On October 27, Alabama Possible held its 5th annual benefit dinner at The Florentine building in downtown Birmingham. The event gathered 140 of the organization’s supporters to take part in a conversation on “What does it mean to be an Alabamian?” and honor Birmingham natives Bill Jones and Shelley Stewart.
While enjoying dinner, guests heard from Locust Fork High School senior class president and Blueprints College Access Initiative Valedictorian Morgan Hardin. Morgan said, “Without Blueprints, I believe that I would still be trying to figure out what I should do after high school. Blueprints has helped me gain information that I need about college. With that, I am prepared to take on my life after high school.”
After introductions from the evening’s co-chairs, Renee Blalock and Robert Holmes, Bill and Shelley entertained and educated guests on what being an Alabamian meant to them. The two shared their different experiences with education, family, and race relations. During the conversation, addressing conflicting perceptions of Alabama, investing in education, and fostering diverse relationships emerged as primary themes in shaping our state’s story.
On his general view of the state, Bill said that Alabama is a “state full of opportunity, but it’s a state full of issues.” He pointed to one particularly persistent barrier to prosperity in Alabama, saying, “We need to focus on those areas that truly are scars and truly are problems in our state, like poverty.”
Shelley, ever the adman, acknowledged the need to work on issues like education and poverty but also on our state’s image. He said that in his travels throughout the country that it is clear that “Alabama’s brand is known for racism, so we have to work on that.”
Bill offered one solution for changing our brand, suggesting that we all serve as better “ambassadors for our state” and work to educate and retain the state’s younger generation.
Bill and Shelley both emphasized educational attainment and investing in that younger generation. “In Alabama, we love our universities, but are frustrated by our K-12 struggles,” said Bill.
Shelley responded, “Education is key,” as he recalled the influence of his first grade teacher who shaped his view education and its connection to opportunity. He continued, “If there’s no power in the present, there’s no hope for the future. It’s about the power of education. The power now. That’s what hope is.”
Bill suggested that one of the biggest assets to being an Alabamian is the ability to establish diverse relationships. “No state does it any better than we do. It’s just a part of our fabric that we all tend to want to have relationships; and we want those relationships to be real; and we want them to be diverse.”
Shelley said his career as a radio host is evidence of this movement toward diversity. Shelley’s radio personality, “Shelley the Playboy” was known for transcending racial barriers in a segregated south as he attracted young white and black listeners with what he called “my bad habits of bringing people together.”
Thanks to Bill and Shelley for bringing people together for this entertaining and engaging evening. Guests walked away with an understanding that we face obstacles that greatly impact our state’s story. But to be an Alabamian means to face those hurdles head on with pride, resilience, and compassion. Central to that identity are the fundamental elements of progress as we seek to foster educational success and diverse relationships in order to define what it will mean to be an Alabamian in the future.
Thanks to our generous sponsors and donors, the dinner raised over $50,000 to support Alabama Possible’s work to ensure that all Alabamians have the ability to lead prosperous lives.
Thanks again to our sponsors:
Bill & Becky Smith
Scott & Cameron Vowell
Renee Blalock • Miller & Frances Gorrie
Robert & Kelly Aland • Sidney Brown • Daniel & Brooke Coleman
Buffalo Rock Company • Ralph & Lesley Foster
Edward & Catherine Friend • Donald & Ronne Hess • Robert Holmes
Phil & Marsha Hurt • Bill & Walker Jones • Carl & Ann Jones
Curtis & Jean Liles • Don & Sandy Logan • Tom & Susan Lowder
Fred & Connie McCallum • Cheryl Morgan • o2ideas
Sam & Claire Parker • Joey Pierson • Sanjay & Dora Eugenia Singh
Southern Accents Architectural Antiques • Trim Tab Brewing Co.
UAB • Brooks & Libba Vaughan • Mike & Anne Warren
Edward & Amanda Wilson
By Ashleigh Staples, AmeriCorps VISTA at Alabama Possible