The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 month ago

Birmingham leaders launch new Prosper collaborative

(Marika Gray/Contributed)

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)

4 months ago

$1,000 now available for eligible Alabama residents affected by COVID-19

(Edward Cisernos/Unsplash)

The Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity is encouraging those who need assistance with their energy costs to apply for help.

JCCEO, the community action agency for all of Jefferson County, received $1 million in federal funding specifically to help low-income residents affected by COVID-19.

The new funding is available through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which has been around for more than 20 years. In February, about $1 million was added to Jefferson County’s LIHEAP funds through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. JCCEO has until April 30 to distribute the funding, said Hollis Johnson, community services director for JCCEO.

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“You could get a regular award based on your income and family size, or a crisis award (through LIHEAP) based on three factors,” Johnson said. “If there’s someone in the household who has a diagnosed disability; if you have a child under 18; or if you are a senior 60 or older, you could get a crisis amount.”

CARES simply added the pandemic as a factor for assistance. Those eligible for the CARES funding would receive $1,000 per household if they can show they were affected by COVID.

“That means that you lost employment or there was a reduction in your hours,” Johnson said. “A single mom had to stay home with the kids because they’re not in school; increased utility bills. If you can prove one of those items, then you can get the flat $1,000 on your gas utility because that’s the season we’re in right now.”

If a client relies on electric heating, Johnson said the funding could also pay power bills.

Applicants still must meet the income eligibility requirement, which is an income no more than 150% of the federal poverty level.

Another benefit of the additional money is that applicants are not limited to receiving only the traditional LIHEAP funding or CARES funding. They can receive both.

“As an example: You have a client come in with a $2,000 gas bill, which is not unusual,” Johnson said. “The regular LIHEAP would not be able to pay all of that. Now, if they can prove the COVID piece of it, we can add that $1,000 to what they’re eligible for under regular LIHEAP. For those who come to us with large bills, we’re able to help them a whole lot more.”

For the first four weeks, the COVID-related funding was available only to applicants who’d never received LIHEAP funding in the past.

“Trying to weed through and find those new clients who’d never accessed LIHEAP before was very, very difficult,” Johnson said.

As of March 8, the eligibility was opened up to include those who have previously received assistance.

To apply, visit the JCCEO website, or stop by the office at 300 Eighth Ave. W., Birmingham, AL 35204 (across from Legion Field).

For those who live outside Jefferson County, Johnson recommended visiting the ADECA website for information about your county, or visiting the state Community Action Agencies website, and reaching out to the nearest one to see if they have funding available for energy assistance.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

JeffCo Health Department’s Hicks brings Northern roots, Southern values to COVID-19 response

Dr. David Hicks is the deputy health officer for the Jefferson County Department of Health. (Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Dr. David Hicks readily admits that he looks younger than he is. But it doesn’t take long to realize that he brings to his job a wisdom that extends beyond his 42 years.

As the deputy health officer at the Jefferson County Department of Health, Hicks plays a key role in organizing COVID-19 testing at Legion Field, which has been commended for how smoothly it has run. Residents drive into the Legion Field parking lot and remain in their cars to be tested. Registration can be done in advance or on-site and allows residents to receive test results online in 24-48 hours.

Hicks credits a total team effort for the orderly way the site is run, particularly Dr. Celeste Reese-Willis, who leads the on-site testing. But his personal approach to addressing the coronavirus can be traced to his childhood.

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“I’m originally from New Jersey, but I have Southern roots because my parents are from Georgia. There was eight of us in the household – the kids, the parents and my grandmother – so I’m used to a larger, communal setting,” he said. “My father was a minister who founded a couple of churches. What stuck with me was hard work, dedication and taking care of the least of these.”

He recalls that his family would often take in people who were homeless or suffering from substance abuse to give them a place to stay while they were trying to get their lives together.

“So I’ve always had this passion to take care of those who are the most vulnerable,” he said. “I’m a Northerner with Southern roots and values.”

His wife, Dr. Latoya Hicks, is an Alabama native, and the couple has three children. He spoke recently with Alabama NewsCenter about how his upbringing and life experience has shaped his approach to combating COVID-19.

You mentioned taking care of the least of these. How has that factored into your COVID-19 response?

