Archive for the ‘Fighting Poverty with Faith’ Category
In 1993, Wilford Bailey, Wayne Flynt, Eulene Hawkins, and Earl Potts came together to form the Alabama Poverty Project. They joined with others across the South to study poverty, publicize their findings, teach undergraduates what they had learned, and mobilize public policy to bring about systems change.
Today, APP continues that work through education, collaboration, and advocacy. In celebration of its founding and recognition of the continuing challenges fighting poverty, APP hosted a 20th anniversary dinner on Tuesday, August 27, 2013, at Woodrow Hall in Birmingham’s Woodlawn neighborhood.
The organization honored its founders by presenting the first Alabama Possible Awards to J. Mason Davis, one of Alabama’s longest-serving African American lawyers, and Judge Scott Vowell, who recently retired as the presiding judge of the Jefferson County Circuit Court. Former Birmingham News Court Reporter Eric Velasco led Mason and Scott in a frank conversation about access to justice and what each one of us can do to build a more just Alabama.
Both Scott and Mason talked about their experiences growing up in a segregated South. In a year celebrating the victories of the Civil Rights Movement, Scott commented, “it is also important to recognize how far we have to go.”
As an example, Mason lamented on the cycle of poverty. “Poverty has caused a great number of (young people) to drop out of school . . . if they are hungry, they can’t go to school and learn. So you get a kid from a poor family who can’t go to school, who can’t learn, so he drops out,” said Mason.
During the evening, APP officially unveiled its new name: Alabama Possible. The change comes after the board decided that Alabama Possible better reflects the organization’s work and deeply-held value that we have the power to reduce, and one day end, poverty in Alabama.
Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and donors, Alabama Possible raised nearly $30,000 to support our work. Many thanks to Co-Chairs Samuetta Nesbitt and Freddy Rubio, Keystone Sponsors Campus Dining, Inc., Royal Cup Coffee, and Scott & Cameron Vowell.
Temple Beth-El Earth Day Community Conversation Connects Local Food, Anti-Hunger Efforts
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining Little Savannah Co-Owner Maureen Holt, a slow food advocate, for an Earth Day community conversation with Temple Beth-El (TBE) members about local food and anti-hunger efforts in Birmingham.
Alabama has the second highest rate of hunger in the country, and Birmingham has the 12th highest rate of food hardship amongst major metro areas. It is also nationally known for its local food scene.
Thus, I was challenged to connect eating local and fighting hunger. As I followed along with the day’s Torah readings, a passage from Leviticus Chapter 19 jumped out at me: “you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great.”
Exactly, I said to myself. Locally grown produce and farmers markets should not just be for the affluent; in a just society, there should be choices available to all of us, regardless of income.
In order to build food justice, we need many different kinds of people, organizations and businesses within a community to work together to increase access to healthy, affordable, fresh food produced and processed locally.
While many Birmingham residents are familiar with the Pepper Place Farmers Market, WE Gardens and the Eastlake Farmers Market also host regular markets. Eastlake accepts SNAP/EBT and Senior Nutrition Coupons. To find a farmers market near you (or in a community you would like to explore), check out this list from the Year of Alabama Food and this one from the Greater Birmingham Community Food Partners.
Many thanks to TBE Community Conversation Co-Chair and APP Board Chair Joyce Spielberger for inviting me to speak to her congregation. Thank you also to her Community Conversation Co-Chair Toby Siegel and TBE Executive Director Bob Greenberg for coordinating the program.
We are especially grateful to have TBE join our faith partnership with a monetary donation. TBE’s Earth Day program was sponsored by Dalia & Keith Abrams, Suzanne & Howard Bearman, Chico Bomchel Memorial Social Action Fund, Barbara Bonfield, Barbara & Scott Brande, Cherie & Bob Greenberg, Sheri & Jimmy Krell, Vicki & Art Lewis, Esther Schuster & Allen Shealy, Gail & Abe Schuster, and Joyce Spielberger.
For information about APP’s anti-hunger work, or how your faith community can join APP’s Faith Partnership, please contact me at 205.939.1408 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Above: TBE Community Conversation Co-Chair and APP Board Chair Joyce Spielberger, APP ED Kristina Scott, and TBE Community Conversation Co-Chair Toby Siegel outside Temple Beth-El.
I hope that you are enjoying Holy Week and Passover with your friends and family.
These celebrations, while very different, are defining holidays for Christians and Jews. As I reflected on the meanings behind them, I saw a common thread: freedom. We can put that freedom to work by being a force for good and a champion for peace.
Alabama is the second hungriest state in the country, and 19 percent of Alabamians – and 28 percent of our children – live below the federal poverty line.
The statistics can be overwhelming. Nevertheless, if we dedicate ourselves to truth, love, and God, we will be a part of something much stronger and more enduring than any negative power here on Earth.
