The Wire

  • Mobile pastor sentenced to 50 years for child sex crimes

    Excerpt from WKRG:

    Alvin McNeil was sentenced Thursday to 30 years on Rape 1st of a child and additional 20 years for sexual abuse of another child. The sentences are set to run consecutively.

    Back in April, a jury found Pastor Alvin McNeil guilty of rape and sex abuse of a child under 12.

    Judge Lockett revoked his bond and took the defendant into custody, the District Attorney’s office said.

    56-year-old Alvin McNeil was a pastor of Open Door True Worship Apostolic Church.

  • ‘Monster’ who video-recorded his rape of 3-year-old girl gets life without parole

    Excerpt from ABC 33/40:

    An Odenville man who video-recorded himself raping a 3-year-old girl was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Wednesday.

    43-year-old Robert Armbrust, Jr. pled guilty last week to rape, sodomy, sex abuse of a child younger than 12, and child porn involving a child younger than 17. St. Clair County Judge Phil Seay sentenced Armbrust to life in prison without parole for the rape charge and life in prison on the remaining charges.

    According to Chief Assistant District Attorney Lyle Harmon, Armbrust committed the horrific crimes from June through September 2016 while he and his girlfriend were babysitting a sick friend’s grandchild. Armbrust videotaped and photographed himself committing the child sex crimes.

  • Alabama Archers Win Top Honors at National Championship

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    It was a very good year for Alabama’s student archers at the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) Eastern National Championship. Placing in the top five of their shooting categories were two Alabama teams and four individual students. Additionally, an Alabama elementary school student was chosen as an Easton Academic Archer and five Alabama students made the NASP All-American Academic Team.

    “We are extremely proud of the performance of Alabama’s student archers,” said Marisa Futral, Hunter Education Coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “Their determination and dedication to both archery and academics is paying off and will serve them well in other aspects of life.”

    More than 14,000 archers traveled from 35 states to the competition, which was held May 10-12, 2018, in Louisville, Ky. Alabama’s top five results are listed below.

    Overall Competition

    Teams

    East Elementary, First Place, Elementary School Division
    Alma Bryant High, Fifth Place, High School Division
    Individuals

    Kayden Henderson, Vinemont Elementary, Third Place, Elementary School Male Division
    Allie Stewart, East Elementary, Fourth Place, Elementary School Female Division
    Caleb Thornton, Alma Bryant High, Third Place, in both the overall competition and the High School Male Division with a near perfect score of 297 (out of 300).
    International Bowhunters Organization 3D Tournament

    Teams

    East Elementary, First Place
    Individuals

    Ava Ray, East Elementary, Second Place, Elementary School Female Division
    Allie Stewart, East Elementary, Third Place, Elementary School Female Division
    Academic Archer

    The Easton Academic Archer program highlights students who excel in the classroom as well as on the archery range. Each of the newly chosen academic archers received a Genesis Bow and custom Easton Academic Archer arrows during the tournament.

    Pierce Gudger of East Elementary School was chosen as one of 10 academic archers for 2018.
    All-American Academic Team

    The 2018 NASP All-American Academic Team was formed based on the results of both the NASP Eastern and Western National tournaments and a roster of Academic Archers from across North America. Five students from Alabama have made this year’s team.

    Allie Stewart, East Elementary
    Jonathan Hall, Breitling Elementary
    Taylor Darby, Munford Middle
    Justin Liveoak, Chilton County High
    Caleb Thornton, Alma Bryant High

What’s justice-mercy balance? Alabama AG Marshall discusses Judith Ann Neelley, others

(AL DOC)

What’s the balance between justice and mercy?

Yellowhammer News last week asked Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall for his thoughts on justice and mercy in light of two current events:

— Convicted murderer Judith Ann Neelley is scheduled for a parole hearing Wednesday. Neelley has served more than 30 years of a life sentence for the violent 1982 murder of a 13-year-old Georgia girl.

— Democrat candidate for governor Sue Bell Cobb’s former campaign aid Paul Littlejohn III, a convicted rapist, was recently charged with violating state sex offender laws and resigned from Cobb’s campaign.

WATCH the 2-min video:

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Why some political smears work, even when they’re lies

(YHN/Flickr)

A little known, counter-intuitive communication phenomenon called “the sleeper effect” means that outright lies can become more persuasive over time even when they come from a source who isn’t credible, according to decades of academic research.

Under the right conditions, researchers say the effect can make shaky stories even more believable than trustworthy ones, particularly if the message is shocking enough to have a strong initial impact on a person’s attitude and the source isn’t revealed until after the message is delivered.

So imagine hearing something that makes a strong impact on you … only to learn the source is someone you don’t find credible or whose intentions may be tainted. The sleeper effect means that as time passes, you may be likely to become more, not less, persuaded by what you heard, regardless of your feelings about the source.

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The sleeper effect was first scientifically observed in 1949 when American soldiers became more persuaded by WWII propaganda films as time passed. Today, the effect is informally observed in some of our culture’s long-standing urban legends.

School-children were the first to spread the myths that Pop Rocks candy is deadly when paired with Coke, Bubble Yum gum contains spider eggs and McDonald’s hamburgers are made out of ground worms.

These myths were once so prevalent that the companies had to issue widespread public reassurances that their foods were safe.

When a prankster circulated the presidential IQ hoax in 2000, it was widely accepted that President George W. Bush had the lowest IQ in presidential history with President Bill Clinton topping the list as the smartest.

An entire website, Snopes.com, is dedicated to debunking hundreds of lies and rumors that catch fire through word-of-mouth, email forwards and social media.

It also helps explain why negative political tactics can be so effective and so dangerous. Voters can end up accepting rumors even when they suspect the source’s intentions and credibility.

It’s not surprising that political candidates fear this public tendency to believe bunk — bunk that can sometimes sink a campaign.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars has a master’s degree in communication with a political focus from The Johns Hopkins University

Let the Alabama pastor speak … and everybody speak up too

(WVTM 13 / Facebook)

Everyone likes free speech until someone says something we find vile.

Birmingham pastor Michael Jordan of New Era Baptist Church was in the news this week, decrying Church of the Highlands’ plans to open a campus in a high crime area of the inner city, calling “the white church” racist and hypocritical.

Jordan’s interview with Birmingham NBC affiliate WVTM is shocking and divisive, and many Alabamians, black and white, are slamming him as a “racist.”

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“It’s a slavemaster church,” Jordan also said in an interview with Al.com. “I call it plantation religion, slavemaster religion. The white rich folks start a church and put a black pastor in charge of it.”

