The Wire

  • Trump’s border wall prototype visit ‘a ridiculous waste of time’ — Ann Coulter

    Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter appeared on a Los Angeles radio program and ridiculed the president’s recent inspection of border wall prototypes, calling the photo-op “a ridiculous waste of time.”

  • VIDEO: FBI search for $55 million in lost Civil War gold buried in Pennsylvania — NBC Nightly News

    A story that $55 million in Union gold was lost during the Civil War has long been dismissed as a myth — but this week, a team of FBI agents joined the search in rural Pennsylvania.

  • Mississippi Is Now in Play for Democrats — Weekly Standard

    “But McDaniel’s candidacy could create problems for Republicans. Mississippi’s special election rules are a little wonky: All of the candidates will run in a nonpartisan primary in November. If no candidate gets above 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates advance to a run-off election. Mississippi is flush with Republicans: There are qualified statewide office holders, former statewide office holders, state legislators, and more who could credibly run. If Gov. Phil Bryant’s appointee to the seat (he gets to appoint a temporary replacement for Cochran who will likely run) fails to keep other candidates out of the race, the non-McDaniel Republicans could split the vote while McDaniel keeps enough of his core constituents to make it to the run-off.”

    “If Democrats manage to take advantage of the highly Democratic national environment, get a strong candidate into the run-off, capitalize on McDaniel’s weaknesses, grab some Republican votes, and maintain a turnout advantage, they could take the seat.”

    — Excerpt from the Weekly Standard.

Dr. Patti Dare is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

Alabamians who live in Huntsville know it’s not unusual for their neighbors, friends and other folks they meet around town to have the letters Ph.D behind their names and work in engineering, defense, tech and science fields that have helped the city earn its reputation as the smartest city in Alabama.

One of those Huntsville-area Ph.Ds is Patti Dare of Boeing, who earned her doctorate in chemistry from the University of South Florida. She now leads global sales and marketing for the company’s Strategic Deterrent Systems business, which includes its Minuteman programs, the Boeing Guidance Repair Center, Ground Based Strategic Deterrence (GBSD), and other intercontinental ballistic missile efforts, according to the company.

Dare, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, led the successful campaign to win one of the two government contracts awarded this past August to design and develop the next generation of ICBMs to replace the Minuteman system.


The project has brought hundreds of new jobs to Alabama and will continue to grow over the projected 50-year life of the program, according to company materials.

“I am so humbled and honored to have the opportunity to help protect our nation and lead this campaign … which will bring high wage, high tech, clean industry jobs to Alabama,” Dare said in a statement about the contract. “This mission is so critical to our generation and the generations to come – we need to get the best capability into the warfighter’s hands as quickly as possible and affordably. I am up for the challenge with this very talented government, Boeing and industry team.”

Dare’s diverse industry experience at various corporations is an asset, considering her responsibilities include “leveraging capabilities, expertise and resources” not just within Boeing but across the industry, according to a company bio.

Before joining Boeing, Dare was chief operating officer for Davidson Technologies, where she was responsible for programs in missiles, aerospace, cybersecurity and intelligence markets, as well as company growth and overall strategic vision.

Dare also served as a program director at Lockheed Martin, and among other achievements and responsibilities she was “responsible for the design, build, test and launch of targets and countermeasures supporting the Missile Defense Agency with 100% mission success,” the bio says.

Dare began her career at Honeywell International as a senior materials engineer and progressed to the positions of program manager for missile activities and business development manager for missiles and interceptors and special programs.

Dare credits her successful career trajectory to education, setting high goals and the people who helped her along the way.

“I had great mentors, coaches, people willing to take a chance on me, and an awesome support structure with family and friends,” Dare told Yellowhammer News. “I was very blessed having an encouraging and supportive family.”

Dare was born in Ohio and was the middle child between two brothers in a family that moved frequently for her father’s career.

When asked about leading as a woman in her industry, Dare said she’s learned some important lessons.

“Focus on the mission and the positive,” she said. “You need to gain respect. Relationships and communication are key. Asking for help is okay. Be yourself. Little things can make a big difference, and it’s not always about you or your career.”

Dare, who serves on the board for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Education Foundation and on the University of Alabama in Huntsville engineering board, said the best life and work advice she could give is to try to find work-life balance, to mentor and help others, and to address problems “head-on.”

“Find things that make you happy,” she said. “Take time to think and reflect, find people you admire, respect and want to learn from, and share your lessons learned.”

Dare will be among 20 Alabama women, including Gov. Kay Ivey, honored in a March 29 awards event in Birmingham that will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Event details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

Stephanie Bryan is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

Did you know that the only federally recognized Indian tribe in Alabama operates as a sovereign nation with its own government and bylaws on a hard-won official reservation near Atmore?

Seated at the top of the tribe, in its highest leadership position, is a woman who has seen her people go from poverty to prosperity in the span of just a few decades.

In 2014, Stephanie Bryan, who will this month be honored as a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, became the first female political leader elected to the position of tribal chair and CEO for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, descendants of a segment of Creek Indians who once inhabited most of Alabama and Georgia.

Bryan told Yellowhammer News that it is not unusual for her tribe to prize women’s leadership because historically, they have had a “matrilineal society,” meaning that children are considered descendants from their mother’s clan, not their father’s.

“Women have traditionally been involved in the decision-making process for the greater good of the Tribe,” Bryan said, which includes nearly 3,000 enrolled members. “That said, I still grew up in the 80s in the deep South in a small town and there was no easy way to develop leadership skills.”

Bryan was raised by a single mother and said, “We didn’t have much money, but we had a lot of family, a lot of love, and a lot of fun.”

“We ran barefoot in the red dirt, played stickball, an old Indian game sort of like lacrosse, and spent a lot of time on the front porch shelling peas and just talking,” Bryan said. “I loved hearing the stories from my grandmother and aunts. They were funny and strong and had a deep faith in God and the future.

Bryan said her mother “pushed her to do more” because she did not want her daughter to remain poor, and that she went on to do well in high school, start a family young and attend the nearby junior college.

Bryan worked two jobs while raising her family in federally funded tribal housing and said her work in insurance taught her about business and customer service and forced her “to read a lot of complicated documents.”

Bryan’s mother was with her when she first won the tribal chair election, but passed away before she was reelected.

“I try to honor her by doing for others what she did for me. I listen,” said Bryan, who raised three children with her husband and has 10 grandchildren.

“Something else,” she said. “When another person has a good idea, I publicly recognize it. Because when we recognize each other’s value, we force others to recognize it too, and that is when one individual’s success strengthens us all.”

Today, Bryan oversees all tribal operations, including tribal government, Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA), and PCI Gaming Authority (PCIGA).

The tribe’s economy has grown a stunning 1000 percent since Bryan began serving as vice-chair in 2006, according to figures from the tribe’s office.

The Poarch Creeks also said their economic impact in Alabama includes these 2016 figures:

— 9,064: Direct and indirect jobs the tribe provides in Alabama.

— $414.1 million: Spent on goods and services by tribal government, CIEDA and PCIGA.

— $298.1 million: State, local and federal income, sales and other related taxes generated by tribal government, CIEDA and PCIGA.

— $88.4 million: Paid in wages to PCIGA employees.

— $49.2 million: Contributed by the tribe in donations, charitable contributions, sponsorships and mutual aid agreements since 2013, including county drug task forces, the Huntsville Redstone Gateway nine project, fire departments, roads, buildings, hospitals, educational institutions, and many other community and government initiatives and projects.

— $25 million: Educational scholarships the PBCI have provided to tribal members and first generation descendants since 2013.

Perhaps the tribe is best known for its Wind Creek branded gaming facilities located in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery, its resorts and casinos in Aruba and Curacao, and its $250 million OWA (pronounced oh- wah) complex in Foley, which includes an amusement park and was named by the Alabama Tourism Department as its 2018 attraction of the year.

Just last week, the Poarch Creeks announced another major expansion: the $1.3 billion acquisition of the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in Pennsylvania.

“I will always stay humble, no matter how far we grow as a Tribe,” Bryan said. “…I will always remember where I come from and how blessed I have been.”