Really having a sensitivity of what people who are struggling or have barriers need. Because it can be out of sight and out of mind, particularly for someone like me. I live a privileged life because of the type of job I work in, but I remember where I came from. We know in the Birmingham area that people have transportation issues. We have a public transportation system, but some people still have access issues. So, when you want to pick a site for testing, you want something that’s convenient and accessible that people know. Here at Legion Field, the No. 1 issue was making sure that no one has to pay out-of-pocket for a test if you don’t have financial means. The Health Department made sure we would cover the cost for anyone who does not have insurance, so that would not even be a question.

So, you have a strategic location, you make sure there’s no financial barrier, then partnering with people in the community that are from the community that the community trusts.

COVID-19 testing at Legion Field is running impressively well. What is the strategy here that makes everything run so smoothly?

The credit goes to my health department colleagues. We have experience setting up test sites. So, when we were planning for this site, we came out and walked the site with the (Jefferson) County EMA, and we looked at the traffic flow patterns. There’s a lot of planning behind the scenes. We thought about all the different variables … to make it as efficient and smooth as possible and have multiple ways of accessing the site. There were some hiccups along the way, so we have to be nimble and adjust, and we’ve been able to do that. We have weekly calls where we touch base: how’s the site going, are we serving the community still, any adjustments need to be made? So, we’re always re-evaluating what we’re doing here.

How important is it to still be testing and getting tested?

It’s extremely important to get tested. We have a lot of people who are asymptomatic who spread COVID-19. We know higher-risk groups right now who have it and are spreading it – not necessarily dying from it. We’re seeing it in our younger populations from 20 to 40 years of age, and now we’re starting to see some things in our high schools. A lot of times, though, they’re not being impacted physically from it, so they may not know about it. So, the way to know about it is to get tested. If you don’t get tested, you can’t make choices and behavioral changes that need to be made. The other thing with testing is that, when we have a high positivity rate in the community – and we’ve had a high positivity rate for almost this entire pandemic (higher than 5%) – you need to identify more cases, and you identify more by doing testing. Then you can quarantine, isolate people and, then over time, the rate starts going down.

When you say community, do mean geographically or demographically?

Both. Geographically, I’m talking about Jefferson County, and there are different pockets in Jefferson County where we’re seeing higher rates. Demographically, the African-American community being higher-risk because of chronic medical conditions and other systemic factors they’ve historically had to face puts them at a disadvantage of dealing with COVID-19. But there’s other parts of the community that we’ve been working with from day one. Persons experiencing homelessness … nursing homes … We’re shifting now to getting people prepared for possible mass vaccinations, so in the state plan, it actually talks about how do you target those high-risk vulnerable groups?

With African Americans being disproportionately impacted by COVID, why is it important to have a Black man helping lead the testing efforts, especially here in a predominantly Black city?

Hearing something from someone who looks like you, talks like you, sounds like you, resonates more. That’s important for some people. For me personally, because of the disparities – things historically, racism, structural racism, things like that – I get it. I lived in Pittsburgh, which is kind of the Birmingham of the North, so I have been working in communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by all these factors, and serving patients as a physician, that I can understand where the African American community, the Hispanic community is coming from. I’ve heard the stories face-to-face, going to the communities, living, working, playing there. So, I would hope that as I am communicating, I’m communicating on a level that makes sense, that’s understandable, relatable, and that people can at least give me the benefit of the doubt and trust where I’m coming from.

But actions speak louder than words. So, for me, as we’re getting to the point of COVID vaccines, if I say everyone needs to get a COVID vaccine, that means I need to be willing to take it myself, I need to be able to tell my family members to do it. So, I will never make a recommendation to anyone to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself. We need to have African American leaders, we need to have Caucasian leaders, Hispanic leaders, everybody, different age groups … there’s so many different people that people will take the message from, so I’m just one of many people that are trying to get the message out.

In the past few days, we’ve had drug companies announce vaccines that appear to have high efficacy rates against the coronavirus. Do you trust where they are in the process? Will you take the vaccine?

