abused her and another uncle who sexually abused her. She said that she was subjected to domestic violence to such an extent that she had to move in with extended family members and foster families throughout her school life.
Huntley, who is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, said those were “the darkest days of her life”, but that she believes God sent “game-changing” people to speak hope and encouragement into her soul, beginning with her preschool teachers.
“I was empty and I was scared and I was lonely,” Huntley said. “I basically felt like a used rag doll until that day I walked into that preschool.”
Her teachers showered her with love and affection and prepared her for public school. Huntley also noticed that whenever she did something “fantastic” academically, she got even more attention and praise and that encouraged her to work hard to do well.
“As a kid who was starved for that, I challenged myself to be the best student that I could be so that I could get that response,” she said.
Later, the first-grade teacher who she said reminded her of Wonder Woman told her she believed Huntley would be the brightest student she would ever have.
“What a powerful, game-changing moment for me,” Huntley said. “I had no idea what a powerful, game-changing moment that was for me at that time. That act of kindness. So obviously, I was determined to be the brightest student she ever had.”
Amid continued abuse at home, which Huntley has written about in her memoir “More Than A Bird,” Huntley excelled in school and found strength in a sermon preached by Elijah Good — the pastor at her Clanton church who would become her father figure.
“[He] inspired me with a simple message: If God takes care of the birds, He will take care of me because I am more than a bird,” Huntley wrote on her website. “…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 went on to graduate from Chilton County High School with a 4.0 grade point average, sharing the title of valedictorian and earning a full scholarship to Auburn University. She then earned a law degree from the University of Alabama and is currently a litigation attorney at Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC in Birmingham. She serves on the Auburn University board of trustees and is chair of the University of Alabama’s Farrah Law Society board of trustees.
Huntley also serves on the Governor’s Task Force on Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, along with other boards including Leadership Alabama, Children’s First Foundation, Children’s Village, Alabama School Readiness Alliance and as the president and co-founder of Project Gear.
She also serves on the Defense Research Institute’s (DRI) Diversity for Success seminar committee and is the recipient of multiple honors and awards for her professional and volunteer work.
Huntley says her greatest successes are her relationships with her husband Tony and their three children.
“I really never thought I’d be able to function as a wife and mother growing up,” Huntley said in an interview with StyleBlueprint.com.
“My husband and three children are the greatest accomplishment of my life, and one’s not any more important than the other. When you go through the childhood I went through, and you get to watch your own children blossom in a healthy home and environment and not have all the fears and insecurities that I did as a child, to be able to be a mother, is my greatest success.”
Huntley will be honored in a Birmingham awards event March 29 recognizing the 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama. Details and registration may be found here.
Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.