Despite her campaign suspension, Shelia Huggins’ family carries political legacy

Caroline Daly
November 29, 2023

For Shelia Huggins, a former candidate for Durham City Council, life has always revolved around elections and politics.

Huggins’ mom, Ann, first introduced Shelia to the political world during her childhood, as she has been involved in public service for a long time.

Shelia Huggins (right) and her mother Ann attend a Democratic conference.

“I was already in it,” Shelia said. “So, it just felt familiar. You’re already in it. I grew up attending neighborhood meetings and registering people to vote. I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t involved.”

Ann currently serves on the Pitt County Board of Commissioners. Last year, she was selected as the Woman of the Year for the North Carolina Democratic Women. She previously served as Secretary for the North Carolina Democratic Party.

“This was the model,” Shelia said. “I’m trying to think of a model that I grew up under.”

Prior to Ann’s first campaign decades ago, she also worked on Election Day as a precinct judge. She is also one of the founding members of the African American Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

“I remember how, on Election Day, they would have snacks and we would go there later,” Shelia said. “Especially if it was during the school year, we would go by after school. But I just remember her serving in that capacity.”

Ann got into the political world because she wanted to have a part in who gets elected to represent her. Ann said she wanted to make certain that the best candidate gets elected.

“I knew that by getting involved, both in my community and politics, I could change things,” Ann said.

Ann believes many people don’t have time to get involved in politics, or they are unsure of how the political system works.

“I hope to be a voice for the voiceless,” Ann said. “I want us to do a better job of providing services to those who need services the most.”

In the decade prior to running for Durham City Council in the 2023 elections, Shelia worked in three different Durham city departments, and is now involved with many organizations and PACs.  

“It’s great to see people support her and what she’s working toward,” Huggins’ daughter, Emerson Kirby said. “Although she has suspended her campaign, I’m incredibly proud of the messages she shared during her campaign and the connections she made in order to progress elsewhere.”

Shelia is still a very involved community member and having that experience as a city employee has formed her mission in helping Durham citizens have better opportunities.

“I’m very proud of her. She is very qualified, and is so smart and intelligent,” Ann said.

The family legacy has continued with Emerson Kirby.  

Shelia Huggins (left) with her daughter Emerson Kirby. Kirby, a Duke student, is looking to follow in her mother’s footsteps in the political world.

Kirby is a 22-year-old student at Duke University, majoring in public policy and minoring in computer science. She currently serves as the third vice chair for the Durham County Democratic Party.

Kirby first got involved in public policy when her mom ran for Durham City Council in 2017.

“This experience opened my eyes to the world of municipal elections, and how policy really does begin from the ground up,” Kirby said.

She worked with Kids Voting Durham when she was in high school to facilitate conversations with city council candidates. She also attended the Democratic National Committee meetings in Philadelphia and had the opportunity to go on the floor of the convention.

“My mom definitely made me want to get involved,” Kirby said. “Watching her work and striving to make an impact in our community was inspirational, and it showed me what I could possibly do in the future.”

She said Durham is a great place for her to become politically involved.  

Politics and elections will always be a part of this family and they continue making an impact in their community.

“It has become so second nature for all of us, it’s just part of life,” Shelia said.

“Our family has always held strong values and a strong sense of community, and I can see that flourishing throughout our work.,” Kirby said.  

Ann Huggins said she is excited and grateful that her family has been involved in politics for generations.

“I’m proud to have three generations involved in politics,” Ann said. “I am especially proud of all of my grandchildren. Many of them have been involved in community organizing and politics. It is so nice to see my daughter, Shelia, and her daughter, Emerson attend political events together.”

Edited by Ben McCormick and Ethan Horton