By Shavonne Potts
Since 1990, the Salisbury-Rowan Human Relations Council has honored people from the community who exemplify the values and ideals of Elizabeth "Libby" Duncan Koontz.
On Thursday, the council named Suzette Davis, Shirley Johnson and Mark Wilhelm recipients of this year's Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Humanitarian Awards.
Davis is an associate professor of education at Livingstone College, where she serves as the director of student teaching and field and clinical experience.
"It's very humbling. I feel so honored," Davis said.
Davis said she was happy to be thought of in the same vein as Koontz.
"She was a great woman who did so much for this community, the state and the nation," Davis said.
She says her mission is to look for the best in everyone because it brings out the best in her.
"To have someone say, 'We honor you in the home of a great humanitarian like Elizabeth Duncan Koontz' — it's more than a notion," she said.
Johnson is a retired teacher and journalist. She was the first African-American woman hired at the Charlotte Observer. She serves on numerous boards, including the Salisbury Community Development Corp., Healthy Rowan and the West End Community Organization.
"I am a child of the community where Elizabeth Duncan Koontz lived. She was one of my mentors," Johnson said.
She said it was because of Koontz's influence and assistance that she had experiences she may not have had.
"I came up through integration and segregation," Johnson said. "I knew what Elizabeth Koontz tried to do."
Wilhelm is the chief of the Salisbury Police Department, a job he's held since 2003. He's been in law enforcement about 30 years.
Wilhelm also serves as a mentor with the Rowan Youth Services Bureau. He is a member of the Salisbury Optimist Club and a board member of Prevent Child Abuse Rowan and the Terrie Hess House Child Advocacy Center.
"I consider it quite an honor. I'm sure there are people more deserving, but I'm still honored," he said.
The speaker for the event, Angeles Ortega-Moore, executive director and CEO of the Latin American Coalition, Charlotte, talked about cultures coming together.
Ortega-Moore said it's less about tolerance and more about saying you accept and celebrate one another.
The most important thing is "the connectivity that we have as human beings," she said.
"The needs and aspirations we have are all the same," Ortega-Moore said.
The awards ceremony was held at the Salisbury Civic Center.