Bryan will be among 20 Alabama women, including Gov. Kay Ivey, honored in a March 29 awards event in Birmingham that will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Event details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.


Congresswoman Terri Sewell is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

If you only read U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell’s resume, it might be tempting to assume she grew up with connections and privilege.

She went to Princeton University for her undergraduate degree.

She went to Oxford University for her master’s degree.

She went to Harvard Law School for her doctorate in law and began her legal career at a Wall Street firm.

But the lifelong Democrat who represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, and who will be honored this month as a Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, said in an interview with Roll Call that she considers herself a “little girl from Selma” whose remarkable path began when she got to go to Princeton.

“That was the ticket that sent me on my way,” Sewell said.

She also grew up in a strong family that emphasized academics, said Sewell spokesman Chris MacKenzie in an interview with Yellowhammer News.

“Her parents were very inspirational figures in her life,” MacKenzie said, adding that Sewell’s father was “a very driven person” and coach of the Selma High School basketball team. Her mother was a librarian.

“Together, they gave me a hunger for learning,” Sewell recently wrote of her parents in an op-ed for the Huffington Post.  “I remember spending countless hours in the library reading through books that brought to life all of the places I wanted to travel someday.”

Sewell became the first black valedictorian of her high school in 1982. A Perkins student loan then helped her get to Princeton because her family did not have the resources to send her to college on their own, she wrote.

At Princeton, Sewell was matched up with a student mentor named Michelle Robinson, she told Roll Call. The two became friends and Sewell said it was like “two worlds colliding” when her “Big Sis” went on to marry another of Sewell’s future friends she’d meet at Harvard:  Barack Obama.

After school, Sewell worked as a lawyer in New York for a decade until her dad had a series of strokes that left him disabled. She came back to Alabama to support him and began working as a public finance lawyer, helping secure funding for local construction of major properties such as the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham and the new stadium at Alabama State University.

She also became the first black female partner in the Birmingham law office Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C.

“That was part of her beginning to work more with members of the local community and helping to develop Alabama’s 7th district,” MacKenzie said.

Fast forward: Rep. Sewell is now in her fourth term and not only is she one of the first women from Alabama to serve in Congress — she is the first black woman elected to the state’s Congressional delegation.

In addition to serving on key committees such as the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Sewell’s office said the following are just a few of her most notable accomplishments:

  • Sewell’s first piece of successful legislation recognized with Congressional Gold Medals the four little girls who died in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963.
  • She advocated for the Air Force to successfully bring the F-35A basing location to the 187th Air National Guard Fighter Wing unit in Montgomery.
  • Sewell fought to keep rural Alabama hospitals open, including John Paul Jones Hospital in Camden, by working with rural hospitals, local public officials, stakeholders and constituents.
  • She successfully helped Selma’s historic federal courthouse where Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed, get off the list of endangered federal buildings and worked with the Southern District Court of Alabama to resume federal trials there.
  • She successfully introduced and passed bipartisan legislation to incorporate Birmingham’s civil rights sites into the National Park Service system.
  • Sewell each year hosts an annual job fair in her district that last year hosted more than 60 employers and 600 job seekers.
  • She designed a workforce development initiative called Project R.E.A.D.Y to promote employment through public/private partnerships, job readiness, skills training and career development.

The congresswoman and Governor Kay Ivey will be among 20 Alabama women honored in a March 29 awards event in Birmingham. Event details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.


Teledyne’s Jan Hess is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(Teledyne Brown Engineering/Johnny Miller)


Jan Hess is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact who is making history in a company known for making history.

In 2000, the Huntsville-native became the first female executive of Teledyne Brown Engineering, the first high-tech company established in Huntsville to help Wernher von Braun build the Redstone Rocket, according to the company website.

Teledyne Brown will this year celebrate its 65th anniversary.

Hess steadily moved up in leadership and became the engineered systems and advanced manufacturing company’s first female president in 2014.

She is also president of the Engineered Systems segment of Teledyne Technologies Incorporated, which includes Teledyne Brown Engineering and three other Teledyne companies, and employs 1,200 people to serve the aerospace, defense, maritime and energy markets.

Hess is responsible for the “growth, profitability and long-range strategic positioning of her segment,” which has grown organically by double digits under her leadership both in revenue and profit in an industry where the average is low single digit.

“I find that she has integrity, which is important not only in business, but in relationships outside of business,” said friend and colleague, Dorothy Davidson who is CEO of Davidson Technologies in Huntsville.

Davidson told Yellowhammer News that Hess is a “good person for the community” and is well known not just in Alabama, but also nationally and internationally.

“I think that’s a tribute to her for several reasons,” Davidson said. “One is her being a woman in the position that she’s in and being able to carry that forth and to have people respect that. In this day and time, to be able to get the respect of other people, other nations, is a very important thing, especially when you can do it successfully and with the integrity that is required.”

Hess said she believes there are three key elements to success: hard work, persistence and a positive attitude, which she says she learned as one of eight siblings whose father passed away when she was 10 years old.

She and her siblings “worked as a team” to help her mother keep the family afloat.

“As we went off to college, those at home sent whatever money possible to help those in college,” said Hess, adding that she began working at the age of 12. “As we graduated, we helped those still in college and at home.”

Hess graduated from Auburn University with a degree in accounting and holds a certificate in management from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, as well as a professional designation in Advanced Government Contracting. She is an active business leader and volunteer who advocates for children with learning challenges and sits on multiple Huntsville boards and councils. She is a certified public accountant in Alabama (inactive) and frequent public speaker who has won multiple honors and awards, including being named a “Woman of Distinction” by the Girl Scouts of the USA.

“I have been fortunate to have many mentors in my career,” Hess said. “Mentoring need not be a formal process. Mentoring opportunities are everywhere – airplanes, events and most recently while walking in D.C. to a conference. It is an honor and very rewarding to be able to ‘pay it forward’ and watch others grow.”

Hess is married to Grantt Childress, whom Hess calls her “greatest cheerleader.” The two have an adult son.

Hess will be honored with Governor Kay Ivey in a March 29 awards event in Birmingham that will recognize 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama.

Details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.


‘Good Samaritan’ helped me — turns out he’s a Huntsville City Councilman

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and District 1 Representative Devyn Keith (Twitter / Devyn Keith)


A good Samaritan blew me away with his kindness when I injured myself playing basketball this week and I’ve just discovered who the “stranger” is.

I began writing this column about the service of an unknown person, but imagine my surprise when I googled his name just now and realized the soft-spoken gentleman, who I am 100 percent certain has no idea he helped someone affiliated with a news organization, is Hunstville City Councilman Devyn S. Keith.

Here’s what happened:

For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to join a mostly men’s basketball league at the Hogan Family YMCA in Madison, even though I was out of shape and out of my league (I arrived for the first game last month and thought I’d stumbled into a Lakers practice).

My short grab at glory ended Thursday night when I jumped for a rebound and felt a painful pop in my foot.

I hobbled to the sideline, tore my shoe off, then stumbled out of the gym, red-faced, embarrassed, dying to find a chair somewhere alone-ish to catch my breath, swallow my pride, and figure out what to do.

A young man must have broken away from his own team to grab the shoe I’d flung off and bring it to me in the lobby. He found me and told me to wait; he’d get ice.

The smoothie bar worker gave the Good Samaritan what she had – some blue latex gloves that he filled with ice and taped to my foot, kindly talking to me about what I needed to do right when I got home to help it heal.

He was humble and gentle, and when he was sure I was okay, he asked if there was anything else he could do to help me. I sheepishly told him I had left my water bottle and bag in the gym … would he bring them to me? He happily retrieved them, asked me if I was sure I was okay, and sincerely wished me “a blessed night.”

He hadn’t offered his name, but I asked for it and repeated it to myself all the way home so I wouldn’t forget. I wanted to write him a note, tell the gym director about him — do something to show my gratitude for his sincerity and warmth.

Here’s what I’ve just found out about that kind stranger.

Devyn Keith is a Huntsville city council member, former Sparkman High School student and full-scholarship football player at Samford University. When he was a Birmingham student, he began a nonprofit called Brothers of 1 Voice, to “educate, empower and advocate for youths who have aged out of state support services,” according to his website.

