By Jackie Hardy
NDG Contributing Editor
“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members,” a quote from the late Coretta Scott King, American author, civil rights activist and widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. TJ Johnson, former Assistant Attorney at the United States Department of Justice, and Donna Hartman, retired educator and former Coordinator of Plano ISD’s Office of Academic Diversity, are unquestionably the very standard of compassion and their compassion for others is evident in the volunteer work they tirelessly give. every year at the Plano International Festival (PIF).
Under former Plano Mayor Pat Evans (2002-2009), Johnson was selected to serve on an advisory committee called the Multicultural Outreach Roundtable (MCOR). MCOR was created to promote the inclusion of Plano’s growing diverse community and to give voice to local government.
According to Johnson, Pat Evans’ vision and leadership in establishing MCOR, and his foresight to see the city’s changing cultural landscape, are the origin of the Plano International Festival.
“When she brought us together, her idea was that we think about how we can open up and welcome…especially to people from other countries, ethnicities and other cultures,” says Johnson.
Currently, Plano has a minority population of 44%, according to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau, and 1 in 4 Plano residents were born in another country (source: Dallas Morning News March 2020).
The Plano International Festival focuses on celebrating the diversity of different cultures comprising the nearly 300,000 people who call Plano home.
For nearly two decades, about 20,000 Plano residents have flocked to Haggard Park, located at 901 E. 15th Street and Avenue H, to take part in the Plano International Festival, but over the past two years the city and organizers of the festival had to postpone this in-person event due to the pandemic.
On October 15, the wait is over as this popular event returns from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Attendees will be able to come and enjoy a range of festivities consisting of live entertainment, free health services and a variety of food trucks to satisfy the many diverse palettes of the more than 100 cultures represented.
The Plano International Festival will also feature kid-friendly activities that promote engagement, learning and fun. Each year, children can take advantage of interactive STEM exhibits to discover and learn about science, technology, engineering and math. Other children’s activities include the Plano Symphony Orchestra’s Petting Zoo, Plano Fire Trucks for kids to visit, and Plano Animal Control Services provide a variety of animals for kids to play with. can pet and interact.
In addition, children will be able to travel to different countries through Passports to the World by visiting various kiosks, where they can have their passport stamped.
“Rotary clubs usually work with us to create these beautiful passports for our visitors. They can go to different tables to learn about different cultures…” Johnson advised.
Children are encouraged to visit as many countries throughout the day where they can receive a prize for learning about the different cultures represented at the festival.
The Wellness Fair is also one of the festival’s must-attend events thanks to title sponsor, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Plano and the organizing efforts of Hartman, who serves as Wellness Coordinator.
The Wellness Lounge will begin from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Plano Courtyard Theater, located in historic Haggard Park, and a Fitness Lounge will also be available.
“We are honored to support the Plano International Festival in its commitment to celebrating cultural diversity and raising awareness of the many ethnic communities that make up our city,” sentiments shared by Mary Jo Dean, director of community relations for Texas Health Presbyterian, via a email response to North Dallas Gazette.
At this year’s event, festival-goers will be able to take advantage of the many free physical and mental health services offered such as, but not limited to: mammograms, flu shots, HIV tests, dental care and other basic health checks.
“I can’t wait to see everyone. We have such a diverse community and seeing everyone in one place having fun, getting information and the health services they need really makes me feel good,” adds Hartman .
This business requires months of planning, as Hartman explains that much of what she does involves building and maintaining relationships and managing communication with vendors throughout the year. In addition to coordinating the Wellness Fair, Hartman also coordinates securing food truck vendors.
“I work almost all year on it. I really start preparing in January,” says Hartman.
After 12 years of volunteering, Hartman says it’s a labor of love as she views her community service as part of honoring the legacy of volunteerism ingrained in her as a young child.
“Ms. Hartman is passionate about providing health and wellness services and education for those who attend the International Festival. She understands the need of these families and often their inability to access the services needed to lead a life. healthy,” adds Dean.
Dean also shared how important it is for the festival to return this year. The two-year postponement of the event has been difficult, especially for many residents who benefit greatly from the many free health services.
Hartman said they aim to administer nearly 600 flu shots this year. She also said health services would include all ages from six months. There will also be interpreters on site to assist participants as needed.
Johnson views his community service as a privilege and a responsibility. As one of the oldest volunteers, Johnson’s name is synonymous with the festival. She served in the dual role of coordinator and master of ceremonies for the on-stage program.
“TJ is very diligent in ensuring that we have wide representation through the stage program. We want to look truly international on stage and strive to have performances from all continents. She does an amazing job with that,” Linda Adler, vice president of publicity for the Plano International Festival, said via email to NDG.
In addition to her duties as a facilitator, Johnson also leads efforts in planning and organizing the naturalization ceremony, where Adler says they typically naturalize between 50 and 75 people. The ceremony is complete with all the pomp and circumstance of a formal affair.
“An important part of our opening ceremony is a parade of flags, there are usually about 75 to 100 flags from different countries. We have the Sons of the American Revolution, the Plano Police Department brings us the Color Guard; and then we ask a city delegate to provide us with a proclamation…” Johnson describes.
In past ceremonies, Johnson secured federal judge for the Eastern District of Texas, the Honorable Amos Mazzant, III, to preside over the naturalization ceremony and this year, the Honorable Sean Jordan, also federal judge for the Eastern District, will officiate.
For Magesh Kandavadivel, Plano and the Plano International Festival hold a special place in his heart and that of his wife, Vinitha. Plano is where they decided to live and raise a family.
So, after both successfully completing the process of obtaining American citizenship, it was only fitting that they commemorate this special milestone in the very city they had come to call home.
“It was October 2009 and my daughter was 5 years old, she had just started school at Plano ISD. It was a cold day and I still remember that day, it was so special,” he shared.
Kandavadivel has joined the ranks of volunteering as he now serves every year to help coordinate activities for children to do at the festival. He best described why he enjoys volunteering.
“It’s a privilege to work with these special women every year,” he says.