CDAC Present "We Belong" Panelist

The National Park College (NPC) Cultural Diversity Awareness Club (CDAC) hosted a panel of guests continuing the “We Belong” series Friday. Guest panelists included Kai Coggin, Lorena Fitzpatrick, Eric Higgins, and Dr. Veronikha Salazar. The event also recognized the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 90th birthday of Maya Angelou.

"We Belong" panelist Kai Coggin, Lorena Fitzgerald, Eric Higgins, and Dr. Veronikha SalazarKai Coggin is a local poet, author, and teaching artist. She has two full-length collections Periscope Heart and Wingspan as well as a spoken word album called Silhouette. Her poetry has been nominated twice for The Pushcart Prize, as well as Bettering American Poetry 2015, and Best of the Net in 2016. When asked what she felt were the major challenges and opportunities facing diverse populations today Coggin stated “We don’t exist in a vacuum, we have to go out in the real world, and the real world doesn’t really reflect what we are trying to do. Bringing the message of diversity and inclusion is easy when we are all accepting people, we are all open hearted people, and we all take the time to listen to each other. Sometimes, when we go out into the real world where leaders and people are sowing seeds of division, it makes it more difficult to take that message of diversity into the world. The most important thing we could do to help would be to listen. Each one of us has our own very unique history and story. I challenge you to go out beyond these little circles and be that to the world. Listen with an open heart, listen with a compassionate mind.” Coggin was gracious enough to share a poem she wrote called Maya and Martin, which is available online.

Lorena Fitzpatrick is a student at National Park College (NPC) and serves as the reporter and historian for the CDAC. Fitzpatrick immigrated to the United States as a teenager. After graduation from NPC, she plans to transfer to the University of Central Arkansas to study K-12 World Languages and English as a Second Language. She said her dream of becoming an educator was born out of the positive influence of her first grade teacher in a small town in Southern Mexico. She is currently a full-time student and balances her studies with maintaining a family and job. In her words, “I am living proof of the American dream. Success can be achieved if one works hard, never gives up, and treats all with dignity and respect. I want to give back not only to the community where I live but to America. This great country gave me an opportunity to provide for my family.” Lorena has shared with others the difficulty she had over the years and how challenging it is for immigrants who are not aware of the educational resources available. “I believe in myself now,” she says. “I actually think I can do this and I didn’t before. Having people tell you that makes a huge difference,” she added.

Eric Higgins is a retired assistant chief of police and a 30-year veteran of the Little Rock Police Department. He retired after 10 years as assistant chief of police in 2015. He is a volunteer instructor with the re-entry program, The Exodus Project – Out for Life. He is a member of Volunteers in Public Schools Executive Board, Institute for Law Enforcement Administration Alumni, and Leadership Greater Little Rock Alumni, and serves as President of the Governing Board of Lisa Academy Public School. When asked what he thought the major challenges and opportunities facing diverse populations were Higgins stated, “One of the challenges we have is even though we are diverse, we still segregate ourselves. We still have complicit biases. Even though we may go to school with or work with people who are different than us, we often still have a singular story for a group of individuals. The challenge is to overcome that, to recognize it. When you close your eyes and someone says African American, Latino, or Hispanic what pops up in your mind? What is that singular story? Challenge yourself not to buy into that singular story. We have an opportunity to learn from people that are different from us and to recognize that we may look alike but we have different backgrounds and life experiences and we have to embrace them. But how do we crossover, how do overcome our internal biases? You sit down together and get to know each other on a personal level. Then we can really learn to see each other for who we are and not as different races but as one race, the human race.”

Dr. Veronikha Salazar is the associate dean of students at Henderson State University. Dr. Salazar was the director of Hispanic outreach and retention at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, GA. She was also the associate director for leadership, education and development at the University of Arkansas’s Multicultural Center from 2008-2011 and the program coordinator for international student and scholars at the University of Arkansas from 2001-2007. Dr. Salazar is originally from Chiclayo, Peru. She obtained her master’s and doctoral degrees in adult education with an emphasis in Multicultural Education from the University of Arkansas. Dr. Salazar has served on numerous boards and committees in the states of Arkansas and Georgia. Her many awards and recognitions range from “Outstanding Faculty”, “Presenter of the Year” to “Arkansas Traveler” by Governors Mike Huckabee and Mike Beebe. She is currently a member of Rotary Sunrise Club of Arkadelphia. In regards to the challenges and opportunities faced Dr. Salazar said, “The opportunity that I had was to be myself and to show Henderson State University what I was bringing into that school, it was much more than my brown-ness. It was much more than just a check box to say we have a Latino person in this school. It was an opportunity for the students to see, that one day, they could become me. They could become someone with a Doctorate; someone with an accent can accomplish what she has accomplished.”

Students reveal National Park College's new Nighthawk codeFollowing the diversity panel event, students revealed the Nighthawk Code for the first time. In the fall of 2017, Dr. Wade Derden spearheaded a committee of students, staff, and faculty to create the code, which depicts the common beliefs and expected behaviors of all members of the NPC community. Adopting the Nighthawk Code creates a community of trust and encourages personal responsibility both on campus and beyond. CDAC President, Melissa Krafft, had the opportunity to be involved in the shaping of the new code. She said, “I believe in honor, respect, and kindness to all humans no matter their appearances or station in life. I believe we all need to listen, learn, and show decency to those with which we come in contact. It was one of my greatest privileges to be a member of the team that created this set of standards for the campus. The action behind our words, the willingness to be ready to take action, and the honor and kindness we exemplify to those around us set Nighthawks apart in our community.”