He’s a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston where he earned a master’s degree in public administration and he’s involved in the Big Brother Big Sister of America mentoring program.

According to a 2016 campaign video, Keith said he was “born and raised in Huntsville, the product of a single mother, and subsequently, the product of a large, extensive, diverse community network.”

“I’ve been blessed beyond belief to have people to call family who don’t share any of my blood,” Keith said in the video.

“I believe in the notion that it takes a village to raise a child, but I also believe that that child, at some point, should help raise the village,” he said. “I believe it’s Matthew 23:11 that says, ‘The greatest among us are called to be servants.’ I simply want to serve. I want to serve and be a servant to the community that I call home. That’s why I’m running.”

At 27-years-old, Keith went on to win his bid for District 1 City Council, beating 7-time councilman Richard Showers and garnering more than two-thirds of the overall vote, according to Paul Gattis in this 2016 introduction to the new councilmember.

It’s easy to forget how it feels to be weak or sick or hurt when all is going well, when I’m feeling healthy and strong, when life is full and hectic, but good. Keith’s act of kindness is a powerful example to me of the impact it makes when someone busy sees a need and stops to help.

Maybe Devyn Keith feels what he did was no big deal. Maybe he’ll be embarrassed that I wrote about it. But to me, his actions meant a great deal.

The orthopedic said I ruptured something-or-other and now I’m in a very attractive boot for several weeks. I’m bummed but I don’t regret my short-lived basketball season for three reasons:

  • I had a dang good time. 
  • My kids know Mom attempted a David and Goliath stunt that I hope will inspire them to take risks.
  • But best of all, I met Devyn Keith.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

(Editor’s note: As Rachel’s editor and her proud husband, I have the right to insert this quick smartphone video I took of a recent game to prove she’s actually pretty good. Look at #12’s pass! — Pepper)


Gov. Kay Ivey is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(Photo: Governor’s Office, Hal Yeager)


The most important duty of a lieutenant governor is to be ready to become governor.

Judging by the significant accomplishments in Kay Ivey’s nearly 11 months as Alabama’s 54th governor, she has proven herself ready by successfully steadying what she called “the ship of state” and then steering Alabama into strong economic waters.

Yellowhammer News is proud to announce that Gov. Ivey is a 2018 Woman of Impact because as Alabama’s second female governor, she is a trailblazer who restored our state government’s image when we needed strong, dignified, unifying leadership the most.

Gov. Ivey has presided over accomplishments that should make all Alabamians proud, including:

  • Record low unemployment (3.5 percent in December).
  • Record exports of Alabama goods and services in 2017.
  • More than $6 billion in new direct investments committed in the state that will create 13,000 jobs.
  • A conservative, fiscally responsible state budget.
  • Launch of the “Strong Start, Strong Finish” education initiative that prioritizes early childhood education, computer science in middle and high school, and workforce preparedness.
  • Attraction of major businesses to Alabama, including the coming Toyota-Mazda plant in Huntsville that will provide an estimated 4,000 jobs.

Ivey enjoys the 3rd highest approval rating of governors nationwide, according to a recent Morning Consult poll, and her political history includes several interesting firsts:

  • First female student government vice president at Auburn University.
  • First Alabama Girls State alumna elected to a statewide office.
  • First Republican to be elected state treasurer since Reconstruction.
  • First Republican woman to hold the office of lieutenant governor.
  • First Republican lieutenant governor re-elected to the office.
  • First Republican female governor.

Gov. Ivey grew up an only child in small-town Camden, Alabama, in Wilcox County and worked on the family farm where the Iveys raised horses, grew timber and farmed cattle. Her father served in World War II as an army major in the field artillery and her mother’s work included time as vice president at Camden Bank.

Gov. Ivey has worked as a high school teacher and a banker and has long advocated for women in government through her work with Alabama Girls State — beginning her own career in public service when then-Governor Fob James appointed her to the state cabinet in 1979.

War Eagle, Madam Governor, and thank you for rising to an unexpected challenge … and for knocking it out of the park.

Join Governor Ivey and special guests from across the state for a Birmingham awards event March 29 honoring the 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama. Details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.


VIDEO: Human trafficking victim shares heartbreaking AND inspiring story at Alabama Human Trafficking Summit

Lynne Caffery, Executive Director of Safe Harbor Youth (Yellowhammer News/Youtube)


Human trafficking survivor Lynne Caffery said she was “sold and given and resold and given to males and females for merchandise and guns and drugs and raped repeatedly” as a trafficked victim of a biker group and the Mexican cartel before landing in prison and, eventually, finding hope, education and a new life.

Caffery told Yellowhammer News her difficult journey led her to her life’s passion — helping young people as executive director of Safe Harbor Youth, which provides a transitional living program for youth ages 16-22 years old “who have run away from home, are neglected, homeless, living on the streets, or victims of human trafficking,” according to the organization’s website.

Alabama Human Trafficking Summit

Caffery was one of more than 20 state and national experts spanning church ministry, law enforcement, government, education, non-profit, technology and legal sectors who presented this month at the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force’s fourth annual summit held in Montgomery.

WATCH Caffery share her story of hope in this 3-minute video by Chason Smitherman, Sr.:


Link between pornography and human trafficking

This year’s summit was the largest-to-date and explored the link between pornography and human trafficking among other focus areas, according to organizers.

“Due to [pornography’s] growing role in fueling sex traffickers, we brought Lisa Thompson of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) down from D.C. to present this emerging subject matter,” said David Pinkleton, fundraising chair for the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

Thompson is the NCOSE’s vice president of research and education and recently said on the Dr. Drew show that when it comes to pornography’s “wide-ranging health harms,” to children and the public, the research is “pretty overwhelming.”

The NCOSE contends that research shows pornography fuels human trafficking, violence, rape, and abuse of women and children as porn viewers seek to act out the violent sex acts they see online.

What is human trafficking?

The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as, “modern-day slavery” that “involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

In Alabama, state lawmakers are working to remove the “force, fraud, or coercion” language from state law because human trafficking offenses cannot currently be prosecuted without proof that such tactics were used to lure a minor into commercial sex acts and according to experts – those aren’t the only ways victims are trapped and trafficked.

State Representative Jack Williams (R-Vestavia Hills) spoke at the summit about legislation he introduced to fix that loophole as well as other updates in the Alabama Legislature to address human trafficking.

Williams chairs the state task force and said the summit’s purpose “is to train school officials, law enforcement, churches, social workers on how to recognize human trafficking victims and the steps that are being taken in the state to prevent human trafficking from occurring, and opportunities that are available for those who are victimized by it.”

Growing coalition fighting trafficking in Alabama

Pinkleton said other highlights from the summit included a keynote address about child sex trafficking from ECPAT-USA Executive Director Carol Smolenski, a presentation about how human traffickers target kids through social media by Blount County district attorney Pamela Casey, and a panel discussion with Auburn University and Mountain Brook High School students about how to best discuss human trafficking with their peers.

“As always, this summit leads to increased collaboration between attendees and organizations present,” Pinkleton said. “We look forward to partnering with NCOSE going forward along with Trafficking Hope, which is a ministry of Church of the Highlands.”

The Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force was established in 2014 and meets once a quarter at the Alabama State House.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.


Alabama State Senate candidate talks school shootings, #MeToo and the AEA

(Mary Scott Hunter for State Senate)


Yellowhammer News recently sat down with Alabama School Board member and State Senate candidate Mary Scott Hunter to talk about hot-button topics like school shootings, the #MeToo movement, what she thinks of the Alabama Education Association (AEA), and why she prefers to be thought of as a “candidate”, not a “female candidate”.

Hunter is running in the Republican Primary against Sam Givhan to replace retiring State Sen. Paul Sanford, whose North Alabama district includes much of the City of Huntsville and rural parts of Madison County. The primary will be held on June 5.

YELLOWHAMMER: What should schools do to protect students from school shootings?

