The Wire

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


    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


    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


    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.

3 days ago

Conclusion of Community of Lights campaign marks beginning of Junior League of Birmingham’s 100th year

(One Place Metro Alabama Justice Center/Contributed)

How does an organization celebrate a century of community service? If that organization is the Junior League of Birmingham (JLB), it’s done by kicking off that 100th year with the culmination of the Community of Lights Centennial Campaign. When the five-year campaign concludes on May 6, it will have raised more than $1.25 million for the One Place Metro Alabama Family Justice Center.

As its name suggests, One Place provides coordinated services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. From its offices on Birmingham’s Southside, representatives of the Jefferson County District Attorney’s OfficeYWCA of Central Alabama, the Crisis Center Inc.’s  Rape Response services and the Birmingham Police Department work together to ensure the availability and effectiveness of a comprehensive range of services. Previously housed in the basement of the District Attorney’s office, One Place moved into its own building in 2017, when the JLB committed to making the lead gift to acquire and renovate it.


The Community of Lights Centennial Campaign was created as an innovative means of fulfilling JLB’s commitment to One Place. According to the League’s point person for the campaign, it was structured purposefully to build community awareness and generate broader impacts on “an issue that is pervasive in our community, our state, and throughout the country.”

“It was critical to engage the whole community,” said Lindsey Tanner, chair of the Community of Lights Campaign. “We wanted to meet this need not only by raising money, but by doing it in a way that increases awareness of an issue that affects the whole community.”

To achieve that goal, JLB initially identified 20 “Torchbearers,” each tasked with activating donations from their professional and personal networks – and encouraging those potential donors to learn more about One Place. At the end of the first year, and each succeeding year, torches were “passed” to a new group of 20 Torchbearers (21 for the 2021 campaign), further extending awareness of One Place and its mission.

Since 2017, a total of 101 local Torchbearers have combined to put the Community of Lights campaign on pace to meet and exceed its $1.25 million goal. As impactful as the amount of funding raised, Tanner noted, is that the Torchbearers ultimately activated more than 6,000 individual donors.

“That’s powerful,” Tanner declared. “What our Torchbearers have led the way in accomplishing will continue to have significant impacts on our community’s collective success in dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault. The community is more aware and engaged now than it was five years ago.”

Alabama Power is among the local companies that have supported Community of Lights, with five executives serving as Torchbearers. Starting with 2017, they are (current positions): Leigh Davis, vice president of Economic and Community Development; Terry Smiley, vice president, Eastern Division; Amoi Geter, director of Corporate Communication at Nicor GasTequila Smith, vice president of Charitable Giving; and 2021 Torchbearer Staci Brooks, director of Marketing Communication. The Alabama Power Foundation also provided support to the Community of Lights campaign.

“Alabama Power has a long history of supporting efforts that meet needs at the local level,” Brooks said. “Our support of One Place and the Junior League’s Community of Lights multiyear campaign is one way we are helping address critical community issues and hopefully making the road to recovery a little smoother for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

Alabama Power parent Southern Company is also supporting the campaign. Tenley Armstrong, the company’s Birmingham-based associate general counsel, is a 2021 Torchbearer.

“At Southern Company, we understand how basic services form the critical foundation of our lives,” said Armstrong. “Only when our core needs are satisfied are we free to make the most of our lives, and One Place contributes to that by making it possible for women and children to have a safe, stable home life, free from abuse.

“When I think about more than 6,000 people working together to fund the Family Justice Center, I am in awe of what can be accomplished when generosity fuels commitment to a long-term goal.”

Culmination of the Community of Lights campaign is the first of numerous events that will mark JLB’s 100th year of service. A volunteer organization with a membership of approximately 2,300 women, JLB promotes and supports activities for developing the potential of women and improving the community through effective action led by trained volunteers. Each year, it provides funding and resources in support of more than 30 community projects, addressing issues that, in addition to domestic violence, include literacy, health education and financial literacy.

“We want to help create solutions to hard issues,” Community of Lights Chair Tanner said. “We’re here to evaluate needs and pull together the resources to address them. That’s been our role for nearly 100 years and will continue to be our role in the future.”

For more information, or to donate to the Community of Lights Centennial Campaign, visit For more information on One Place, visit

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 days ago

The Regions Tradition is back after a year off, but its support for the community never waned

(Regions Bank/YouTube)

In 2020, the global pandemic caused innumerable events to be cancelled, including the Regions Tradition, a major of the PGA TOUR Champions. Golfers and fans stayed home and a community event that had been happening for more than 25 years took an understandable back seat to safety.

But an important aspect of the tournament never missed a beat. In a year when the tournament wasn’t held, the support for the many nonprofits that benefit from the tournament — including the primary beneficiary – Children’s of Alabama – continued.

In all, the tournament raised more than $1.2 million for charity in 2020, a record for the tournament, pushing the total raised to more than $19 million over 25+ years.

Some of the monetary support from the tournament comes from attendees and individuals, but the vast majority of those funds come from corporate donations and support from businesses.


And as has happened in the past, this year as the tournament opened for play with the pros, another event just down the road was occurring – thanking those businesses and supporters for continuing the tradition of community support – in 2020, 2021 and beyond.

Coming together for common good

“This event is so important to our community,” said Tony Luebiter of CB Richard Ellis. “It supports so many organizations here, and until you’re a part of it you probably don’t realize the impact it makes.”

That sentiment was one shared by many of the businesses and suppliers that support the Regions Tradition, many of whom participated in an annual sponsor and vendor golf outing hosted by Regions.

“The Regions Tradition is not just about golf,” said Brett Couch, head of Regions Corporate Real Estate and Procurement. “It’s about community. It’s about helping Children’s Hospital… Participation from our vendors is critical to the overall Regions Tradition success.”

Many of the participants in the event have been long-term supporters of the tournament.

“We’ve been supporting the tournament for more than ten years, said Jeff Elliot, sales representative from Dell Technologies. “Dell gives millions of dollars to charity. We support many global efforts, but we also focus on local efforts and the communities we serve. That commitment to communities and engaging with them is something that Dell and Regions share.”

And it’s that commitment to community, and Children’s of Alabama in particular, that attracts such passionate support: “Children’s is such a huge aspect of the tournament. Supporting them and the work they do makes a difference,” said Rich Slaby, of KL Discovery.

More than charity, golf or business…

And when it comes to 2021, getting out and enjoying the sunny skies and a beautiful day of golf is icing on the cake. And an opportunity to return to some semblance of business — as close as we can come to normal.

“For more than 15 months, we’ve not been face-to-face,” said Luebiter. “This type of event reminds me how important it is to be with your customers and supporters, to share ideas and ask questions. It’s been so long. I just appreciate the opportunity to be able to meet with my customers – and other people – in a safe and secure way, outdoors.”

“I just appreciate Regions,” said James Kemp of KMS (Kemp Management Solutions). “The way we do business is similar – that we do well when we are doing good in the community.”

It is no surprise that the people and organizations that Regions looks to and depends on to serve their customers are the same ones that share a similar passion for the community and are critical in making a difference in the community. It’s a legacy of service that extends beyond business relationships – and beyond pandemics – to ensure that the community and vital services within it continue to receive the support they need.

(Courtesy of Regions Bank)

3 days ago

‘Count the Kicks’ stillbirth-prevention campaign launches in Alabama during pandemic

(Dakota Corbin/Unsplash, YHN)

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is partnering with Count the Kicks, an evidence-based stillbirth prevention public health campaign, to educate and empower expectant parents in Alabama about the importance of tracking fetal movement in the third trimester of pregnancy. One out of every 113 pregnancies in Alabama ends in stillbirth, according to the Alabama Center for Health Statistics.

“This evidence-based campaign will help educate pregnant women and their families about simple and effective ways to improve birth outcomes,” said Samille Jackson, Maternal and Child Health coordinator, ADPH. “We are hopeful the prevention campaign will reduce the heartbreak too many expectant parents suffer when their babies are stillborn.”

Count the Kicks teaches the method for, and importance of, tracking fetal movement during the third trimester. Research shows the benefits of expectant moms tracking their baby’s movements daily and learning how long it normally takes to get to 10 movements. After a few days, moms will begin to see a pattern, a normal amount of time it takes their baby to get to 10 movements. If their baby’s “normal” changes during the third trimester, this could be a sign of potential problems and is an indication that the expectant mom should call her doctor.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, expectant moms have reported changes to their regularly scheduled prenatal visits and an increase in telehealth visits. Now is an especially important time for expectant women to track their baby’s movements every day in the third trimester. By doing so, expectant moms will have the peace of mind to know when things are all right and when things have changed.

Thanks to the partnership with ADPH, maternal health providers, birthing hospitals, social services agencies, childbirth educators and other providers in Alabama can order free Count the Kicks educational materials (available at to help them have a kick-counting conversation with expectant parents.

Count the Kicks has a free app available in the iOS and Google Play app stores that provides expectant moms a simple, noninvasive way to monitor their baby’s well-being every day. The Count the Kicks app is available in 12 languages, including English, Spanish and Haitian-Creole, and its features include a kick-counting history, daily reminders and the ability to count for single babies and twins. Nearly 3,000 expectant women have downloaded the app in Alabama already.

“After the birth of my son in April 2020, the nurse explained how my story could have turned out differently if I had waited to come in,” said Shelley Patterson, a mom in Auburn. “I am thankful to God that I had heard about the Count the Kicks campaign and app from my friend.”

According to ADPH, Alabama lost approximately 527 babies to stillbirth between 2014 and 2018. In Iowa, where Count the Kicks began, the state’s stillbirth rate dropped by nearly 32% in the first 10 years of the campaign (2008-2018). Iowa’s rate went from 33rd worst in the country to one of the lowest, while the national rate remained relatively stagnant. ADPH is hoping to bring the same success to Alabama, which would save approximately 169 babies in the state each year.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 days ago

Executives with Regions Bank and the PGA TOUR discuss equity and community engagement at the Regions Tradition


The Regions Tradition, a PGA TOUR Champions major sponsored by Regions Bank, brings players, fans, and businesses together for five days of golf benefitting Children’s of Alabama and a variety of other local charities. The tournament also brings together two organizations that are investing time and financial resources to create greater equity in their industries and the communities where they work and play – Regions and the PGA TOUR.