What I’m hearing about the vaccine gives me a lot of confidence, but I still have more homework to do. All the safety data has not been released to the general public to consume, so I’m gonna be looking at that safety information. What I want to know is, who received the vaccine? Did you have a diverse group of people who got the vaccine? Was our elderly population, our younger population in there? Were people of different ethnic backgrounds or chronic medical conditions included? What I’m hearing is promising, but I need more information to make an informed decision for myself, and then what we need to do is distill that information down to the average, everyday person. Is it safe and effective, why you think that is, and that’s when I’ll be able to say I’ll get it, and I’ll get it live on camera.

What is your message about the need to stay vigilant concerning the CDC recommendations to wear a mask and social distance?

The vaccine news has been really exciting, but the general public is not going to have access to that vaccine until some time in the spring, so what are we going to do until that time? Social distancing, wearing masks, hand sanitation, cough etiquette, getting tested and not doing unnecessary group activities. Now, if you just pick one of those things, it’s not good enough. If everyone says, all we have to do is wear our masks and nothing else, we will fail. It’s really doing all those things and not focusing on just one thing. In the South, we have those core religious values of taking care of the least of these, love your neighbor. We can’t just talk about it; we have to put the actions behind those words. We have to make personal sacrifice on behalf of someone else, even if we don’t agree.

The beauty of this country is that, when our country has been through extremely trying times, we’ve banned together. 9/11, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, we all came together to fight a common foe. So we have to have a war mentality and say that this has nothing to do with race, it doesn’t care about your age. Coronavirus wants to take out you, me and everyone else. What’s the legacy we want to leave for the next generation, because our kids are watching how we’re responding. We’re the leader of the world, and we have to act like it. Let’s just protect each other.

Our public safety personnel are strained. We’re seeing more hospitalizations. So, if you don’t want to do it because I said it, at least do it for the nurse who’s working double shifts in the hospital. Do it for our police officers who, if they get a call, they don’t have the option to not help you. So, do it for them, and do it for our teachers and schools.

What are you most proud of in this process so far?

I’m proud of the partnerships we’ve had historically, and they’re getting stronger and stronger. At the Jefferson County Health Department, we work with all sectors of society in this whole general public health system. Our partners have stood up and gone out there, so we don’t have to carry that burden. Everybody has worked together, people at the grass roots. We had people that were knitting masks when we had a shortage of masks, and they were donating them. That’s unbelievable. That shows the true character of America. That’s what we need to foster for the next generation. We want them to say that ‘When they were struggling, they got together and took care of each other.’ I think that’s the legacy we need to leave.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Germ Busters: ‘America’s principal’ Dr. Lee and company make another COVID-19 parody video

(Quentin Lee/YouTube)

Childersburg High School principal Dr. Quentin Lee has posted another YouTube video imploring students to follow CDC guidelines for staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This one – Germ Busters – is a parody of the 1984 earworm “Ghostbusters,” by Ray Parker Jr.

The video begins with Lee cruising into his school parking space driving a clean BMW X5 with the song “Fame” by David Bowie playing in the background. The setup is an apparent self-jab at the popularity of Lee’s last COVID video, a parody of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This,” which went viral and gained the principal international, um, fame.

He exits the car but doubles back to grab, what else, his face shield. Upon entering the school, he’s immediately confronted by a staffer who alerts him: “Dr. Lee, there are germs in this school!”

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From there, Dr. Lee, with his administrator sidekicks, go into germ-killing mode. Equipped with disinfectant backpack sprayers, they scour the hallways looking for germs and reminding students to wash their hands, social distance and, of course, sanitize.

The promo to the video reads: “America’s Principal – Dr. Quentin Lee, Staff, and Students create a COVID Video to the tune of Ghostbusters.”

The video was posted on Monday and had more than 2,200 views by Wednesday morning. Lee’s “Can’t Touch This” video, which was posted in August, had more than 6 million views over a few weeks.

The principal, known for having fun as an educator, says his intention is to bring some levity to the very serious nature of the pandemic in hopes that students will be more likely to follow the CDC guidelines and stay safe.

“We wanted to up the production value on this one,” Lee said, referring to the graphic visuals of demonic-looking germs that got “busted” in the video. “We also were able to include more students and teachers.

“It was good to have more students involved this time,” he said. “Everyone had fun. It was just really fun.”

Lee said he and the crew are scheduled to appear on Cedric the Entertainer’s TV show “The Greatest #AtHome Videos” this Friday at 7 CST on CBS. The show will feature the “Can’t Touch This Video” and also mention “Germ Busters.”

