2 years ago

As Alabamians prepare to watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ a reflection on the unabashedly patriotic films of Frank Capra

As Thanksgiving morphs into Christmas, the December television schedule will be filled with the usual assortment of Christmas classics, not the least of which is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen his movie and unlike some classics that are tiresome, Wonderful Life always grabs me. The idea of selfless giving is made manifest when the entire community comes to George Bailey’s aid. I think every small business owner secretly views his business as the Building and Loan and himself as George Bailey!

But Wonderful Life was not Capra’s masterpiece. His pre-war films all exalt the humble everyman taking on the various goliaths of the age. If you like Wonderful Life, let me suggest a Capra Trilogy to enjoy with your family over Christmas: You Can’t Take It With You; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Meet John Doe. Each of these movies plants a seed of a theme culminating in Wonderful Life. I don’t think you can watch any of these movies without a renewed sense of what it means to be an individual pitted against a soulless property developer, corrupt political leaders or a manipulative selfish tycoon.

Capra was a master of giving depression area people a toe hold in a uniquely American system that made Davids believe that Goliath could be defeated. But the doom of the strong was the happiness that radiated from the seemingly powerless little man. Though possessed of limited resources, he had the intangibles that faithful people know as the fruit of the spirit: Love, joy, peace patience, kindness, etc. In fact, all of Capra’s movies are really a morality play to inspire people to take on the challenges of their life and to stand up to the shameless bullies who yield power mainly for powers sake and the ego that comes with flexing muscles to show off.

The strain of populism so ingrained in the lives of Americans is perfectly reflected in Capra’s films. His focus was on the human action of simple everyday people making decisions based on visions of simple moral clarity. He lifted the permanent things that are so often neglected when compared to the temporary glitz and glamour of material gain. Each film contains a large dose of middle American values magnified time and again against the traps and situations of a complicated impregnable bureaucratic world. And in each case, the little guy wins, and the big mules not only lose face but are publicly shamed into accepting if not participating in their own defeat.

These films are in many ways a large mirror reflecting not only the tenor of the times, but also the implicit impact of the original sin of human nature struggling for freedom. In short, people can see themselves in these films and identify with the characters. Everyone wants to see the characteristics of the white hatted hero in themselves but are reminded by conscience that some of the traits of the villain are part of their psyche too. Everyone hopes that internally within their personal OODA loop, they will make wise and prudent choices when faced with decisions of moral consequence. Everyone in Capra’s films has a shot at redemption but not every character accepts the offer; the developing conflicts are what make each film so entertaining.

Capra’s films had consequence when they were initially screened by uplifting average people and giving them hope and a feel-good sense of their personal significance. Perhaps the greatest tribute to the impact of Capra’s films is that Mr. Smith was the last American film shown in France after the Nazi occupation. To the consternation of almost all of the American political class (including Ambassador Joseph Kennedy), the French were so inspired by a country that allowed dissention, vigorous debate and free speech, that as the lights of their freedom were dimming, they chose to see America at its best in the person of Jefferson Smith. There is no way to measure the number of French resistance fighters embolden by this film.

If you liked Wonderful Life, be inspired by the unabashed patriotic films of Frank Capra. You’ll be motivated and perhaps even challenged to identify with a character to live out the American dream in simple community with others who also struggle against human nature to find goodness and selfless service in their daily life.

Will Sellers is an associate justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama

12 hours ago

Live HealthSmart Alabama celebrates phase one improvements in Kingston

Live HealthSmart Alabama, a University of Alabama at Birmingham initiative, celebrated phase one improvements in the Kingston community at Stockham Park. These improvements are the culmination of a yearlong implementation project to improve the community’s infrastructure, including new and improved sidewalks, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant street ramps, trees and flowers in Stockham Park, painted murals, new bus shelters, improved lighting in hard-to-see areas, and more.

“Live HealthSmart Alabama aims to advance healthy eating, physical activity and prevention and wellness in underserved neighborhoods throughout Birmingham and the state,” said Dr. Mona Fouad, principal investigator of Live HealthSmart Alabama and director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center. “To help achieve these aims, we started by making community improvements. This was especially evident in the built environment. We’re excited to show everyone what has been accomplished.”

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To reenergize the community and encourage walkability, Live HealthSmart Alabama – in partnership with Brasfield & Gorrie and subcontracted through AG Gaston – knew sidewalks in Kingston needed to be either repaved or built from scratch. To contribute toward this initiative, Kirkpatrick Concrete donated all the concrete used to make these improvements.