Pretty harsh words. Pretty sure that’s the last thing Church of the Highlands is trying to be. But Jordan comes across, however resentfully, however colorfully, as having sincere concerns. We don’t have to agree with him to try and understand where he’s coming from.

If someone is willing to voice such controversial statements, chances are there are other people who feel the same way but aren’t willing to say it out loud.

It’s been said the best solution to speech we don’t like is more speech, so it’s worth your time to read this op-ed by Joe Lockett, a black radio talk show host in Birmingham who stepped up to confront speech with speech, even though he might disagree with some of my points here.

Also worth reading the classic “Prayer of St. Francis” to put all this in perspective:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

Bring truth … bring love … bring pardon … bring joy … all require action, all can be done through speech.

So … speak up.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News

Alabama AG: Violent crime, opioid epidemic means churches must get out of ‘silos’ to help; comments on Church of Highlands controversy (Video)

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (YH News)

Attorney General Steve Marshall concluded a four-city series of “Faith Forums” at The Rock Family Worship Center in Huntsville Tuesday, telling attendees that when it comes to violent crime, opioid addiction, and addressing security risks in schools and churches, “reactive” arrests and prosecution can’t be the only solution.

“The church has the opportunity to be proactive” during the growing crisis, Marshall said, pointing to alarming statistics showing violent crime is at a 20-year high in Alabama, with numbers of sexual assaults, murders and aggravated assaults nearing totals not seen in the state since 1995.

“That’s a violent crime every 21 minutes,” he said.

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At the same time, nationwide opioid addiction is rampant and growing worse, with opioid overdose deaths on a sharp incline, according to forum speaker Shannon Royce, director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

“This is not like the heroin [crisis] in the 70s and the cocaine epidemic of the 80s and 90s,” Royce said. “This is so much bigger.”

In Alabama, more than 750 people died of drug overdose in 2016 (the most recent data available), and nearly half were opioid overdoses from prescription painkillers, fentanyl, and heroin.

WATCH: Opioid addiction hits home for Miss Troy University 2018 Madison Neal

Royce said Alabama is not the worst state for opioid overdose deaths – West Virginia has that distinction – but we’re in the bottom third.

“It’s probably going to get worse [nationally] before it gets better,” Royce said.

Which is why churches must get in the game, reject apathy and fear of criticism, and embrace the idea that there is value in fighting, regardless of how enormous the challenge may appear, Marshall said.

“There is a place for anger, righteous anger,” he said, pointing to biblical examples of Jesus Christ confronting wrong-doing.

“Y’all, in some ways, when we fail to speak, we lose our voice,” said Marshall. “And who better to speak than [pastors]? As an elected official, I don’t always have that credibility, but you do.”

Marshall said that church leaders should look for violent crime risk factors among youth, such as a young person’s family situation and education level, and then actively promote church involvement, family togetherness, and mentoring, which he said protect against the risk factors.

“If someone is involved in a church, that protects that person from being involved in violent crime,” he said.  “… Faith-based programs are statistically more successful.”

WATCH: Marshall on why mixing government and faith approaches shouldn’t be a concern

Marshall said churches need to move out of their silos to work with other faith communities, but acknowledged sensitivity is required when asked about the black Birmingham pastor who blasted Church of the Highlands for their plans to church-plant in the inner city.

WATCH: Marshall comments on Rev. Michael Jordan who called Church of the Highlands “racist”

“We have to get together and not just become aware, we’re already aware,” said The Rock FWC Senior Pastor Rusty Nelson. “We tend to get so busy and stick our heads in the sand and forget to work together in caring for people in need. …There are things government brings to the table and, as a faith community, we have answers too.”

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News

Birmingham pastor angry at Church of the Highlands, urges blacks to ‘leave’ white churches ‘now’ (VIDEO)

(WVTM 13 / Facebook)

Controversy has erupted in Birmingham because Church of the Highlands plans to move a campus into an area that has been described as “high-crime” and they are not receiving a warm welcome from a local pastor.

Pastor Michael Jordan of New Era Baptist Church off Cotton Avenue SW posted this message on one side of his church sign: “Black folks need to stay out of white churches” and this on the other side: “White folks refused to be our neighbors.”

“White folk have proved they don’t want to live next door to us, or be our neighbors, or worship with us,” Jordan told Birmingham NBC affiliate WVTM. “Now they want to plant a white church in a black neighborhood under the umbrella of supposedly to fight crime. The real reason Church of the Highlands wants to put a white church in a black neighborhood is they have too many black folks at their main campus and they want them to leave and come to a church in their inner city.”

Church of the Highlands is a multi-site megachurch founded by Chris Hodges in the suburbs of Birmingham in 2001. It is the largest congregation in Alabama and the second largest in the United States.

When asked about the church’s plans to help fight crime, Jordan said he’s against it because the motive is “not pure.”

“It’s hypocritical,” he said. “If you don’t want to be our neighbors, if you don’t want to live next door to black African-Americans, how can you put a white church over here to help fight crime? As soon as you finish worshipping, you’re going to go back to the suburbs like you’ve done for 30 years.”

WATCH the WVTM 13 video:

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Jordan goes on to urge blacks to leave “white churches” and describes the white church as being historically “racist” and “hypocritical” for their failure to preach against lynchings and slavery and because “the white church elected a racist president Donald Trump.”

This is not the first time the 26-year pastor has posted controversial words that put him in the news.

Last year his sign read: “Undercover racist elected Trump” (sic) on one side and “Trump deceived poor white folks” on the other.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News

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WATCH: Alabama high school’s incredible version of ‘The Greatest Showman’ song

(Alex Kiker/YouTube)

I didn’t think I could love the music from the fantastic movie “The Greatest Showman” any more than I already do … until I saw this music video created by “Mr. Moody’s Sociology class” at Mary G. Montgomery High School in Semmes, Ala.

“Mr. Moody’s Sociology class explores the relationship of the various cliques and how they differ from one another but more importantly how they all have issues they deal with in school. We decided to also include a lighter side of situations where new teachers have the tough task of trying to incorporate an educational environment that creates a sense of inclusion for all the groups. To create an environment where everyone feels accepted and proud to be a part of their school,” reads the YouTube video’s description.

WATCH:

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The movie features Mary G. Montgomery students from a variety of school groups and clubs including ROTC, cheerleading, football, basketball and volleyball teams, drama, band, choir, RHO KAPPA, and others.