At the 2021 Regions Tradition, Marsha Oliver, vice president of Community & Inclusion for the PGA TOUR, and Leroy Abrahams head of Community Affairs for Regions Bank and president of the Regions Foundation, joined Clara Green, head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion with Regions Bank, for a wide-ranging discussion tied to their organizations’ shared interest in lifting communities and their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion journeys.

“It’s really one of those rare moments where we get the chance to talk with one of our partners about the work that they are doing in diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Green. “I just love to see how the dots continue to connect across the efforts of both organizations.”


Takeaways from the discussion

Oliver – on PGA TOUR initiatives to increase access and diversify the sport of golf:

“The image of golf has long been deemed a homogenous sport—access, cost, customs. Those are the barriers that are contributing to that reality. The PGA TOUR began a relationship with an organization called the APGA. It’s the Advocates Tour. Their sole mission is designed to bring greater diversity to the game of golf, to introduce minority golfers to the ability to play at the professional level,” said Oliver. “We will identify the top five Black collegiate players across the NCAA Division I, II and III Programs, and we will give them the opportunity, scholarship them on to play on the Advocates Tour, in the APGA Tour. And then, from there, they will get stipends to go on to our Korn Ferry qualifying tour, which is our elite preparatory tour. Those are the efforts that we believe can help change and increase the access and the opportunity for more diverse golfers.”

Abrahams – on Regions’ vision to advance racial equity through philanthropy

“There are groups of individuals that have not been able to participate to the same level in the economic prosperity of our country. How do we target those individuals? Because, by lifting the group that’s not participating, we lift everyone,” said Abrahams. “If you think of the ways wealth is created in this country, it’s home ownership, business ownership, and then over the past — call it 20 years or so — it’s really been access to broadband, access to things that enable people to have more digital connectivity. So, by again focusing in these places (through the Regions Foundation), we believe we’re helping to advance the cause of equity overall in our community.”

The Tradition Continues

Over the history of the Regions Tradition and its predecessors, the event has raised more than $19 million for charity. Today, the tournament’s primary beneficiary remains Children’s of Alabama, a hospital serving the needs of children and young people across the Southeast. Visit for more news on this year’s Regions Tradition.

(Courtesy of Regions Bank)

4 days ago

Alabama Power volunteers pedal and paddle to support a cure for multiple sclerosis

(Meg McKinney/Alabama NewsCenter)

Two events to raise money for multiple sclerosis (MS) research have brought in almost $8,000 for the cause, with donations still coming.

Alabama Power’s Power Pedalers cycling team and the Alabama Power Service Organization hosted a “Dam Ride” to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Cyclists began the ride at Alabama Power headquarters in downtown Birmingham and ended the journey at Lay Dam in Clanton.

The company also hosted a kayaking event with a $5,000 fundraising goal. Organizers said they expect to exceed that mark.


“Our state has so many opportunities to be active while taking in the beauty it has to offer,” said Jim Heilbron, Alabama Power senior vice president and senior production officer. “Cycling and kayaking are just two terrific ways to not only enjoy our state but also give back to such a worthy organization like MS.”

MS is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body, according to the MS Society. Nearly 1 million people are living with the disease in the U.S., with at least two to three times more women being diagnosed than men.

Andy Bell, president of the National MS Society Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi chapter, said the work of organizations like Alabama Power is essential to the society’s work.

“As the National MS Society celebrates 75 years of progress in 2021, we are most grateful for the creative efforts of corporate partners like Alabama Power who ensure that our momentum towards a cure continues with force,” Bell said. “The fundraisers and volunteers who participate in The Dam Ride and Kayak MS are the lifeblood of our organization’s important work. The National MS Society is most grateful for their collective efforts that move us closer to a world free of MS.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 days ago

Gov. Kay Ivey recognizes National Day of Prayer — ‘The love and power of God’

(Gov. Kay Ivey/YouTube)

Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday released a video message in recognition of the 70th National Day of Prayer.

An annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, the National Day of Prayer calls on Americans “to turn to God in prayer and meditation.”

Ivey began her remarks by advising that Alabama joins the rest of the nation in observing the day.

“This year’s theme ‘Lord, Pour Out Your Love, Life, and Liberty’ is based on 2 Corinthians 3:17 which says, ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,'” the governor said. “Throughout the last year, we have been tested in countless ways. Yet, many of us have drawn closer to our faith, overcoming one obstacle after another.”


“In light of this, I urge you to join me in pausing today to pray for our communities, our leaders, our families and each other,” she continued.

Ivey remarked, “Recognizing the love and power of God, we unite with fellow citizens to exercise the freedom we have to gather in prayer with thankfulness while seeking guidance, provision, protection and purpose for the benefit of every individual, state and nation as a whole.”

“May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama!” she concluded.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 week ago

Sage Juice Bar & Speakeasy offers all-day deliciousness in Alabama

(Jen Brown/Sage)

Sage Juice Bar & Speakeasy in downtown Tuscaloosa is a lot of things to a lot of people. That’s because the offerings and the ambiance change from hour to hour – all day, every day.

The place starts early each morning as a juice bar and transitions to a bar bar at night. It seems seamless; it’s certainly clever, with some of the same healthy ingredients morphing into different dishes and drinks. For instance, the fresh-pressed juices that fuel an easy, quick breakfast or provide a midafternoon pick-me-up are mixed with compatible spirits for a healthy happy hour to wind down the day. In between, there’s a full-on lunch with wraps, grain bowls and paninis.

Ken Cupp, who owns Sage with his wife, Cheyenne, says, “For me, Sage is a lifestyle.” The multiconcept juice bar, lunch spot and cocktail lounge offers a lot of fun options, he adds. “My wife and I are both passionate about healthy foods, and that’s something that started this journey. But we also like to have a good time.”

The two built out their space in Tuscaloosa’s Temerson Square to be a changeable place.


As breakfast segues into lunch, it’s a light and airy cafe where sunlight from the big front windows illuminates the exposed brick walls, comfortable counter seating and the colorful fruits at the juice bar. When afternoon slides into evening, they turn the lights down, change the music and the soft sofa seating begins filling up. While you can get a cocktail whenever you want (Ken says he’s not judging), at night the juice bar becomes an intimate speakeasy where signature cocktails, a variety of gin drinks and several martinis are made with house bitters and syrups and other fresh ingredients and served alongside wines by the glass and bottle and local and regional craft beers in bottles, cans and on tap. There are nonalcoholic drinks available, too, including kombucha on draft and Sage’s signature lavender lemonade.

Sage Juice Bar & Speakeasy has a wise approach to delicious from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The entire menu at Sage – the fresh juices, smoothies, paninis, wraps, grain bowls and signature cocktails – reflects the couple’s personal experience. Ken, an Alabama native who went to the University of Alabama, is a mixologist as well as restaurateur. In upstate New York, he had an Italian restaurant with his father-in-law, who is an Italian executive chef. Cheyenne, who studied marketing and graphic design at the University at Buffalo, went to yoga school and was inspired to start juicing. So, they opened a juice bar on the side.

They moved to Tuscaloosa in 2019, opened their new place in June 2020 and called it Sage Juice Bar & Speakeasy. You don’t have to surreptitiously knock on a door three times to get in, even with the Prohibition-themed name. “We liked the way the word sounded,” Ken says, “and it just flowed a little bit better to me than ‘Sage Juice Bar & Bar.’”

Even so, they opened during a trying time.

“It definitely was a journey,” Ken says, “but we made it through all the obstacles and we’re still afloat. I’m proud of that and confident that we’ve been able to be a stable point for Tuscaloosa and a rising star in a market where I’ve seen a lot has changed since I went to school down here over a decade ago.”

Besides, Ken says, “The time is always right to be healthy.” And at Sage, that time is all day long and long into the night.

During juice bar hours, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., they serve a variety of bright, good-for-you combinations like Immunity (romaine, spinach, kale, cucumber, apple, lemon, pineapple and ginger) and Saving Grace (pineapple, apple, mint, coconut water and cayenne) and Sage Punch (watermelon, apple, pineapple and orange). These juices are blended with frozen fruit into nutrient-dense “hybrids” – a cross between a juice and a smoothie.

The traditional smoothies, blended with frozen fruit instead of ice, are popular, too, especially the Cabana-Berry with banana, strawberry, pineapple and coconut water and the Heavy Metal Detox with wild blueberries, banana, cilantro, orange juice, barley grass powder, spirulina and Atlantic dulse.

These same smoothies become more of a meal when made into smoothie bowls with the addition of crunchy, colorful toppings. “Our smoothie bowls are works of art,” Ken says.

He named the beautifully composed smoothie bowls after the Bowl Championship Series. The Fiesta Bowl is especially popular with its rolled oats, blue spirulina, vanilla and almond milk topped with granola, banana, blueberries, kiwi, coconut flakes, local honey, chia seeds and almond butter. The Rose Bowl has an açai berry base with granola, strawberries, raspberries, mint, coconut flakes, local honey and chia seeds.

For lunch, there are toasts like classic avocado amped up a bit with chili flakes, black pepper and sea salt. The Botanical Boost salad is a mix of kale, spinach and arugula with feta, strawberries and candied pecans.

Heartier lunch options include paninis like The Heart of Dixie with sliced turkey, garlic aioli, roasted red peppers, gouda and arugula on ciabatta. The grilled cheese is a popular combination of gouda, American cheese and cheddar on sourdough bread with dill pickles and homemade garlic aioli.

In fact, all the sauces and drizzles are made in-house, Ken says. The sweet-savory homemade peanut sauce is what makes the Thai Chicken Wrap, with its cashews and kale and cilantro, so popular. A chipotle aioli complements the Carnivore Wrap, which features salami, pepperoni, ham, provolone, extra virgin olive oil and oregano.

The pretty grain bowls all start with a base of brown rice and quinoa, but toppings range from sweet potatoes to lentils to chicken to black beans and more with sweet ginger, creamy Italian or cilantro-lime drizzles. You also can create your own grain bowl by choosing a protein, two vegetables, a cheese and a drizzle.

A “boosted brunch” on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. features a breakfast panini; powered-up classic toast with avocado spread, lots of pepper and scrambled egg; and a Sunrise grain bowl with feta and scrambled eggs and Italian drizzle.

Ken sources his fresh ingredients locally whenever possible; he gets free-range eggs and more from Jason Waits of Black Sheep Farms of Coker. “Jason and I sit down once a season, and he’ll ask me, ‘Hey, what are you looking for?’ He’ll pull out his notepad … and I’ll say, ‘I can use this or that,’ and he’ll plant rows and bring it to me.” It doesn’t get much fresher than that, he adds.