Other partners that contributed to the accomplishments in Kingston include O’Neal SteelCoca-Cola United, the city of BirminghamAlabama PowerSteward MachineBirmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority MAXGoodwyn Mills CawoodBlank Space BhamNAFCOBirmingham Parks and Recreation, and Watkins Trucking Company.

“It has been a great and rewarding experience working with the city of Birmingham and Alabama corporations to accomplish the built environment improvements in Kingston,” said Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., director of the UAB Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center. “I believe these strong partnerships between academia and industry are built to last forever.”

Food deserts: A mobile solution

While each community’s needs are unique, a consistent issue Live HealthSmart Alabama has found in underserved areas is that these neighborhoods fall within areas that either have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables or are food deserts.

According to the USDA, a food desert is a place where one-third of residents live more than one mile from the nearest grocery store. Using this definition and census tracts, the USDA estimates that roughly 19 million people (or 6.2 percent of the U.S. population) live in a food desert.

To bring healthy and affordable food to Birmingham residents, Live HealthSmart Alabama introduced its new Mobile Market at the Kingston ribbon-cutting – which will run in partnership with Promoting Empowerment and Enrichment Resources (P.E.E.R.) and East Lake Market. Each week, the Mobile Market will visit communities in Birmingham, starting with their demonstration areas (Kingston, East Lake, Bush Hills and Titusville). Shoppers can purchase proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains and a variety of other healthy food options using cash, card, EBT or Double-Up Bucks.

“Currently, Alabama has some of the worst health outcomes in the nation,” said Mona Fouad. “The goal of Live HealthSmart Alabama is to move our state out of the bottom 10 in national health rankings. To do this, community members have to have access to healthy food options and the tools to be successful. The Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market helps to provide that.”

In addition to its weekly route, the Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market will also host monthly evening events in June and July where community members can shop and watch chef Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club conduct a demonstration using food pulled directly from the market.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, UAB President Ray L. Watts, Myla Calhoun of Alabama Power and other UAB and community leaders also attended the event.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Birmingham Black Barons among Negro League teams getting more play in online stats

Barbershop banter about the greatest baseball players ever has more ammunition after Baseball-Reference.com, a Sports Reference website, dramatically expanded its coverage of the Negro Leagues and historical Black major league players.

Following the website’s launch on June 15, Major Negro Leagues from 1920-1948 – including the Birmingham Black Barons – are listed with the National League and American League as major leagues.

“Our view is that these players always were major league players, and it was an oversight on our part that we did not list them as major league players,” said Sean Forman, president of Sports Reference. “Such was the quality of play in the Negro Leagues. Just saying the term major league, we’re implying that they’re at the top league, in the top echelon of baseball being played. Certainly counting Willie Mays and Satchel Paige among your alumni for (the Birmingham Black Barons) lends it a certain level of quality.”

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Paige is No. 2 on the website’s list of all-time Birmingham Black Barons, behind Sam Streeter. Following Paige are Harry Salmon, Ray Parnell, Poindexter Williams, Artie Wilson, Piper Davis, Robert Poindexter, Ed Steele, Tommy Sampson, Sandy Thompson and Bill Powell.

A release on the website said Baseball Reference is “not bestowing a new status on these players or their accomplishments. The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues. We are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact.”

The website acknowledges the work of Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Mike Lynch, Kevin Johnson and Larry Lester on the Seamheads Negro League Database, where the data was acquired. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and its members were credited with being instrumental in researching and publishing the history of the Negro Leagues.

Lester, chairman of SABR’s Negro League Committee, said adding Negro Leaguers to the lists of statistics isn’t going to change the leaderboard of baseball greats because Negro Leaguers played fewer career games.

“But we can still quantify their greatness by showing that Satchel Paige struck out almost one batter every inning, which is very close to what Nolan Ryan and other ballplayers have done,” Lester said. “We can show that Josh Gibson hit a home run every 13 or 14 times at bat, which is right in line with Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth. Across the board, we can take statistics and show how great these Black players were.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

18 hours ago

Why Peach Park in Clanton is a must-stop on summer road trips

It’s that time of the year, again, when beach vacationers traveling on Interstate 65 stop for peaches in Clanton.

For nearly 40 years, the farm stand, restaurants, and gift shop at Peach Park have been prime destinations for travelers wanting to take a break with some peach ice cream, possibly buy a jar of peach butter to enjoy back home, and certainly pick up a basket of Chilton County’s much-loved fuzzy fruit.