Also incredibly cool: The video was shot on an iPhone 8 plus using something called a DJI OSMO Gimbal (I just bought this gadget myself this week and can’t wait to figure it out) and a drone.

Most impressive of all: Look how happy and engaged these kids look. No too-cool-for-schoolers in this video. Something tells me this is, indeed, one of Alabama’s greatest schools and “Mr. Moody” might just be a contender for the greatest teacher.

WATCH: Alabama Republican candidates, officials rock the runway for Huntsville event

Ainsworth, Glover, Marshall line up to walk runway (YH News)

Who says Republicans can’t let loose?

Alabama officials, candidates, media personalities and party people (Republican Party, that is) rocked the runway Wednesday, modeling ties by Dillard’s and outfits by local boutiques at the Republican Women of Huntsville’s “Make Fashion Great Again” event at the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

WATCH the Facebook Live video … it gets hilarious about the 12:20 minute mark when the men take the stage.

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Ladies modeling for the event included:

Donna Beaulieu – Candidate for Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals Place 3

Madison County District Judge Patty Demos

Judge Christy Edwards – Candidate for Court of Civil Appeals Place 1

Judge Sarah Stewart – Candidate for Alabama Supreme Court Place 1

Martha Brooks – Wife of Congressman Mo Brooks

Madison County District Judge Linda Coats

Lynda Hairston – Madison County Board of Registrars

Mary Scott Hunter – Candidate for State Senate District 7

Judge Debra Jones – Candidate for Alabama Supreme Court Place 1

Madison County Circuit Clerk Debra Kizer

Kathy Linden – Secretary of the Madison County Republican Executive Committee, Recording Secretary of AFRW and Chairman of the RWH PAC

Alice Martin – Candidate for Attorney General

Huntsville City Council President Pro Tem Jennie Robinson

Judge Terri Willingham Thomas – Candidate for Court of Civil Appeals Place 2

Christine Wozny – Recording Secretary for Republican Women of Huntsville

Nicole Jones — Economic Developer; Board Member, Alabama Federation of Republican Women

(courtesy Nicole Jones)

Gentlemen models included:

Attorney General Steve Marshall

State Rep. Will Ainsworth – Candidate for Lt. Governor

State Sen. Rusty Glover – Candidate for Lt. Governor

Will Anderson – Radio Personality from WVNN

State Rep. Mike Ball – State House District 10

Frank Barger – Candidate for Madison County Probate Judge

David Black – Candidate for State Treasurer

State Senator Tom Butler – Candidate for State Senate District 2

Bennett Driggers – Candidate for Madison County Probate Judge

Madison County GOP Chairman Sam Givhan – Candidate for State Senate District 7

Milburn Gross – Candidate for Madison County Probate Judge

Madison County Commissioner Steve Haraway

Madison County Commissioner Craig Hill

Clayton Hinchman – Candidate for United States Congress District 5

Dale Jackson – WVNN Talk Show Host and Yellowhammer News contributor

Michael Johnson – Candidate for Secretary of State

Madison County Tax Assessor Cliff Mann

Chris McCool – Candidate for Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2

Richard Minor – Candidate for Court of Criminal Appeals Place 1

Kaleb Nelson – Chairman of UAH College Republicans

Charles Orr – Candidate for State House District 10

Mayor of Lowndesboro Rick Pate – Candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture & Industries

State Rep. Rex Reynolds – State House District 21

Wayne Reynolds – Candidate for Alabama Board of Education Seat 8

Madison County Commissioner Phil Riddick

State Rep. Howard Sanderford – State House District 20

Kevin Turner – Candidate for Madison County Sheriff

Riggs Walker – Candidate for Court of Criminal Appeals Place 1

Andy Whitt – Candidate for State House District 6

State Rep. Phil Williams – State House District 6

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‘I wanna be like Kanye’ — time to bust out The Chainsmokers’ 2014 anthem

(CNN/YouTube)

Birds of a feather flock together, so President Donald Trump and Kanye West aren’t an unlikely pair. They deserve each other.

Arrogant … check.

Deplorable views on women … check.

Unafraid to thumb their chins at bashers … check.

I wouldn’t want my sons to be like either man, but I can give an appreciative nod to the good things President Trump has done in office, and I don’t know many Kanye songs, but I bet I’d like a few.

Here’s something I do admire about both: They don’t back down when the mob comes calling for their heads.

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So here’s to independent thinking that disrupts identity politics.

Here’s to free speech even if it means losing followers.

And here’s a shout-out to one of my favorite bands, “The Chainsmokers” who wrote the 2014 anthem “Kanye”:

Disclaimer: As a mother and Christian, I don’t endorse or recommend all of The Chainsmokers’ music or the worldview behind these lyrics. Just sayin’!

Partial lyrics:

I have never wished and hoped
Didn’t need a telescope
To see where I am going
I have never been the one
Trying hard to hold my tongue
Is my stereo …

… I wanna be like Kanye
I’ll be the king of me always
Do what I want, I’ll have it my way
All day like Kanye-eah, yeah, yeah

Lyrics by Andrew Taggart / Skylar Stonestreet / Michael Del Rio

Need a Kanye palate cleanse?

Here’s a song from another of my favorite groups, “For King and Country” (I fully endorse everything they do), who are performing in Huntsville this Thursday night at the Von Braun Center with the ever-excellent band Skillet:

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News

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Alabama Power customers won’t pay as much for power starting this summer

(Pixabay)

Power bills will go down for many Alabamians starting this summer.

The Public Service Commission today announced that Alabama Power Company’s 1.4 million customers will not pay as much for power and fuel beginning in July.

According to the PSC, there will be a $337 million reduction over the next two years because of the federal income tax cuts approved by Congress and signed into law by President Trump in December.

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“This is a great day for Alabama consumers and taxpayers,” said PSC President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh in a statement. “What a difference President Trump has made to reverse the out of control policies of the tax-and-spend-and-regulate Obama Administration.”

A typical residential customer will see monthly bill reductions of more than $9. Overall customer reductions will total $257 million from July to December and then customer bills will be reduced by another $50 million in 2019. Fuel costs will be reduced by $30 million.

“That is real money going back to Alabamians, who can spend it on things other than electric bills,” Commissioner Jeremy Oden said. “President Trump and Republicans in Congress deserve great praise for bringing real relief to Alabamians and all Americans.”

The Commission unanimously voted in support of the actions and worked with Alabama Power to guarantee no increases in the company’s base rates through 2020.