Mary Scott Hunter: I think all serious problems that require an “all hands” approach should be attacked internally and externally. Externally, there are lots of ways to make a school safer. You must think in terms of making a school and those within it harder to target for a would-be killer. So, think about things like construction techniques that use a locked atrium system for visitor entry and making classrooms “safe rooms” with locking systems. We should do student and teacher training in “Run, Hide, Fight,” and consider deputizing, training, and arming teachers because this acts as a deterrent to bad guys.

Last year I visited a Limestone County school systrem that is currently utilizing a system for teachers who open a box attached to a wall in their classroom in an active shooter situation. The box emits a signal to law enforcement and contains a stun gun, mace, and some basic medical supplies. The teachers receive training on how to use the contents of the emergency box.  All our schools should be mapped and the maps immediately accessible to first responders.

But government rarely cleanly solves a problem so we should also look inwardly for solutions, too. Prayer certainly is essential. Your individual witness and personal example should also not be underestimated when it comes to societal issues. A lot of evil and violence stems from the general erosion of our society’s values – we can and should improve there. As a current policymaker and future lawmaker, I’ve tried to find ways to make schools safer. I think we have to be careful here because there’s no single thing that works.

YELLOWHAMMER: You have worked in fields largely dominated by men as an Air Force veteran, a lawyer, and in tech. How should men and women navigate workplace issues in the wake of #MeToo?

MSH: I think you have to make general rules for how you conduct yourself, remembering that a general rule is a general rule; you have to make exceptions.

For example, I’m a lawyer and I absolutely have to close my door to have meetings. So, Mike Pence’s rule? Probably a good idea. I’m not sure anyone needs to be out to dinner alone. But, is he really not going to have closed-door meetings with top females in the administration? I don’t think going that far is necessary. I don’t think we need to get hung up on an open-door policy. Don’t be so rigid you can’t make a reasonable exception.

YELLOWHAMMER: What should women do if they are harassed?

MSH: I am grateful that I have not been in a situation where I’ve been harassed. But I think if that happens, a woman should immediately address it. Handle it right there and make it clear: That better not ever happen again. Don’t let it languish or fester. Confront it with strength. I think first women need to respect themselves and strengthen themselves to hopefully avoid it.

We know [harrassment] happens. There will be those times when you cannot handle it alone and you have to come forward and say something. You have to be honest. But on the other hand, what can happen with these movements is you have an ‘over-victimization,’ and an acceptance that being weak is inevitable. It isn’t inevitable. It doesn’t have to be inevitable that you are in a position of weakness.

YELLOWHAMMER: You have said that your goal in running for State Senate isn’t necessarily to add more women to the Legislature. Tell me more about that.

MSH: I’m a ‘candidate’ for State Senate; I’m not a ‘female candidate’. I don’t want to say it’s not important to have female legislators, it is, but what does it serve to dwell on that? I didn’t look at the Alabama Legislature and say, there aren’t enough women, I should run. I’m running because I believe I have something to offer and I want to serve.

YELLOWHAMMER: Some have said women don’t run because of the toll it may take on their families. You are married with three children, your husband has deployed at times, you have a full-time job, serve on multiple boards, and are running for office. How do you make it work? Do you do your own laundry?

MSH: I do a lot of crockpot cooking and yes, I do all the laundry. A few years ago, when Jon deployed, I got really good at managing everything. We have a chore chart system and the kids earn an allowance by helping. We’re maniacal about that chore chart and make a big deal about the kids getting their allowance. We also have a college student who comes and helps in the afternoon.

There are days I don’t do it well. Some days I can only do what I have to do, as in, I have to get the kids to school, okay I can do that. And then there are days your son or daughter gets sick and you drop everything to be there for them.

For me, I have to have priorities. I always make a list. I’ve had a list running for 20 years. And so, I know what I have to do that day, then I have my “like to do” list I hope I can get to.  I almost always get my short list of have-to-dos done.  Most days I can do a couple of things on my like-to-do list.

And I can’t say enough about having strong friendships. I have a best friend, Amy Boyd, who is like a second mom to my kids and I am to hers. Many days we are in the same boat with busy jobs and busy husbands and we help each other. I am blessed to have a circle of friends I can count on. If things fell apart, I could call them.

And, really, most importantly, if you are blessed to have a spouse, don’t give him a hard time. Be understanding, don’t stay mad. You know, all those things your mom told you before your wedding – those are important. If you are married, your marriage is the most important thing.

YELLOWHAMMER: You have some critics in the Alabama Education Association (AEA). What do you think of the organization?

MSH: I think the AEA as an organization has some challenges. They are a mix of professionals, being the teachers, and then the non-professionals. So, there is a question as to identity. Are they a professional association? A union?

When it comes to wages, labor, workplace considerations, that’s a little more straightforward, but on the professional side, talking to that side, there is such a tremendous opportunity to be in partnership to raise up the profession of teaching. This was one of the first true professions, and such an important one, so let’s partner. It’s hard to think of the AEA as partners, but why not? There’s a lot of opportunity there, but it’s unclaimed opportunity. I think trust has to be rebuilt.

YELLOWHAMMER: In 2013, the Huntsville GOP voted to censure you for “dereliction of duty” for failing to fight against Common Core. It’s been a few years — What are your updated thoughts on that and on Common Core?

MSH: That’s water under the bridge. I’m a lifelong conservative Republican and I support our local party and appreciate what they do for this area. I’ve often felt misunderstood on the standards issue. I strongly believe we need rigorous standards in every classroom and we haven’t always had them. That said, I have always opposed federal mandates and intrusion into our classrooms and I believe Alabama teachers and parents are more than qualified to develop strong standards for our kids without Washington’s input.

YELLOWHAMMER: What does conservatism mean to you?

MSH: When I think about being politically conservative, I think there are three types of issues: Social, Foreign Policy, and Fiscal. I’m conservative on all three. When it comes to social issues, I had a child born at 32 weeks, and the notion that we could end a life like that… that is abhorrent to me. I’m strongly pro-life.

When it comes to foreign policy, with my background in the military, I know firsthand that conservative policies are better for our standing in the world.

When it comes to the fiscal category, I think that is the clearest cut of all of them. I believe in holding government accountable, cutting where we can, and making sure the taxpayer is getting what they’re paying for.

YELLOWHAMMER: Do you think politics are more divisive than ever? What can Republicans and conservatives do to pull together?

MSH: It’s not easy. It’s always easier to say something hurtful, especially on social media. I tell myself to be honest and to not hold back out of fear. I try to be respectful of all sides. When I disagree, I try to leave personal attacks at the door. I do wish people weren’t so vitriolic. The only thing you can control is your own behavior, and then the next order of business is to try to help others you have an influence over to make good decisions. You know, as southern mothers, we say, “Use nice words.” That doesn’t mean you’re a pushover. I think using nice words can be powerful.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.


VIDEO: That time Billy Graham held a massive Birmingham revival

Billy Graham’s 1964 revival in Birmingham (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)


The beloved American evangelist Billy Graham passed away at his home in North Carolina Wednesday at the age of 99, leaving a life-long legacy of preaching, teaching and evangelism that earned him the nickname “America’s Pastor.”

In 1964, Graham offered to bring his team to Birmingham after the 1963 bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four African-American girls. He made it clear he would not preach a Birmingham crusade if the meetings were segregated, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Graham’s revival drew the largest integrated audience in Birmingham’s history at that time.

WATCH this powerful clip:


Graham returned to preach a crusade at Legion Field in Birmingham in 1972. More than 373,000 attended the week-long event.


Billy Graham in Birmimgham, 1972 (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)

(Have you ever been to a Billy Graham crusade? What are your thoughts on Graham’s legacy?)


To good men who don’t want to mentor women in #MeToo wake



(Opinion) I think we saw this coming.

A sharp increase in male managers say they are uncomfortable mentoring women in the wake of the sexual harassment and #MeToo movement, according to a recent study by women’s empowerment nonprofit and online survey tool SurveyMonkey.

Here are some of the survey’s key findings, according to’s summary:

  • “Almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together.”
  • “Almost 30% of male managers are uncomfortable working alone with a woman—more than twice as many as before.”
  • “The number of male managers who are uncomfortable mentoring women has more than tripled from 5% to 16%. This means that 1 in 6 male managers may now hesitate to mentor a woman.”
  • “Senior men are 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior-level woman than with a junior-level man—and 5 times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior-level woman.”