Lee said he is planning a Red Carpet watch party at the stadium during Childersburg’s home game Friday night.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

‘It’s our time’: Birmingham teen launches ‘Shape the Culture’ to focus on good work of nation’s youths

(Shape the Culture/Contributed)

A national movement in protest of racial injustice is providing a timely launch of a digital platform that aims to highlight the positive work that young people across the country are doing in their communities, hoping to inspire others to do the same.

“Shape the Culture” is the brainchild of 17-year-old Jordyn Hudson, a senior at Indian Springs School near Birmingham, and the young woman is as smart, energetic and hopeful as the organization that emerged as an idea last summer.

“I, like many others, was really affected by the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. It feels like our country is divided,” she said about what motivated her to start Shape the Culture. “I want to do my small part to help fight against inequity and injustice in our society. We are in need of unity, love and peace.”

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“Shape the Culture,” which grew out of that passion, had its prominence amplified when it organized a Be the Change Unity Rally in Kelly Ingram Park in downtown Birmingham on June 21. Old and young people of various persuasions showed up to support the nonviolent demonstration that gave voice to area youths.

Categories on the website include fashion, music, business, Birmingham and arts. Hudson said she wants to present the stories and images of Black excellence and the good work of young people of color to counter the negative images that are often shown in the media.

Recent examples of “Shape the Culture” content include an interview with filmmaker Malcolm Walker, an Atlanta native and incoming freshman at New York University; and an interview with Kierston Withrow, a staff member at the Crisis Center in Birmingham, on the importance of mental health.

Hudson recently responded to Alabama NewsCenter’s questions about “Shape the Culture” and her thoughts on the ongoing social justice movement.

Describe yourself outside of “Shape the Culture.” What are your interests when you’re not amplifying the voice of today’s youth (school activities, hobbies, etc.)?

Jordyn Hudson: Throughout my matriculation at Indian Springs, I have been active in Mock Trial, Student Government, Student Ambassadors, Choir, Gender Equity Club and Black Student Caucus. I’m really active outside of school, too. I’m a member of Youth Serve and president of the Youth Philanthropy Council. As a part of Alabama YMCA, I serve as the head lobbyist in the Youth in Government program and as a judge in the Youth Judicial program.

What are your plans after high school?

JH: I’m not exactly sure of my future profession. I’m interested in several careers. However, ultimately, I want to do something where I can make a positive difference in my community. I will probably attend an out-of-state school. I’m looking at colleges in Georgia, D.C., North Carolina and New York. They are all in cities that I truly love. I’m interested in studying law, but I also think I would enjoy a career in business, journalism and filmmaking. So, we will see!

A lot of young people think about doing what you’re doing, but you’re actually doing it. What motivated you to get from couch to organizer?

JH: I am inspired by the young people that fought for justice and equality in the 1960s. I enjoy learning about civil rights history. Children and teens played a pivotal role during the Civil Rights Movement. I feel that young people today can do the same thing and step up to the plate and lead. I felt it was my obligation and responsibility to be courageous and act. Barack Obama once said that, “We must be the change we seek.” So, with that said, I talked to my parents about it first and they supported my idea and the rest was history. The Be the Change Unity Rally took shape. It was a peaceful event with parents around to support us. I’m so grateful to the diverse group of the children, teens and college students that came out for it. Gwendolyn Webb, one of the young student leaders that participated in the Children’s Crusade, also joined us. We were able to let our voices be heard.

Where did the name Shape the Culture come from? What’s the broader/deeper meaning behind it?

JH: I’d applied last summer for an Abroms scholarship with my school. I received the scholarship and used the funds to attend the ACLU’s advocacy program in D.C. During one of the sessions, I looked around at all of the young people in my class wanting to make positive changes about issues like climate change, immigration and racism. I then wrote down the phrase “Shape the Culture.” Youth are continuing to shape the culture in their communities for good. I felt inspired and wanted to tell young people’s stories. “Shape the Culture” means be the change, do your part, make a difference to help your community and be of service.

What is the end game for “Shape the Culture”? What do you want the shape of the culture to look like? What’s your vision for our culture and how does “Shape the Culture” get us there?