I hope you share my faith that we can achieve a state of social justice where everyone has the opportunity to make the most of their potential, where they are not held back by where they are from, and every Alabamian is supported to succeed. Thank you for working with us to educate, engage, and advocate to reduce poverty in Alabama.
Wishing you a joyous Passover and a blessed Easter,
Executive Director, Alabama Possible-Alabama Poverty Project
Taylor Bell is a senior sociology major at APP Cornerstone Member Samford University. He is a native of Louisville, Kentucky and is in his fourth year volunteering as a tutor and mentor with APP Faith Partner Baptist Church of the Covenant’s Leadership Southtown program.
We recently sat down with Taylor for an introductory conversation. Here’s what he had to say:
You are in the final semester of your career at Samford. Why did you choose to study sociology?
“I chose sociology because of my genuine passion for understanding both society and how we as individuals find our place within it. Coupled with my passion for justice and equality, I find sociology a means to further understanding why society is structured the way it is, and most important how we can fix it. The ‘human element’ is always presenting us with new opportunities of study.”
How did you get involved with Alabama Possible?
“I got involved with Alabama Possible because I needed an internship for my spring semester. I found out about APP and connected to the staff through Mrs. Cassandra Adams, the Director of Cumberland School of Law’s Mediation Center and Public Interest Project. I pursued the opportunity to intern at APP because I believe in their mission of combating systemic poverty.”
You have lived in Birmingham for four years now. What are some of your favorite places in the city?
“I love Saw’s BBQ, especially the one in Avondale. I also enjoy Urban Standard or O’Henry’s for a cup of coffee and Mountain Brook for a good run.”
Are you reading any books right now?
“I just finished Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith for my ‘Theories of Faith Development’ course. Tillich’s premise is that faith is central to who we are; no one can be faithless.”
What is your favorite movie?
“It is a tie between ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘The Soloist.’”
What is one issue in Birmingham that you would like to see changed?
“The huge disparities among the Birmingham metro area’s public schools.”
In order to maximize your investment in improving college access, this Fall APP’s Blueprints College Access Initiative launched a new college-coaching program at three Birmingham high schools: Woodlawn, Jackson-Olin and Holy Family Cristo Rey.
College-prep coaches encourage student access and persistence through a combination of ACT prep, career and college planning, and assistance for families in completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
“My mentor Devante Smith . . . guided me on how to go about getting financial aid, scholarships, and grants. I now have a different approach about going to college thanks to you all,” said Jessie Paul, a junior at Jackson-Olin High School.
Here are the results from our first semester:
- 82 10-12th grade students participated in college coaching activities,
- Seniors have completed 30 college applications,
- 29 students have registered and are currently preparing to take the ACT, and
- 10 students are completing scholarship applications.
“It is so rewarding when I get calls from students telling me that they have been accepted to college,” said AmeriCorps*VISTA Member Kevi Martin.
How can you help us build on this success?
- Volunteer. during FAFSA February to help more students access money for college. Email Eva Walton for more information.
- Organize college visits with local high school students; email Hannah Selles to get started.
- Donate to APP to help cover the costs of materials and staffing.
Above: Seniors at Holy Family Cristo Rey work on college applications.
As supporters of Alabama Possible-Alabama Poverty Project, you hope that together we can reduce, and one day end, poverty in Alabama.
That hope comes from the conviction, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach, work, and fight for it.
You can give the gift of hope with our 2012 gift membership premium.
This year, we teamed up with Camden’s BlackBelt Treasures and Lowndes County Artist Andrew McCall, who works with wisteria, Kudzu and grape vines he harvests from the backwoods of the Black Belt to make unique wreaths. No two are alike.
For your donation of $50 or more, we’ll mail your honoree a gift box with artisan-made wreath adorned with burlap flowers (natural or Alabama Possible Blue) along with a special note acknowledging your gift and their membership in APP supporting of our work engaging, educating, and advocating to reduce poverty in Alabama.
Order here by midnight on Wednesday, December 19, to make sure your gift arrives on time. Payment accepted via Paypal only. Call 205-939-1408 with any questions.
Faith, self-awareness, and community engagement were the trending themes last Friday, November 2, at the 2012 Lifetime of Learning Conference: Engaging in Dialogues about Power and Privilege in Service to Build Inclusive Communities.
The event, held at APP Cornerstone Member Birmingham-Southern College, brought together more than 60 higher education, faith, and community partners for dialogue prompted by speakers who challenged attendees to think deeply on how race, personal biases, faith perspectives, and cultural familiarity shape an individual or group’s community service.
Jackie Walker, coordinator of service-learning at BSC’s Bunting Center, reflected on a key theme of the dialogue, “Listening is where the magic happens. Listeners will greatly impact both sides of a service-learning interaction, but we need to open up even more than we have. How will we listen without everyone at the table?”