I cannot blame them.

#MeToo is an important movement and I support the brave women who have come forward, but this column isn’t about the awful behavior of bad men. It’s about the potential fallout for everyone else.

I hope good men will consciously resist an accidental backlash that would mean fewer opportunities for women. I’m glad Sheryl Sandberg is calling on men to #MentorHer despite the heightened awareness – and natural fears – surrounding #MeToo.

But I do disagree with the criticism of men who choose standards like the ‘Mike Pence Rule’, which means for the vice president that he doesn’t eat alone with women other than his wife and doesn’t attend functions with alcohol without her.

I can’t fault a man for taking precautions he thinks are necessary to protect his reputation.

Does this stink for good women with good intentions? Certainly, yes – inconvenience, feeling awkward, wishing a dynamic hadn’t been introduced that perhaps makes everyone feel suspected or on edge—I think all of that can happen when men do gymnastics not to be alone with a woman.

I’m certainly glad when men feel comfortable working with me and there’s a mutual trust-based atmosphere.

But can either of the sexes blame the other for being safe rather than sorry?

After all, would we fault a woman for walking down the street with mace at-the-ready if she perceived she was unsafe?

Would we fault her for thinking twice in the wake of #MeToo if a male coworker asked her to stop by his hotel room or office late in the evening? Whether she was in any real danger or not, we’d completely understand if she declined, regardless of how good the man’s reputation or intentions.

I think women need to offer the same grace, space and understanding to a man who keeps his door open in meetings, brings someone along to the restaurant, or is otherwise watchful of his surroundings in his encounters with women, professional or otherwise.

Women and men should support, rather than take offense or feel slighted by, someone’s boundaries. We should treat each other with the same respect we seek for our own concerns.

Take precautions. Keep your door open if you must. But men, please don’t quietly close your doors to women altogether.

I’m a pretty easygoing person, but I remember getting so furious I slammed my hand on the college cafeteria table and drew stares when I raised my voice to chew out a guy friend who cynically suggested that a male mentor of mine wasn’t helping me succeed in journalism because I earned it. Rather, he called his motives into question because “why would an older man want to mentor a younger woman?”

I was angry because even then – more than 15 years ago – I sensed that men were taking a mild risk to their reputations to mentor and help women. I felt like it was because of people like my mind-in-the-gutter friend, that male professors and professionals might think twice about the recipients of their mentorships, internships and jobs. Who wants to deal with suspicion, smirks and motive-questioning? Easier to just give opportunities and pour the time into young men, perhaps.

We should all confront such speculative gossip with righteous indignation so it is less acceptable to think the worst of anyone, male or female, without good reason.

I thank God for the key male mentors in my life who didn’t let fear of criticism affect their efforts to make unbiased, merit-based decisions about who they helped. I hope good men everywhere will take courage and hire, mentor, work with, and otherwise help and interact with women in the same good faith you would have before #MeToo.

If you’re going to leave the door open, leave all the doors open.

“A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray,” Proverbs 12:26.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

Human trafficking bill passes Alabama State Senate



Human Trafficking Awareness month may officially end Wednesday, but advocates and lawmakers in Alabama are pushing legislative efforts on behalf of victims that will be felt long after January.

The Alabama State Senate passed a bill Tuesday that establishes much stronger penalties for anyone found guilty of obstructing an investigation into human trafficking.

“Because you want to make it such a hard deterrent for anyone engaged with or associated with this crime, we want to move from a Class C to a Class A felony for those who are involved in obstructing justice in these cases,” said Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), who sponsored the bill and chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Under current law, someone convicted of a Class C felony for obstructing a human trafficking investigation may only serve one year in prison.

A Class A felony has a minimum jail sentence of ten years.

Ward told Yellowhammer News that the proposed legislation would prevent people who know about human trafficking activity from looking the other way so that legally, they “can claim a reason not to be charged in anything involving the crime.”

Ward said the new law would help with situations like one that he said occurred in Birmingham.

“What happened was, you had a couple folks who weren’t necessarily trafficking children, but they knew about [a child sex trafficking ring],” Ward said. “They were involved on the fringes, but when the time came to try and find out exactly how this business was running, these folks who were aware of it and somewhat part of it, but not directly, they basically impeded law enforcement from finding out who the real perpetrators were and cracking down on this sad, sad practice.”

“In the new law, to know about it, and intentionally obstruct the prosecution of these cases, then you’re treated the same as the person who was directly involved in the trafficking,” Ward said.

Senate Bill 179 received bipartisan support and passed unanimously, according to a State Senate press release.

It is just one of several bills that will come up in the House and Senate this session as lawmakers prioritize and fight what Ward called, “one of the most horrific blights on our society” and “a monstrous practice” whose victims are most often children.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

Human trafficking in Alabama — How victims are lured in and what state lawmakers are doing about it



An at-risk teenager or vulnerable woman begins dating someone who showers her with gifts, takes her on dates, and woos her into loving and depending on him for care and protection – and, often, drugs.

She feels that he is her “boyfriend” even though, eventually, he tells her that she needs to perform sex acts with other men to pay the rent or pay for drugs or to keep his love and protection.

She complies.

Is she a victim of sexual abuse or human trafficking or is she a prostitute?

It’s the difficult-to-define-and-prosecute problem that often festers in the shadows, eluding law enforcement, social workers and lawmakers, said Pat McCay, secretary of the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

“The problem with some of these cases is they are not recognized as human trafficking,” McCay said in an interview with Yellowhammer News. “It can look like sexual abuse or sexual assault. Women and girls will come in with bruises or emotional scars and even with the most well-trained people, if you don’t understand what human trafficking is or that it is going on in your community, it’s just not on your radar.”


A growing army of advocates and legislators wants to cut through the confusion — by pushing human trafficking into public awareness, and by enacting stronger laws to strong-arm it out of Alabama.

State Rep. Jack Williams (R-Vestavia Hills) has been fighting human trafficking in Alabama since 2009 and last week introduced a bill in the state House that is designed to make it harder for human traffickers to get away with their crimes, particularly those involving minors.

“We’re broadening protection for [victims] by closing up loopholes that make it easier for traffickers to use methods other than force to lure folks into prostitution,” Williams said. “Now they’ll be held accountable for those other types of methods as well.”

The loophole he’s referencing is a requirement in current law that requires proof that a minor, defined as someone under the age of 18, was coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts in order for it to be established as a trafficking offense.

If coercion or deception is not proven, it means “not all commercially exploited children are defined as juvenile sex trafficking victims,” according to Washington-based human rights group Shared Hope International (SHI), who each year issues a national report card analyzing state human trafficking laws.

Alabama received an 83.5 “B” grade from SHI last year, in part, because of that snag in the law, according to the report.


In other words, some traffickers don’t use physical coercion or deceit to control their victims; they use emotional or psychological methods.

Williams’ bill would make sure human trafficking “sexual servitude” laws include those pulled into prostitution by such means and would put in place stricter criminal penalties for anyone engaged in trafficking or prostitution of a minor.

It’s an important move forward, because in many cases, victims may not even realize what they are involved in because they have been groomed and brainwashed into believing they are loved and in a consensual relationship, said Carolyn Potter, executive director of The WellHouse, a shelter and recovery facility serving human trafficking victims near Birmingham.

“A minor being kidnapped and sold into sex slavery is not the norm,” Potter told Yellowhammer News during an interview at The WellHouse’s peaceful facilities in Odenville. “What we see at The WellHouse is not like what you see in the movie ‘Taken’ [the Liam Neeson movie in which college girls are kidnapped on an overseas trip and sold to international buyers].”

Far more often, Potter said, those who come to The WellHouse may have different backgrounds, but their lives include a few strikingly similar events that have led them into commercial sex.


“I’d say 95 percent of the women who come to us are victims of childhood abuse at the hands of a family member or parent,” Potter said, giving as an example a brother-sister pair who were sold for sex by their mother while they were growing up. The children were not allowed outside and had to wear long sleeves and long pants to hide their bruises.