JH: That’s a great question. I don’t want to share all of my ideas just yet. You must stay tuned because what I’m doing now is only the beginning. I want Shape to be a movement for good. I see it being a multilayered platform that brings our nation’s youth together.

What’s the day-to-day work of “Shape the Culture”? How do you find the stories/issues/people you want to highlight and how does it get done?

JH: Shape literally took off the moment I started it. I’ve been blessed to know young people and those who work with young people who took an interest in what I’m trying to do. All of them serve as content providers. I’m amazed how this work has become a job for me — a job that I love. Each week, I take one issue and develop how I want to attack it. I usually think of young leaders who are doing great work on the issues I care about. Sometimes people refer a person to me. I film most of my interviews in the library in my home. I have a wonderful village around me. A mentor of mine, who works in public relations, showed me how to make and edit videos. I’ve become pretty good at it. Another mentor helped me to develop my interview style. I try to do one interview a week. I’m proud to say that I do everything myself.

When you watched the funeral procession for Congressman John Lewis and especially as it passed by the Black Lives Matter plaza as a kind of passing of the torch, what resonated with you? What thoughts went through your mind at that moment in terms of what “passing the torch” means to youth-led movements like “Shape the Culture”?

JH: My favorite quote that inspires me is from Barack Obama. “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Be the change like Congressman John Lewis did. He started out as a teen in the movement and went on to fight for civil rights for all people. I am so grateful that I had the chance to see him this past March in Selma during the commemorative Bloody Sunday march. I was able to capture a great picture of him that I used on Shape, along with one of his quotes that inspires me. Congressman Lewis will be missed.

How much does history — like that of John Lewis and many others – factor into what you hope to achieve through Shape the Culture?

JH: Our history is very much a part of me. I think about it all the time. I feel the need to make a difference in all that I do. My parents have instilled in me “To whom much is given, much is required.” I believe that Shape is my way of getting into “good trouble” like Congressman Lewis said. It’s my way of moving the needle a little closer to a fair and just society, one story at time. I’ve been blessed to get some really cool interviews. I have interviewed a young filmmaker from Atlanta who is up-and-coming. And, I just interviewed Attorneys Ben Crump and Rodney Barganier about many of the cases that we see in the news. I am fortunate that I get a chance to be a storyteller. It takes all of us working together to create the world that we seek.

I wanted young people – especially young people of color – to have a space/platform to feel represented and understood. I wanted to show the phenomenal ways we are impacting our communities. It was also important for me to change the narrative. Constantly, we see negative images of Black and brown people being portrayed on the news and it was crucial for me to show and tell the black excellence, beauty and the good that young people of color are doing. On top of that, I just facilitated the Be the Change Unity Rally with my company, “Shape The Culture.” We had a diverse group of children, teens and college students from across Birmingham to join us in our peaceful rally for equity and justice for all.

How can a person join or support “Shape the Culture”?

JH: Thanks for asking that. Please follow Shape on Instagram @shapethecultureco and check out my website at www.ShapetheCultureCo.com for new articles weekly. Also, be on the lookout for future events and merchandise from Shape. Also, if you know of a young person making a positive impact, reach out to me. I would love to share their story.

What would you say to the 16- to 24-year-old who wants to play a part in the larger social justice movement? What steps or actions or education would you encourage them to take?

As a teen, I think we must make a difference now. I would tell them to listen to that little voice telling them to do something. We are not too young. Being from Birmingham and knowing the history that took place here in the 1960s, I think that it is important for us to look at the kids who marched the streets of Birmingham during the Children’s Crusade. They were courageous. They changed our country at a pivotal time. We are at another pivotal time with racism, inequity and injustice. We must act. It is our time.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

Viral ‘Can’t Touch This’ principal wants to compete on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

(Quentin Lee/Youtube)

A principal’s parody of an MC Hammer video emphasizing COVID-19 guidelines has captured the heart of America and much of the world over the past three weeks, garnering more than 5.8 million views so far.

After conducting almost 30 national and international interviews (and counting) in the past two weeks, Quentin Lee, the Childersburg High School principal behind the video, said the media attention is starting to settle down … a little.

But the creativity and passion and drive for excellence of the man behind the video is undiminished. You could say he’s too legit to quit.