And that’s important, because even the 4-7 happy hour is healthy at Sage when fresh juices are spiked with liquors to create vitamin-rich signature cocktails. You’ll get things like the Intoxicated Immunity made with Tito’s and the Immunity juice combination or the Blurred Optics with pineapple vodka and the Optic Boost juice of carrots, apple, kale and ginger. During Sunday’s brunch, the Saving Grace and Sage Punch juice combinations become mimosas with the addition of prosecco.

Open seven days a week, Sage employs between 15 and 20 people who are as important to its success as the food and drinks. All are well-versed in the ingredients of the healthy lifestyle they fuel each day. Ken says everyone at Sage can explain the benefits of the products “in a way that’s not intimidating; they can go as in-depth as you’d like.”

When asked what Sage does best, Ken says it’s a combination of things: an inviting ambiance, a consistent product and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. “As an entrepreneur, I call it the ‘trifecta of the restaurant industry,’” he says.

“I tell that to my staff all the time. ‘Those are the three controllables.’ You can go to a lot of places that maybe have one or two out of the three. I’m like, hey, why not strive for all three? I’m passionate that we do do all three of those.”

The restaurant business can be a tough industry with its high moments of intensity, so it’s important to be passionate about what you do, Ken adds. “If we can control that, and the customers are happy because of those three intangibles, then, ultimately, my day-to-day is going to be happier and I’m going to have staff that’s happy. I hear it all the time from my staff. They love coming to work, and that’s just a really cool thing to create in the restaurant industry.”

Sage Juice Bar & Speakeasy

2324 Fourth St.
Tuscaloosa, AL 35401



Juice bar: Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cocktail lounge: Monday-Wednesday, open to 10 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, open to midnight

Sunday hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

‘Safe Harbor’ documentary to focus on Vietnamese fishing community

(University of South Alabama/Contributed)

Chris Phengsisomboun grew up in the Vietnamese fishing community of Bayou La Batre, where the families of war refugees worked and sacrificed to build better lives for their children.

He remembers his grandparents coming home reeking of shrimp from the packing house. He remembers the community reeling from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. He remembers his family feeling so proud when he became the first Asian-American valedictorian at Alma Bryant High School.

“That was pretty emotional,” said Phengsisomboun. “When I graduated from high school, I was the only member of the family who’d made it to that point, so everybody was ugly crying. It was intense.”

At the University of South Alabama, where he earned a communications degree in 2019, Phengsisomboun juggled schoolwork, side projects and internships. The day after graduation, he moved to Nashville to start work at the Recording Academy, which produces the Grammy Awards.


“He was the kind of student who takes advantage of every possible opportunity,” said Dr. Lorraine Ahearn, an assistant professor of multimedia journalism in the department of communication. “Anytime I saw him in the hallway, he was on the phone, working, or going into meetings. He was a man with a plan.”

Phengsisomboun will appear in a 30-minute documentary Ahearn is doing about the fishing community. The working title is “Safe Harbor: The Vietnamese Fishermen of Bayou La Batre.” The project also features David Dai, the first Vietnamese-American teacher at Alma Bryant, who was named Mobile County’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.

There will be interviews with older members of the community, too. After 1975, many of them fled the coastline of Vietnam, arrived in America, then found their way to an Alabama fishing community along the Gulf of Mexico.

“I think it’s very powerful that boats saved them, some of them, and then ended up sustaining them in a new place,” Ahearn said. “It’s a powerful metaphor, almost biblical.”

She began work on the Bayou La Batre project with Andrew Hongo, an assistant professor of broadcast journalism who moved to California but is still co-producing the documentary. Graduate students in the department are doing historical research and pulling together archival material from the Mobile Historical Society and the Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library at South. She received a $1,500 grant from the University’s Office of Research and Economic Development to pay for interpreters, travel and the rights to historical photos and newsreel footage.

One of the challenges for Ahearn is building trust and encouraging candor during interviews. Many Vietnamese faced hardship and prejudice, especially when they first came to this country, but that painful subject wasn’t always shared with their children.

“People don’t talk about it much,” she said. “It’s difficult for some older people to go back and tell it in detail. There are stages people go through — social stages, educational stages, economic stages — but it’s harder to get into the psychological and emotional part of that.”

Asian Identity in Alabama

Bayou La Batre, “the Seafood Capital of Alabama,” is 20 miles south of Mobile. It’s a small city of about 2,500 people. More than 20 percent of the population is Asian-American.

Phengsisomboun (pronounced “feng-siss-om-bon”) remembers his family celebrating the Laotian New Year at a Buddhist temple and the Blessing of the Fleet at a Catholic church.

He was a multiracial child in a melting pot community.

His father’s family are Asians from Laos and Thailand — they own the Taste of Thai restaurant — while his mother is a white woman from Mobile. After his parents divorced, his mother married a Vietnamese man, giving him an extended multiracial family along the Gulf Coast.

At South, he skipped many extracurricular activities to focus on a career after college. He landed a show business internship that turned into a full-time job in Nashville.

As a boy, he was embarrassed about having a long last name that people struggled to pronounce. Now he’s thrilled to have nationwide audiences read his name in the credits for Grammy productions.

Phengsisomboun is only 25 years old, but time on his own has given him some perspective. He thinks he’s just starting to appreciate the sacrifices that were made for him. He’s just beginning to understand his immigrant experience.

“You’re fed a particular idea of what the American Dream looks like, with all the prosperity, and having the opportunity to become a businessman or woman,” he said. “There was a sense that if I didn’t do something greater with my life, I’d be letting them down, and ultimately disrespecting them — and respect is just a huge, huge, huge part of the family.”

Different Refugee Experiences

Before Ahearn became a communications professor, she was a reporter and columnist for the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina.

One big story was the 5,000 Montagnard refugees who left the highlands of Vietnam and were resettled in Greensboro.

“There would be entire apartment complexes in our city that were entirely Montagnard,” she said. “It was very interesting, a very noticeable presence. Every time I would write about them, we’d get these nasty, angry letters from some people. There were other people who understood that we had been allies, we were on the same side, and that Montagnards had saved many American lives.”

Ahearn marvels at the way immigrant communities seek out the landscapes and livelihoods they know. Mountain farmers head for the hills, while fishing families cling to the coast.

When she joined the faculty at South in 2019, she began meeting students from Bayou La Batre.

“One class after another had these Vietnamese and Cambodian students,” she said. “I started to delve into their stories a little bit and that’s how I learned about the seafood industry, and took some trips down there. It’s so localized to the Gulf Coast, and it’s so much about the Gulf, but it’s also a uniquely Southeast Asian story of refugees recreating their lives and becoming successful enough to put their kids through college.”

The “Safe Harbor” documentary should be finished by the end of this year. The coronavirus pandemic has slowed production, but Ahearn is still doing interviews. There’s always more to hear and something to learn.

“Hearing these migration stories is fascinating,” she said. “The people who fled South Vietnam, they lost everything when they came here. We see it as a story of resilience and determination, but it’s also a story of great loss. There’s this shadow of the past that stays with them.”

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

1 week ago

Help Alabama Power, Southern Company team grant children’s wishes in Trailblaze Challenge

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

A life-changing event 16 years ago spurred Steve Cabeza to begin reaching out to help others.

Now Cabeza is making dreams come true for children and their families by heading an Alabama Power and Southern Company team that has pledged to hike in the 2021 Make-A-Wish Trailblaze Challenge.

In 2005, a car wreck left Cabeza’s teenage son, Justice, with a brain injury and multiple broken bones. Cabeza remembers his fears for his son, who was in a coma for 12 days before beginning the road to full recovery.


“It’s such a helpless feeling to see your child go through something like that. You would like to take his place, but you can’t,” said Cabeza, substation specialist, General Services Complex. “Knowing what I went through with my child, my heart just breaks for the parents of these critically ill children, and I want to do anything I can to support them.”

Cabeza had never heard of the Trailblaze Challenge, benefiting Make-A-Wish Alabama. But when he saw a billboard in January recruiting hikers for the grueling event, he quickly got on board and began putting together a team.

A one-day, 26.3-mile hike along the Pinhoti Trail in east Alabama and west Georgia, the event raises funds that will be used to grant the wishes of critically ill children statewide. In addition to the “main” events, the hikers are taking part in 12 weeks of training on Alabama and Tennessee trails.

Cabeza’s team includes Alabama Power Substation Services Supervisor Rich Schneider, his 16-year-old son, Joey Schneider, Southern Company Equipment Services Engineer Rod Sauls and Georgia Power Substation Support Supervisor Neil Hutchins.

Dubbed “Team Trips a Lot,” the group will tackle the trail April 30-May 2. To allow more hikers to participate, there will be another challenge May 14-16.

The team has pledged to raise $12,500, or $2,500 each.

“This year, Make-A-Wish Alabama will celebrate our fifth year of the Trailblaze Challenge program,” said Elizabeth Tucker, development manager, Make-A-Wish Alabama. “More than 500 people have taken this journey since 2017, and we are thrilled to have Steve and his team hiking with us this year. Trailblaze Challenge truly is a program unlike any other, and the resilience and passion our hikers exhibit are inspiring to witness.”

Make-A-Wish Alabama creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. Since the chapter was established in 2012, more than 1,000 wishes have been granted for children across all 67 counties in the state.

Tucker said she is proud that Alabama Power and Southern Company employees are part of making these wishes happen.

“Alabama Power and Southern Company are integral parts of our state in more ways than one, and we are so grateful for the support of its employees,” she said. “Although it’s carried out in different forms, Make-A-Wish Alabama and Alabama Power are united in a shared mission: serving this great state and its people.”

Hitting the trails

Schneider has been training hard for the event.

“I have always had a soft spot for children dealing with critical illness. I also enjoy hiking and the outdoors, so this seemed like a good fit for me,” said Schneider, who has been training on his treadmill at home during the week and hiking at Oak Mountain State Park on weekends. “If it allows children and families to have some relief in difficult times, it will make all the training worthwhile.”

Cabeza lives in Lineville, 30 minutes from the 335-mile trail. He has hiked almost every part of the Alabama portion of the Pinhoti. He has even traversed the difficult “Stairway to Heaven,” a stretch of the trail that features many tricky uphill switchbacks.

Cabeza, 58, is in top shape as a longtime bicyclist who takes part in the annual Tour de Beach and the Power Pedalers Dam Ride benefiting multiple sclerosis research. But he said hiking is nothing like riding a bike.