They also modified the rate system governing the company, lowering the top end of the range and providing an allowable percentage to be used to maintain the company’s credit rating that the PSC said is necessary to control the overall cost of debt for customers, according to a Commission press release.

Annoyed by close talkers and sitters? UAB professor explains why

(YouTube)

I’ve got a gripe and I recognize it’s not very nice considering it’s about people I sit next to … in a chapel … when I’m there to pray.

Remember the “close-talker” in the show Seinfeld, who got right up in other people’s faces during conversations?

Well, I’m about to go bananas about what I’ll call “close-sitters.”

Almost every morning I spend about 15 minutes inside our church’s prayer chapel after I drop my kids off at school. I love starting my day in a bit of peace.

I know the good Lord told us to love Him by loving others, but y’all, let me paint the scene and I think you’ll understand.

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Picture a fair-sized chapel that could seat about 100 people. At that time of morning, there are usually five to 10 other people, mostly regulars like myself, who come in and sit in silent prayer.

There is plenty of room. There is oh-so-plenty of room.

But at least once a week, someone comes and sits right next to me. As in, we can easily touch without extending arms. They aren’t coming over to chat because at our church, it’s understood that visiting happens in the vestibule, not in the silent chapel.

Even worse – sometimes someone sits down right behind me, pulling out the kneeler to pray and, in effect, breathing down my neck.

I feel certain the close-sitters have no intention of annoying me, and most of the time I’d rather be uncomfortable than rude, but I’ve gotten to where I’ll get up and move several rows away … seeing as there are plenty of empty rows.

Last week, someone started praying into the back of my head and I just got up and left – perplexed and bewildered, though I couldn’t help sheepishly think of the character in C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters,” who was tempted to abandon his Christian faith because when he goes to church he’s annoyed by “… just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided” who “sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes …”

But am I alone in this? Would this bug you? Why would anyone sit right next to someone if they didn’t have to?

And what does it mean that I’m annoyed by close-sitters but, I myself, am probably a space invader as a Deep South hugger, who has been hugging people left and right as long as I can remember?

My strong reaction is likely personal and cultural, said Dr. Mark Hickson, nonverbal communication expert and a professor of communication studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“It’s interesting that you’re a hugger but need space in certain contexts,” he said. “…[the close-sitter] pulling out the kneeler is interesting. You can probably feel it when they do. It also makes a noise. Double violation! It sounds to me like you have strong nerve sensitivity and perhaps hearing that is very good.”

Hickson said that distance norms are largely cultural and that most people around the world interact and function much more closely than we do in the United States and United Kingdom.

“It’s mostly American,” he said. “If you think about [an] elevator situation, for example, we are a low-touch society. Even before all the concerns about sexual harassment, we don’t really touch each other like people do in other cultures. In an elevator, it’s a crowded situation, but everybody’s trying to avoid touching anybody else.”

Hickson said he believes that may be partly due to commercialism.

“We have all these things about bad breath and body odor and we don’t want to be next to each other, either because we’re afraid they’re going to have bad breath or that we’re going to have bad breath,” he said.

Edward T. Hall, considered the father of proxemics — the communication field that focuses on personal space and how much distance people feel is necessary between them and others —  theorized about personal space norms this way: intimate distance is six to 18 inches, personal distance is 18 inches to four feet, social distance is four to 12 feet, and public distance is about 12 feet or more.

Could recent current events create even further distance standards for Americans?

“I believe any literate person is re-assessing hugs,” said Hickson. “For the most part, the norm is to hug people that we know well whom we have not seen in a while. It would certainly be odd to hug one’s co-workers each day at work.”

Hickson has published academic articles on sexual harassment and believes the #MeToo movement “to some extent has gone too far,” because “… the fact of the matter is that the guys who do that, it’s very few guys in the first place. But the ones who do it, do it repeatedly. In other words, Bill Cosby is the typical version of this thing, it’s not like he’s unusual. He’s unusual for men, but not unusual for men who do that.”

He said it will understandably now be a challenge for most people to navigate modern touch.

“I notice with my friends from other parts of the country [who I’ve known for 20-30 years], since all that has happened, we still hug each other but it’s not as long, it doesn’t last as long. So it’s kind of like: ‘We’ve always done this, but I don’t know what to do now.’”

So what’s a good rule of thumb to respect other people’s space?

“I think to really just observe the other person and see if they cringe,” Hickson said. “We talk a lot in communication about how we pay more attention to transmitting messages than we do to receiving messages, and so we need to be aware of our own receiving. In other words, [exercise] empathy, so that you hopefully don’t offend anyone.”

Fair enough, Dr. Hickson, will do — but would you please come talk to the close-sitters at my chapel?

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News

Before we condemn Tom Brokaw, we must stop. We must think.

(OWN/YouTube)

American icons Bill Cosby and Tom Brokaw are in the headlines today, but one deserves to be there and the other probably does not.

Cosby was convicted Thursday of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman 14 years ago. Dozens of other women have made similar claims about the actor known as “America’s Dad.”

Cosby, who once headlined NBC’s number one sitcom, certainly deserves the 30-year prison sentence he may receive. What he did is the very definition of “assault.”

But before we judge “America’s anchor,” who once led NBC’s number one newscast, as guilty of sexual assault, we must stop. We must think. We must examine that word.

We must examine the #MeToo movement, which is crucial in its importance … but which is dangerous if used cavalierly to ruin people.

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The Washington Post and Variety reported late Thursday that former NBC news anchor Linda Vester says Brokaw “assaulted” her in New York more than 20 years ago.

Brokaw, who now works as NBC News special correspondent has strongly denied the allegations.

Vester describes her experience in an edited Variety video and longer transcript, and I encourage you to read it.

Here are the basics: Allegedly, Brokaw tickled Vester along her waist in a conference room with others present, which Variety described as her being “groped.”

Sometime later, when Vester was reporting from New York, she says Brokaw asked by computer message to have drinks with her. She says he then wrote, “Nah, too risky.”

She says that she wrote back: “I only drink milk and cookies,” and then: “There is nothing I would like more than a great chat with someone I admire, but if appearances are a concern, that’s valid.”

She says these messages were meant to clearly show Brokaw that he was acting inappropriately.

She said Brokaw later called her to say he was coming to her hotel “to order milk and cookies,” and that once there, he tried to “forcibly” kiss her. He left when she refused his advances.

Vester insists at all points she was terrified by the powerful man she says could have ruined her career and that she was too frozen to tell him to not come to the hotel or, once he was there, to not let him in or tell him no when he asked her to come sit on the couch with him.