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“I think this is a win for educators all over,” Lee said of the video’s popularity. “We’re literally leading this country. And even though things might not go the way that we think they should go, we have an influence, and as long as we’re doing everything we can do for our kids, that influence is going to win at the end of the day.”

Up next: Lee said he wants to compete on “Dancing with the Stars,” and he’s got the moves to hold his own.

The video of a masked Lee armed with Lysol while dancing and reminding his students that they “Can’t Touch This” has inspired other educators to produce their own creative ways of hammering home the coronavirus guidelines of washing hands, wearing masks and social distancing.

“A bright spot has been to look at social media and see other schools are putting out videos to do kind of the same thing. It’s been cool to lead that initiative, not just for the county but for the nation,” he said. “I did see two ladies that were out of Albany, I think it was, they did an original rap with a dance. It was awesome. I feel challenged, so there will be a response.”

Another school produced “Mask Mask Baby” to the tune of Vanilla Ice’s 1990 hit “Ice Ice Baby.” But the others have yet to gain the same level of traction as Lee’s “Can’t Touch This.” Since posting the video, he’s done as many as seven interviews in one day.

“I’ve done two Australian interviews; I did an interview with a German news broadcast channel; a Japanese channel called, but they didn’t have enough time to translate the actual broadcast,” he said. “I’ve been on with Anderson Cooper, Lester Holt, Hoda from the ‘Today’ show, I did a ‘Global Hangout’ for NBC last week. It’s been mind-blowing to see people that I see on TV and just have a casual conversation with them.”

Lee has been able to juggle all the interviews, produce his weekly “Kicking It with Dr. Lee” online school updates, plus maintain his family and church responsibilities, all while preparing to return to an unprecedented school year with kids this Thursday.

“Not any of this is through my own might,” he said. “It’s all God – staying focused to what’s the goal and what’s the mission. My wife (Anita) has become my manager; she handles all of the bookings and all of the inquiries. She’s been my backbone through this, and I’m really thankful for her.”

Lee said those who know him can count on him not allowing the newfound fame to change who he is at his core, and that starts with his role as a family man. He had the two youngest of his three children join him on camera last week for an interview with HLN.

“Having my kids was really fun. They loved it,” he said. “I said ‘Hey guys, you guys might be in other videos, you gotta do this, you gotta do that, and of course they didn’t understand a lot of it, but they were able to see themselves on TV and they loved it. It was just really cool to be able to share that with them.”

Other things that warrant the “really cool” label, Lee said, include having his video retweeted by MC Hammer. “He said he loved it and gave me respect. That was definitely a moment I’ll always remember.”

Lee said he’s also enjoyed interacting with local media from east Alabama and the Birmingham market.

“You can’t be national unless you’re local first,” he said. “This is home, so I definitely enjoy being able to talk to people who are around and understand the work we’ve done.”

Men’s Wearhouse showed its appreciation by giving Lee two suits, two shirts and two ties.

“That was amazing because I really wanted a new suit to go back to school, but with finances, that wasn’t something I could do at this time,” he said. “They were able to meet a need they didn’t realize, so that was something I will definitely remember.”

Among the other perks: Reckitt Benckiser, the company that makes Lysol, donated four boxes of its cleaning and disinfectant products to the school; Varsity Brands gave Lee its “Go Be Great” award and will send floor markers with the Childersburg High School logo to promote social distancing; and White Castle selected Lee for its most recent “Crave the Good” spotlight.

“It’s just amazing that people are seeing this and want to partner with us and sow into our school,” he said. “That’s just been really cool to share with the teachers and when the kids come back, I’ll get to share with them.”

Considering the toxic environment across the country, Lee said he believes the video resonates because people need healing.

“We all need an opportunity to just breathe and love,” he said. “It’s also nostalgic. MC Hammer transcended race barriers. We need things to remind us of the human side. There’s always a racial issue about everything, but this was one of those things that wasn’t. I receive fan mail now. It’s just been overwhelming the positivity that’s come out of this.”

In a Facebook live video posted on Aug. 5, Lee set out to update his followers on the success of the video and caught himself off guard when he became emotional while acknowledging his mother.

“My mom fought long and hard with colon cancer, stage 4,” he explained in an interview this week with Alabama NewsCenter. “After being given two death sentences, she lived nine years.”