“The biggest challenges have been the toll it takes on your body and making time to fit the hikes into my schedule,” he said.

Looking ahead to the event May 1, Cabeza said the participants will begin before dawn and be challenged to complete the hike in 14 hours.

With the pandemic still underway, the hikers will be sent out at 5-minute intervals to ensure social distancing, Cabeza said.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to know that I’ve accomplished something that allows me to help somebody else. It brings me joy and fulfillment.”

As of April 26, Team Trips a Lot surpassed its goal, raising $14,675.

Cabeza urges everyone to join his team in supporting these families.

“Please donate; that’s what it’s all about,” Cabeza said. “Even the smallest donation is an opportunity for you to be a part of making a child’s wish come true.”

For more information or to donate, visit 2021 Trailblaze Challenge – Make-A-Wish Foundation. To support Team Trips a Lot, click on 2021 Trailblaze Challenge: Team Tripsalot – Make-A-Wish Foundation.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Nature trail, outdoor classroom reopen in Alabama town of Phil Campbell, 10 years after devastating tornado

(Stevi Reese/Alabama NewsCenter)

On April 27, 2011, a monstrous EF5 tornado tore through the nature trail and outdoor classroom on the Phil Campbell campus of Northwest-Shoals Community College (NW-SCC). Downed trees and debris rendered the trail and classroom unsafe and unusable.

Ten years to the day after the storm, the Cecil Clapp Nature Trail and outdoor classroom is open again.  A reopening ceremony took place April 26 at the revitalized outdoor classroom, which is now named in honor of former NW-SCC science instructor Joe Mack Alls. The Cecil Clapp Trail is  named in honor of a former forestry instructor at the college.


“We are so glad that, with the help of our community partners, we were able to revitalize this unique part of our campus,” NW-SCC President Glenda Colagross said during the ceremony.

On hand to celebrate were representatives from the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, the Northwest Alabama Resource Conservation & Development Council, and the NW-SCC Jazz Band. Also attending was state Representative Jamie Kiel of Russellville, whose district includes the Phil Campbell area.

The reopened trail and outdoor classroom will serve more than the students at NW-SCC. It provides area K-12 schools a free and accessible educational resource, conducive to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classes, as well as physical education and language arts instruction. The trail is also available to the community at large as a recreational asset and place to enjoy nature.

The Alabama Power Foundation is among the partners who supported restoration of the trail and outdoor classroom.

“This project was a great fit for the Alabama Power Foundation and in line with our commitment to supporting education and the environment. We are proud to be a part of bringing this resource back to the Phil Campbell community,” said Alabama Power Community Relations Manager Melinda Weaver.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

‘Home Town’s’ Ben and Erin Napier see Alabama town’s potential

(Ben and Erin Napier/Contributed)

To fans of HGTV’s popular TV show “Home Town,” it’s obvious: Stars Ben and Erin Napier have a sweet spot for small towns. While major metropolises like Los Angeles and New York City often garner the lion’s share of media attention, the Napiers know what most small-town residents do, that America’s hamlets and close-knit communities are the backbone of the country and contribute heavily to the United States’ glorious mix of cultures and character.

It’s why they’ve dedicated themselves to preserving and promoting their hometown of Laurel, Mississippi. Since 2016, “Home Town” has chronicled their home renovation, restoration and preservation efforts in that city. While they’re not blind to the challenges their own and other small towns face, they don’t believe the grim headlines of factory closings, boarded-up shop windows and population loss are the final word; they see more potential than problems.

HGTV has given the couple a major platform to share this vision and to show its practical applications in Laurel. Now, they’ve taken these principles, and the passion driving them, on the road to embark on a new and much bigger journey, a six-show “event series” of “Home Town” called “Home Town Takeover.” “Takeover” goes beyond renovating homes by giving a town, including commercial structures, houses and public spaces, a face-lift.


In January 2020, HGTV started searching for the next small town to highlight via “Home Town Takeover” and invited cities with fewer than 40,000 residents to tell them why their city should be the spot transformed in the show. They sifted through more than 500,000 videos representing 2,600 small towns and hit gold when they pressed “play” on Wetumpka, Alabama’s submission.

As they watched, they saw a community that shared the Napiers’ commitment and was proving it with resilience, unity and a lot of good work already done. This particular small town, sitting on the banks of a river and knee-deep in existing renovation and restoration efforts, was exactly what the network was looking for and, in July 2020, it was announced that Wetumpka would star in  “Takeover’s” first season. The choice thrilled Wetumpka’s leaders and residents, and the pick came with a big bonus for Erin; large portions of her favorite movie, “Big Fish,” were filmed in and around the city.

“Home Town Takeover” premieres Sunday, May 2 at 7 p.m. Now that filming has wrapped, Alabama NewsCenter asked the Napiers to elaborate on their time in Wetumpka and share why they hope “Home Town Takeover” resonates with residents and viewers.

Alabama NewsCenter: What made Wetumpka stand out from the very crowded field of applicants?

Ben Napier: Honestly, HGTV chose the town, but we know factors like being bypassed by the interstate, loss of young people to bigger cities and struggling to revitalize after natural disaster made it the right choice for the kind of small-town revitalization we are familiar with.

ANC: What were y’all’s impressions of Wetumpka when filming?

Erin Napier: Wetumpka was an incredible town, and the people were so gracious to our circus of outsiders. There wasn’t much time for us to explore the town or area. We can’t wait to visit when we aren’t working!

ANC: What do you hope viewers take away from watching “Home Town Takeover”?

Erin: Viewers should get a sense of hope from the show. We want them to see that they, too, can make a difference in their small corner of the world.

ANC: What do you hope Wetumpka and its residents got out of the experience?

Ben: Hopefully, we were decent guests. Our goal was to come in and give the town a shot in the arm, so to speak. A timely boost they can use to keep going.

ANC: Erin, can you tell us about your love of the movie “Big Fish?”

Erin: I first saw the movie in college, three years after my grandfather passed away. I loved it for so many reasons, for the way Edward Bloom saw the magic in the Southern ordinary, but most of all: Albert Finney as Edward Bloom was the closest I’ve been to my grandfather since his passing. He looked exactly like him, told the same tall tales that people still recount 20 years after his death. It kind of took my breath away because I did not expect to get what felt like two more hours with him, in a movie theater. The end just wrecked me, still does every time, but in a good way.

ANC: Why are y’all so committed to preserving and revitalizing small towns?

Ben: Because small town America is where we live and work and raise our family. It’s the flavor of this country.

ANC: What is the most personally rewarding aspect of what y’all do through both “Home Town” and now, “Home Town Takeover”?

Erin: The look in someone’s eyes when they see something personal in their home that we just redesigned and renovated. For them to see a beautiful, TV-worthy home designed with their personal items makes them swell with pride in their own uniqueness.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Mobile APSO’s ‘56 Days of Blessing’ helps Alabama community this spring

(Vivian Ballard/Alabama Power)

A café latte here, a candy bar there and it’s not long before you’ve spent a chunk of change.

From Feb. 17-April 13, several Mobile Division employees decided to forgo some daily indulgences to support the Mobile Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO).

Through Mobile APSO’s “56 Days of Blessings,” employees sacrificed some of their favorite things, such as barista-made coffee, manicures and pedicures, restaurant meals, hair appointments and fancy fishing lures. They donated nearly $2,000 to help area residents this spring.


“First off, we did an Easter project where we made small Easter baskets and donated those to four nonprofit organizations,” said Sharon Murrill, Mobile APSO president.

Among those efforts, Mobile APSO spent $560 on Easter baskets and treats for less fortunate children served by Light of the Village in Prichard and Sybil H. Smith Family Village, a program for children provided by Dumas Wesley Community Center in Mobile.

John Eads, founder of Light of the Village with his wife, Dolores, said the children were thrilled with their treats.

“We were privileged to hand out the Easter baskets to the kids directly,” said Eads, who has led the nonprofit for 12 years. “Some were distributed to different places. It’s fantastic to see a variety of people come together to help; this ministry is such a team effort.”

Sybil Smith Family Village sent a handwritten note to Mobile APSO.

“Thank you so much for your donation of Easter baskets for our kiddos at Sybil Smith Family Village,” wrote Associate Executive Director Sarah Laurio. “Both the kids and the parents were delighted when they saw them! We are so appreciative of your faithful and continued support of our program. We really would not be able to help these sweet families get back on their feet without kind, community minded folks such as you guys.”

Mobile APSO making a difference

While the endeavor wasn’t tied to a religious denomination, Mobile APSO asked employees to make a small sacrifice and donate to their community.

“We’re constantly brainstorming for virtual ideas – things we can do during the pandemic while social distancing,” said Murrill, Community Relations manager – Alabama Power Mobile Division Office.

For two months, Mobile APSO provided daily Facebook posts about employees’ efforts.

“We had many really, really cute ideas,” Murrill said. “We had one lady, Vivian Ballard, that, instead of going and purchasing some type of a fish meal, she reeled hers in. She actually got on a boat and caught a fish,” Murrill said, laughing. “That was very original.”

“When we decided to do this, I told everyone, ‘I want our folks who are giving this money to see that we are giving this back to our community,’” said Murrill, who made treats at home instead of buying smoothies. “It was a collaborative effort. I have a great board this year.

“We kept building and building on the idea – it was a lot of fun,” she said. “I think it’s so important to keep our members engaged, as well as letting them know we’re still doing things. We’re truly supporting the community where we work, we live, we go to church.”

Giving back was a labor of love for Tripp Ward. The Economic Development representative for Mobile Division groomed his AKC-registered pups to save money to donate.

“Our family has five springer spaniels,” said Ward, who uses a professional groomer in Baldwin County to bathe and trim the dogs. “I decided to groom one or two of them myself and send in that money to APSO. The one negative thing about springer spaniels is they shed. We find ourselves brushing them every day and using a Shop-Vac to clean up.”

For the long term, he’ll leave the task to professionals: “I will depend on my groomer,” said Ward, who worked at Mississippi Power 11 years before transferring to Alabama Power in 2018. “It’s a lot of work, especially when you don’t have the time and the right equipment.”

As part of the blessing project, Ballard put 30 years of fishing skills to use while spending quality time with her husband in the Mobile Delta. “Not only is it exciting to catch fish, it is very peaceful,” said the Mobile Division customer service representative, who donated to Mobile APSO instead of indulging in an expensive fish dinner.

