The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

2 days ago

Baldwin County residents throw parade for linemen amid recovery heroics

(Lynn Henderson Oldshue/Facebook)

Southwest Alabama residents are celebrating the heroic linemen and support personnel who have traveled from across the country to restore utility services following Hurricane Sally last week.

WKRG reported that Fairhope residents on Tuesday night held a short parade downtown to express their appreciation for the power crews.

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The parade reportedly featured bucket trucks honking, with linemen inside waving, to those residents who took their time to line Section Street.

Alabama Power Company has restored power to its service area as of Sunday night, and Energy Institute of Alabama members continue to lead the charge restoring service to Baldwin County electric cooperative members, which was hardest hit by the slow-moving category 2 hurricane.

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

2 days ago

This seven-year-old singing sensation from Birmingham is already performing in Nashville

(Evan Riley/Facebook)

Birmingham’s Evan Riley does not know cursive yet, but people are already lining up to get her autograph.

Riley, 7, is a second grade student at Shelby County’s Mt. Laurel Elementary School.

As reported by the Shelby County Reporter, Riley first found her love for — and natural talent in — music when she saw “The Greatest Showman” at age five. She liked the movie so much that she asked to see it over and over again. During one of these replays, she stopped watching — and began singing. That is when her mom knew Riley possessed a special gift.

“She didn’t really sound like a child,” her mother, Heather Lofthus, told the Shelby County Reporter. “She was standing on the coffee table singing, and I got chills.”

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Riley subsequently began taking weekly voice lessons at her kindergarten. She would then perform “Never Enough,” the first song she ever sang from “The Greatest Showman,” at her school Christmas recital.

The audience was reportedly blown away, but Riley soon topped that feat with her school-wide performance of LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue” in front of approximately 1,000 people. A video of that cover found its way to local voice coach Steve Pennington, who has now been working with Riley the past six months.

It was Pennington who set up Riley with three separate performances at prominent Nashville venues last weekend: Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Kid Rock’s Big Honky Tonk and Steakhouse.

The rising star was a big hit in what was her first times performing with a band. However, while greater successes seem on the horizon, Riley and her family are focused on remaining grounded.

Keep up with Riley and watch videos of her performances here.

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

5 days ago

Alabama opera ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’ makes television premiere

(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division/Contributed)

“Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” an original opera by Alabama composer Joseph Landers based on the classic book of the same name by author James Agee, was received with acclaim at its October 2019 debut performance as part of the state’s bicentennial celebration.

On Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m., Alabama Public Television will broadcast and livestream the opera, performed by the University of Alabama Opera Theater in collaboration with the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra at the Moody Concert Hall.

“We can’t wait to share this production with everyone in Alabama,” said Phil Hutcheson, APT interim executive director. “It’s an amazing story about Alabama, created here in Alabama, and featuring beautiful performances.”

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“Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” features the stories of impoverished tenant farmers struggling to survive in Depression-era Alabama, yet it is also a story of hope. The characters face loss and tragedy, but they are not defeated.

In 1936, Agee and photographer Walker Evans chronicled the stories of rural families during the Depression. The notes and photographs became their book, published in 1941. The three families at the center of the book lived in Moundville, Tuscaloosa and Greensboro, but Agee gave pseudonyms to the people and the places.

Landers said he created the opera to celebrate the strength of these common working people and their families through cycles of success and hardship, never losing their dignity.

“We especially want to thank the Alabama Bicentennial Commission for helping to make it possible, and the Agee estate for permitting this broadcast,” Hutcheson said.

Only one broadcast of the opera is scheduled. It will also be livestreamed at aptv.org/watch

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 days ago

Alabama Power volunteer firefighters strive to save lives, homes in communities

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

It’s all in a day’s work – and then some – for Alabama Power employees who put their lives on the line as volunteer firefighters.

The calls run the gamut, from fighting fires at homes and businesses to fielding medical emergencies that range from saving choking victims and rescuing people in car wrecks to giving life-saving glucose injections. Volunteers perform CPR and respond to fires, drownings and other crises. Many company employees don firefighter helmets after they leave their full-time jobs for the day.

That’s the case with Ann Marie Smith, a Plant Miller chemical technician who has volunteered at McCollum-Midway Volunteer Fire and Rescue in Jasper for three years. Smith talked with Chief David Blanton, a materials coordinator at Alabama Power’s Fayette Crew Headquarters, about joining his 20-member volunteer team.

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Smith answers medical calls about people who have stopped breathing or who have chest pain, drownings and chokings, as well as fires. As a member of Miller’s Medical Response Team, Smith has honed her keen abilities for handling emergencies.

“We often do whatever we can before an ambulance arrives, basic life-saving measures such as CPR, taking vital signs for blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen levels and other basic conditions,” said Smith, who is studying for dual master’s degrees in public health and business administration at UAB.

She and fellow firefighters ensure everyone wears personal protective equipment, such as heat-resistant clothing, air packs and gloves.

Early this year, Smith was the first responder at a car wreck in Walker County. She ran down a steep ditch to rescue an older motorist, whose car was laying on its side.

“I was pretty much sitting on top of the car to pull this man out of his car,” said Smith, who has used metal cutters and spreaders to remove trapped passengers. “The windows would not roll down. We busted out the front door passenger window and used a windshield saw to get him out of the car.”

The team carefully removed the man, who occasionally cried out in pain.

“He was conscious, so he told us what hurt,” she said. “We put him on a backboard. You’ve got to try to protect the neck and back, in case someone has an injury. He was in critical condition and had pre-existing medical conditions.”

Smith and the team took the man to a large, open space in a nearby church parking lot. They quickly set up lights for a medivac helicopter to land. Because they didn’t know the victim, there was no way to learn about his progress.

“Sometimes people will come by and thank us,” Smith said. “It’s a good feeling to know you helped someone, whether it was calming them down while their house was burning or rescuing them from a mangled car. It’s great being able to keep your community safe and keep yourself safe while doing it. We want to do everything we can to see the community continue to flourish.”

Other Plant Miller volunteer firefighters include Assistant Plant Control Operator Andy Marbutt for Bear Creek Fire Department and Safety Specialist Brandon Williams for Crane Hill Communities Volunteer Fire and EMS in Cullman County. Gaston Plant Auxiliary Reid Ezekiel, Mechanic Brent Hughes, Materialman Ricky Morris and Compliance Specialist Philip Willis serve, as well as Henry Hydro Journeyman Daniel Morrison.

Company volunteers include Field Service Representative (FSR) Wayne Flowers; Montgomery Crew Lineman Adam Brasher; Dadeville Apprentice Lineman Paul Chayka; Selma Distribution Specialist Allen Kendrick; and Montgomery Office FSR Kyle Lawrence.

Saving lives and families, in more ways than one

Shanon Graham was 16 and attending Glencoe High School when he became a junior fireman for Glencoe Fire Department. Two years later, Graham took the exam to be a professional firefighter, but instead went to work at Alabama Power, where he is a master technician for the Utility Fleet at Anniston Crew Headquarters. It’s not unusual for Graham to spend weekends and after-work hours fighting fires.

For example, instead of relaxing at home one Saturday night, he took a 10:30 p.m. call to extinguish a vehicle fire: a car had burst into flames on Old Highway 431 in Glencoe.