She says it all happened over again in London shortly after.

What allegedly happened may have felt awful for Vester. Men may never understand how hard it is for many women to stand up for themselves and risk confrontation, disapproval, or upsetting someone. I believe women often act contrary to their wishes to save others’ feelings.

But a fair reading of Vester’s side of the story, which Brokaw denies, simply does not make him a monster.

Caught in an immoral moment of weakness considering his marriage? Yes.

Sexual harassment? Probably, especially since he was in a position of authority over her.

But sexual assault? I just do not think so.

If true, it sounds like Brokaw understandably misunderstood her messages and actions as flirty invitations.

We must listen to accusers, but we must listen to the accused.

We must ask ourselves if romantic misunderstandings, flirtings, and even some forms of touch should come even close to being described with the same language we use for rape and sexual violence.

I’ve been hesitant to write about the #MeToo movement for a reason I think is best described by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen in the excellent book “Thanks for the Feedback”:

“Human emotions don’t necessarily cancel each other out. I can love spending time with you and still be anxious that you’re coming. I can genuinely appreciate your mentoring and decide not to take your advice. I can be sad that I’m hurting you and proud of myself for doing the right thing. Contradictory feelings sit side-by-side in our hearts and minds, clacking against each other like marbles in our pocket.”

I have contradictory feelings about the #MeToo movement. Sexual injustice and abuse of women and children is a hot-button issue for me – one of the main things that gets me fighting mad.

As a news organization, we post stories about rapes and sex trafficking and child porn and on and on and I’m not calloused to it.

Every time I get mad.

Every time I clinch my fists and want to punch the mugshot on my computer.

That’s part of the reason we publish articles about such horrific acts, even though it makes us all sick – so we’ll stay mad. So we won’t forget what’s at stake. So we will feel the injustice and be moved to do something about it.

But I also feel empathy for men who aren’t monsters, who are trying to navigate the mating minefield with all our culture’s inconsistencies.

On the one hand, cultural elitists berate moral standards once considered the norm – such as sex outside of marriage always being wrong – as arcane and ridiculous.

But then in pure Puritan outrage, we act surprised when some men try to see if they can have sex with women they think seem interested.

It doesn’t help that some women are less confrontational than men and less likely to frown and say “go away.”

Add to that these dilemmas backed by research evidence:

— Men tend to mistakenly think a woman is more sexually interested in them than she actually is, which some researchers think may contribute to sexual harassment.

— Men tend to assume that the more attractive a woman is, the more interested she is in sex.

— Men tend to lose self-control around women they find sexy.

I am NOT making excuses for boorish men who grab, humiliate, speak in crude ways, or otherwise act nasty. There are some things everyone knows are horribly wrong. What Cosby did, what Weinstein allegedly did, these are unspeakable injustices and they deserve every ounce of punishment they receive.

But what about socially unsmooth men who may lack Emotional Quotient (EQ) – defined as a person’s adequacy in such areas as awareness, empathy, and dealing sensitively with other people?

What’s it like navigating modern romantic waters without that “sixth sense” that helps some people quickly understand how others are feeling and adjust accordingly, particularly if a woman seems coy and flirty, and our culture says anything goes?

Morality aside, I feel bad for men with low self-awareness who read the tea leaves wrong – and get called out and ruined on social media for it.

So,  yes, let’s be grateful — women were believed and Cosby was convicted of sexual assault.

But let’s stop. Let’s think … before condemning Brokaw for the same thing.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Cosby was sentenced to 30 years. Updated at 4:30 p.m. to say Cosby could receive a 30-year sentence.

Update: Another woman has alleged that in 1968, Brokaw kissed her against her will. 

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News

YH FILM: Bham CEO almost lost his life, family — until a tough choice turned his worst year into his best

C. Chandler, ICU, 2016 (contributed)

Birmingham-based marketing expert Corbitt Chandler says he used to think 2016 was the worst year of his life.

It was the year an addiction threatened his marriage, an infection threatened his life, and a showdown with his personal demons threatened his faith.

“I was just mad at life,” said the founder and CEO of Apex Current. “I didn’t really want to live anymore. …I was like, I’m just going to blow up my life and lose everything. I got kicked out of my house, and the whole thing just destroyed me. It destroyed me to start thinking about legacy and how I wanted my daughters to grow up.”

The father of two girls, ages 4 years old and 2 years old, said he made an extremely difficult decision that led to a surprising revelation … and a powerful turning point that turned the worst year of his life into his best.

WATCH the inspiring Yellowhammer Film created by editor and director Aaron Spigner:

Q & A with Corbitt Chandler:

What is your connection to Birmingham?

CC: I grew up here so it’s my hometown. I moved out to Los Angeles after graduating college and lived there for more than a decade working before being recruited back for a vice president of marketing role at Iron Tribe Fitness.

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What was life like in California?

CC: Living in L.A. was crazy. I worked in sports marketing and pretty much traveled the world. I went through a ton as well, but ultimately it all led to me meeting my wife Michelle, who’s from California, and having our first daughter born out there.

What are your wife’s interests?

CC: Michelle is a full-time rock-star mom, wife and interior designer. She runs her own independent design firm called Harper James Design and she also runs a charity called Flower Child Project.

(YH/YouTube)

How did you realize you had contracted meningitis?

CC: I felt a little sick with a headache during the week. I took some Benadryl to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I just remember feeling out of it and I just thought the meds were still kicking in, so I decided to workout — brilliant, I know. Then, driving to work, I had to cover one eye because my vision was impaired. I was at the office and had chills and finally was told to go home. When I got home and my wife saw me, she was pretty worried. We went to the doc and my fever was right at 104 degrees. They pumped me full of liquids with an IV, gave me meds and then ultimately sent me home, but said if I worsened to go straight to the hospital. I took a nap, woke up, ran into the door trying to go to the bathroom, and then nausea kicked in and we went to the ER. They did the spinal tap there and saw it was meningitis and sent me to the ICU.

What was it like for you in the ICU?

CC: I was in ICU for 7 days. They wanted me to stay longer so I literally had to muster everything in me to try and walk so they’d let me leave. I went in on August 11th, 2016. It was super weird being there. They took great care of me, but I realized how bad it was when I first got there and laid down and asked where the bathroom was and they handed me a bottle telling me you’re not allowed to get out of your bed in ICU. They had those things on my legs that every certain amount of minutes inflate to keep blood circulating. I had tons of needles stuck in me because veins collapse over time and they need to reposition the IV. I did a bunch of scans. The first few days were tough because they didn’t know if it was bacterial or viral. Bacterial is bad news bears and super contagious so I didn’t even know if I could see my kids again if I didn’t get better. Ultimately, after a few days, the results came back saying that it’s viral and it’s sort of a celebration, but you still feel like you’re dying so there’s that.