Lee said his mother taught him and his five brothers how to love each other, to love others, how to speak to people and how to be kind to people.

“That’s what I try to instill in my students and what I try to live each and every day,” he said. “So, during that moment, I just know how proud my mom was of me and how she always encouraged me. These are things I wish I could share with her, but I know she’s looking down from heaven because this is what she taught us to do. It was just a moment to be thankful and reflect.”

Starting his 16th year as an educator, Lee looks at how far he’s come in his career and in life.

“A Black man with a doctorate degree, leading a school and everything that comes along with it – it just gets overwhelming to know that God loves me so much that he would allow me to experience this kind of success for just doing something that’s natural.”

One of the things that comes natural for Lee is dancing, and he said it would be “really fun” to be a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”

“I know they’re doing casting for it now, and if I could go on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ that would be great,” he said, “just using this platform to promote the power of education and what educators are capable of doing.”

Lee hopes the takeaway for people in general, but especially educators, is to never second-guess what you’re doing, as long as your motives and intentions are pure.

“I definitely want to use this as a platform to inspire educators, parents and kids across the country,” he said. “We wanted to get a message out to keep our kids safe, and it turns out we were able to keep kids everywhere safe, and we were able to share some joy in the process.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 months ago

Alabama principal’s viral music video Hammers home COVID-19 guidelines

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

While educators are figuring out how to safely return to school, one principal wants to make sure kids remember to laugh and enjoy life, even during a worldwide pandemic.

Dr. Quentin Lee, principal at Childersburg High School, recently created a video parody of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” song, complete with dance moves and warnings to sanitize and social distance, all in the name of safety and good, carefree fun.

“Doing silly stuff is something I really enjoy,” Lee said in an interview Thursday with Alabama NewsCenter. “I released a song in May about my feelings toward COVID, and it was just me sitting at my desk screaming. It made national media, and I figured it was time to do something different.”

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Donning a Childersburg Tiger blue facemask and armed with a light blue can of Lysol, Lee in the video dances his way through CDC-recommended guidelines, repeatedly warning unconcerned students that they “can’t touch this.”

The production of the video – from writing of the original lyrics by Lee to production of the music video by local film director Jaylen Mitchell of City Vizualz – took around 24 hours.

“I wrote the lyrics in fifteen minutes,” Lee said. “I called Jaylen and he came to the school to record. I had the video by 10 that night.”

Getting volunteers to star in the video wasn’t too difficult. The student actors are Zay Youngblood, Jaden Robinson and Aniyah Oden. Teacher Jessica Veazey also makes a cameo.

“They were nervous at first, but they knew it was gonna be something fun,” Lee said. “Zay said there was a zero percent chance of him dancing. They played their parts to a T. It was just fun to hang out, and they did phenomenal.”

Lee posted the 2 minute 13 second video to his YouTube channel around 2:20 p.m. Tuesday. By Friday, it had been viewed more than 182,000 times. It doesn’t hurt that a popular Alabama television meteorologist shared the video from his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“Quite frankly, I think we all could use a good laugh and a smile,” James Spann tweeted.

And unlike, well, almost anything on social media, comments about the video have been completely positive.

“I hope the students at this school realize how lucky they are. I’d have loved to have had a principal like this when I was in school. Loved the video!” – Nobody Home

“We didn’t have cool principals when I was in school. He makes you WANT to come to school.” – AlabamaDad

In thanking God for his creativity, Lee said the response to the video has been overwhelming and exactly what he was hoping for.

“I’ve been reconnected to a lot of people from my past – high school and college friends,” he said. “Parents and teachers are so proud. Having conversations with the kids and Ms. Veazey and all the interviews have been fun.

“We are working tirelessly to make sure school is a place where students can be accepted, loved, and clean,” he continued. “Everybody needs love, regardless of political party or ethnic background. If we can allow people to laugh and forget about their problems, then we’ve accomplished the goal.”

Childersburg is part of the Talladega County School system, which has a hybrid plan for returning to school on Aug. 20.

Group A will attend classes on Monday and Tuesday, Lee said. Group B will attend on Thursday and Friday, and the two groups will alternate on Wednesday. When students are not physically at school, they will participate in distance learning.