Some of those freshly-picked, perfectly-ripe peaches will stay in the state. But a fair amount wind up in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana—states further north on I-65, which bisects Alabama.

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Alabama’s peach season, which basically runs from May through Labor Day, is just starting to hit its peak. Over the summer, Peach Park will sell more than 70 varieties that ripen at different times, guaranteeing a steady supply.

More than two-thirds of the peaches grown in Alabama come from Chilton County. The 74-year-old annual Peach Festival—which includes a pageant, music, fun run, art, and parades—is set for June 19-26 in Clanton.

Like Durbin Farms, its older competitor across I-65 at Exit 205, Peach Park started as a farm stand. Gene and Frances Gray opened it in 1984 to sell fruit from their own orchards and become an outlet for other area fruit and vegetable farmers.

Frances created the recipe for the much-loved peach ice cream, which premiered in 1988. She still helps make the frozen treat, some of the 10,000 gallons per year produced at Peach Park.

The family-owned business now is run by a second generation, the founders’ son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Robin Gray.

Peach Park’s seven-acre footprint boasts a barbecue restaurant (“Peach Pit Bar-B-Que”), meat-and-three, bakery, clothing boutique, playground, gardens, RV park, rental space for events, and other amenities.

Peach Park is generally open from mid-February until Christmas, operating seven days a week.

But during the summer it’s famous in tourist guides as a one-stop shop for all things peach. Ice cream flavors include peach caramel and peach cheesecake, along with straight-up peach (it graces a frozen yogurt there, too). You can order a scoop to top a piece of the peach cobbler made in the bakery.

The bakery also uses peaches in bread and cakes, and to fill its legendary fried pies—one of the state Tourism Department’s “100 Dishes to Eat and Alabama.” You can buy jars of peach preserves to take home, or order some congealed peach salad to eat there.

Don’t forget to get snaps by the giant peach replica out back, a smaller cousin to the peach-shaped water towers that mark prime producing areas in the Southeast, including Chilton County (that water tower is off Exit 112 on I-65).

Of course, we Alabamians don’t need a beach trip as an excuse to drop in to Peach Park. But with Sunday the busiest day; a weekday is the best time to relax in a rocking chair on the porch at Peach Park, working on an ice-cream cone or fried pie, and then pick up a basket of fruit for home.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

18 hours ago

Birmingham leaders launch new Prosper collaborative

Birmingham-area leaders on Monday announced the launch of Prosper, an initiative focused on creating a more prosperous and equitable Birmingham by investing in opportunities that grow the area’s economy in an inclusive way.

Prosper intends to be the table where everybody has a seat, setting regional priorities for job growth and retention, job access and job training.

Its mission statement reads: “Prosper is a coalition of community, civic and business leaders committed to creating a more productive economy that is inclusive of all races and genders.”

The launch, which opened with a speech by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, included the introduction of Prosper’s board of directors and its CEO J.W. Carpenter, who most recently was executive director of the Birmingham Education Foundation.

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Birmingham leaders launch Prosper initiative from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“On the heels of a recession, a worldwide pandemic and a social justice movement, we hope to do something transformative in Jefferson County and the city of Birmingham,” Carpenter said. “We will bring together business, educational, civic and entrepreneurial interests to create and grow economic opportunities for all, focusing specifically on our Black community and women.”

A recent Brookings Institution study reveals that the Birmingham area is creating fewer quality jobs and less access to economic resources than its peer cities. Those findings are a driving force for Prosper.

“This region can do better in providing opportunities to its residents, especially the Black community,” said Alabama Power President and CEO Mark Crosswhite, who is chairman of the Prosper board. “Prosper will work to align key priorities: growing quality jobs, preparing workers and investing in communities. We know that – together – our impact can be exponentially greater.”

Prosper is committed to helping transform the way Birmingham and Jefferson County create jobs in the innovation economy and the way the region prepares its people of color to thrive in those jobs, with a focus on ensuring that all residents, regardless of race, gender or ZIP code, have access to those jobs and can fully contribute.

Prosper will concentrate on four initiatives: Health Tech Industry; Business Advisory Services; Birmingham Promise; and Black-owned Business Acceleration.

In addition to Crosswhite and Carpenter, Prosper stakeholders – including Mike Kemp of Kemp Management Solutions, Rachel Harmon at Birmingham Promise and Tiffany Whitlow at Acclinate Inc. – discussed their support for the initiative and the need for inclusive economic growth in Birmingham.