Employees found many ways to give back. For instance, Ryan Allenbach, a market specialist in Partner Management, had family dinners at home on Friday nights instead of eating out, and donated the savings. Community Relations Manager Clinton Johnson gave up his monthly gym membership and personal trainer and worked out at home. Customer Service Manager Erin Delaport sacrificed her favorite “cookie two step” ice cream. Gayla Cunningham, Tionne Robinson and several other employees cut out shopping sprees and wrote a check to Mobile APSO.

In May, Mobile Chapter will use those funds in support of APSO’s state project to improve nutrition for underserved residents.

The first week, Mobile APSO members will fill backpacks for children at Light of the Village, providing snacks, fruit and water. The second week, members will donate tuna packs and ravioli to Housing First for distribution to Mobile County’s homeless. The third week, Mobile APSO will provide lunch at McKemie Place, which provides emergency overnight shelter to homeless women. The final week, members will give backpacks to children of the Boat People SOS-Bayou La Batre, an underserved Vietnamese American community.

Murrill said employees’ thoughtful sacrifices will provide big blessings to Mobile’s less fortunate residents.

“This was a small way for our employees to take part in a fun event while also giving back to our communities,” she said. “We may do this project again next year.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Alabama artist leads volunteers in bringing joy, creativity to Marion

(Bill Bowen/Alabama NewsCenter)

Excited voices and laughter rang in the air as community volunteers, led by Tres Taylor and his paintbrush, transformed a blank white wall in downtown Marion into a magical tale of hope and light. It’s part of Taylor’s effort to start a “Revolution of Joy” in Alabama’s Black Belt region.

“My vision has been to create a route of murals that would inspire tourists to travel to these little Black Belt towns,” said Taylor. “Art drives tourism and commerce. If I can be the seed that brings other artists to the area to create their own murals, it could be a great boon for the economies of the towns.”

On April 25-26, Taylor and 78 adults, students and children painted a 16-by-42-foot mural on the Teach for America building on Alabama Highway 14 in Marion. It’s the fifth in his Revolution of Joy series of murals that spans the Black Belt.


The mural, which Taylor titled “Birdsong,” celebrates nature and learning through art and storytelling. In the painted tale, a visitor to the village teaches the townspeople the magic of listening using the simple things in nature, like trees, sunflowers and birdsong.

“I always try to create a story around the town,” said Taylor, a Selma folk artist. “As the home of Marion Institute and Judson College, Marion is known as a college town, and Earth Day was April 22, so the theme brings those elements together by showing that nature has a lot to teach us.”

Tres Taylor is leading “Revolution of Joy” with murals in Alabama’s Black Belt from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Painting the mural is somewhat like staying within the lines of a coloring book, Taylor said. He traced the design on the wall before the two-day event. Then, like a conductor, Taylor directed the volunteers as they painted their assigned portion of the wall.

As part of the Earth Day emphasis, the children created signs that read, “Please don’t litter.” Every volunteer received a packet of sunflower seeds to plant at home as a reminder of the story behind the painting.

“I like to connect an activity with the story of every mural. It’s like bringing art to life,” Taylor said.

The “Revolution of Joy” series is a team effort between Taylor and Can’d Aid, a Colorado-based nonprofit that works to provide access to and cultivate a love of art, music and culture in rural communities.

Joining them as a local partner in coordinating the Marion mural project was Perry County nonprofit Sowing Seeds of Hope (SSOH). This organization served as boots on the ground, spreading the word about the event and rallying residents to try their hand at art. SSOH coordinated efforts to clean and wash the wall to prepare it for the mural.

Frances Ford said the event was a “great way” to bring the community together.

“We wanted to come alongside Tres because it was something we can all do to improve our community,” said Ford, SSOH executive director. “It was an opportunity not only for young people to determine if they have gifts or talents but for older individuals to come out and share their talent and wisdom as they mentor the younger generation. Anytime we can come together to uplift our community, it’s exciting.”

Terri Byrd, an SSOH board member, and her husband, Paul, were among the volunteer artists.

“It meant a lot to me to be part of this community event,” she said. “I think the mural is symbolic of the beauty of the area and the people. To be part of something that brings joy and spreads the word about the wonderful attributes of Perry County and the Alabama Black Belt is amazing.”

An idea blossoms

Taylor said the germ of the idea for the mural series dates back to 2007. But he launched the project years later after meeting Diana Ralston, executive director of Can’d Aid, and realizing they had a shared mission: beautifying communities.

“My idea was to find a route through the Black Belt that would go from one side of the state to the other,” Taylor said. “I picked Highway 14, which starts in Mississippi and ends on the Georgia side of the state.”

Since forming their partnership in 2019, Taylor and Can’d Aid have worked with volunteers to create two “Revolution of Joy” murals in Selma, one in Greensboro and another in Eutaw.

While Taylor is the expert who helps volunteers create the murals, Can’d Aid provides the paint, brushes, tarps and supplies. During the pandemic, the organization has included masks and hand sanitizer.

“We all need more joy,” said Ralston. “Tres just exudes this exuberance, love, joy and community connectivity. His murals are not only a great way to beautify a town, but they bring community together. When you pass that mural later, you remember working side by side with your neighbor to paint it.”

A latecomer

Taylor was an adult before he discovered his true calling as an artist.

“I was raised around artists all my life,” said Taylor, noting that his brother and sister are artists. “There was something deep inside me that wanted to create, but I didn’t think I had the talent, so I ended up in science. I loved it, but it wasn’t my passion.”

In 1998, Taylor, a biochemist at the University of San Diego at the time, spent his Christmas vacation with relatives in Alabama. During the trip, he decided to visit some of the state’s folk artists.

“These are guys who never had an art lesson in their life,” said Taylor. “I was so amazed by what they were doing and captured by the spirit of their art.”

Taylor said those artists showed him that “you don’t have to have years of experience to create art.”

Taylor said he picked up a paintbrush for the first time on Jan. 10, 1999. The canvas was a piece of discarded wood he found in front of Balboa Park in San Diego.

“It was very primitive and childlike, but it was so cathartic. I was touching a place deep inside me,” he said.

“I picked up the paintbrush and never put it down. I was infected with the drive to make art and couldn’t stop. I had so much art on the floor of my house that one time I had to go out the window to go to work.”

Taylor quit his job 18 months later, moved to Birmingham and made art his full-time career. With the recent success of the “Revolution of Joy” series, he moved in 2020 to Selma, in the heart of the Black Belt.

“I’ve had an amazing 20 years of success,” Taylor said. “The joy of being able to make art, make a living and support my family has been incredible. Now, in what I call the fourth quarter of my life, it’s important that I do something for communities. That’s why we moved to Selma so we can be more involved in the community and the Black Belt.”

The Marion mural is the first of three “Revolution of Joy” projects this spring. Taylor will lead volunteers in painting a mural in Camden on May 8-9. The date of the Greenville mural event has not been set.

“Art can heal; it healed me,” Taylor said. “I think it heals not only us, but it can heal the community. When you bring people to a wall, it breaks down barriers because people are laughing and having conversations. If we discover this joy within ourselves, it will create a revolution and will lead to change that’s good for the community and good for each individual.”

For more information about Taylor and his “Revolution of Joy” project, visit Taylor plans to post the story behind his newest mural on his website. Learn about Can’d Aid and sign up to help paint future murals at

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Saved by ‘the grace of God’: The story of an April 27, 2011 miracle in Tuscaloosa


Tuesday marked the 10th anniversary of the April 27, 2011 severe weather that devastated Alabama.

On that day a decade ago, a series of long-track tornadoes tore through Alabama in three waves across 35 of the state’s 67 counties. The unprecedented event claimed the lives of 254 Alabamians, injured more than 2,000 others, and destroyed homes, businesses and much more.

Katie Boyd Britt, the president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, was living in Tuscaloosa at the time with her husband, Wesley Britt (the former star football player of University of Alabama who went on to play for the New England Patriots), and their two young children who were one- and two-years-old at the time, respectively.

Like many across Alabama, the Britts will never forget that day.


In a powerful video released Tuesday, Katie and Wesley share the story of the miracle they experienced on April 27, 2011 — a story of how they survived. While their home was obliterated, their faith in God was strengthened for life.


The Britt Family Reflection – bcatoday

“I will never forget that day, nor the grace of God that saved us,” said Katie Boyd Britt in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “You never truly understand the power of faith, until faith is all you have. That day, Wesley and I took our children as the deadly tornadoes approached our home, sought shelter and prayed.”

“I cannot thank everyone who helped our family during this difficult time, and I have no doubt that it was the grace of God that protected us. It’s that same abundant grace I take with me every day as I walk in gratitude for our Lord,” she continued. “Our family prays for those still recovering from the devastation. While the tornadoes were temporary, the impact they have had on our community will be forever.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 weeks ago

Birmingham’s KMS building a business reputation, family legacy at the same time

(Regions Bank/Contributed)

The focus at KMS is to keep projects moving, from interstates to bank ATMs.

“We are a turn-key management company – one-point of contact,” explained Jay Kemp, the company’s relationship manager. “We handle a project from start to finish.”

Three months after celebrating its 10th anniversary, KMS continues to grow by building a reputation while diversifying its approach. And it starts with an inner core that’s all family:


“James is very concrete, factual,” Mike Kemp explained. “Jaylen (Jay) is very conceptual. Having both of them together has been a treat to watch. They play off each other well.”

Parents dream of building a business, then making it a family affair. That was always the hope of the elder Kemps, but never a declaration. The aspiration was that the sons would come in on their own, then earn their way.

That’s just how it worked out.

“Working for my dad wasn’t something he pressured me to do,” said James. “When I came out after earning my MBA, I just saw an opportunity to learn.”

While Mike’s background was in civil engineering, James enjoyed drawing as a kid and dreamed of being an architect. As he got older, his interest moved to the stock market and a potential future in capital markets. But he also saw what his father was building.

“I knew I’d have the opportunity to learn more here than I would anywhere else,” James said, “while also contributing to the family legacy.”

Jay is the most recent addition. After graduating from Birmingham-Southern College, he spent six months elsewhere before joining the KMS team.

“It was a dream for all of us to work together, but I wanted to go somewhere else first, get experience and validate myself,” Jay said.

The brothers are already validating themselves, teaming to launch a new software application called Frameworq. The app helps businesses manage ongoing construction and facilities management projects from beginning to end, making the most vital information available on a laptop or cell phone.

Marcus Lundy, Regions’ supplier diversity function manager, believes Frameworq will be transformative: “Frameworq will become a business verb like Zoom.”