What was recovery like?

CC: As bad as ICU was, leaving was far worse. I get home thinking I’m going to be down for a couple weeks and it took me four or five months to start feeling close to normal. I could barely walk up the stairs or get in and out of my car. It’s hard to explain that to people especially when you’re in it. I went from being physically the strongest I had ever been to not being able to hold my kids. It was super weird. The funny thing is now I don’t work out nearly as hard. Really, I don’t work out hard at all. Physically, I’m much weaker. Part of what I do these days has more to do with discipline so I’m more focused on a very specific diet since I can’t train like I used to. My left arm never quite recovered from the nerve damage that was done so it still to this day has some deficiencies and coordination issues. Which used to frustrate the crap out of me, but now I just deal with it and it’s part of life. Which I, now, realize how crazy I sound doing those upside down push up things in the video. But, if you look closely, my left shoulder is wanting to collapse and I can only do like two now where I could do like 15 before.

(YH/YouTube)

What is your advice to anyone who is struggling, maybe fighting their own epic battle or feeling hopeless?

CC: A good plan executed violently today is better than the perfect plan next week! Just go and move forward. Other than physical dependency or illness, there really is not a good excuse for not taking control of your life. It’s in your hands, but no one’s going to give you permission. It’s up to you.

(YH/YouTube)

What is your advice to someone contemplating taking a risk like starting their own business?

That’s a great question! I’m still learning. I think the hard part as always is thinking about scale. I am passionate about the work. I love what I do, but as we grow it involves creating that scale and working on the business, not in it. That’s not my favorite so I really have to use my “why” to drive that.

What are some of your goals for Apex Current?

I think ultimately, it’s our mission: “Connecting Businesses with Their Audiences”. We run performance-driven ads utilizing data and analytics. Ultimately, we’re about getting our clients trackable results, but it goes both ways. To the buyer, we want to serve them ads they want to see when they want to see them. That creates a very positive environment for both parties. So, growing Apex to that end is the goal and that feeds my why of creating an amazing life for my girls and being able to give. So, from a giving perspective, that’s something that keeps me centered. It’s like: This is not about me. So, I’m doing that personally right now, but working on a plan for that to be an essential part of the business structure.

Editor’s note: Yellowhammer Multimedia recently became an Apex Current client.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News

2 months ago

Dr. Gina Loudon is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(YHN)

Media personality Dr. Gina Loudon may have grown up in Missouri, but the firebrand conservative commentator who regularly appears on national television and radio says she will always call Alabama her “sweet home.”

Loudon, who got her talk radio and TV start in St. Louis, moved to Alabama to host the popular “Dr. Gina Show” on Birmingham’s WYDE where she said her broadcast career was “really born.”

“It really began happening for me in Alabama,” Loudon said in an interview with Yellowhammer News. “It wasn’t so much about me, but it was really about what my audience in Alabama taught me about myself, how they believed in me, and how they inspired me.”

Loudon arrived for her new job the day after tornadoes ravaged the area. She said the experience bonded her to Alabamians.

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“I was put on air ’round the clock because we were the only radio signal that survived the tornado, and people were depending on us for food, medicine, and even company,” she said. “I didn’t know a single road, a single moray, or the difference between Alabama and Auburn. But I would learn.”

Loudon said she and her husband, former Missouri State Senator John Louden, had a conversation one evening at their home in Hoover and agreed they never wanted to leave Alabama.

“Our lives were complete,” she said. “We loved our work, our home, our friends, and our family was really flourishing in Alabama. We planned that night to stay forever.”

When John was recruited for a job in California, the couple initially said no before reconsidering whether God was calling them to serve in the state that Loudon said she felt was being destroyed by its government.

“We told ourselves it was a tour of duty, and looking back now, I can tell you that was a true description,” Loudon said. “California, in all her beauty, cost us greatly. Our children were changed, and we were attacked in ways that are darker than I can describe. But we fought the fight, alongside great patriots.”

Loudon, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, has gone on to host national TV shows and frequently appears on Sean Hannity’s radio show and networks such as Fox News, Fox Business, CSPAN, ABC and the BBC. She is the author of several books and her latest, “Mad Politics,” will be released in September and is now available for pre-order.

Loudon also serves on President Trump’s media advisory board and was a National Republican Convention delegate for Trump, as well as an official media surrogate and spokesperson for his campaign.

Her opinion columns have appeared on Townhall.com, Breitbart.com and FoxNews.com and she has been a featured speaker at the American Conservative Union’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

She holds a master’s degree from St. Louis University and a master’s degree and doctorate in human development from Fielding Graduate University.

The Loudons have five children, one of whom is an adopted child with Down syndrome. Loudon is an outspoken advocate for special needs children and chairs a non-profit foundation to help families who choose life or wish to adopt children with special needs.

“For some reason, people find it difficult to believe that we set out, and searched for 10 years, for a child with Down syndrome who we could adopt,” Loudon wrote in a recent FoxNews.com op-ed.

“Samuel was born to a Latino man and a Polish woman in a large public hospital in Florida. Today Samuel’s birth mom is one of my very best friends. She had attempted several times to abort him, and she says God intervened in miraculous ways … once when her car ran out of gas and another time when a train stalled across the highway,” Loudon wrote of her 12-year-old son’s birth story.

“We have been so blessed by adopting Samuel,” Loudon said in a touching St. Louis Post-Dispatch video produced when Samuel was a toddler. “There’s just no question that it has been, I would say, the hand of God in our family.”

Loudon returns to Alabama to host the inaugural Yellowhammer Women of Impact awards this evening, both as master of ceremonies, and as an honoree. Details and registration may be found here.

“Alabamians understand something that I can tell you with authority, most of the rest of the country don’t understand,” Loudon said. “They know secrets about life that make them wiser in many ways, than the ‘enlightened’ coasts or the ‘savvy states’ that love to look down their proverbial noses at the south. They taught me how to be a Woman of Impact.”

2 months ago

Elizabeth “Liz” Huntley is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(Yellowhammer)

When Birmingham lawyer and child advocate Elizabeth “Liz” Huntley describes her childhood, she says it was filled with “nightmarish events” and “tremendous adversity” that she overcame with the life-giving support of mentors and teachers who helped her see her potential.