“Elevating our city’s Black- and women-owned businesses while increasing job access for Black and women residents will ultimately lift all of Birmingham,” Woodfin said. “We must remain vigilant in eliminating any obstacles to inclusive growth in our city.”

Carpenter said he will seek input from Prosper partners, stakeholders and its board of directors.

“Prosper must be collaborative, bringing a diverse group of people to the table to solve problems,” he said. “I don’t want to dictate a path forward. I want to absorb the best ideas from the brightest and most passionate minds around lifting Birmingham in a way that’s equitable and inclusive.”

The highlight of the event may have been a passionate speech by 20-year-old Jarvis Prewitt, one of the first students to intern as a Birmingham Promise student. He credited that internship at BBVA with giving him the financial literacy that opened the door to his pursuit of a college degree. He’s now a rising junior majoring in mechanical engineering at Alabama A&M with a 3.91 GPA.

“Why not Prosper? Why not the Magic City?” Prewitt said, pointing out that when he earns his degree, he plans to come back home to Birmingham. “Not Texas. Not Atlanta. I want to give back to the people and the community that has given so much to me.”

For more information, including a list of board members, visit the Prosper website. For all media inquiries, contact Jasmine Phillips at jphillips@lrymediagroup.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

19 hours ago

Power Moves: Stillman College President Cynthia Warrick creates partnership, impact and legacy

Culture is defined by its leadership. At Stillman College, Cynthia Warrick is the “rudder,” so to speak, in setting the course for the students and staff, alumni and others.

As the seventh president of Stillman and the first female president, Warrick’s vision has changed the path of the college.

“I have the opportunity to put in place a vision that will move the college from survival mode to a transformation into an institution that is sustainable throughout the 21st century,” Warrick said.

She daily proves this statement, setting a stage that will have an impact on the entire college for generations to come.

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Stillman has received a grant from Alabama Power and Southern Company to provide technology and dual-enrollment opportunities for high school students in three Black Belt school districts. This grant extends an existing U.S. Department of Agriculture telehealth grant and places state-of-the-art distance-learning equipment in the school districts connected with Stillman to provide courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), cybersecurity and ACT preparation.

“COVID-19 has made a significant impact on higher education and demonstrated that flexibility and change is needed,” Warrick said. “The use of technology is critical to sustainability.”

The pandemic has shown that dependence on traditional sources of revenue, including tuition and fees, is not sustainable for future growth and success. Warrick’s vision embraces technology and seeks to create public-private partnerships for economic development that benefit Stillman and west Tuscaloosa.

She said “providing everyone a seat at the table” and involving them in decision-making will help improve lives and quality of life, so that all people can succeed.

Historically Black colleges and universities like Stillman brought people from slavery to be entrepreneurs, community leaders, educators, health care professionals, engineers, builders and other successful Americans. The impact has included creating more opportunities for students of color and for students from marginalized backgrounds and environments, positively affecting not only the students but entire families and communities.

“We need everyone’s intellectual capital to solve today’s problems … to ensure a better tomorrow,” Warrick said.

“Stillman looks for opportunities to expose students to business and cultural opportunities. We want professional development partnerships to enhance our students’ communications and soft skills,” Warrick said.

As an accredited institution, Stillman is required to have a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). Stillman’s QEP focuses on intergenerational communication.

“We want to ensure that our graduates are able to communicate effectively across the five generations in the workplace,” Warrick said.

Warrick seeks to make Stillman a place of community that partners with others, including businesses, schools, nonprofit and community organizations, and local and state governments.

“We want to be a service to west Tuscaloosa and provide educational and recreational programs for youth and the elderly,” she said.

 As Stillman grows and creates more opportunities for its students and the community, the vision Warrick is working to put in place is building a legacy designed to stand the test of time.

“The major lesson I have learned throughout my career is not to focus on what I want, but to focus on what my organization, students and community need to be successful. Their success makes me successful,” Warrick said.

“My legacy is the development of future leaders who take the baton and carry on the work that I’ve started,” she said. “I have had the opportunity to make a difference in so many young people’s lives, and those professionals are now serving their families and communities. That legacy keeps on giving.”

Power Moves, an ongoing series by Alabama NewsCenter, celebrates the contributions of multicultural leaders in Alabama. Visit AlabamaNewsCenter.com throughout the year for inspiring stories of those working to elevate the state.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)