Civic Engagement and Integration of the Whole Community
Al Heggins is being honored as a Champion of Change for working tirelessly to effectively integrate immigrants civically, linguistically, and socially into the fabric of their neighborhoods.
If each of us would take a mindful assessment, we’d discover there are many communities in which we have membership. The question I want you to consider (and one I pose to myself often) is “Am I civically engaged in the communities to which I belong?” If the answer is yes, the follow-up question is harder; “What is the proof?”
To prove whether or not I am civically engaged I answer “yes” or “no” to the following three mini questions: Did I stand? Did I speak? Was I heard? These three critical elements of civic engagement are markers for me. To stand up, speak out and be heard means that I am concerned about issues that impact me, my family and my fellow human beings.
I grew up spending time between Kannapolis, NC & China Grove, NC. Both were small mill towns, but one key difference was that China Grove had farms and Kannapolis was urban. My earliest memory of civic engagement is riding in the back seat of my mother’s 1965 black & white Plymouth Fury as she drove community members to the voting polls. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I knew intrinsically I had to help. I knocked on doors to let folks know their ride had arrived, helped the physically challenged get in & out of the car, and distributed sample voting ballots.
On many Saturdays throughout the summer & fall, my father would load fresh produce grown on our farm in China Grove into the trunk of his two-tone green, 1948 Fleetline Chevrolet. We’d ride down to Kannapolis. Once there, I’d put produce into my red Radio-Flyer wagon and pull it down Carver Street to the homes of the infirm, the elderly, and the families in financial struggle. The price for produce was whatever folks deemed fair or it was free because the week had been money lean.
I share these stories because the experiences translate into my work in a deep way; that each and every living organism on this planet has an appointed duty. Each human life has value and should be honored & treated with dignity. I know that I have a responsibility to all members of my communities. Robert K. Greenleaf coined servant-leadership, but my parents imprinted it into my essence.
In High Point, as we go about the work of fully integrating immigrants into our community, it’s not about creating a special corner. It’s about creating space for the Hindu Temple to be next to the Christian Church, the Muslim Mosque, the Sikh Temple and the Jewish Synagogue. It’s making sure students have access to academic opportunities. It’s making sure immigrants stand next to, speak with and are heard by (while also hearing) non-immigrants in every facet of High Point life. This is what I facilitate through multiple human relations programs; bringing people from culturally diverse backgrounds together…to stand, to speak, and to be heard.
Al Heggins is Human Relations Director for the City of High Point, NC. Her department is responsible for Title VI, VII, & VIII compliance and for fostering positive human relations.