In an inspiring 2015 TEDxBirmingham talk, she described her harrowing early life: Her dad was a drug-dealer who eventually went to prison. Her mother was a heroin addict who sent her five children to live with separate relatives in different towns and then committed suicide.

At five-years-old, Huntley was living in poverty with her grandmother and an uncle who physically abused her and another uncle who sexually abused her. She said that she was subjected to domestic violence to such an extent that she had to move in with extended family members and foster families throughout her school life.

Huntley, who is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, said those were “the darkest days of her life”, but that she believes God sent “game-changing” people to speak hope and encouragement into her soul, beginning with her preschool teachers.

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“I was empty and I was scared and I was lonely,” Huntley said. “I basically felt like a used rag doll until that day I walked into that preschool.”

Her teachers showered her with love and affection and prepared her for public school. Huntley also noticed that whenever she did something “fantastic” academically, she got even more attention and praise and that encouraged her to work hard to do well.

“As a kid who was starved for that, I challenged myself to be the best student that I could be so that I could get that response,” she said.

Later, the first-grade teacher who she said reminded her of Wonder Woman told her she believed Huntley would be the brightest student she would ever have.

“What a powerful, game-changing moment for me,” Huntley said. “I had no idea what a powerful, game-changing moment that was for me at that time. That act of kindness. So obviously, I was determined to be the brightest student she ever had.”

Amid continued abuse at home, which Huntley has written about in her memoir “More Than A Bird,” Huntley excelled in school and found strength in a sermon preached by Elijah Good — the pastor at her Clanton church who would become her father figure.

“[He] inspired me with a simple message: If God takes care of the birds, He will take care of me because I am more than a bird,” Huntley wrote on her website. “…I want my story to let children in similar situations to mine to know that they can reach their dreams, and to encourage more adults to become advocates for them like so many did for me.”

Huntley went on to graduate from Chilton County High School with a 4.0 grade point average, sharing the title of valedictorian and earning a full scholarship to Auburn University. She then earned a law degree from the University of Alabama and is currently a litigation attorney at Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC in Birmingham. She serves on the Auburn University board of trustees and is chair of the University of Alabama’s Farrah Law Society board of trustees.

Huntley also serves on the Governor’s Task Force on Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, along with other boards including Leadership Alabama, Children’s First Foundation, Children’s Village, Alabama School Readiness Alliance and as the president and co-founder of Project Gear.

She also serves on the Defense Research Institute’s (DRI) Diversity for Success seminar committee and is the recipient of multiple honors and awards for her professional and volunteer work.

Huntley says her greatest successes are her relationships with her husband Tony and their three children.

“I really never thought I’d be able to function as a wife and mother growing up,” Huntley said in an interview with StyleBlueprint.com.

“My husband and three children are the greatest accomplishment of my life, and one’s not any more important than the other. When you go through the childhood I went through, and you get to watch your own children blossom in a healthy home and environment and not have all the fears and insecurities that I did as a child, to be able to be a mother, is my greatest success.”

Huntley will be honored in a Birmingham awards event March 29 recognizing 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.

2 months ago

Jeana Ross is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

An Alabama program called First Class Pre-K is seeing such extraordinary results that Harvard University is producing a documentary about the effort and more than 30,000 four-year-olds were pre-registered last year in hopes of snagging one of the less than 17,000 available spots state-wide.

The program is overseen by Alabama Secretary of Early Education Jeana Ross, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, who has seen First Class Pre-K’s attendance increase by 374 percent under her leadership, while maintaining the highest possible ranking for quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

Alabama hosts the program in more than 950 classrooms statewide and is one of only two states to meet all 10 of the institute’s quality benchmarks.

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Ross told Yellowhammer News that the most rewarding part of her work is seeing firsthand the impact that skilled teachers can make, inspiring “a sense of wonder, joy, creativity, achievement and success” in a student’s learning.

“I care about children and their right to reach their greatest potential,” Ross said. “Education can and should provide children a powerful opportunity to find purpose and success for their future lives.”

Studies measuring results from tests such as the Alabama Reading and Math Test and the ACT found that First Class Pre-K alumni outperformed their peers who did not attend the program, according to the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.

Ross, who is the mother-in-law of Yellowhammer News owner and publisher Allison Ross, helped secure a $77.5 million preschool development grant to help fund the state-funded program, which also requires local communities to provide at least 25 percent of the funding to participate.

Also under her leadership, the Office of Early Learning and Family Support division of her department has expanded to serve 4,289 vulnerable families and children through more than $12 million in federal awards.

In all, Ross has led her department in writing and receiving federal grant awards totaling more than $100 million.

She attributes much of her success to the partnerships she has built with other groups serving children and families in Alabama to build a cohesive support system.

“My success has been achieved in a collective effort of devoted educators who, regardless of pay or recognition, work to create experiences where children enjoy through natural curiosity and joyful exploration a love of learning that lasts a lifetime,” Ross said.

Ross is a member of Governor Kay Ivey’s cabinet and was appointed by Governor Bentley in 2012. She advises the governor and state legislature in matters relating to the coordination of services for children under the age of 19 and, among her divisions, also oversees the Children’s Policy Councils, the Children First Trust Fund and the Head Start Collaboration office.

Ross previously served in a variety of education roles in Alabama, including as a central office administrator, assistant principal and classroom teacher. She holds a master’s degree in education leadership from the University of Alabama and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from UAB.

“My hope for education in Alabama is for every child to have a competent, sensitive and responsive teacher every day, every year,” Ross said.

As other states look to Ross’s success in Alabama’s early education, she offered three recommendations in a 2017 U.S. Department of Education interview:

“Set high-quality standards, communicate what those are, and demonstrate what they look like; involve parents, businesses and industry leaders in the initiative; and provide supports such as coaching and monitoring to maintain quality,” she said.

Ross and her husband live in Guntersville and Montgomery and have two adult sons and two grandchildren.

Join Ross 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.

2 months ago

Human trafficking bill that would impose severe penalties for obstruction is step closer to becoming law

(Pixabay)

Anyone who obstructs a human trafficking investigation in Alabama could be met with the same penalties as the traffickers if the governor signs a bill that passed the House this week with near unanimous support.

The bill, which already passed the Senate, increases penalties in place for those who obstruct, interfere with, prevent, or otherwise get in the way of law enforcement’s investigation into the practice that includes child sex trafficking.