Such traumatic childhood events follow victims their whole lives, Potter said, and when a child gets to be about 12-13 years old, the victim — usually a girl, but not always — becomes vulnerable to traffickers who pretend to care for her. The trafficker is usually much older, perhaps a man in his 30s.

The relationship progresses much like the hypothetical example leading this article and can become violent — including beatings, rape and starvation if the girl does not meet her quotas for sex money—and swinging back to bouts of kindness, with the pimp being nice and providing her with a sense of security and family.

In other cases, the victim doesn’t necessarily think of herself as a victim, said Potter, which is why changing the law’s language to drop the deception and coercion requirement for minors is crucial in freeing young women who have been groomed by pimps to feel loved, cared for, and in a “50-50” consensual relationship with their “boyfriend”.


Potter and McCay both said they long for legislation that would impose harsher penalties on anyone buying sex, particularly from a minor.

“The buyer’s picture should be in the paper, not the girl’s,” Potter said. “Part of this is educating people that these girls have been victims all their lives.”

McCay said the best answer is to “hit demand right between the eyes.”

“If you have a product and there’s no demand, it isn’t going to be on the shelf anymore. It’s basic economics,” McCay said. “Tennessee has created this law that if you are caught buying sex you get the same punishment as a trafficker – I would love to see that in Alabama.”

Williams said such a measure is not off the table and will come up in discussions and perhaps be added to the bill during the committee process.

“Prostitution is a demand-driven industry,” Williams said. “Were there not individuals purchasing sex, people wouldn’t be selling it.”


Under current Alabama law, human trafficking is a Class A felony, but a sex purchaser might only get a $500 fine on the first offense, a $1,000 fine on the second offense, a $1,500 fine on the third offense (all misdemeanors), and be charged with a Class B felony on their fourth offense, Williams said.

Those fines apply even when the purchased sex is with a minor, though child abuse and other penalties may apply to the purchaser, he said.

The proposed law would also “prohibit a defendant accused of engaging in an act of prostitution with a minor from asserting a mistake of age defense,” according to the bill, which is currently under consideration in the House judiciary committee.

Williams is expected to introduce another human trafficking bill this week to address criminal trafficking activity in massage parlors, and the State Senate’s 2018 top legislative priorities include child sex trafficking.


Williams, McCay and Potter are among twelve speakers scheduled to present at the 4th annual Alabama Human Trafficking Summit hosted by the state task force on Friday, February 9, in Montgomery.

The event is open to the public and registration details may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

Holy Hanceville! Gorgeous Alabama church in rural town off I-65 is secret worth exploring




You have to see it in person to believe it, but this Facebook video from comes close to showing the epic grandeur of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament located in rural Hanceville near Cullman.

If you are driving north or south on I-65 between Birmingham and Huntsville, consider carving out a few hours to stop in and pray. You won’t regret it.


This Romanesque church sits on 400 acres in rural Alabama.

How did this $50 million Italian church end up in Alabama?

Posted by Curbed on Tuesday, January 9, 2018


The details:

— Mother Angelica, founder of the EWTN Global Catholic Network, felt that God called her to build the shrine while traveling to Columbia in the mid-1990s to seek funding assistance for EWTN’s Spanish programs, according to the shrine’s website.

— Through the donations of just five families, Mother Angelica was able to fund and build the opulent property without taking any funds from EWTN or other ministries.

— The feisty nun, known for her sharp wit and quick humor, took criticism at times for the site’s costly materials — such as the use of real gold and diamonds in parts of the worship areas.

— According to author and EWTN host Raymond Arroyo’s 2007 biography of the remarkable nun, she told the nuns in her community of Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration:

Sisters, you can never go overboard when it comes to Our Lord and the things that belong to His worship. …We must never feel that anything is too lavish or expensive when it comes to vestments or altar cloths or chalices. God has never been stingy with us, Sisters.”

— Mother Angelica was born in Canton, Ohio, in 1923 and died Easter Sunday 2016.

2 months ago

Alabama State Senator to introduce human trafficking bill today


Alabama State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) is expected to introduce a bill Tuesday designed to impose heavy penalties on anyone who obstructs human trafficking investigations.

“Human trafficking is a growing problem not just in Alabama, but around the country,” Ward said in an interview with Yellowhammer News. “Particularly human trafficking in young kids, which is often for the purpose of sexual abuse.”

Human trafficking is defined as a form of modern day slavery “involving the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion,” according to Polaris, a non-profit that tracks human trafficking.

The average age of victims’ entry into sex trafficking is between 11-14 years old, according to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

Ward said that under current Alabama law, active engagement in human trafficking is a Class A felony, but penalties are much less strict for those who may not be directly involved in trafficking — but who know about trafficking activity and obstruct law enforcement from investigating.

In Alabama, Ward said such obstruction is currently classified as a Class C felony, which is punishable by a minimum amount of time in prison.

Ward said his proposed legislation would change that and provide a stronger deterrent to anyone engaged with or associated with the crime.

“Oftentimes, those who are obstructing justice in these human trafficking cases are just as guilty as those who are actually participating in it,” Ward said. “In the new law, to know about it and intentionally obstruct the prosecution of these cases, then you’re treated the same as the person who was directly involved in the trafficking.”

Human trafficking statistics are “sparse and almost non-existent” because of the underground nature of the crime and because human trafficking cases are sometimes mistaken for other crimes such as assault, said Patricia McCay, secretary of the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

Cases have been reported in Montgomery County, Birmingham, Fort Payne, Madison County, Huntsville, Albertville, Guntersville, Dothan and Mobile, according to the task force’s fact sheet.

Experts estimate human trafficking is a $150 billion per year industry and that activity is particularly rampant along the I-65 and I-20 corridors because of their connections to major ports and cities.

Though not a comprehensive measurement tool, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that they received 111 calls that referenced Alabama in 2017 and that 36 human trafficking cases were reported to them in connection to the state.

Ward is chairman of the judiciary committee and said he plans to have the bill reviewed by his committee on Wednesday. He expects it to sail through without opposition.

“You’d be hard pressed to be against this,” he said. “It’s a big profit maker for those engaged in it and it’s a real sad story. This is something we should always make a priority to crack down on.”

State Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) will sponsor a similar bill in the House, Ward said.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

ROLL TIDE: Two heroes emerge in Alabama’s epic national championship victory over Georgia

The crowd celebrates after Alabama wins the National Championship against Georgia in overtime (Yellowhammer)


The first words a relieved looking Nick Saban said to ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi after winning his sixth national championship — five with the Crimson Tide, one with LSU — Monday night:

“Was that a good game or what?”

No doubt.

Georgia dominated for most of the game, but the Tide came from behind to tie the game and win 26-23 in overtime.

Two heroes emerged in the showdown between SEC rivals Alabama and Georgia.

The first: Tua Tagovailoa, a true freshman second-string quarterback who entered the game in the second half in an unexpected, and some would say risky, substitution.

The left-handed Hawaiian completed 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards and went on to throw a 41-yard touchdown to DaVonta Smith to slide past the Bulldogs in the epic win.

“First and foremost I’d just like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Tagovailoa told ESPN after the game. “You know, with Him all things are possible and that’s what happened tonight.”

The second hero is the star quarterback Tagovailoa replaced: sophomore Jalen Hurts, who showed class and maturity beyond his years when told to step aside for his less-experienced and less-accomplished counterpart.

With his signature calm and peaceful smile, Hurts cheered his teammates from the sideline and rejoiced in Tagovailoa’s game-saving leadership.

“[Tua] stepped in and did his thing,” Hurts said moments after the game ended and confetti spewed into the air. “He did his thing for his team. …I’m so happy for him and so happy for this team.”

2 months ago

$$$: Donations pour into account to help Roy Moore accuser whose house burned in possible arson


Tina Johnson in an interview with Megyn Kelly in Nov. 2017. (Megyn Kelly TODAY / YouTube)


Roy Moore accuser Tina Johnson lost her Gadsden home and all of her possessions in a possible arson this week and now a flood of donations have poured into a GoFundMe account created to help her recover.

