July 26th, 2010

Alabama Possible Spotlight: Fightress Aaron

Fightress Aaron, our youngest board member, is only 22 years old, yet she’s been advocating for her community since age 15. She grew up in the small Black Belt town of Camden, in Wilcox County, and was the first person from her family (or her neighbors’ families) to go to college. Her story is just one of many about how a college education can bring someone out of poverty in a single generation – and how community service can enrich the lives of those who serve.

Fightress always knew she wanted something better for herself. “I would see these people in my hometown who look like they’ve just given up on life. I didn’t want to be one of those people.”

“I knew my parents wouldn’t be able to pay one cent towards my college education.” It’s not that they didn’t value higher education – “Many members of the Black Belt community view college as a better way of life for themselves and their families.” However, Fightress knows first hand that many people don’t have enough knowledge or experience to make that dream a reality.

Fightress excelled in school and began looking for college scholarships early on. As a freshman in high school, she organized a community service club for girls to help older people in the community with yard work and house chores. She also published an inspirational community newsletter.

Her advocacy work began during her sophomore year of high school, when she went to hear a speaker in Selma talk about constitutional reform.

“Suddenly, I understood why everyone around me was poor, and why there were no jobs in Camden.” Fightress gathered signatures for a petition to write a new state constitution, and influenced her high school teachers to include a unit about the Alabama constitution in the curriculum. Her tireless community work, good grades, and search for scholarships paid off, and eventually she was able to fund her entire college education through scholarships and grant money. She thrived at Judson College, where she was SGA president and Miss Judson.

Because of her record of advocacy and community organizing, Fightress was asked to serve as a board member on the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform at the age of 18. The majority of the board members were older and white, and Fightress was surprised to be asked to join them. At first, “I couldn’t imagine why all these older white people wanted me to be a part of this!” she laughs. Despite her concerns about joining the board, she found that through her service there, she was able to have input on the direction of a larger advocacy movement and still be connected to the poverty-related issues close to her heart.

Fightress recently joined the board of the Alabama Poverty Project, where she continues her work to improve life for others in the Black Belt through advocacy and education. She was married in June and works as an technical writer in Montgomery – yet maybe because of how far she has come, she still seems to disbelieve her own success, or minimize her own achievements. When I told Fightress this she was surprised, but added “Honestly, I feel like I have so far to go and want to accomplish so much in such a short time. It is overwhelming at times, but it allows me to not become too content, as there are greater things to accomplish. I am so excited for how God will use me in the future.”

No matter what successes life may bring her way, Fightress will always find a way to reach back to her Black Belt roots. “I will always have my hometown in my heart,” she says. We believe that because of the work of Fightress and others like her, change in Alabama is possible.

How can you also serve? By giving. By advocating. By building relationships through community service.

Today in Alabama, only 21.5 percent of adults 25 and over have a bachelor’s degree. Only 3.4 percent of those people live below the poverty line, while a staggering 27.6 percent of adults without a high school diploma live in poverty. Together we can change those numbers.

Posted by Robyn Hyden