With that in mind, the Kemps are focused on raising capital for the venture and fine-tuning the application so it can be taken to the next level.

“We want to be innovative,” James said. “We have a new product that has a place in the world.”

“I’ve been around Regions a long time, since 2003,” said Mike of a relationship that began when he worked for a national construction company. “After starting KMS, I maintained those relationships. I talk to my boys all the time about how important it is to maintain relationships.”

Just before its 10th anniversary, KMS moved into a gleaming new facility in Birmingham’s Pepper Place district, a space that offers opportunities for collaboration but provides social distance. It includes a 32-person training room, which will allow a new joint effort with the University of Alabama at Birmingham – the Project Management Academy – to grow on the KMS campus. Investing in their team’s success is at the forefront of the Kemps’ minds.

With Mike focused on the project management end, and the brothers on building the new software application, the business continues to grow. And so, do the relationships, which have always been deep and grow ever stronger.

“I don’t take it for granted,” James said. “We all bring something unique to the company.”

“We all have roles to play,” Jay added.

There are boundaries. Work doesn’t drift into family time.

“Our work life dynamic is unique. However, when work is done for the day it’s always family first, and the huge bonus is we genuinely care for each other,” Ursula Kemp said. “Focusing on how we keep things in balance is something we all work at individually.“

Those are the rules. No deviation.

“I’m proud of where we are. My saying is that we haven’t reached that pinnacle yet, but there are some things that are pretty exciting about the future,” Mike said.

And they’ll tackle that future together. As a family.

(Courtesy of Regions)

3 weeks ago

Alabama communities, nonprofits rallied to aid neighbors after 2011 tornadoes

(Meg McKinney/Alabama NewsCenter)

Thinking back on the tremendous devastation and death toll caused by the 62 tornadoes that swept Alabama on April 27, 2011, Robin Skagen said there’s only one word to describe that dark day: “surreal.”

Skagen, an American Red Cross disaster action team responder at the time, was one of the first on the ground after a tornado swept through the Tuscaloosa area early that morning. It was her job to help assess the damage so the Red Cross could determine ways it could assist the victims.

Skagen encountered everything from homes that were torn apart to live power lines blocking the road to a man who answered the door with a bandage around his head because a beam had fallen on him. Later that night, a pregnant woman would walk 6 miles to a Red Cross shelter because her home and car were destroyed.

“That morning, I saw things I had never seen before, and I had no idea that we had a super-cell tornado still to come,” said Skagen, vice chair of the board of the Red Cross Central-West Alabama chapter.


Skagen said because more than 5,000 homes in the Tuscaloosa area were damaged or destroyed, one of the Red Cross’s biggest jobs in the following weeks was providing temporary lodging for displaced storm victims.

Despite the horror of those twisters, Skagen said they brought out the best in the community, with hundreds of volunteers from across the state offering to help. One man, she said, flew in from Israel to lend a hand in Tuscaloosa.

“I saw so many people coming together and meeting a need,” said Skagen, who worked at the Red Cross shelter at the Belk Center in Tuscaloosa for weeks after the storms. “Where there was a hole, somebody would fill it. People donated everything you can think of. The spirit of helpfulness in this community was remarkable. It was so inspiring to me to see everyone coming together with a common goal.”

Annette Rowland said after disasters like April 27, 2011, the Red Cross provides temporary shelter, as well as first aid and financial assistance that can be used to buy food, clothing or medicine. Red Cross volunteers also help re-connect families who are separated during storms.

“Our first priority is making sure that people feel loved and know that we care,” said Rowland, communications director for the American Red Cross of Alabama and Mississippi. “People really do count on the Red Cross to be there after a disaster, and it’s important that we live up to that reputation.”

Down the road in Birmingham

Meanwhile, John Stamps and his Salvation Army team of volunteers were in Birmingham, another hard-hit area, handing out water and snacks to first responders on the day of the storms. Later, they set up mobile feeding canteens in damaged Birmingham neighborhoods. The Salvation Army command posts in Mobile, Pensacola, Florida and Lake Charles, Louisiana, brought their own mobile canteens to help provide food for the victims.

After a few days, a distribution center opened in Homewood where storm victims could pick up everything from canned goods and nonperishable items, toiletries and clothing to baby diapers, formula and dog food. The Salvation Army provided gift cards, furniture, appliances and financial aid, Stamps said.

“Whatever the family needed, we would go ahead and do it if we had the time,” said Stamps, director of operations for the Salvation Army of Greater Birmingham. “It was our goal to make sure families had the items they needed to stabilize them at the time.”

Alabama Power employees reach out

Alabama Power employees turned out in droves to help storm victims. Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) chapters across the state launched giving programs and collected pallets of bottled water, nonperishable food items and supplies. APSO volunteers donated their time to relief efforts, such as picking up debris, grilling hot dogs, staffing relief centers and cleaning up affected areas, from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to Hackleburg to the Lake Martin area. APSO members include Alabama Power and Southern Company employees in the state and their family members.

“All the employees stepped up,” said Paige Lake, who was APSO state president in 2011. “After they worked 10 and 12 hours a day, employees would volunteer to sort and deliver supplies to agencies and churches that were distributing them. Employees outside affected communities also reached out to help.” The APSO chapter in the southeast section of the state, which includes employees from Farley Nuclear Plant, filled a truck trailer with supplies they collected, said Lake, an Alabama Power market specialist based in Tuscaloosa.

Lake said the gratitude of the storm victims who lived in Rosedale Court, a public housing complex in Tuscaloosa that suffered devastating damage, was especially touching. One evening after work, APSO members took a load of toys, cleaning supplies, snacks and food items to Rosedale Court. The families needed supplies to clean the apartments that could still be occupied, and toys and food for the children who were being cared for while their parents looked for housing or helped with the cleanup.

“The Rosedale families were so touched by our actions that many started crying and hugs were given to all involved,” Lake said. “I believe that it brought tears to all of our eyes.”

The help goes on

Ten years later, the devastating tornadoes of April 27, 2011, continue to have an impact, with communities working hard to ensure they are prepared for future disasters. It was out of those storms that 71 community safe rooms were constructed statewide, which have saved hundreds of lives, said Becky Booker, executive director of United Ways of Alabama, based in Montgomery.

“When there are storms, these community safe rooms give folks a safe and secure place to go. That’s huge, in my eyes,” Booker said. “Every safe room holds an average of 150 people. Multiply that by 70, and that’s a lot of people who may not have been safe had they not gone there.”

Since 2011, the Alabama Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund (GERF) has helped pay for the construction of community safe rooms, the repair of more than 600 homes and the installation of many storm warning sirens. Additionally, more than $4 million was provided to storm victims following the 2011 tornado outbreak that destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and took the lives of as many as 252 Alabamians.

GERF was created by Gov. Bob Riley after Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, and it continues to support the unmet needs of families and individuals recovering from severe disasters in Alabama. The Governor’s Office of Volunteer Services and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency co-chair the GERF, and it is administered by United Ways of Alabama.

Alabama Power is a strong supporter of the GERF and its storm recovery efforts. In 2011, the company was a lead sponsor of a charity flag football game in Hoover between former University of Alabama and Auburn University players. The game, along with a silent auction and golf tournament, raised $150,000 for the GERF.

From the start, Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation have sponsored the annual “Bo Bikes Bama” bicycle ride, led by Bo Jackson, former star of Auburn University football, the NFL and Major League Baseball.

Though he lived hundreds of miles from his home state in 2011, Jackson was shocked by the devastation and wanted to help storm victims. On the first anniversary of the tornadoes, he brought together many of his celebrity friends, leading them on a five-day bicycle ride to visit storm-ravaged towns statewide. Bo Bikes Bama became an annual event in 2013 when Jackson returned for a one-day ride in the hard-hit community of Cordova. Since then, the event has raised more than $2.1 million for the governor’s relief fund and now attracts about 1,000 bike riders from across the nation each year.

Stamps said the response effort in the days and weeks following the April 27, 2011, storms was tremendous.

“It was an amazing effort to see so many people responding to their neighbors in need,” he said. “There was so much damage, but there were so many people going out to help and an incredible outpouring of love and caring.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Watch: Nick Saban gives master class on leadership, team building


The Birmingham Business Alliance recently presented a virtual business forum featuring University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who shared his candid insight and tips on a range of topics.

The event was sponsored by Red Diamond Coffee & Tea and was moderated by bestselling author Jon Gordon.

The legendary football coach discussed leadership, team building, creating a winning strategy and other lessons that can be taken from athletics and applied to the business world.


“To be successful in whatever you choose to do is probably pretty similar,” Saban advised. “I think culture is the most important thing. I think mindset is a very important part of culture. Obviously, whatever your business is you have to define the culture. To get people to have a vision for what they want to accomplish and what they want to do — to get them to understand the things you have to do to accomplish that, ‘here’s what you have to do to edit your behavior to be able to do it,’ and then having the discipline to execute every day is important in being successful in anything you do. And I think the hardest thing for most folks is the discipline piece.”

He defined discipline as “do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it the way it’s supposed to get done — do the right thing the right way the right time, all the time.”

“But self-discipline is really more about, you know we make hundreds of decisions every day that really boil down to two questions,” Saban continued. “Here’s something I know I’m supposed to do that I really don’t want to do, and you make yourself do it; and then here’s something I know I’m not supposed to do but I want to do it — can you keep yourself from it? To me, if you can make those choices and decisions the right way, you’re always going to be able to stay on the path of doing the things you need to do to accomplish the goals that you have. … I think the mindset, the culture, what it takes to be successful in business or in football or in any sport is probably very similar.”

Watch the full 38-minute video of the forum here or below:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Birmingham’s Adjacent Space building bridges between the deaf and hearing communities

(Adjacent Space/Contributed)

Joe Kaplan’s hands come together, fists first meeting in front of his chest in a pantomime of clasping hands. Then, in one swift. graceful movement, his fists twist in midair, fingers spreading wide but hands staying connected.

Although this movement might look like a choreographed part of a dance routine, in reality it is the American Sign Language (ASL) name for Adjacent Space, a Birmingham-based nonprofit dedicated to improving accessibility and equity for local deaf, deaf-blind and hard-of-hearing residents.

Adjacent Space recently announced that Kaplan’s sign was the winner of its monthlong name contest. He was honored to win and said he put a lot of thought into the winning sign.