Under current law, such obstruction is only a Class C felony and could result in just one year in prison. The new legislation would increase the maximum offense to a Class A felony, with a minimum jail sentence of ten years.

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Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) sponsored the bill and said he is proud that the Alabama Legislature made this a priority.

“This week we’ve taken another crucial step in ending this horrific practice,” Ward said in a statement. “By increasing penalties for those who would aid traffickers, we will hold them just as accountable as the traffickers themselves.”

Human trafficking victims are often children who are trafficked into sexual exploitation at an average age between 11-14 years old, according to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

“Most people assume, ‘Well, that doesn’t happen in my backyard,’” Ward said in an interview with Yellowhammer News when the bill was first introduced. “…It’s everywhere in our state, but there’s low awareness as to how bad it really is.”

Just this week, a Decatur man pled guilty to child sex trafficking and other charges related to his plan to kidnap, rape and kill a mother and sell her 14-year-old daughter to a Memphis pimp, according to horrifying details reported by the Decatur Daily.

Brian David “Blaze” Boersma’s plan was thwarted because an informant, who Boersma recruited to help him with his plan, alerted the FBI.

“Oftentimes it’s like what we say with terrorism,” Ward said. “If you see something suspicious, tell somebody, because a lot of times, trafficking can take place right underneath our noses in our communities.”

The legislation to increase penalties for obstructing human trafficking investigations was delivered to Governor Kay Ivey for her signature Wednesday afternoon.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

Christy Swaid is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

When pro sports star Christy Swaid first moved to Alabama in 2002, she said she immediately fell in love with her new home, but it broke her heart to learn that the state ranks in the top three nationally for diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and hypertension and that Alabama children are developing type 2 diabetes at one of the fastest-growing rates in the nation.

Swaid, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, is a six-time world champion professional jet ski racer, the winningest female in the history of the sport, and was twice named “One of the Fittest Women in America” by Competitor Magazine in 2000 and by Muscle and Fitness in 2001.

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After years advocating for marine safety, Swaid channeled her extensive fitness experience and passion for service into launching a nonprofit in 2006 named HEAL (healthy eating active living) with a mission to use evidence-based methods and education to “measurably improve children’s health and reverse the growing epidemic of childhood obesity,” according to HEAL’s website.

“My heart and mission is to help children prevent diseases before they get established, but then follow them throughout their school experience with more healthy eating, active living techniques and encouragement,” Swaid said in a January Alabama Public Television interview.

Swaid tested her curriculum-based fitness and nutrition program in a six-month pilot program that measured results in fifth grade PE classrooms at 10 Alabama schools and found promising results among participating children: 75 percent showed improved fitness, 57 percent of overweight and obese children reduced their body mass index (BMI), and all participants reported improvements in healthful eating.

The program has steadily expanded, serving 130 Alabama schools in 27 counties and reaching 27,000 students across multiple grade levels. There are 175 schools on a waiting list pending funding; HEAL raises their own funds to offer the program to schools at no cost.

Last year, four Alabama schools using the HEAL curriculum earned an “America’s Healthiest School Award” from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, whose judging standards include the healthiness of meals and snacks served, how much students move at school, and the quality of physical and health education.

“I am so proud of our state,” Swaid told APT. “Ten years ago, this was a kitchen table conversation, and I was able to glean the brightest and the best minds who also have big hearts to help put their fingerprints in making the most progressive solution to our nation’s worst epidemic, and that is what HEAL is … a genius cluster.”

Swaid developed her research-based curriculum in partnership with professors from UAB and Samford University.

“It is all science-based and it’s friendly, and it includes every child, including children with special needs,” she said.

Swaid will be honored with Gov. Kay Ivey in an awards event March 29 in Birmingham. The Yellowhammer Women of Impact event will honor 20 women making an impact in Alabama and will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

Deborah Edwards Barnhart is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center may teach visitors about space vehicles that defy gravity, but for its CEO and Executive Director Deborah Edwards Barnhart, the center itself has proved gravitational – pulling her into its orbit several times throughout her four-decade career.

Barnhart, who will this month be honored as a Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, began working in public affairs and marketing at the Space and Rocket Center in the early 1970s when she was in her final year at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, according to a 2012 U.S. army article detailing her background.

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After some time away, she returned to manage publicity when the center added the space shuttle.

“That’s when I became interested in satellites,” Barnhart told Army.mil reporter Kari Hawkins. “At that time, the Navy was in charge of all satellite programs. My father had been a Navy Seabee in World War II and my brother attended the Naval Academy. So, at the age of 27, I joined the Navy to work on satellites.”

Barnhart would serve 26 years in the military — achieving the rank of Navy captain and becoming one of the first 10 women certified to serve aboard Navy ships — before returning to the Space and Rocket Center in 1986 to serve as the director of Space Camp and Space Academy.

She went on to hold leadership roles in three major aerospace and defense companies including Honeywell International, United Technologies Aerospace and McDonnell Douglas. She also raised two children and earned graduate degrees from the University of Maryland and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in strategy and supervision from Vanderbilt University.

Barnhart had retired from Honeywell and moved to Florida, where she did consulting and owned and managed two thoroughbred training centers, when she was recruited to take her fourth role at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center – this time as its CEO.

Since taking the position in 2010, Barnhart is credited with restoring the center’s financial health after it struggled for years with a staggering amount of debt racked up in the late 1990s.

Last year, the center saw an 11 percent increase in revenue and an 18 percent increase in camp revenue, as well as all-time record attendance, helping it maintain its spot as Alabama’s top attraction, according to a 2017 annual report.

“The Center is financially sound, engaged with our community, and focused on our mission of lighting the fires of imagination,” Barnhart wrote in the report.

Nearly 16 million people have toured the center since it opened in 1970. It is the largest spaceflight museum in the world.

Barnhart received NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, its highest non-government recognition, and last October she was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor, along with Gov. Kay Ivey and two other women (the first time a class of inductees has all been female).

Barnhart will again be honored with Gov. Ivey in an awards event March 29 in Birmingham. The Yellowhammer Women of Impact event will honor 20 women making an impact in Alabama and will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

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.

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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.

2 months ago

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.

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3 months ago

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.

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3 months ago

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.

(Image: Teledyne Brown Engineering/Johnny Miller)

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

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3 months ago

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

Huntville Mayor Tommy Battle and Devyn Keith (Twitter / Devyn Keith)
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 Al.com 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)

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3 months ago

Gov. Kay Ivey is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(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.

(Image: Governor’s Office, Hal Yeager)

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

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