In 21 hours, more than 3,000 people donated more than $95,000 to the online campaign, blowing past the $40,000 campaign goal.

The Etowah County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that they are investigating a person of interest in the possible arson but that, “The ongoing investigation does not lead us to believe that the fire is in any way related to Roy Moore or allegations made against him.”

A quick scroll through the donations shows mostly small gifts between $5 and $50, with occasional larger gifts of $100, $200 and more.

The fundraiser was set up by Katie Jacobs Stanton, a San Francisco based executive, former President Barack Obama staffer and mother-of-three.

On Friday Stanton, 47, tweeted:

Stanton wrote in the GoFundMe description:

I don’t know Tina Johnson. But I believe her.

Tina Johnson bravely shared a story about being sexually harrassed by Roy Moore. It has always been dangerous and risky for women (and men) to speak out against sexual harrasmment.

Today, this danger reached a disturbing level. Tina’s home burned down and she lost everything. An arson investigation is underway.

100% of these funds will be used to help her rebuild her home. If Tina has insurance that covers the damage, she’ll still receive funds from this campaign to help with living expenses and ease the weight of all this. Money won’t erase what happened, but I truly hope it will help.

GoFundMe will keep funds raised safe in their system until we work with Tina on withdrawing them.

In November, Johnson came forward with accusations that failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore groped her in 1991 when she 28 years old and in Moore’s law office on child custody business.

Moore has denied the allegations.

3 months ago

Emojis: Love ’em or hate ’em, it’s dang hard to get them approved


Anyone who texts with me knows I refuse to give up my emojis.

I’ve read that there is a “feminist case for not using” emojis and that it would be “empowering” not to have to do the texting equivalent of emotional labor. I admit they are a bit juvenile.

However, I love — nay, I NEED — those little perfectly nuanced pictures of smiling, happy, sometimes crying, round yellow things.

I like the speed of putting a thumbs up emoji instead of writing out “Got it, sounds good”.

I like that when a comment can be taken multiple ways, I can have peace of mind knowing it will be safely understood when accompanied by tears of joy.

I like the playful “show don’t tell” puzzle of picking a picture rather than a word.

Still, I imagine my emojis can get annoying.

I also recognize I’m the mother of five children, not a teenager.

And emojis do bring modern pitfalls, as I recently learned when I accidentally texted the eyes-as-hearts emoji to a male coworker right in the middle of the sexual harassment frenzy. I frantically searched for an emoji to convey someone slapping their forehead in mortification, only to realize mid-scroll it really was faster just to text something like: “Super sorry — Didn’t mean to send that!”

But as a communications geek who believes there are degrees of expression that only an emoji can digitally capture, I think I will keep right on using them.

Which is why I’m loving this AP News article that explains the emoji’s origins, its history and the serious approval process that icons-in-the-emoji-making must pass. Who knew there’s a non-profit “Unicode Consortium” of representatives from companies like Google, Apple and Facebook who meet to decide what makes the cut? The group also standardizes the icons across devices and operating systems so emojis look the same no matter who sends and receives them.

Some interesting details from Barbara Ortutay’s article:

— Emojis come from the Japanese words for picture “e” and letters “moji”. Rudimentary emojis first popped up in Japan in 1999 as cell phones became more popular.

— Emojis aren’t retired. We started with about 176, now there are more than a thousand, with new ones added every year.

— Anyone can submit an emoji idea to the consortium, but there are a bunch of rules for what can — and can’t — become an emoji (no swastikas, nothing that looks like a specific person, for example).

— One woman described what it took to get her dumpling emoji approved and it included two years of “research, many meetings and a written, illustrated proposal that reads a bit like an academic paper, complete with research on dumpling history and popularity.”

— We won’t know for a couple more months which new emojis will be added for 2018.

Here are my most used emojis:


What are yours? If you could create an emoji, what would it be?

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

3 months ago

That time Nick Saban chewed me out at a press conference



Looks like I have a new and improved excuse to stand firm as the only non-Crimson Tide fan in my family:

Nick Saban is my trigger.

I’ve been having some strange reactions to sports news lately but I couldn’t think why …

— First, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announced that SEC Media Days will no longer be held exclusively at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover.

Thinking about SEC Media Days made my eyes start to twitch.

— Then, Phillip Fulmer was named Tennessee’s acting athletic director after John Currie was fired.

My hands began to shake.

— Next, Saban’s defensive coordinator signed on as head football coach for the Volunteers.

SEC Media Days … Phillip Fulmer… Nick Saban … Tennessee … Alabama …

Something about it all made me break out in hives.

And then the memory came back, washing over me in one big wave.

Remember back in the early 2000s when Coach Fulmer was Tennessee’s head coach and he secretly told the SEC and NCAA about a University of Alabama booster who cheated to recruit players? All that led to an NCAA investigation, the booster’s conviction and probation for the Crimson Tide.

I was a news and sports intern at Birmingham’s WBRC in 2003 when Coach Fulmer was one controversial guy in Alabama.

I can’t remember the exact details (and calls and emails to WBRC did not receive a response), but someone in the sports department sent me — unsuspecting, no-clue-me — into SEC Media Days with one question for all the football coaches, along the lines of: “What do you think of what Coach Fulmer did by telling on Alabama?”

Can you even imagine how then-LSU Coach Saban reacted when he realized I was asking him to gossip?

Oh. My. Word.

Whatever he said sent me into a terrified stupor.

In my mind’s eye, he went from looking something like this:


To something like this but worse:

(Alabama Football/Facebook)

So, that’s right: If people can claim that Donald Trump and spiders are legitimate triggers, then I’m claiming Nick Saban as my trigger and that’s why I can’t cheer for Alabama to get to the National Championship (okay, okay I do respect the guy and won’t cry if they win).

Maybe a Saban chewing is a rite of passage? This YouTube video from Josh Snead says it all (I feel ya, Josh):



Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of

(Are you scared of Coach Saban? What would you ask him at a press conference?)

3 months ago

If you live in parts of Alabama, you are likely sleep-deprived … and courting disease or death




If you live in Alabama, chances are you are more sleep-deprived than people living in New Hampshire, D.C., California, Texas, and 37 other states, particularly if you live in the Birmingham-area and southwest parts of the state.

(Centers for Disease Control)

Alabamians report getting “short sleep” in larger numbers than in many parts of the country, according to the most recent data available from the CDC.

Short sleep is defined as getting less than seven hours of sleep a night.

If you pride yourself on being an early bird and a night owl, shirking sleep in favor of productivity (or Netflix), listen up: Recent science shows sleep deprivation can kill you.

So says Jeff Stible, a brain scientist and vice chairman of Dun & Bradstreet who recently wrote that we need to pay more attention to findings from a 2013 study showing that our brains flush out deadly toxins in our sleep.

It would take 200 sleepless hours, or 11 days straight, for those toxins to kill us, said Stible.

Few would try such a stunt, of course, but far more of us try to get by without enough sleep, which still kills us … just slowly.

Here are Stible’s key points:

— Everything below our necks uses the lymphatic system to clear out toxins. Our brains’ only known mechanism for clearing out the junk is sleep.

—  That groggy “drugged” feeling you get when you don’t get enough sleep is because you are indeed drugged. Our brains produce mind-altering drugs without any help from the artificial ones. Without sleep, our brains can’t get purged and those drugs pile up.

— Even if you think you can thrive on five or six hours of sleep, you’re wrong. Scientists say you need at least seven hours a night. Sleep deprivation builds up over time, eventually catching up with us and causing significant harm.

How much harm? Here’s a New York Times article examining the 2013 study and sleep deprivation effects in more detail.

Short sleep is concentrated in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, and in parts of the northeast, where nearly half (38 to 44.1 percent) of survey respondents say they get less than seven hours of sleep a night.

Apparently, people in the Great Plains states sleep great—where only 28 to 32 percent of respondents, in general, say they get less than seven hours of sleep a night.

Here are more interesting Alabama-specific sleep facts from the CDC:

— Men are slightly more sleep deprived than women (39.3 percent vs 38.7 percent).