“Talladega County is a one-to-one system, so students have access to a device that they take home,” he said. “Most students have internet, and we’re looking for resources to help provide internet for the ones that don’t have wifi at home.”

Lee said at least two or three buses in every community route are equipped with wifi, which can also be used by students in the neighborhoods where those buses are parked overnight.

“There’s no perfect plan, but we have to find plans that best meet the needs of the students,” he said. “The superintendents have a tough job, and I applaud their efforts to educate the students and keep everyone safe.”

Lee said he recently held a “Kickin it with Dr. Lee” virtual meeting and dozens of students attended. The purpose was to begin driving home that point that the school will be enforcing all of the health community’s COVID-related guidelines – washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing, etc.

“It will be uncomfortable,” he said, “but I’d rather be doing that than going to a memorial service because we were negligent.”

The video parody helps reinforce that message. Lee said the dance moves were less a matter of learning the choreography and more about recalling muscle memory from copying MC Hammer’s moves in his 1990 hit song and video, “Can’t Touch This.”

“I love to dance, and I remember trying to mimic all his dance routines,” Lee said. “When I went to Alabama A&M, I did the routine at the battle of the bands.” He said many of his student’s weren’t alive when MC Hammer released the song,”so it’s an opportunity for parents and kids to talk and connect.”

Lee said he’s not looking to challenge any other principals to a dance-off, but he does challenge them to do whatever it takes to reach their students.

“Find out where your kids are and meet that need,” he said. “Find some kind of mode to be connected with our kids.”

Lee said his hope is that those who see the video will get a good laugh while also taking to heart the underlying message of protecting themselves and others from the coronavirus.

“We have got to make safety a cool thing,” he said. “If we don’t see the warning signs, we’ll be doomed for destruction.

“By following these guidelines, we could save someone’s life.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Presbyterian Home for Children’s three-day indoor sale supports ‘place of hope’

(Anthony Cook/Alabama NewsCenter)

Lynn Morris of Talladega was especially motivated to be among the first customers at the Presbyterian Home for Children’s inaugural three-day summer sale today.

She and her husband, Terry, have served as foster parents for children taken in by the Home’s program for homeless children and know firsthand the value of the ministry.

“It’s concern about the children,” said Lynn, holding on to a wooden tray she plans to use for her computer tablet. “And I would do it again.”

The Morrises were among hundreds who showed up for the first day of sale at the ministry’s 12,000-square-foot gym on the Presbyterian Home campus in Talladega. The sale is in conjunction with the Home’s Thrift Store next door at 975 Gertrude Michaels Drive.

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Presbyterian Home for Children in Talladega holding big summer sale to help those in need from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Furniture, appliances, books, picture frames, ceramics, antiques, dishes, decorations, tools and much more are available at deeply discounted prices. All items were donated, many of them by area estates, and only those in quality condition are sold by the Home, said President and CEO Doug Marshall, who noted customers were waiting in line when the doors opened this morning.

“The community and the surrounding communities have overwhelmed us,” he said, supported by the evidence of license plates from Talladega, Calhoun, Clay and Jefferson counties and from as far away as Georgia.

“We have everything you could imagine, but at thrift store prices,” Marshall said. “This place is packed. They’re supporting the Presbyterian Home for Children. We’re all about taking care of children.”

Charlotte and Mike Darden of Talladega said they came looking for some chairs to match a couch they recently purchased.

“I did find three chairs,” Charlotte said. “All the pillows are gonna get thrown in all the other rooms, so that I got pillows everywhere. I love pillows.”

She thinks the ministry is great and is glad to support it.

“I hope they make $10,000 off of this,” she said. “This is helping the kids and helping the moms.”

The Home started taking care of children shortly after the Civil War and brings in those who are homeless or with mothers who have fled domestic situations for safety. The proceeds from the three-day sale and the thrift store support Secure Dwellings, which serves about 225 children and adults each year.

“We take care of them on campus and off campus in a variety of ways,” Marshall said. “The thrift store is a funding source for us to help us continue our calling. It’s a place of hope. It’s a place of healing, and it’s birthed in the heart of God.”


IF YOU GO …

  • Entrances are marked with a requirement to wear masks.
  • Bring cash. No checks or debit cards are accepted.
  • The thrift store next door is also open and is where you’ll find clothing and household items.
  • The sale continues 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)