“We run so many fires and wrecks. We do about 900 calls a year, with medical and fire,” said Graham, a fire lieutenant for 20 years. “I attend to quite a few calls each month. Whenever I’m available and not at the power company, I try to help. It’s a full-time job.”

Graham is a certified 160 firefighter, which signifies he completed 160 hours of training through the Alabama Fire College and Personnel Standards Commission in less than 24 months.

“I do medical calls, too,” said Graham, who earned a medic license in 2000. “If someone calls in with a heart attack, I go. I’m a first responder now. We do a lot of extraction of vehicles and help mentor the younger guys, instructing them on what to do to avoid getting hurt. We’ve got to be as safe as possible all the time, just like we do at Alabama Power.”

Graham’s 24 years volunteering with Glencoe Fire Department goes beyond lifesaving. He helps organize and takes part in the department’s annual Christmas for Kids program to benefit Etowah County children. Teaming up with his wife, Kristie, Graham raises as much as $12,000 a year through cooking events. He spends about 25 Saturdays a year traveling the Southeast to competitions.

“Kristie and I compete in barbecue and steak competitions,” Graham said. In May, the couple raised $3,500 in a steak cook-off at Glencoe City Park to fund Christmas for Kids.

“Just being able to help my community means a lot to me,” Graham said. “Everybody should be involved somehow, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve always enjoyed it.”

Helping others is family affair

Firefighting is a family affair for Phillip Moman, Information Technology manager at Farley Nuclear Plant in Dothan. Moman recalls asking his then-4-year-old son about joining the Ashford Volunteer Fire Department.

“Gaither said, ‘That would be fun, daddy,’” Moman said, chuckling in remembrance. “That’s how I got started. It was a blast then, and I still enjoy it.”

Moman and one of his best friends, Plant Farley Refueling Manager Mark Kelley, joined the Ashford Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) the same day, and are senior captains. Farley Emergency Preparedness Specialist John Perkins serves alongside Moman and Kelley in the Ashford Fire Department while Instrumentation and Controls Mechanic Jonathan Nall is assistant chief in the Cowarts Volunteer Fire Department.

Throughout the years, Moman and the Ashford VFD have worked hundreds of car wrecks, which spurred him to obtain an emergency medical technician (EMT) license in 1996. He now averages 20 to 25 hours a month training and responding to incidents.

“Going to wrecks and handling other situations, you want to know how to help people,” said Moman, who spent 13 years in the EMT role. “It went a long way, because I was there to treat people in all kinds of emergencies. You never know when you’ll need that knowledge. You train enough to where things become second nature.”

Moman and his fellow firefighters average eight hours a month in training and help instruct younger firefighters.  Ashford’s 25-member team meets every other week to train on apparatus operation, hazardous materials, extraction and other fire-related emergencies.

“Training is one of the most important aspects of the fire service. For instance, you never know how a person is going to react with lights and sirens blaring,” Moman said.

While some months are busier than others, Moman said seasonal fires aren’t unexpected.

“If it’s real dry, we’ll have a lot of grass fires,” he said. “The first cold spells of the winter bring more house fires from overloaded extension cords and portable heaters.”

After serving more than 20 years, Moman is proud that his sons followed in his footsteps. Gaither Moman, 28, volunteers at Pike Road Fire Department in Montgomery County, and Parker Moman, 24, serves at Ashford with his dad.

“It’s a good feeling to see their willingness to help others,” Moman said.

Father’s service inspires son to help fire departments

Fighting fires is nothing new to Trae Caton. The longtime volunteer has served the Clanton Fire Department, helps the Chilton County Emergency Management Agency and was the assistant chief at Cedar Grove Fire Department. Caton was inspired by his father, who volunteered at the Clanton Fire Department.

“To serve as a member of Clanton Fire Department, you must be a state licensed EMT and certified as a firefighter through Alabama Fire College,” said Caton, regulatory compliance analyst for Fleet Services. “I followed in my dad’s footsteps for more than 10 years.”

Caton will never forget New Year’s Day 2018, when a fuel tanker crashed and overturned on Interstate 65.

“The trucker fell asleep and crashed in the median,” he said. “Developing a plan to mitigate that situation and call in the proper resources was hairy.”

Caton called for assistance from multiple Chilton County fire departments, along with Calera and Clanton fire departments. He coordinated with hazardous materials teams to attend during removal of 8,000 gallons of gasoline. The fuel had to be pumped out so the truck could be towed.

“That was the scariest part,” said Caton, who supervised with a wary eye remembering when he’d witnessed a tanker explode following a similar crash.

“There were more than 50 people on the scene, and their safety was my responsibility. We were there more than 10 hours. The tanker remained intact and we didn’t have any spillage.”

“As time goes on, the more I realize how fortunate I am to work for Alabama Power Company, which gives me the ability to do something I love,” Caton said. “I plan to do it for as long as time allows.”

Braun’s early dreams came true

At 3 or 4 years old, Jimmie Braun took his first ride in a firetruck in Kansas City, Missouri. That trip “sealed the deal” for Braun, birthing his lifelong love of firefighting.

“They came to our school, and I got my first ride in that big old truck, seeing it and hearing the sirens,” said the Logan Martin Hydro journeyman. “I wanted to be a fireman when I was a little kid.”

Braun, a member of Alabama Power’s Emergency Response Team since 2014, is certified to use an automated external defibrillator and perform CPR.

“We go to training once a year at work and have once-a-month intensive training,” he said.

Braun helped save the life of another employee in 2015. While working at Plant Gaston in Wilsonville, Braun and four other employees performed CPR on a heart attack victim.

“We took turns doing CPR,” Braun said. “After 10 or 15 minutes, you’re plumb worn out. You don’t really have any concept of how time passes.”

Another time, a Gaston employee had a seizure and Braun provided first aid until paramedics arrived.

Braun has worked at Oakman Volunteer Fire Department and Shelby County Fire Department.

“My job is to keep you alive long enough for paramedics to get there,” he said.

“I go to wreck calls all the time and have to extricate people. We’ve had to use the Jaws of Life to remove people from cars 10 or 15 times. That’s actually cutting cars up on the side of the road.”

After training with Alabama Power’s Emergency Response and Confined Space Rescue teams – combined with specialized training from the fire departments – Braun can handle most emergencies.

“I’m fairly confident I can take care of my family, at least long enough to get them to the hospital,” said Braun, who has a 22-year-old son. “I’m very big on fire prevention. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher in your house, you need to get out, because you’ll be amazed at how quickly a house can go up in flames.”

Having seen firsthand the devastating effects of a house fire, Braun’s mission is to prevent the loss of lives, families and homes in his community.

“It’s a lot of fun getting out there, pulling hoses off the truck and spraying the water,” he said. “You’ve got to enjoy your job to do it well. I don’t do it for fun or recognition.

“God has you do stuff for a reason,” Braun said. “God knows what’s going on, and he knows you need to be in this spot at this time.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Winston Groom, beloved Alabamian and author of Forrest Gump, dies at 77

(C-SPAN/YouTube)

Winston Groom, Army veteran, Alabamian, and writer of the bestselling novel Forrest Gump, passed away recently at his home near Fairhope at the age of 77.

The Tuscaloosa News first reported the news of Groom’s death, citing confirmation from a local official with the City of Fairhope.

Groom was born in Washington, D.C., but spent most of his life in the Yellowhammer State. He spent his childhood in Mobile and graduated from the University of Alabama in 1965.

While in Tuscaloosa, Groom was in the ROTC. Groom served in the U.S. Army after graduation, rising to the rank of captain and serving a combat tour during the Vietnam War.

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The author lived in both Washington and New York after leaving the armed forces, during which time he transitioned from journalism to authoring books.

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Groom returned to Mobile in 1985 at which point he began work on what would become his career-defining work, Forrest Gump, which published in 1986.

The book did not immediately leap off the shelves. It was the runaway success of the 1994 movie that catapulted Forrest Gump to the top of bestsellers lists across the nation.

As noted by many, Groom’s novel is quite different from the best picture winning film that made its central figure a pop-culture touchstone.

“Most writers never put a character into the popular imagination … but Winston did,” Don Noble, professor emeritus of English at the University of Alabama and a longtime friend of Groom’s told the Tuscaloosa News.

Groom was inducted into the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame in 2018, he is survived by his wife and a daughter.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

1 week ago

Report: Alabama Jewish congregants bombarded with anti-Semitism in video conference meeting

(Agudath Israel Etz Ahayem/Facebook, YHN)

The realities of the pandemic-induced “new normal” met some longstanding bigotry this weekend on an Alabama video conference.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported that several dozen people from Jewish congregations across Montgomery, Auburn, Dothan and Mobile were on a Zoom call on Saturday night.

The remote service was reportedly organized by Rabbi Scott Kramer of synagogue Agudath Israel Etz Ahayem in Montgomery.

The rabbi advised that he organized the Zoom in preparation for the High Holy Days, which is the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins this coming Friday and ends on Sunday. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and holiest day of the year for the Jewish faith, begins on September 27 and ends the following day.

According to Kramer, the Saturday night meeting quickly devolved from something typically “very cathartic [and] very soothing” to a traumatizing event when multiple uninvited people joined the video conference.

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“Screens came up of very shocking imagery of Hitler, swastikas and I thought some pornographic images,” the rabbi outlined to the Montgomery Advertiser. “It was chaotic. Then voices came in screaming at everyone using bad language, anti-Semitic language, telling us ‘you should go back to the showers,’ which is of course a reference to the Holocaust.”

The account was corroborated to the paper by Micki Beth Stiller, a trustee at Temple Beth Or in Montgomery.

Stiller referenced “clips of Hitler, the N-word, ‘f—-t Jew’ and disparaging things coming on the screen.”

“It was just stunning. It feels like you’ve been violated,” Stiller added.

This reportedly occurred for almost 10 minutes before the rabbi ended the call.

However, when Kramer soon restarted the meeting, the call crashers returned.

“They came back,” the rabbi explained. “It was my fault, we used the same Zoom ID. We were eventually able to remove them and continue the service with everyone sitting there crying, including me.”

Kramer has reportedly been in touch with law enforcement about the meeting, including the FBI.

What transpired on the Zoom could have longterm effects for the congregants.

“We’re still reeling from this,” the rabbi shared, reportedly emotional while doing so. “Most people have not experienced this before, I had never experienced this before. It’s a gut punch.”

“I am sorry for whatever these people (who committed the anti-Semitic acts) lack in their lives and why they feel they need to prey on others that cannot defend themselves, but unfortunately we’re seeing this all over the country. To the people that attend synagogues, we need to go about everything as if it’s normal, because if we don’t the white supremacists win,” Kramer added.

Read the full report here.

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

1 week ago

Jack the rescue puppy sworn in by Anniston Police Department

(Jack #149/Facebook)

Jack, badly abused by his former owners, was recently rescued by the Anniston Police Department. On Tuesday, the puppy became an honorary member of the department’s community relations unit, where he will work to bring joy to everyone he meets.

WBRC last month reported that the dog was found with a piece of chain so tight around his neck that it became embedded. Jack required emergency surgery, which was made possible by a successful GoFundMe campaign started by the police department’s animal control unit.

Those donations and that surgery ultimately saved the pup’s life, which will now be dedicated to giving back to the community who stepped up to support him.

“We didn’t want to turn him over, we wanted to keep him part of the family,” Sgt. Michael Webb of the animal control unit told WBRC. “That way all the people that donated, would be able to see his story, and see how he touches more lives along the way. So we wanted to keep him here so we could continue to share his story with all the people who took care of him.”

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In a ceremony on Tuesday, Anniston PD Chief Nick Bowles swore in Jack.

WATCH:

WBRC reported that the puppy will soon start appearing at community events and in local public schools as part of his new job.

Jack has his own Facebook page, which you can follow here.

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

2 weeks ago

King’s Home center for foster children opens facility named for longtime benefactor Jane Franks

(King's Home/Contributed)

King’s Home, a Christian organization that offers services to at-risk youth and women fleeing domestic violence, opened a new facility last week named after a dedicated donor.

Jane’s House, named after longtime King’s Home supporter Jane Franks, now houses seven girls ages 16-19 in Shelby County who are in the custody of the Alabama Department of Human Resources.

“My prayer is that this home will be a haven where they can find strength and comfort in a beautiful environment as they grow in their independence,” remarked Jane Franks, the titular sponsor of Jane’s House.

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King’s Home says a young woman cleared to live in Jane’s House may have been “abused, neglected, or exploited and may exhibit mild and/or occasional behavioral and/or emotional problems.”

The young women in Jane’s House will be part of the King’s Home Transitional Living Program, which is “designed to allow youth to experience the natural consequences of daily actions and decisions with the safety net of King’s Home program staff,” according to the organization.

Franks said in a video that her charity work is inspired by her father, who told her on his deathbed that she should use what she has to help the needy.

“Mrs. Jane Franks has been a generous advocate and driving force ensuring these girls get a beautiful and nurturing place to call home while they transition into independence,” said Lew Burdette, president of King’s Home on Thursday.

Watch: Dedication for the Jane’s House facility:

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

2 weeks ago

Birmingham chef and Muscle Shoals grill master do well in World Food Championships Final Table

(Michael Durr/World Food Championships)

The chef at Birmingham’s SAW’s Soul Kitchen and a winning barbecue competitor from Muscle Shoals finished fifth and eighth, respectively, at the World Food Championships Final Table: Indy event last month.

As the World Chef Champion in the World Food Championships Main Event, Matthew Statham won a spot in the Top 10 to compete at the Final Table. The chef and general manager of SAW’s Soul Kitchen proved he belonged there when, in the opening round, he and other competitors were asked to make a Pork and Parisian Gnocchi dish using Red Gold tomatoes and pork cuts sourced from the National Pork Board.

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RELATED: Two Alabama cooks competing in World Food Championships finals

Working with his team, Dan Navarro Jr. and Dan Navarro III, Statham produced his “Jager Schnitzel with Parisienne Gnocchi Spaetzle, Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage,” which scored 95.25 out of 100, earning him third place and a chance to compete against the other Top 5 competitors in the second challenge.

As the World Burger Champion, Morgan Cheek of Muscle Shoals earned a spot in the Final Table’s Top 10. Working with his team, Casey and Judy Jones, the competitive barbecue cook turned in his “Reimagined Indiana Pork Sandwich” in the first round, which scored a 90.75 out of 100 forcing Cheek out of the competition with an eighth place finish. Cheek won an additional $750 on top of his $10,000 he won as the World Burger Champion.

In the Final Table’s second challenge, the remaining five competitors had to recreate a delicate duck dish designed by Chef Greg Hardesty and using Maple Leaf Farms’ product. Statham and his team cut their plating close on the time limit before presenting their dish to the panel.

The score of 80 put Statham in fifth place and knocked him out of the tournament, sending him home with an additional $1,500 in prize money, on top of his $10,000 category win at the Main Event.

Only three cooks moved on to the final round to make an Indiana Famous Sugar Cream Pie. The finish is embargoed until it is revealed on the Cooking Channel Oct. 3.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

ALFA awards Alabama Teacher of the Year use of new car for one year

(ALFA/Facebook)

Dr. Andy Jackson, a 4th-grade teacher in the Pell City School System who was named Teacher of the Year on Thursday, will spend the next year on a fresh set of wheels courtesy of ALFA Insurance.

The company gifted Jackson with a new Chevrolet Traverse for use during the year he holds the title of Alabama’s top teacher. This year is ALFA’s 24th year of offering this perk.

“We’re proud to partner with the Alabama State Department of Education to offer a vehicle to our state’s Teacher of the Year,” ALFA Insurance President Jimmy Parnell said in a statement.

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Jackson, who works at Eden Elementary School, is a National Board Certified Teacher who also has a background in special education.

In addition to being a beloved teacher, Jackson and his wife, Sheree, are foster parents who have adopted children.

“It is truly an honor to represent Alabama’s educators,” Jackson said in response to being named Teacher of the Year.

“The only thing constant in education, and often in life, is change. Education continues to evolve through research, technology, and resources. But, helping children learn and develop their own sense of individuality is still at the core of education. While there will always be challenges and growth opportunities in front of us, I am confident educators, families, and communities will continue to rise to those challenges for the benefit of all children across our state,” he added.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey said that Jackson “represents the essence of what a great educator is all about.”

Jackson will now serve as Alabama’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year.

In addition to the free car for a year, ALFA is also providing complimentary insurance coverage for the vehicle.

“I’m confident Dr. Jackson will make us all proud as he represents Alabama during this academic year,” Parnell concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

2 weeks ago

Former Troy golfer hits two holes-in-one on back nine at Alabama course

(Vestavia Country Club/Twitter)

Lindsey Harrison faced 67 million-to-one odds to hit two holes-in-one during the same round. On Monday, however, she only needed three holes to accomplish the amazing feat.

Harrison, who was a senior on the Troy University women’s golf team during the 2018-2019 season, played the course at Vestavia Country Club in metropolitan Birmingham on Labor Day.

On the back nine, she landed two perfect shots.

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After a birdie on 14, Harrison sank a hole-in-one on the 15th hole, scoring an eagle on the par-3.

Incredibly, she replicated that feat just two holes later, with a hole-in-one on 17.

The Golf Channel recognized Harrison’s performance in a tweet, saying they were “in awe.”

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

2 weeks ago

Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association names winner of 2020 Best Fish Photo Contest

(Black Belt Adventures/Contributed, YHN)

While Lake Eufaula is widely acclaimed as the “Bass Capitol of the World,” it was crappie that helped Blakely Sweatt reel in the winner for this year’s Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association “Best Fish Photo Contest.”

According to a recent release, Sweatt is a seven-year-old girl with special needs.

The winning photo came from Sweatt fishing with her grandparents on the Barbour County lake. She reportedly hauled in several crappie throughout the day, and Danny Waters, her grandfather, submitted the photo.

Waters described Blakely as an enthusiastic young girl who never meets a stranger and loves to be outdoors, especially with a fishing rod in her hand. Waters and his wife have a fishing camp on Lake Eufaula and often spend weekends in the Black Belt with their four grandchildren.

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“There is nothing better than being outdoors with family. These grandchildren are the light of our lives, and we love experiencing the bountiful beauty of nature with them whenever we can,” stated Waters. “Blakely does not allow her special needs to slow her down, she is active and passionate about life, and we were all thrilled when she won the contest.”

Sweatt won a half-day guided fishing trip on Lake Eufaula led by local expert Tony Adams of “Gone Fishing with Tony,” as well as a package of lures and hooks donated by Tru-Turn and Blakemore. The total value of the package was reportedly $350.

“We love seeing families and youngsters enjoying the vast recreational opportunities available within the Black Belt, especially during these times,” said Pam Swanner, director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association. “Spending time in the great outdoors is so important, and the Black Belt is the perfect place to encourage a love and appreciation for nature. ALBBAA thanks all of the contestants who entered photos this year and is pleased to honor Blakely for her fish!”

RELATED: ‘Flavors of the Black Belt Trail’ campaign to highlight some of Alabama’s local hidden gems

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

3 weeks ago

Teach For America has been supporting educational achievement in Alabama for a decade

(Teach for America - AL/Contributed)

Five numbers, the ZIP code where you were born, provide the strongest predictor of future success, including educational attainment and economic outcomes. Damon Bailey, executive director of Teach For America – Alabama (TFA-AL), hopes to change that.

“We want a high-quality education to be the norm for all students,” Bailey said. “So that each child can become economically mobile, happy and live the lives they’ve dreamed of for themselves.”

In a state with a poverty level of 16.8%, 12% of people under 65 years of age without health insurance, and about 25% of households without broadband internet access, creating change and opportunity in some of the highest-needs schools can seem impossible.

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According to Teach For America (TFA), in the U.S., only one in two students living in poverty will graduate from high school, and those who do will leave high school at an eighth grade skill level and only 8% will graduate from college by the age of 24.

“We know right now that the problem in America is that all children do not have the privilege of getting an excellent education,” Bailey said. “We’re not preparing all of our children to be learners in a 21st century world.”

10th anniversary

In 2010, community members from the Black Belt believed that the TFA program could increase the educational opportunity for students in their districts and invited the organization into the state.

According to Bailey, that’s the first step.

“If the community thinks we can be a partner that adds value to what they’re trying to accomplish with the children, we’ll engage in the conversation to understand the challenges and partner to serve students and schools with the greatest need,” Bailey said.

Need is defined loosely by the percent of students who are economically disadvantaged, receiving free and reduced lunch, and student performance scores.

“We’ve observed correlation between high poverty systems and student achievement,” Bailey said. “If you have an economically disinvested community usually not too far along the line, you’ll see disinvestment in the education system as well.”

Teach For America, an AmeriCorps designated nonprofit, believes that teaching is an act of leadership. Therefore, the program identifies graduates from a diverse list of universities around the country that have a strong commitment to learning, an appreciation for the potential of all children, and a desire to create meaningful change in the education system, to strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence.

“We think that the very best teachers exhibit behaviors and make decisions that are consistent with any high performing leader in any other context,” Bailey said. “They have to build trust with different groups of people, use data to inform the decisions they make, set bold goals in partnership with others, and invest and organize others in working toward accomplishing those.”

Corps members are asked to make a lifelong commitment to expanding opportunity, beginning with two years of teaching in some of the highest-need schools. According to TFA, during this time, members will gain firsthand experience of the assets and challenges in their communities, as well as the institutional barriers that limit access to opportunity – developing the skills and a mindset to effect change as a lifelong “systems-change leader.” Informed and inspired by their students, many corps members continue teaching, while others pursue leadership roles in schools and school systems or launch careers in fields that shape educational access and opportunity.

“The key distinction with TFA, is that while you’re learning the leadership philosophy, multi-adaptive and technical skills teachers need, you’re assigned a coach that is making sure you’re codifying all of that learning and putting it into practice over the two years,” Bailey said.

Since 2010, over 500 active and alumni members have contributed to meaningful work in Alabama, reaching over 80,000 students. There are over 150 teachers currently working in Alabama classrooms today.

“As we go into our 10th year, it is impressive that we have current corps members who were previously taught by Alabama corps members when they were students,” Bailey said. “They’re all brilliant and very talented and deeply committed towards devoting the next two years to creating the same opportunities and delivering the same kind of educational experience that has so deeply shaped their own lives.”

Leading Alabama

Bailey is an example of the mission in action.

“I stumbled across Teach For America at Hampton University,” Bailey said. “I never had an interest in teaching.” Bailey had been on track to be a cardiac surgeon, his lifelong dream, when he sat in on an informational session for TFA his senior year.

“The recruiter used terms and language that gave voice to experiences I had as a child,” Bailey said. “There were distinct differences between the education I received and the experiences I was having, compared to cousins, teammates and friends from church, but we only lived 5-10 minutes away.”

According to Bailey, that informational session gave him the language to understand the policies and practices that structured the inequality he witnessed and experienced.

“She was talking about the population of people who don’t get the access to quality education – people who look just like me,” Bailey continued.

Since Hampton University is a private, historically black university, the session attendees were all black college students.

“A significant minority of people in our community make it to that level,” Bailey said. “We have to be the people on the front line creating a different reality for people that right now, just because of where they were born, will never get the opportunity to sit in the seat we’re sitting in.”

Determined to make a difference, Bailey joined the Metro Atlanta TFA corps in 2009. He advanced within the organization, teaching for three years, serving as a corps coach to new teachers for two years, and then managing the middle school and high school student achievement strategy for two years.

In August 2019, Bailey was named executive director for Alabama’s TFA program.

In the years since his teaching experience, Bailey had been in touch with former students who are now part of the TFA program.

“It’s surreal. … You’re making an impact and planting a seed for that child and creating a base of people who are committed to justice and equity for their life,” Bailey said.

A future for the state

“While there has been a lot of progress in education in Alabama, there are still measurable differences in outcomes drawn along very clear lines,” Bailey said. “Those who have opportunity and access to credible education, and those who don’t.”

“We have to make sure equity is at the center of how we evaluate progress,” Bailey continued. “It has to be the driver for all the decisions we make and how we evaluate success. We should adequately resource and support people in communities based on the challenges specific to each community”

For the 2020-2021 session, TFA-AL has active partnerships with the Birmingham City Schools, Jefferson County Public Schools, Perry County Public Schools, Hale County, and Selma City Schools, supported by grants, state and federal funding, as well as corporate nonprofit contributions.

The Alabama Power Foundation has provided grant support for Teach For America since the program’s inception.

“By immersing themselves in the communities in which they serve, Teach for America teachers are solving the problems of inequities in education that exist even beyond the classroom,” said Myla Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “It is inspiring to witness this transformative work and the measurable outcomes they have created by providing access to quality education for students in Alabama.”

Bailey said much progress has been made in the past 10 years.

“In the previous school year, one in five students in Birmingham City Schools were taught by TFA-AL teachers. On average, our secondary students increased their ACT scores by 2.39 points, and our elementary students saw gains of 1.2 years of reading growth in a single year,” he said.

Over the next decade, Bailey hopes to see twice as many kids achieve key educational milestones, while developing a path toward economic mobility. “Twice may not be as much as we can accomplish. … That’s just the baseline.”

To help accomplish this goal, Bailey has devised a local strategy to augment the national program, which includes actively recruiting high-quality leaders from historically black colleges and universities that do not receive national support, developing an effective digital coaching and mentoring program for teachers during the COVID pandemic, reaching out to veteran teachers who have roots in Alabama and encouraging them to return, and partnering deeply to align strategies with those of the district and school sites where TFA-AL works.

“We want to bring as many people as possible into this work,” Bailey said. “To build a diverse coalition of people who believe education inequality is solvable and they’re willing to bring their own friends in, mobilize around policy, and hold our state, our system and everyone in the work of education accountable for delivering an education our students deserve.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Ashford Downtown Redevelopment Authority is making a bright future with a nod to the past

(Alabama Power Foundation/Contributed)

Editor’s note: Each Monday, Alabama NewsCenter is highlighting stories from the Alabama Power Foundation‘s annual report. Each story spotlights an organization or initiative the foundation supported in 2019.


Brad Kimbro is the kind of volunteer every town needs – the sort of fellow who treats his nonpaying job like a full-time job. He is also a professional who keeps the momentum going as chief operating officer at his official office. In other words, the town of Ashford is getting from-the-heart dedication as Kimbro leads the way toward a revival of spirit and structures.

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The attention comes at a good time. Ashford, population about 2,100, isn’t what it used to be. And not what it’s going to be, either – yet. So Kimbro, chairman of the Ashford Downtown Redevelopment Authority, along with many energized town residents and an all-in mayor and City Council, are making it their daily business to turn things around.

After two years of plotting and planning, changes are beginning to show.

“You could go anywhere in town and point, and there would be something that needed doing,” Kimbro said. “We’ve already renovated a downtown park with green space and a pergola. And we just purchased a building, which was the biggest eyesore in town. We’re tearing it down and using the lot for much-needed parking – and the downtown is already better.”

A bit of history helps. Around the late 1880s, Ashford was a thriving railroad town with a depot now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Turpentine, cotton, fertilizer and sweet potatoes were moved to market by trains until the times and needs changed. Even when the railroad runs ceased, the town continued to forge on.

The downturn culprits were the shopping malls in nearby Dothan and the rerouting of a major highway that turned Ashford into a town of vacant storefronts and quiet streets. “If a building doesn’t have life, it doesn’t have spirit,” Kimbro said. “Add the addition of those shopping malls and big-box stores and our town was suddenly different.”

Ashford Downtown Redevelopment Authority is putting on the charm in southeast Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Hugh Deese, florist/owner of The Petal Pusher, has seen it all – and is enthusiastic. “I believe good things are coming,” said the businessman whose family moved to Ashford when he was 8 months old.

“I never once thought about moving,” said Deese, who has been in the same shop location for 44 years. “I remember when Saturday streets were filled with people – you couldn’t find a parking spot – and retailers were here, loving on people and giving them what they wanted. I have to believe, in my lifetime, that people are going to start yearning for the connection they get at the mom and pop stores.

“I want to see things vibrant again. There are folks here rolling up their sleeves and opening their wallets to make it happen, and good people like the Alabama Power Foundation are helping us along. Positive things can happen.”

Kimbro agrees the town has “a lot of momentum.”

“The Alabama Power Foundation Good Roots grant has given us something tangible, right on Main Street across from City Hall. We’re creating a new green space where we will plant white Southern crape myrtles, using them for beauty as well as to form a ‘fence’ hiding the backdrop behind,” he says. “The Alabama Power Foundation is helping us realize our potential from the start.”

Fast-forward about three years, Kimbro said, and visitors will see not only a revitalized Ashford but a destination, a place for people to flock for the small-town atmosphere, unique restaurants and shops, and a totally nonmall approach to living. First up is the need to attract new businesses to fill buildings and revamp facades, a campaign to play up the innate charm of a town that never completely lost its charm and to qualify for the Main Street program.

“Being designated as a Main Street city has many advantages,” Kimbro said of the national program that has helped revitalize about 1,600 downtowns and commercial districts through preservation-based economic development and community revitalization. “They have ideas and resources to guide us. This, to me, is a big deal.”

Another big deal is the recently established clinic that offers internal medicine and pediatric services from the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine in Dothan. “Third- and fourth-year students will train in this facility. Staff includes a nurse practitioner, neuromuscular specialist, and radiology and lab technicians,” Kimbro said.

The time is now. There’s the opportunity to capitalize on being east of Dothan, the development-rich side. And to become an attractive bedroom community to the larger neighbor. And to bring in new businesses that complement quality operations already in place.

Kimbro’s wife, Judith, owner of The Courtyard gift shop in the heart of town, welcomes her future neighbors. “I want to bring things to this town where I grew up, something so special that people won’t need to go elsewhere to shop,” she said. Additions will enhance places like the Broadway Café with its Southern buffet; Wendy Jones Photography, which attracts clients from around the Southeast; and Wiregrass Pharmacy with its old-time soda fountain serving milkshakes and floats.

Brad Kimbro can envision the future clearly. “You’ll see Ashford as a destination town that’s going to add 30% to 40% new residents, a place where families will feel safe and others will want to visit. And thanks to the Alabama Power Foundation’s support and encouragement, this can happen.”

Deese said, “We’ve gone from thriving to sad to hopeful, yet never wavered in the product we deliver. I’ve seen Ashford up and I’ve seen it down. I much prefer up. And I do think the good times are ahead.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Volunteers in Mobile working to save cemetery full of veterans from decades of neglect

(Fran Barber/Facebook, YHN)

A cemetery full of American military veterans was gradually overtaken by plants and other wildlife in the first part of the century, but a group of dedicated volunteers in Mobile has been working steadily to change that, with the goal of giving each service member the respect they deserve.

The group, which is now named Veterans Memorial Recovery Team (VMRT), began their work in 2017 and has made admirable progress. They say that just over 800 gravesites of veterans have been identified and properly reclaimed, but warn there is much more work still to be done.

Historic Oaklawn Cemetery, the location that had been neglected before the team of concerned citizens got involved, can trace its first burials to 1876. Historical records say as many as 10,000 people could be buried at the 22-acre site, which was almost lost to time before the VMRT began their work.

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The Veterans Memorial Recovery Team meets for work on Saturday mornings from 8:00 a.m. until noon, and the individuals have created a 501(c)(3) charitable organization to which people who want to help the effort can donate.

A Facebook group dedicated to the effort has collected over 1,300 members. The VMRT clears the cemetery with a dedicated focus on finding the gravesites of service members.

Fran Barber-Bruyn, the vice president and secretary of the Veterans Memorial Recovery Team, told Yellowhammer News in a phone interview that the initial name for the effort to clean up the cemetery was “operation overload,” but said they have changed the name in the last year to help with the forming of the charity that allows them to collect donations.

The scope of the work cannot be overstated, as the decades of neglect that occurred as the land passed between owners took a serious toll on Oaklawn.

(Veterans Memorial Recovery Team/Facebook)

“We realized the size of the cemetery is 22 acres,” Barber-Bruyn said about the early days of the operation, adding that the group realized that to find all of the veterans buried at Oaklawn they must clear the entire area.

“Some of us are out there every Saturday, weather permitting,” Barber-Bruyn told Yellowhammer, noting that FOX10, the Coast Guard, JROTC, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and veteran-focused groups like the American Legion, Montford Point Marines, JAGVets and Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association frequently dedicate Saturdays to helping clean up Oaklawn.

However, the group is also constantly on the lookout for more volunteers, as the crowd that shows up week in and week out is usually less than 10. Those wishing to volunteer can get in touch via Facebook.

“Right now, we’ve got about eight acres,” she remarked about the progress made reclaiming the cemetery. Barber-Bruyn advised that 2020 had been a tough year to make progress because of the coronavirus pandemic and abnormally wet weather in the area.

The location of the cemetery is 1850 Holt Rd, Mobile, AL.

Barber-Bruyn told Yellowhammer that U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) will soon replace the American flag that flies at the entrance with one that was once flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Oaklawn was formally made a community cemetery in 1931, and for the majority of its existence served as a resting place primarily for Mobile’s black citizens, though not exclusively.

Records indicate that veterans from every branch of the military are buried at Oaklawn, including those who served in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf Wars.

Among those buried include members of famous black military units like the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen, alongside many recipients of military medals like the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

A local chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers Association, a heritage group, has taken a leadership role in the effort to reclaim the cemetery. The Buffalo Soldiers were all-black units in the U.S. Army who first served in the Wild West following the civil war, and the nickname was later incorporated into black units who fought in WWI and WWII. It is believed the Buffalo Soldiers buried at Oaklawn are from the World Wars.

Barber-Bruyn further detailed to Yellowhammer the challenges faced by the initiative to restore the cemetery.

“Since we’ve been out there in 2018 there have been four vehicles burned in the cemetery,” she relayed.

“There is a lot of illegal activity at night. One of the main things we’re fighting is people that come in and dump their household garbage,” she continued.

A Korean War veteran with expertise in bricklaying recently helped the Recovery Team build a new brick gate at the entrance, which Barber-Bruyn says has helped relieve some of the littering.

(Fran Barber-Bruyn/Contributed)

 

The Veterans Memorial Recovery Team lists its mission as:

To restore dignity to those individuals interred at Historic Oaklawn Cemetery.

To understand and appreciate the contributions Veterans and community leaders have made and those that they continue to make, on behalf of their community and country.

To promote public interest in the service of Veterans to the United States during peacetime, time of war, or armed conflict.

To show respect to our military Veterans by identifying, documenting, and preserving the memory of those heroes from all branches of service, who sacrificed in trying times and became heroes and legends.

Donations can be made here.

“We’re not giving up. we’re there to honor out veterans,” Barber-Bruyn told Yellowhammer.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

3 weeks ago

Anti-police activists need help after a day of protesting; Hoover PD officers save the day 

(Allan Rice/Facebook)

The world has a sense of irony, indeed.

On Thursday night, Hoover City Administrator Allan Rice shared a quick story of something that happened earlier in the day — something lighthearted, but also telling.

Rice on Facebook posted two pictures of young activists — at least one who can be seen wearing a T-shirt featuring handwritten criticism of law enforcement — surrounding a car, obviously at a loss.

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Apparently, as Rice explained, the group had spent the afternoon protesting the Hoover Police Department, but when they arrived back at their car to leave for the day, one tiny problem emerged: the keys were locked inside the vehicle.

Thankfully, the very people they were protesting were on-hand to help.

Showing their passion for public service and dedication to professionalism, at least two Hoover PD officers can be seen in one of the pictures as they work to gain access to the car’s interior.

Their efforts were ultimately successful, and the protesters were able to go on their way — all thanks to the officers.

“When you spend all afternoon protesting against Hoover Police Department and realize you locked your keys in the car, only to be rescued by…Hoover Police Department. Can’t make this stuff up,” Rice wrote.

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

3 weeks ago

Renowned Alabama philanthropist Joann Bashinsky establishes scholarships at Miles College

(Joann Bashinsky, Miles College/Facebook, YHN)

Joann Bashinsky, affectionately known around Alabama as “Mama B,” has established a scholarship fund at Miles College, the HBCU located in Fairfield.

WVTM reported this week that the new scholarship fund will provide four-year scholarships covering tuition and fees to selected students who lack financial resources to attend college. Bashinsky’s total contribution was reportedly $168,000.

“This gift exemplifies the passion Mrs. Bashinsky has for improving the lives of young people in our community and ensuring that opportunity and access to education is available for all those who seek it,” stated Miles College President Bobbie Knight.

Bashinsky is the heiress to the Golden Flake fortune and one of the state’s most beloved philanthropists.

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“These young people deserve the best that life has to offer and I hope my gift will help them achieve their dreams,” commented Bashinsky.

This gift was almost made impossible by the Jefferson County Probate Court and County Conservator Greg Hawley improperly handling an attempt to take control of Bashinsky’s assets and personal affairs. Fortunately, the Alabama Supreme Court has intervened, ruling that the probate system “egregiously violated” Bashinsky’s “basic due-process rights.”

While then-presiding Probate Judge Alan King has recently retired amid the controversy, Hawley still remains in his position.

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

3 weeks ago

Regions Bank supports Birmingham-area healthcare workers

Picture from Regions Bank's Share the Good delivery at Children’s Hospital on Sept. 2, 2020 (Regions/Contributed)

Regions Bank on Wednesday announced that its annual “Share the Good” program will benefit healthcare workers in metropolitan Birmingham who are heroically helping Alabama patients and families impacted by COVID-19.

“Since the pandemic began, Regions Bank has provided significant financial support to health care organizations and other community partners. Share the Good is a way we can follow up as individual Regions associates to offer our personal appreciation for the men and women serving our communities,” stated Alan Register, market executive for Regions in metro Birmingham.

According to a release from Magic City-based Regions, Share the Good examples in the city include the following efforts:

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Snacks will be delivered for personnel at Children’s of Alabama on Wednesday, Sept. 2 at 12:30 p.m. The delivery will take place in the dropoff area along the 1600 block of Fifth Avenue South.

Regions will deliver more than 200 restaurant gift cards for health care workers at UAB. The delivery will take place at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 2 outside the Spain Wallace Building at 619 19th St. S.

On Thursday, Sept. 3 at 12 noon, gifts cards and snacks will be delivered for dozens of personnel at Grandview Medical Center. The donation will take place outside the main Grandview entrance at 3690 Grandview Parkway.

At 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 3, Regions will deliver snacks and gift cards for dozens of employees of the Brookwood Baptist Health system. The donation will take place outside the main Brookwood Baptist Medical Center entrance at 2010 Brookwood Medical Center Drive.

“We are grateful to all members of the medical community who are providing treatment, care and support for patients and families during this extremely difficult time,” added Register.

This continues Regions’ strong support for coronavirus response and relief efforts. Since the spring, the company and its nonprofit Regions Foundation have allocated more than $3 million to pandemic recovery needs. Moving forward, additional funding will be issued to nonprofits and other organizations as part of a broader, $5 million commitment.

This is the 11th year Regions has organized Share the Good. In previous years, the program has delivered classroom materials for teachers, school supplies for students, snacks and meals for fire departments, and more.

Share the Good activities are taking place this week in additional cities across the Southeast, Midwest and Texas.

RELATED: Regions gives $75K to Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

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

3 weeks ago

Two publications rate Auburn as the best university in Alabama

(Auburn University/Flickr)

Online collegiate resource “Niche” has rated Auburn the best university in Alabama, while the magazine “Money” has named Auburn as the best value in the state.

Money says it factors in affordability, quality of education and graduates’ earnings potential to the rankings they publish. The publication highlighted Auburn’s 78% graduation rate as a positive indicator of value.

Niche calls its college ranking system “rigorous” and lays out numerous details of its process on a webpage dedicated to the factors that go into the rankings.

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Auburn has now topped the rankings by both publications for multiple years in a row.

Money did not rank colleges by any other metric than value, so Auburn is first overall in the state, according to the publication. The University of Alabama placed No. 2 and Samford University placed No. 3.

Niche also rated the University Alabama No. 2, but the University of Alabama in Huntsville came in ahead of Samford for the No. 3 spot.

Niche was the only one of the two publications which took into account student testimonials and added into its score things like the food on campus.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

4 weeks ago

Courthouse named in honor of slain Sheriff ‘Big John’ Williams — ‘One of the greatest men to ever live in Lowndes County’

(Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, Marilyn W. McCall/Facebook, YHN)

Lowndes County Sheriff John “Big John” Williams was fatally shot in the line of duty less than a year ago while responding to a call about a disturbance at a Hayneville gas station.

William Chase Johnson, 18, turned himself in hours after the shooting and has been charged with capital murder. His attorneys in court last week attempted to get a bond set for Johnson, who has been in jail since late November 2019, per WSFA.

While the court has not ruled yet on that new request for bond, the hearing did offer a potential preview of the trial itself. Defense counsel argued that Williams did not identify himself as a law enforcement officer, while prosecutors said this claim would be proven false by the testimony of witnesses at the scene of the shooting.

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This came just days after the television network reported that the Lowndes County Courthouse was officially renamed in Williams’ honor. The name change can be viewed by all above the entryway into the courthouse.

The courthouse, which has reportedly been in continuous use for almost 165 years now, also newly displays a plaque depicting Williams’ name and likeness.

The plaque reads as follows:

Dedicated to the life and memory of one of the greatest men to ever live in Lowndes County

The Lowndes County Commission on December 9, 2019 voted unanimously to rename the Lowndes County Courthouse the John “Big John” Williams courthouse in memory of Sheriff John Arthur Willams Sr. who was killed in the line of duty on November 23, 2019.

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

4 weeks ago

Full Moon BBQ to open first Huntsville location, creating 70 jobs

(Full Moon BBQ/Contributed)

Alabama-based Full Moon Bar-B-Que and Ajlo Foods recently announced the restaurant will be expanding into the Rocket City for the first time later this year.

The location at 1009 Memorial Parkway in Huntsville will be Full Moon BBQ’s 16th total location, all of which are in the Yellowhammer State.

The new restaurant will be housed in a fully renovated 7,000 square foot building; this will mark the brand’s largest location to date and the fifth location to be opened by Ajlo Foods, co-owned by Naseem Ajlouny and Chase Ajlouny.

Full Moon BBQ Huntsville will be hiring 70 employees for the location, according to a press release.

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“Entering into the Huntsville market is one of our most exciting and anticipated openings to date,” stated Naseem Ajlouny, Full Moon BBQ and Ajlo Foods operator/owner. “We look forward to serving the Huntsville community with our great food and superior service.”

In addition to the standard dining area, the restaurant will include a 60-person event space available for private gatherings, as well as an overflow dining room to ensure customers are safely distanced within the COVID-19 parameters.

Full Moon BBQ Huntsville will also offer a drive-thru and catering service to the local area.

“We already feel very welcomed by the city of Huntsville,” added Jeff Donaldson, operating partner of Full Moon BBQ Huntsville. “At Full Moon BBQ we treat our customers like family, and we cannot wait for this brand to become a staple in the Huntsville community.”

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

4 weeks ago

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

(Shape the Culture/Contributed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your plans after high school?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind smashes barriers for students, adult workers

(Alabama Power Foundation/Contributed)

A young student who is blind grins from atop a horse, feeling for the first time an entirely new rhythm. Elsewhere on the campus of Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB), a child who is deaf plays a drum, nodding with the beat, lost in the sensation. Another student, an adult going through vocational rehabilitation, learns the skills to resume his career after the loss of his eyesight.

The unexpected becomes possible at this place where the keyword is “limitless.” People here knock through barriers of doubt; they experience, achieve and grow, and they learn to be independent and successful.

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AIDB is a world of possibilities, empowering more than 26,000 Alabamians each year through its four campuses in Talladega: Alabama School for the Blind, Alabama School for the Deaf, the Helen Keller School for students who are multidisabled and the E.H. Gentry Facility (EHG) for adult vocational rehabilitation. There’s also Alabama Industries for the Blind, the state’s largest employer of adults who are visually impaired, as well as eight regional centers peppering the state from beach to mountains.

Nobody says “can’t do” here. Only “can.” The proof lives all around, on faces beaming with achievement.

Take AIDB’s passion for technology. The assistive technology at EHG is among the top 3% in the nation. For Joey Arnold, an adjunct professor at Troy University who is legally blind, EHG opened up a new world. “My vision will continue to deteriorate, so I decided I needed to learn to utilize all of my resources instead of just relying on audio,” he said.

On the flip side, at the Marianna Greene Henry Special Equestrians (MGH) facility, horses do the teaching. Watching a student who is deaf or blind sitting high on a horse is fun, and the experience serves to hone balance and trust, coordination and strength.

According to one student, Elizabeth, learning about riding and caring for horses also teaches life skills. “The MGH arena helped me become a better person,” she said. “I have learned responsibility, how to work with others and how to focus on learning what you want to know.” The Riders Club, made up of AIDB students from the three K-12 campuses, offers competition; and a new drill team performs choreographed routines. The best riders may even go on to the Special Olympics.

Campus life can get even sportier. The Alabama School for the Deaf Silent Warriors has won seven football national championships; in recent years the School for the Blind has supplied several players, including one determined student with a visual impairment who worked his way up to starting quarterback.

Geordan Carter, a 2018 graduate of Alabama School for the Blind (ASB) and member of the football and wrestling teams, said, “When I was in the public school, I always wanted to play sports but I was told I was a liability. That’s all I heard: a liability. At AIDB I am limitless.”

All AIDB services are free. The K-12 schools and adult vocational rehabilitation center provide residential programs for students who live too far away to commute. The regional centers serve all 67 Alabama counties through locations in Talladega, Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscumbia, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Dothan and Mobile. Services extend to students in public schools and older people, and include interpreters plus instruction in American Sign Language (ASL). Each center provides an early intervention program for children from newborn to 3 years of age.

Julie Carroll of Birmingham was referred to Birmingham Regional Center’s early intervention program for her newly adopted daughter, Geethika, who had hearing loss. “AIDB became a part of our family,” Carroll said. “And gave our little girl the gift of confidence.”

It all seems … limitless. So does the generosity of sponsors who make each step of the growing program flourish and push the limits. Over the decades, the Alabama Power Foundation’s support has made key things happen here, starting with matching funds to begin the endowment that now covers everything from academic programs to training of staff to many student life options. The endowment sends blind students to Space Camp and Sea Lab, delivers deaf students to math team competitions in New York and keeps MGH Arena therapy programs thriving.

The Alabama Power Foundation Nursing Clinic, which opened in 2018, sets a new, state-of-the-art standard of care. The facility, which accommodates wheelchairs, features patient rooms and an isolation room so germs don’t spread. Students in the K-12 schools receive dental and low-vision services (through a partnership with UAB), as well as nursing audiology, psychology and OT/PT services.

“The Alabama Power Foundation makes the biggest difference,” said John Mascia, president of AIDB. “We’re hoping to build a new accessible playground at the Helen Keller School. And at the Joe Tom Armbrester Agricultural Center, it’s time to put in a pond, orchard and more crops.” Students at Armbrester are taught skills to prepare them for agricultural careers through hands-on learning.

“AIDB is Alabama. It’s kind, it’s compassionate, it’s respectful. It has high expectations,” Mascia continued. “The Alabama Power Foundation is one of our largest cumulative donors and believes in the power of people to achieve their goals. They are our ambassadors and help tell our story.”

And there’s always a good story to tell here, where the possibilities are, indeed, limitless.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

President of Samford University announces plan to retire in 2021

(Samford University/Youtube)

Dr. Andrew Westmoreland, who has served as president of Samford University since 2006, announced on Friday his plans to retire effective June 30, 2021.

Westmoreland informed Samford’s board of trustees about his decision on Thursday and emailed the full school community on Friday morning.

In an email sent to Samford employees on behalf of himself and his wife, Jeanna, Westmoreland said, “We have been blessed with opportunities far beyond our dreams and we believe that this is the appropriate time to open the door for new leaders at Samford.”

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The Westmorelands plan to reside in Birmingham after the retirement takes effect, and Dr. Westmoreland plans to retain a part-time role at the school in its Center for Ethics and Leadership.

According to information provided by the university, Samford’s enrollment has increased around 30% since 2006.

Playing a role in the enrollment increase was the creation in 2013 of the College of Health Sciences that collected and expanded the school’s public health offerings.

During Westmoreland’s time in office, Samford raised more than $400 million in philanthropic gifts and made massive expansions to its campus, especially the purchase and renovation of the former Southern Progress Corp. headquarters that sat adjacent to the school until being purchased and incorporated into campus in 2014.

“They have modeled Christian leadership in every way for all of us. Their dedication, beliefs and support have been felt throughout the university and the entire Samford community. We will forever be grateful for their service and wish them the best in every way,” commented Samford board of trustees chair Bill Stevens about the Westmorelands.

Samford trustees Tim Vines — CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama — and Beth Thorne Stukes — a corporate and civic leader from Jasper — have been announced as the leaders of the search committee for Westmoreland’s replacement.

The university currently enrolls 5,692 students and was ranked as the best college in the state by the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Westmoreland’s letter to the Samford community can be read in full here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95