Dr. Yvette Richardson of the Alabama State Board of Education kicked off the day’s programming with a spirited take on the need for motivated, personal, and committed service efforts to bring about sustainable change. Kristina Scott, APP Executive Director, offered attendees county-by-county statistics on poverty and inequality in Alabama in order to shed light on how power and privilege affect financial security for Alabamians.
Keynote speakers Dr. Nadjwa Norton, associate professor at the City College of New York, and Dr. Courtney Bentley, associate professor at the APP member University of Montevallo, spoke to conference attendees about the power of self-awareness in service to communities.
Dr. Norton offered that in order to best structure a community service initiative, an individual or group needs to read, reflect, and discern on the rhythms, needs, assets, and members of that community. She lives in New York City and her flight to Birmingham was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. Thanks to Skype, she was able to join us anyway.
Highlights of the conference were research and service-learning presentations delivered by community and higher education partners from Baptist Church of the Covenant, Jacksonville State University, Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society, Northwest-Shoals Community College, and the University of Montevallo.
Nora Lee, advisor for the Alabama Region of Phi Theta Kappa, said of her students’ participation, “It was a great conference, and my students were thrilled to have the chance to do a presentation.”
Many thanks to this year’s Lifetime of Learning co-sponsors: BSC and the University of Montevallo.
Eva Walton recently joined APP as its new Program Manager. She helps facilitate APP programs, including Blueprints, our Higher Education Alliance, and our Faith Partnership, and manages daily operations. We recently sat down with Eva to learn a little more about her.
Eva is a sixth-generation Alabamian and is originally from Mobile. She earned her bachelors degree in Southern studies from Mercer University. She graduated in May from the University of Mississippi with a masters degree, and she won the Lucille and Motee Daniels Award for the best thesis in Southern Studies.
What interested you about APP and why did you decide to accept the position?
During my studies it became clear that the study of southern history and culture are intimately intertwined with the study of poverty. The APP offered me the challenge of bridging what I know about the history and causes of systemic poverty in Alabama with the work APP and our partners are doing to change the culture of systemic poverty in the state.
What person/event influenced your decision to enter the nonprofit world?
I continue to be influenced by the culture of service-learning and volunteerism I encountered during my undergraduate studies. Mercer faculty challenge their students to balance research and academic pursuits with service in the community.
What do you think is biggest barrier faced by individuals trying to break the cycle of poverty in Alabama?
I believe that statewide legal, social, and economic power structures are the biggest barriers to breaking cyclical poverty in Alabama.
What is something unique about you?
I adore Wendell Berry’s essays, novels, and poems. His texts are the largest single-author section of my personal library.
Poverty reduction is built on the foundation of strong communities. In order to learn more about building community power, APP Summer Interns Ashley Rhea and Gabriela Sherrod and AmeriCorps*VISTA JT Moore attended Birmingham Faith in Action leadership training seminar held over the course of two evenings last week.
Birmingham FIA Executive Director Quinn Rallins started the training by explaining that his job as a community organizer is to develop leaders. Leaders are people who have, develop, and listen to followers.
Quinn focused on the listening component of leadership, and segued into the distinctions between selfishness, selflessness, and self-interest. Selfishness is a concern for self while excluding others, selflessness is concern for others while excluding self, and self-interest is concern with self in relation to others.
A leader must listen to the self-interests of others—whether they are selfish or selfless—in order to organize others and make change. Progress is often hindered by conflicting self-interests, and when a leader understands the various points of view, compromise and progress is possible.
The second day of leadership training dealt with the single tool that a leader needs in order to change a community: power. Without power, a leader lacks credibility and respect, which hinders him from enacting change.
Birmingham FIA has a four-step model for power:
1. Listening. A leader must listen to a community’s concerns. Listening is not simply speaking with a few community leaders to get an idea of the problem; rather, Quinn suggested hundreds of one-to-one conversations with the community in order to gain a deep understanding.
2. Research. A leader must systematically research the problem, which could include reading reports, speaking with experts, and meeting with elected officials.
3. Public Action. Once the leader fully understands the problem, he can begin his public action for change, while keeping in mind the community’s self-interests.
4. Reflection. Once efforts for change have either succeeded or failed, the leader must reflect on its triumphs, shortcomings, and potential improvements.
Ashley, Gabriela, and JT left the training invigorated. Ashley said, “Leadership starts from the bottom up. If you want to see change in your community, listen to your followers. It’s all about relationships. That’s definitely a change in thinking for me!”
“I had no idea that community organizing was such an art form,” Gabriela said, “The training gave concrete suggestions for how to lead effectively, and these strategies can be applied to any endeavor, large or small.”
“This training helped me realize that community organizing is not as simple as ‘Just add water.’ It takes individuals who are passionate about people, dedicated to the greater good of the community, and willing to do what is necessary to bring about change,” said JT.
Birmingham Faith in Action was organized in 2011 to build a better Birmingham by working to ensure skilled, committed, leaders of faith can effectively organize on issues of concern in their communities and to build relational power across racial, denominational, and regional lines.