Dr. Carlos Alemán on the need for “Common Threads in Uncommon Times”

By: Javacia Harris Bowser

The most important thing that we can do is recognize the humanity within each other.” That statement was the core of the keynote address that Dr. Carlos Alemán, Chief Executive Officer of Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), gave as he accepted the 2024 Alabama Schweitzer Humanitarian of the Year Award.

Dr. Alemán was recognized at the Alabama Schweitzer Fellowship’s annual Celebration of Service event on April 13, 2024, hosted by the McWhorter School of Pharmacy on the campus of Samford University alongside the 2023-24 Fellow Class. Dr. Alemán received this year’s award for his work with ¡HICA! to transform our communities so that Latino and immigrant families can integrate holistically into the fabric of Alabama’s culture.

Dulce Rivera, left, presents Dr. Carlos Alemán with the 2024 Alabama Humanitarian of the Year award on behalf of Mi Pueblo Supermarket, the Humanitarian Award Sponsor.

His keynote was titled, “Common Threads in Uncommon Times: Cultivating Compassion and Collaboration for a Better World.”

“We live in really contentious times,” Dr. Alemán said in his talk. “All you have to do is turn on any news channel and there are reasons people want to fan flames of division.”

But Dr. Alemán declared that there is a way to move beyond the “us versus them” attitudes and make a difference in our communities.

“We need more compassion in the world,” he said. “And we need more people who are willing to build bridges so that we see the similarities and commonalities that we share as opposed to the differences that continue to divide us.”

Dr. Alemán took over as CEO of ¡HICA! in 2022 after coming to the organization as Deputy Director in 2018. In addition to his work with ¡HICA!, Dr. Alemán has been a member of Homewood’s City Council since his election in 2020, making him the first Latino ever elected to public office in Alabama. He’s also a board member of several organizations including REV Birmingham, the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), the Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and Red Mountain Park.

“Building bridges and serving others is my northern star,” Dr. Alemán declared. And he told the 2023-24 Fellow Class that the only way to address important issues such as our nation’s mental health crisis and the need for more civic engagement and workforce development is to work together.

“I’m only able to achieve the things that we’re able to achieve at ¡HICA!  and the city council by realizing that it’s not just me,” he said. “It’s not just my vision. It’s the vision of a whole community that brings us together.”

And this begins with recognizing the humanity in others – even those who disagree with us.

Dr. Alemán stated that he and his fellow city council members may share different political views but they all want wants best for their community. No matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you care if your trash is picked up on time, if the potholes in your street are filled and if people are driving too fast through your neighborhood.

The key to address issues both big and small is not go at it alone.

“We don’t need to have all the answers,” Dr. Alemán said, urging the 2023-24 Fellow Class to continue to lean on one another as they venture into their future careers.

“Call on each other,” he said. “We are each other’s best resources.”

Dr. Alemán stressed that we all can leverage our relatioships to resolve issues in our communities.

“In your journey as professionals, you will face many challenges,” he said to the Fellows. “Sometimes they will appear insurmountable but I’m here to say, come together, and we can conquer and overcome the improbable. But we need to find ways to bring others along on our journey.”

Dr. Alemán applauded the 2023-24 Fellow Class for partnering with individuals and organizations that were already connected to the communities they sought to serve through their Alabama Schweitzer Fellowship project.

“I love hearing testimony from the Fellows saying, let’s ground our work in the community,” he said. “The people closest to the problem are the ones closest to the solution.”

Dr. Alemán cautioned the Fellows against seeing the communities they serve as something that needs to be fixed.

“We don’t need to come in as saviors, but as partners,” he said. “We will all be better for it because that elevates all of us when we create opportunities for people to see themselves as empowered to resolve their issues in their community.”

His work with ¡HICA! has shown him that underserved and marginalized communities are resilient and the best way to bring about change is to leverage the strengths of those communities.

“Let us not feel sorry for the people that we serve,” he said. “That is counterintuitive and it’s also counterproductive. Bring people together and help them maximize their impact.”

Recognizing the humanity in others and working alongside others – even those who are different from us and even those who disagree with us – means stepping outside of our comfort zones. But Dr. Alemán said that’s what real leaders do.

“The world needs leaders who are not only skilled and intelligent, but also brave and compassionate,” he added. “The world needs us. The world needs you.”

The 2024 Humanitarian of the Year award was presented by Dulce Rivera, CEO of Mi Pueblo Supermarket, the corporate sponsor for the Humanitarian Award. To view Dr. Aleman’s speech in full, visit the ASF Alabama YouTube channel.