Joe Kaplan’s winning submission for Adjacent Space sign name competition from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“I was looking at the goal and the mission, and I thought, Adjacent Space and the community together. It is like they clasp hands,” Kaplan signed. “Each finger represents something.”

One hand represents Adjacent Space’s mission – to advance public spaces, to make communication more accessible for all communities and to make Birmingham a more equitable place. The other hand represents the communities that Adjacent Space serves and the bridge the organization is building between those residents and the hearing community.

“It also means that the organization will change. Organizations never stay the same,” Kaplan said of the sign, which includes a motion similar to the ASL sign for “change.”

Major changes in a short time

Adjacent Space has undergone major changes since its first iteration as the brainchild of Angelica Dill, a certified sign language interpreter and Birmingham resident.

In 2018, Dill started doing “Adjacent Space Nights Out” to offer networking and social opportunities for ASL users in the Birmingham area.

“I’m a connector by nature and enjoy coordinating things that bring people together,” Dill said. “It was big for a while. We educated some bars and restaurants about having deaf patrons, but I started realizing that a lot of people in the area just weren’t exposed to the deaf community.”

At that point, Adjacent Space started holding informal community discussions, known as “Think Tanks.” Trey Gordon, a deaf Alabama native and Birmingham resident, saw the potential for more.

“In 2019, Trey became really interested in what was happening and he said, ‘Let’s make this a nonprofit,’” Dill said. “Adjacent Space, as it stands now, wouldn’t be here without him.”

Gordon said he was inspired by the “clear need” for such an organization in the Birmingham community.

“We’ve heard stories of inaccessibility from friends, community members and people that we’ve come to during our work,” he said. “I’m always driven by the idea of leaving someplace better than it was when I came along.”

Since its official inception as a nonprofit in February 2020, Adjacent Space has carried out several community events and initiatives, perhaps none more impactful than the ClearMask Campaign, which distributed thousands of masks to area businesses and organizations in an effort to promote accessibility and communication during the pandemic. Typical nonclear masks prevent deaf and hard-of-hearing community members from seeing speakers’ lips and facial expressions.

“The official ClearMask company caught hold of our initiative, and they’ve been incredible in donating their masks to us for us to distribute to our communities,” Gordon said. “Overall, it was a gem of collaborative effort.”

Improving accessibility in times of grief

Next up, Adjacent Space will focus on a push to educate funeral directors statewide about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and what’s required of funeral homes under the law.

“We received some reports that some deaf people were not getting the access they need in funeral homes. Deaf people have to experience the grief of loss of their loved ones, and they have to face inaccessibility in getting what they need?” Gordon asked.

“One of Adjacent Space’s values is proactive action. If we can work with funeral homes in providing access deaf people need, then they can be comforted knowing they can focus on supporting their families and loved ones during such an emotional event in their lives,” he said.

Adjacent Space plans a Think Tank community discussion on April 23, a captioned drive-in movie event for the summer and an Americans with Disabilities Act Q&A session with ADA lawyer Ed Zwilling, among other events.

Dill said members of the Birmingham community have several ways they can support Adjacent Space.

“I think the most important thing that hearing nonsigners can do is ask the right questions. Just ask yourself, ‘Is communication important in this moment?’ I would say that almost 100% of the time, it is,” Dill said. “And hopefully that can lead you to other questions. ‘How can I make this person feel like a person?’ ‘How can we communicate most effectively?’ ‘What would be the best practice here?’”

Dill said community members can share Adjacent Space’s social media posts, support the deaf ecosystem of deaf-owned businesses to build up the economy and create opportunities in the deaf community, sign up for newsletters and donate.

“You don’t need to know ASL to support our mission,” she said.

To find out more about Adjacent Space and the larger deaf, deaf-blind and hard-of-hearing community in Birmingham, visit The organization can be found on Instagram @adjacent_space_bham and on Facebook at

Amy Jones is a member of the Adjacent Space Leadership Team and is the sister of Trey Gordon.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Hand in Paw learns new tricks to overcome COVID-19 challenges

(Hand in Paw/Contributed)

“Out of challenge comes great opportunity” has been the guiding principle for Hand in Paw as it navigates changes in operations due to COVID-19. Many nonprofits have had to shift the way they operate; some have closed their doors for good. The leadership and staff at Hand in Paw credit their success to a commitment to provide valuable programs and services and being willing to pivot.

Serving people of all ages across central Alabama, Hand in Paw provides animal-assisted therapy to help those in need deal with emotional and physical life challenges. Over the years, the organization has been supported by Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation.

When Gov. Kay Ivey mandated statewide health safety measures in March 2020, the Hand in Paw team shifted to working remotely and was no longer able to conduct programs in public. However, it quickly mobilized to put together a careful and intentional strategy to move forward during the pandemic. With schools moving to virtual learning, that strategy included a focus by Hand in Paw on literacy through its Sit, Stay, Read program.


Sit, Stay, Read was designed for struggling readers and provides a nonjudgmental atmosphere where students read aloud to a furry friend, helping the students gain confidence and improve skills. In its move to a virtual format, the student and therapy team work from a copy of the same book and interact over Zoom or Google Meet. Students who achieve their reading milestones are rewarded with a “paw-tographed” book from their therapy dog.

Luisa MacPherson is a therapy team volunteer for Sit, Stay, Read with her dog Mooc and works with students who speak English as a second language.

“Sometimes students may feel anxious about reading out loud in a language they are not familiar with,” said MacPherson. “But when they read to Mooc, that anxiety seems to melt away. The continuing practice they get reading to Mooc during our virtual visits will undoubtedly have a positive impact on their reading proficiency.”

 Kiersten Atkinson, Hand in Paw’s director of volunteers and programs, and her furry therapy partner Bhindi work virtually with Better Basics, a central Alabama literacy-focused nonprofit also supported by the Alabama Power Foundation, to tutor a second grade student each week. “Seeing ‘the light come on’ and being able to celebrate successes with him is incredible,” she said. “If you can just give kids the nudge they need and the support to stick with it, it helps tremendously to keep them interested and engaged.”

The Hand in Paw staff’s attitude toward change has proved that it’s never too late to learn “new tricks.” Staff, volunteers and even therapy dogs were more than willing to do the necessary training to learn how to conduct virtual therapy sessions. Before moving to virtual visits, teams recorded personalized videos for program partners to share with participants in schools, nursing homes and medical facilities. Therapy dogs were trained in new ways to engage and hold attention online equally as well as in-person.

Hand in Paw Executive Director Margaret Stinnett said, “I’ve been so inspired by the willingness of everyone to learn so they’re able to continue to help. Our volunteers have jumped right in to learn how to use the necessary technology and have adapted so well. It’s also not natural for a dog to sit in front of a laptop, but it was critical for engagement with our participants.”

Another major shift for Hand in Paw during the pandemic was in how to conduct fundraising efforts, the lifeblood for any nonprofit. “We had to do some out-of-the-box thinking,” said Development Director Ashley Foster. “We needed to come up with something totally new to raise the necessary funds and keep everyone safe in the process.”

Through the challenges came a great opportunity and “Tail Waggin’ Takeout” was created. Hand in Paw partnered with Tito’s Vodka and a local catering company to package an appetizer, wine and cocktail kit that was offered to donors at a drive-thru event on the Hand in Paw campus last August. More than 200 tickets were sold, and the positive feedback was through the roof.

“After our event, we saw a lot of other nonprofits starting to do similar things,” Foster said. “It felt great to know that we had come up with a safe alternative to our larger, in-person events that people really loved. It went so well that we held another cocktail kit drive-thru called ‘Paw-liday Spirits’ over the holidays.”

It was wins like these that the organization chose to focus on in its donation outreach and other communications. “We’re focusing on what we can do rather than our limitations,” said Brittany Filby, Hand in Paw director of communications. “People have been really excited to see how we’ve transitioned and have been happy to support us. With all of the negative things going on in the world, it’s been our goal to focus on the good.”

Up next for Hand in Paw will be its 11th annual Mutt Strut, a dog-friendly 5K and 1-mile fun run that will take place virtually April 17. The nonprofit will provide several dog-friendly race route options across Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, as well as curating music playlist options to make the virtual race experience even more fun for participants.

To register or learn more about Mutt Strut, visit

Hand in Paw staff members plan to spend the summer getting therapy teams and volunteers ready to resume in-person programming as soon as possible.

“We realize now more than ever that the world we live in really needs us,” Stinnett said. “Our focus is preparing for better days ahead.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Mural unveiled in Montgomery during Embrace Alabama Kids Week

(Embrace Alabama Kids/Twitter)

In conjunction with Governor Kay Ivey’s proclaimed Embrace Alabama Kids Week, a new mural was unveiled this week in downtown Montgomery.

Embrace Alabama Kids, a 501(c)(3) faith-based agency based in the state’s capital city, commissioned the project and joined Mayor Steven Reed, city officials and local artists at an unveiling on Wednesday.

The mural, located at 420 Clay St. adjacent to the Nat King Cole mural, is dedicated to shining a light on critical issues facing Alabama’s vulnerable children.

“The City of Montgomery is proud to partner with Embrace Alabama Kids and our visionary artists on this meaningful project to help raise awareness of Alabama’s children who suffer from abuse, neglect and abandonment,” stated Reed. “The mural enhances Montgomery’s vibrant and growing downtown by transforming what was once a vacant building into a colorful, diverse and symbolic celebration of Alabama’s children and families.”


Founded in 1890, Embrace Alabama Kids is a ministry of the United Methodist Children’s Home headquartered in Montgomery. The mural is meant to mark a new chapter in the organization’s mission to serve vulnerable children, youth and families through providing homes, healing and hope.

“What started as one orphanage in Selma back in 1890 has grown into a vast network of many programs and many locations across Alabama and Northwest Florida,” explained Embrace Alabama Kids president and CEO Blake Horne. “We feel confident this new chapter of our organization will help us expand our impact and develop lasting partnerships like we see today with the City of Montgomery and our talented artists.”

Local artists and entrepreneurs from The King’s Canvas and 21 Dreams, including lead muralist Nathaniel Allen, collaborated on the mural installation on a downtown building owned by Kyser Property Management.

Volunteers from the Beta Upsilon Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. were also reportedly instrumental in supporting the artists to help complete the project. The permanent mural was revealed alongside a unique traveling mural created by artists and community volunteers in Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham to help further raise awareness of Embrace Alabama Kids Week throughout the state.

Each year, more than 28,000 incidents of child abuse, neglect and abandonment are reported to the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR). During National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, Embrace Alabama Kids encourages communities across the state to come together to help break this vicious cycle.

