BY MELISSA ANDREWS
Every year, Central Carolina Community Foundation and Columbia Metropolitan Magazine partner to honor people in our community who are making a difference. This year, three individuals and one company have been selected, and they are each extraordinary in their own right, having found a calling to help others –– whether through personal challenges that led them to where they are today or through a mission to honor those who have gone before them. This commitment to service over self is making an indelible difference in the lives of others, an impact that most will never know.
Kassy Alia’s life changed forever in September 2015. Greg, her husband and a Forest Acres Police Department officer, was killed in the line of duty while serving and protecting his community. Kassy could have taken this opportunity to lash out at the person who took her husband’s life, to wish it all away, and become hardened by this tragedy. She did the opposite. Less than five months later, Kassy founded Heroes In Blue, a nonprofit organization created not only to honor Greg, but also to spread the word about policemen engaging in compassionate and courageous acts. She says the group’s mission is to promote positive police and community relationships and to provide support to the families and colleagues of fallen officers.
“The mounting divisiveness between police and community was deeply upsetting to me prior to Greg’s death,” says Kassy. “When he was killed, I felt driven to take action to raise awareness of the acts of kindness and compassion shown by our law enforcement every day. That message has since grown into a broader mission that breaks down barriers and helps to make unity between police and community the norm.”
Bringing people together during such a divisive time has been challenging, as Kassy has found that many believe supporting both law enforcement and the communities they serve is not possible. Kassy and the volunteers at Heroes In Blue are working tirelessly to show just how much positive change can happen when people come together over common ground. “Breaking the stigma of law enforcement versus civil rights to show how the two are intricately intertwined is an important and pressing challenge,” she says.
Heroes In Blue is undertaking gallant efforts to bridge the gap. The organization is bringing law enforcement agencies together with Harvest Hope for Greg’s Groceries, an initiative to provide law enforcement with boxes of nonperishable food for people who are hungry and in need. They are also building partnerships with the Latino community and police in order to ensure that all victims feel safe seeking essential resources for healing.
The list of action-oriented partnerships continues to grow, as does the overwhelmingly positive response of the police officers who are so appreciative of Kassy and her efforts. “There are so many amazing police officers in our community who are driven to make a positive difference,” says Kassy. “Every day, they come across people in some of the most heartbreaking situations imaginable, and yet they continue to fight for a better community.”
Heroes In Blue works to redefine what it means to be a hero. They believe a hero is someone who treats people with respect and compassion every day, one who seeks to listen first rather than judge. They believe a hero is committed to spreading change through kindness and love — things that so many police officers do on a daily basis. Kassy wants the Columbia community to join the effort to choose every day to take care of their neighbors and to find courage to lead with love and eventually ignite change.
Love and empathy have enabled Kassy to cope with the death of her husband. Since his death, she has called for empathy, but she has found that, too often, the concept is misunderstood. “Empathy does not mean accepting bad acts or supporting hate,” says Kassy. “It means we are willing to go outside of our comfort zone to put ourselves in the shoes of another. This takes listening to people who are different from us and truly seeking to understand the things that can drive people to do certain actions, even horrific actions like taking someone’s life. When we do so, we are able to see the many ways we can prevent such actions. I will never be able to bring Greg back, but I promise to do all I can to prevent this pain from happening to others. And I will only be able to do so by having empathy.”
Kassy Alia embodies strength, taking one of life’s greatest tragedies and turning it into a triumph for her community. Greg would be proud.