— Those in the 45-54 years old age group are most likely (47 percent) to say they get less than 7 hours of sleep a night.

— Chronic conditions such as arthritis, depression, cancer, asthma and diabetes are more common among those who don’t get enough sleep.

Find the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s tips for good sleeping habits here.

(Do you get enough sleep? Start a social media conversation about it with your family and friends.)

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

3 months ago

WATCH: Dabo Swinney’s love for Clemson assistant with Down’s syndrome inspired by Gene Stallings

(ESPN / Facebook)


If you watch this ESPN video, it will be the best five minutes you spend this week.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney describes his relationship with David Saville, 27, who is in his seventh season as a Clemson equipment manager and who has Down’s syndrome.

“Doesn’t miss a day,” Swinney told ESPN. “He takes unbelievable pride in his job and he’s a part of our team. He’s just got the sweetest spirit.”

Saville said he keeps Swinney “in line” and that he likes to repeat his boss’s saying: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”

The two met when Saville took a school visit and told Swinney he was going to work for him.

Swinney said his friendship with Saville reminds him of the love-in-action he saw when he played for former University of Alabama head coach Gene Stallings, whose late son, Johnny, had special needs. Swinney later served as an assistant on Stallings’ staff.

“I was so impacted watching coach and how he impacted Johnny’s life,” Swinney said of his seven years watching Stallings bring his son to practice every day and integrate him into Crimson Tide life.

“When you see David every day, you see love,” Swinney said. “And I don’t care what your problem is, where you came from, what your background is, what your beliefs are, man, love conquers all.”


3 months ago

WATCH: Is it okay to re-gift? Rachel gets goofy at Madison County YMCA to ask tough Christmas questions


It’s hard enough to navigate political discussions around the Christmas dinner table, but there are other tricky etiquette questions that come up at Christmas, such as:

— What if your gift offends the recipient?

— Is it okay to re-gift?

— How do you react when you receive the worst Christmas present ever?

I stopped by the Hogan Family YMCA in Madison, Alabama, where I volunteer, to act silly with the staff and find some answers…

WATCH the 5-min video:


To learn more about the Hogan Family YMCA and the Huntsville- area Heart of the Valley association, and to support their many outreach programs through their annual giving campaign, click here.

3 months ago

WATCH: Alabama little person’s rare condition lets him SEE music as numbers … listen to the stunning results


Jon Michael Ogletree of Hoover, Alabama, couldn’t reach the piano pedals when he began playing at 3 years old and he can’t reach them now, three decades later.

Ogletree calls himself a “little person” and says his dwarfism has come with its share of challenges … and unique blessings.

“The outsider looking into my life might just say, ‘Oh it’s so sad, that little person, he can’t reach the bread on the top of that aisle,'” said Ogletree. “Well, little do they know, that God, yes, he’s withheld a lot from me, but he’s swept in and provided so much in the process.”    

Ogletree’s talking, in part, about a rare condition he says God gave him as a gift called Synesthesia — a “perceptual phenomenon” in which people experience stimulation in one of their senses, such as hearing, and that triggers an automatic experience in a different sense, such as sight.   

“When I hear a song, I actually see numbers,” Ogletree said, whose day job is serving as the CFO for a government subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.

“What I’m able to do with those numbers is go to the piano and decipher them and arrange them any way that I want.”

WATCH Ogletree tell his incredible story in this 8-minute video:


Ogletree has played piano professionally since he booked his first wedding at age 7. He plays every week at the Country Club of Birmingham, he’s a pianist at Mountain Brook Community Church, and he performs roughly 50 private events every year. 

In March, the TV show America’s Got Talent flew him out to Los Angeles to audition for celebrity judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Mel B., Howie Mandel and host Tyra Banks.  

He played The Phantom of the Opera and said, “it was an amazing experience” even though he was not selected as a contestant. His parents, two brothers and several friends joined him for the trip.

Ogletree will be a featured performer in the Jan. 19 Rising Star Roadshow at The Lyric Theatre in Birmingham. More info and tickets can be found here.

“Birmingham is such a cool place to live and perform,” he said. “The music scene is growing, and it’s exciting to be a small part of that.”

To watch Ogletree play piano covers from artists such as Billy Joel, Coldplay and Alicia Keys, check out his YouTube channel.

More Q & A with Jon Michael about his America’s Got Talent audition:

— Were you nervous?

Yes, but about ridiculous things like if my pedal extensions might fly off mid-audition. I rarely get nervous while playing, as I’m making up everything I play real time, unrehearsed.

— How did you prepare?

At home I arranged my song, and didn’t play it again until I was on stage.

— Did you face any challenges while you were in L.A.?

Wanting to live out there for the rest of my life! The weather was amazing.

— How did you feel when you weren’t chosen?

I’m a type-A person, so a bit of relief that my life wasn’t going to take a crazy direction. There was certainly a fair share of disappointment, but my gut reaction was relief.

(Love this video? Please share it with others!)

3 months ago

Media call-out! Article about Alabama evangelical voters too stereotype-ridden to even read, says religion columnist

Briarwood Presbyterian Church (Wikicommons)


Media call-out!

A pre-election Daily Beast article featuring interviews with Briarwood Presbyterian Church members in Birmingham is so simplistic and stereotype-ridden it isn’t worth reading, wrote media expert and veteran journalist Terry Mattingly on his GetReligion site this week.    

The story, written by D.C.-based reporter Andrew Desiderio ran with this near-comical double-decker headline:

Alabama Evangelicals Find It Easy to Forgive Roy Moore

The string of child-molestation allegations against the Republican Senate candidate has only affirmed for evangelical conservatives that Moore is the right man for the seat.

Riiiiiight. Because that’s a fair description of what Alabama evangelicals think and suuuure, the quotes Desiderio gathered are a good representation of the views of Briarwood members (perhaps someone flew in for on-deadline election coverage and found convenient quotes needed to reinforce an already decided upon story angle?).

Mattingly said he did find surprising-in-its-understanding-from-afar coverage of evangelical Protestants in this New Yorker article, which he urged reporters to read, unless – “you are the kind of person whose worldview includes simplistic stereotypes of evangelical Protestants, especially white evangelicals.”

Mattingly also linked to Yellowhammer News’ election day voter interviews, saying in his caption: “Note the wide range of views found among these Alabama voters and the numbers who were displeased with the options on both sides of the ballot.”  More Yellowhammer News voter interviews can be found here (though I chose the windiest day to forget a mic shield and audio isn’t optimal).

Here’s Mattingly’s take on the Alabama evangelicals involved in the Senate election “train wreck”:

* There were evangelicals who backed Moore, big time, and they were crucial to his primary base.

* There were some evangelicals who backed other candidates in the primaries and then they reluctantly backed Moore. Some did this publicly, while others did so silently – so that’s really two different camps in there.

* There were evangelicals who opposed Moore from Day 1, but bit their lips and voted for him rather than casting a vote for Doug Jones, a Hillary Clinton-empire Democrat who could be described as a member of the Planned Parent All-Star team.

* There were evangelicals who could not cast a vote for Moore, so they wrote in another conservative name.

* There appear to have been lots of evangelicals who were so depressed by the whole drama that they stayed home.

* There were some white evangelicals who voted for Jones, along with waves of African-American evangelicals.

For deep analysis into why the mainstream media doesn’t “get” people of faith, follow this page.

(Editor’s note: Rachel Blackmon Bryars attended Briarwood Presbyterian Church for more than a decade while growing up in Birmingham and Terry Mattingly is her former journalism professor.) 

What do you think of the national media’s coverage of Alabama? Take this article over to social media and start a conversation with your family and friends.

3 months ago

WATCH: Huntsville voters share strong feelings about election and Roy Moore

Voters speak with Yellowhammer News outside a polling precinct in Madison, Alabama (Yellowhammer)


It was a cold, blustery day in northern Alabama, but that didn’t stop voters from pouring into polling precincts to vote in Tuesday’s special election.

Voters in the Huntsville-area spoke with Yellowhammer News about how they voted, how they feel about the election and what they think about Roy Moore. 




Video Credit: Jacob Woods