“Alabama’s children experience hardships no child should have to face,” concluded Horne. “We can’t change the wrongs our children have experienced in the past, but through our ministry we can help change the trajectory of their future by providing homes, healing and hope.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 month ago

Watch: House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, Minority Leader Anthony Daniels featured in Our Yellowhammer 360 video series

The third video in the Our Yellowhammer 360 series was released on Monday and features Alabama House of Representatives Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville).

Our Yellowhammer 360, announced at the beginning of this year, is a partnership between Yellowhammer News and Our 360 News created in an effort to bring the people of our great state together, regardless of individual differences.

Part of the Our Yellowhammer Speaks storytelling aspect of the series, videos like the one released Monday, will highlight prominent elected officials in Alabama speaking about times they have worked across the aisle to address the needs of all of their constituents.


The conversation with McCutcheon and Daniels centered on building bridges. Both leaders spoke about the shared public service and community values that extend beyond political affiliation and strike at the heart of what it means to be southern — and human.


RELATED: Watch: Gov. Kay Ivey featured in first video of Our Yellowhammer 360 series

Watch: Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin featured in Our Yellowhammer 360 video series

1 month ago

Wetumpka officials thrilled about HGTV ‘Home Town Takeover’ premiere May 2


Wetumpka is ready for its close-up. Almost a year after it was announced that the city beat out 2,600 other small towns to be the focus of HGTV’s “Home Town Takeover,” the show will air its first of six episodes May 2.

“Home Town Takeover” follows Ben and Erin Napier, stars of the hit home-renovation show “Home Town,” as they give Wetumpka’s downtown and historic district a facelift, with a focus on how renovation and preservation can revitalize a small town.

The Napiers’ passion for small towns has been playing out on “Home Town” since that show began in 2016 and is built on their belief in the big worth of American’s smaller places.


“It’s too bad that small towns are so often undervalued because you can live a beautiful life in them,” Erin said in a news release announcing “Home Town Takeover’s” premiere. “People really want to believe in a bright future in the place where they live, but rebuilding a town is no small feat. It takes every member of that community using their gifts and skills coming together to make a difference.”

In Wetumpka, leaders and residents did just that, getting behind the work and filming of 12 projects with a cohesive team spirit that made the Napiers’ and HGTV’s film crews’ jobs easier. “I just didn’t expect people to be so grateful and so willing to help,” said Liz Kerrigan, the show’s executive producer. “Everyone was thrilled to work with us.”

According to HGTV, all that work went into “major renovations” on a diverse array of projects, including restaurants, shops, historic homes, public spaces, a new farmers market and an entire downtown street.

Jenny Stubbs, executive director of Main Street Wetumpka, a nonprofit that helped jumpstart downtown revitalization efforts in Wetumpka in 2017, has strong feelings about finally seeing the finished show and seeing Wetumpka’s progress shared with so many others.

“It’s excitement, pride, jubilation!” she said. “I’m thrilled for the world to see how a small town can come together and make true change. Sure, we had a network behind us, but I don’t believe they would have given us a second glance had we not put in all of the time and effort before they got here. The idea of showing off our beautiful little town in front of such a large audience makes all of the time, energy and love we poured into it completely worth it.”

Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis echoed Stubbs. “I am thrilled at the excitement the show has brought to this community already. The momentum has brought so much interest to Wetumpka,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what happens after the premiere.”

He also hopes Wetumpka’s unity is evident on the screen. “I hope they will see our unique qualities and what a tight-knit community we are,” Willis said.

Jane Latman, president of HGTV, believes watching the transformation in Wetumpka will motivate other small towns to follow in the city’s footsteps. “’Home Town Takeover’ will inspire small towns across America because it will show them the impact that neighbors, local leaders and a few friends working together can have on their community,” Latman said. “We’ve seen the power of that in Laurel, and we want to spark that same change in more small towns.”

Stubbs hopes viewers take in her city’s “never give up” attitude. “Never count yourself out,” she said. “I look back to five years ago when the struggle and the real work began, and I never would have guessed we’d be where we are today. Whether it’s a hope for your town or a dream for yourself, the impossible can be possible. You just have to hang in there, do what needs to be done and be patient.”

Many dreams have been made true in Wetumpka in recent years; “Home Town Takeover” is simply the sweet icing on an already delicious cake. And the city is inviting everyone to come take a bite.

“I am excited for people to come and feel the energy and see just how much has been accomplished here,” said Shellie Whitfield, executive director of the Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce. “It is an exciting time waiting for the show to air. While we are waiting, we are focusing on making sure that when people come visit, they have a great experience.”

Whitfield is happily anticipating increased tourism and the ensuing positive economic impact, but she knows the Wetumpka “Home Town Takeover” story is broader than dollars and cents, noting that the show’s true message isn’t how to choose the right paint or tile color.

“The big takeaway is to help one another,” she said. “People that were strangers to us came in and helped us achieve our dream. The long-term effects of this will bless our community beyond measure forever. I hope that people understand that the point that Ben and Erin are trying to make is that we should all work together to build our communities and make them places our children want to live.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Award-nominated Southern National restaurant brings global influence to Alabama dishes

(Southern National/Contributed)

The ups and downs early last year for Duane Nutter and the Mobile restaurant he co-owns, Southern National, could be fodder for a caustic comedy routine by the Mad Chef, Nutter’s alter ego back when he moonlighted as a standup comic.

Late February 2020 brought national plaudits when the James Beard Foundation named him a semifinalist for its Best Chef South award. The year before, Southern National was a Beard semifinalist for Outstanding New Restaurant.

But Nutter also blew out a tendon, requiring foot surgery that hobbled the 6-foot 6-inch, 320-pound Louisiana native. Then the pandemic hit. Amid all the buzz prestigious Beard nominations bring, Southern National had to shut down.


“You get a James Beard nomination and you’re trying to figure out how to walk again,” muses Nutter. “One of the biggest things in your life and you can’t feed nobody.”

Finally, COVID-19 forced cancellation of both the 2020 and 2021 Beard Awards. “All I can say is just my luck,” Nutter says, delivering his punchline with precision. “It always happens to me.”

Southern National, a casual chef-driven restaurant in a historic building in Mobile’s Arts District, reopened in January after a 10-month hiatus. But for now, service is limited to Fridays and Saturdays.

Nutter’s partner is Reginald “Reggie” Washington, a Mobile native whose family roots run deep there. They met as top chefs at One Flew South, the groundbreaking fine-dining restaurant at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Born in Morgan City, Louisiana, and raised in Seattle, Nutter has cooked in south Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, and now Alabama. He traces his culinary roots to his birthplace, but says he puts a little of everywhere he’s gone into his food along with international inspirations.

A current dish, Loaded Sweet Potato, starts with one of Alabama’s top crops (the state ranks fifth nationally in production). It’s baked and loaded with north African flavors from lamb cooked in tomatoes, fennel, cumin, smoked paprika, and garlic. Other elements include curry-spiced yogurt, and garlicky-spicy chimichurri made with mustard greens instead of the usual parsley.

“I try to elevate local cuisine to a global scenario or a contemporary outlook where you see something familiar through a different lens,” he says.

Southern National has abundant outside tables on a patio and its courtyard, nicknamed the Court of Versailles. Nutter describes the interior as old-school New Orleans with modern touches, enlivened by a soundtrack heavy with 1980s-era rock and some hip-hop.

“When the Bee Gees come on the whole dining room goes, ‘I remember that song,’” Nutter says, finishing in a falsetto. “It’s a fun atmosphere.”

The menu includes shareable small plates and traditional large plates. Options are scaled down for now because the kitchen staff is just Nutter and another cook.

When Southern National was fully operating, Nutter’s station was more in the dining room than the kitchen. He says his standup comedy experience makes him comfortable being so center-stage in the restaurant.

“I’ve been booed by 300 people on stage at the comedy club,” he jokes. “I can handle a few diners.”

While Southern National was shut down last summer, Nutter and Washington sold barbecue on the patio as Steel Smokin’ BBQ, including ribs and chicken, a dip with cold-smoked catfish, and slow-cooked duck legs for risotto.

“I was doing different things, treating the smoke as an ingredient,” Nutter says. “I wouldn’t say it was classic. It’s more like if a chef was barbecuing.”

The duo originally planned to open a barbecue joint first and follow with Southern National. But after the right space for a fine-dining restaurant appeared, priorities flipped.

It’s anyone’s guess when Southern National will return to normal. Finding quality help may be the driver. “It’s going to be a slow go,” Nutter says. “You have to start all over.”

But for now, Nutter and many loyal diners are happy to have it back in some capacity.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

1 month ago

Alabama now offers opt-out for ‘so help me God’ portion of voter registration oath


In response to a lawsuit from the out-of-state Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office is now offering an opt-out for individuals seeking to register to vote that do not want to include the final four words of the voter declaration oath: “so help me God.”

FFRF announced the lawsuit on October 1, 2020, asserting that Alabama was the only state that requires would-be voters to swear “so help me God,” without allowing any secular alternative, on the registration form.

The defendant in the lawsuit was Secretary of State John Merrill in his official capacity. The lead plaintiff was an atheist who lived in the state.


In a statement on Wednesday, Merrill confirmed that the State of Alabama now offers an option that settles the issue. FFRF released a statement saying the lawsuit has ended.

Voter registration forms, an example of which can be found here, still feature the same oath, which reads as follows:

I solemnly swear or affirm to support and defend the constitution of the United States and the State of Alabama and further disavow any belief or a affiliation with any group which advocates the overthrow of the governments of the United States or the State of Alabama by unlawful means and that the information contained herein is true, so help me God.

However, there is now included a check-box underneath that reads as follows: “OPTIONAL: Because of a sincerely held belief, I decline to include the final four words of the oath above.”

Merrill said, “Following the introduction of this lawsuit, our Office took action to see that an option was provided to voters to either swear a religious oath or opt out when registering to vote.”

“While the language ‘so help me God’ has been included on voter registration applications since well before I took office, this issue was just brought to light, and we remain willing to accommodate all voters of Alabama. All registration applications, online or on paper, were updated on March 8, 2021 to include the option to opt out, if interested,” he concluded.

FFRF hailed the news as a “huge constitutional victory for secular voters in Alabama.”

“Millions of Alabamians were being asked to swear a religious oath as a fait accompli,” stated FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We warmly thank the plaintiffs, without whom we could not have put an end to this unconstitutional mindgame.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn