Shannon Heath-Longino lives a life of community activism at East Lake

Shannon Heath-Longino lives a life of community activism at East Lake
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“She taught me leadership, … taught me individuality because what she did and what we do in life isn’t always popular. It’s not always accepted. It’s not always the cool thing,” Heath-Longino said. “As a child, she wanted to make sure I had the confidence to know that the more you try to do what’s right sometimes that’ll mean the lonelier you will be.”

When the time came for the dramatic reimagining and redevelopment of East Lake, not everyone in the project was happy, though. Davis’ apartment was firebombed by drug dealers twice in advance of tenants’ association meetings, and Heath-Longino found herself standing outside, scared and shivering in the cold night air, with her grandmother.

“I thought that would shut her up, but that ignited her, that put more firepower,” Heath-Longino says. “We, her kids, were like, ‘Mama, can’t you just let it go?’

“But she called someone with a pickup truck and got a bullhorn from somewhere. She rode around the neighborhood and got on the bullhorn and she told them, ‘Y’all didn’t kill me. I’m still here.’”

Heath-Longino, then in her early 20s and serving on the East Lake planning committee, saw similar resolve from her grandmother when communication broke down with Cousins’ team on the East Lake project. Davis didn’t think the tenants were being included in the decision-making process about floor plans and carpet or whether to have gas or less expensive electric utilities. So she filed an injunction that halted construction for about a month.

Finally, Cousins stepped in to resolve the impasse. One Sunday afternoon, he came to Davis’ house, bringing a bottle of wine and “prawns that looked like drumsticks,” Heath-Longino remembers. Davis asked her granddaughter to get Cousins a wine glass but said she’d make her own drink. She told Cousins he wouldn’t be able to handle it.

“He said, ‘Try me, Eva,’” Heath-Longino recalls. “And she said, ‘It’s moonshine.’ And he said, ‘Well, I want the good stuff. I don’t want this. I want the good stuff. That’s the good stuff you got.’ And that’s actually how the ice was broken, where they both laughed and got the drinks.

“They started talking about business, talked about life. He must have stayed with her about four hours that day. It was just the two of them and me running back and forth to make sure if they had everything.

“But I tell you that started a good friendship. And he kept up with her on a regular basis and that kind of mended things. He went back to his team and that moved everything forward, but that started a friendship, a lifelong friendship that the both of them kept until she passed.”

Heath-Longino, who served in the Army before graduating from Alameda College with a degree in sociology, calls Davis a visionary, a person before her time. But her granddaughter has taken Davis’ mission into the present at East Lake and beyond.

While Heath-Longino was bussed to schools in Buckhead from the fifth grade through high school, making a 30-mile trip that took two hours each way, her children, twin boys Caleb and Corbin and their sister Ckyla, are all alumni of the Drew Charter School at the Villages of East Lake not far from where she grew up. It’s one of the highest performing schools in the Atlanta area and Heath-Longino serves as Vice Chairman on the Board of Directors.

Three years ago, Heath-Longino partnered with the East Lake Foundation to start the Eva Davis Scholarship. To date, 27 Drew graduates have benefitted. Another source of pride was a years-long bureaucratic struggle to get the name of East Lake Boulevard SE changed to Eva Davis Way. 

“If I didn’t do it – and she’s buried not too far from East Lake — she said every time I come down Candler Road, she’d jump out and scare … me,” Davis’ granddaughter says, laughing. 

A first vice president at Truist Bank, Heath-Longino works in the Affordable Housing Finance/Asset Management Division. She has worked in the industry for more than 25 years and continues to be a voice for those her grandmother served who didn’t have a place at the table.

“Every neighborhood has a story,” Heath-Longino explains. “And I want them to know our neighborhoods have stories. East Lake is my story. And East Lake is a big story, but there are other stories. And I just like people to take time to get to know the people in the story.

“I just want it to really touch people who read it for years to come, because it motivates people who are the underdog. It motivates people who are born in circumstances beyond their control. It motivates people to not allow people to put them in a box. It motivates people to be their own circumstances and to challenge their inner selves, to be beyond what society tells you that you can be.”

Heath-Longino has regularly been among the fans at the TOUR Championship and sometimes plays the golf course along with other members of the East Lake Women’s Alliance that she helped organize. It’s a far cry from peering at what once seemed like “forbidden fruit” through holes in the green mesh fence that used to circle the course and picking up errant golf balls that felt like gold.

There is more to the mission than golf, though.

“It’s a group of professional women who are decision-makers,” Heath-Longino says. “They can be at Coca-Cola. They can be at the Falcons. They come from diverse backgrounds, but to basically let people know that the impact of the PGA [TOUR] and the impact of volunteerism, the impact of us as human beings.

“No matter how well we do in life, there’s someone who’s always behind us who are in need. There’s someone coming behind us that doesn’t have the resources. And I was always taught you have to reach back and help those that are coming behind you because someone had reached back and helped me.”

Sounds like a good idea for a book.

Source: PGA tour

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