At age 41, Kevin A. Henry will be the youngest person to receive the Urban League of Central Carolina’s Whitney M. Young Award. Spend time with him and you start to see why.
For Henry — a husband, father of two young boys and senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Coca Cola Bottling Consolidated — life is about more than personal success. He has spent much of his adult life giving back.
At the Urban League’s March 26 ceremony, Henry will join the ranks of past recipients such as the late Joe Martin, Bishop George Battle, Foundation for the Carolinas President and CEO Michael Marsicano, and Bishop Claude Alexander Jr., senior pastor of the Park Ministries.
Henry recently sat with Qcitymetro.com to talk about the award and his belief in uplifting others. What follows is an edited transcript of that interview.
Q. Tell me about your involvement in the Urban League.
It actually started years ago. My father was a former board chair of the Bronx, N.Y., Urban League. I got exposure very early just observing what he did. On a personal level, I got involved in the Urban League while living in Louisville, Kentucky. This would have been early ‘90s. Upon relocating to Charlotte eight years ago, I got involved with the Urban League of Central Carolinas. I joined the board probably about five or six years ago. I transitioned off of the board about two years ago, and last year I chaired their sustaining campaign, which was intended to raise operating funds for the Urban League.
The Urban League is focused on teaching people. I think that’s a very effective way to try to drive change and do it in a way that’s sustainable and hopefully transferrable across generational lines. You’re really doing something when you can build that self-sufficiency. A lot of that starts with building confidence in the individual. The Urban League does a really nice job of getting the right programs to the right people at the right time. As a result, they’ve had good success and have generated some very positive outcomes.
Q. Aside from leadership roles, have you worked at the grass roots?
I’ve done some mentoring. I’ve been in the classroom. I’ve done workshops. I’m a firm believer in the whole notion of being “significant.” I had an opportunity to read a book a few years ago called The Generosity Principle. The book talks about success, and it talks about moving from being successful to being significant. I’m very thankful and very appreciative of a number of people who put me in a position to be as blessed as I have been, and am, on a personal level. I say this with a ton of humility: By a lot of measures, other people’s measures, I’ve achieved a level of success. The question is whether I’m being significant and taking that success and helping other people succeed.
Q. Tell me more about that.
The book talks about using your time, talent, treasure and touch to be able to help other people succeed, thereby advancing yourself into a place of more significance. I really believe in that.
So “treasure” may be making available some of your resources to people who are not resourced as well. “Time” might be volunteering and trying to make a difference in the lives of other people. “Talent,” I’m a human resources professional, so things like coaching on interview skills, coaching on how to communicate more effectively, coaching on writing resume; that’s a natural opportunity for me to lend some of my talents to other people. The other piece, “touch,” is sometimes just being there, as a coach, a mentor, a sounding board, offering a perspective to people. Quite frankly, just letting people know you care about them and that they matter enough for you to invest some time in them.
While any number of constraints might not allow everybody to participate across all four of those dimensions — time, talent, treasure and touch – my belief is that you ought to be able to participate in at least one if not more.
I’ve got two young sons, an 11 year old and a 7 year old, and I’m very, very, very blessed and thankful that, not only did I marry up, but I married a woman who’s similarly minded. We have a shared perspective around our family and what’s important to our family.
The thing that’s most important to our family is that we raise our sons to be the best people, but specifically the best men, we can raise them to be. They are growing up incredibly blessed. They are afforded things and they have access to things that a number of people don’t. It would be very easy for them not to be as aware of their responsibility as my wife and I want to make sure that they are. The way that we choose to do that is by role modeling those behaviors. So part of that grass-roots involvement also involves the entire family, and we’ve had the entire family participate and be involved in Urban League activities.
Q. Where did you get your sense of responsibility to others?
My parents, and their parents. Again, I’ve been very, very blessed that I’ve had people in my life who have been all about accountability and have been all about acknowledging where you get strength from, where you get support from. And personally, as I’ve continued to improve my own personal walk from a faith perspective, the whole notion of purpose is something that I’m becoming more and more in tuned with.
You know the phrase, “To whom much is given much is required”? At the end of the day, when you think of the dash, I don’t believe anybody’s going to care what you were called in terms of your title, where you lived, what you had or what you tried to take with you. I think what people really are going to focus on — and quite frankly what I’m going to be held accountable for at the highest level — is what you do with what you were given, your gifts, your talent, your treasure and your time.
Q. So what would you want your epitaph to say?
Believe it or not, no one has ever asked me that question, so I haven’t given it that much thought. A couple of things: One, “He did the best he could with what he had” would be important to me. The other is that he made a difference in the lives of others. I would hope my wife would say he was a good husband. I’d hope my kids would say he was a good dad. And those things are very important to me as well.
Q. You’re the youngest recipient of the Whitney M. Young Award. How does that feel?
I’m incredibly humbled. I am so very appreciative of the acknowledgement. But I also have a belief that there are any number of people who are infinitely more deserving than I am. There are a lot of feet and shoulders in front of me. I’m reticent to name names because invariably I’ll leave someone out, but folks like Dorothy Counts come to mind, Franklin McCain comes to mind, people like Harvey Gantt come to mind. People like Madine Fails come to mind. Folks who have been embedded in this community for a long, long time and have helped create an environment where somebody like a Kevin Henry can come here and have an impact and influence. I’m thankful for that.
Q. What keeps you up at night?
I actually sleep pretty good (LOL). I’m always tired. The same things that probably keep other parents up and other husbands up. I want to be everything I’m supposed to be. I want to make sure I’m spending enough time with my family. I want to make sure I’m preparing them, particularly my sons, for the time when I’m not going to be with them. I want to make sure I’m being a good friend, a good leader, a good neighbor. That’s the stuff that keeps me up. But it’s a good up. Because those are the thing that help me focus on trying to be better.