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

Patriot Flag to be displayed in Mobile on Thursday to honor fallen American heroes

(Mitch Mendler/YouTube)

The Patriot Flag will be displayed at the USS Alabama in Mobile on Thursday, September 19.

According to WALA Fox 10, the flag is currently on a national tour intended to honor and thank fallen American men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation’s freedom and safety.

Measuring 28 by 60.5 feet and weighing 50 pounds, the Patriot Flag’s nationwide journey began on the 15th Anniversary of 9/11 when the flag was displayed at all three locations that were attacked by radical Islamic terrorists. The tour will end in 2021, on the 20th anniversary of the attacks.

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On Thursday, the flag will be unfurled at 3:00 p.m. at Battleship Memorial Park. Mobile Fire-Rescue firefighters will assist.

You can read more about the tour and see photos from previous stops here.

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

4 days ago

Alabama Power employees provide Mobile elementary students with homework kits

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

Stacy Walley had a problem.

The Employee Development coordinator at Alabama Power‘s Barry Steam Plant had to figure how to get a square peg in a round hole to provide homework supplies for a Mobile elementary school.

And she did it.

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Walley is the plant’s liaison with George Hall Elementary, one of Barry’s “Partners-in-Education,” which means Barry employees regularly visit to provide funds and emotional support for the pre-K-fifth grade school in the economically struggling Maysville community in southwest Mobile.

Principal Melissa Mitchell requested supplies so students can work from home without lugging pencils, pens and paper back and forth each day.

“Our teachers believed it would benefit our students to have everything they need on hand at home so obstacles in completing homework and projects would be removed,” Mitchell said.

But Walley had a quandary.

“I have a certain amount of money I’m allotted to spend with George Hall each year and I really didn’t want to take away from that amount, because we do other events throughout the year,” Walley explained.

Those events include treating honor roll students to doughnuts each quarter; keeping supply closets stocked and providing a visit from Santa Claus at Christmas.

It’s in the bag

And then Walley had an idea: Ask Barry employees to sponsor a homework book bag for each of the 335 students.

“I bought the supplies and basically divided the cost by the number of students. I felt it was much more personal than just asking people to donate money toward the cost of supplies,” she said.

The cost came to $5 per student. Less than three weeks after sending an email request to the Barry “cluster” (Barry, Washington County Co-Gen and Theodore Co-Gen), employees had contributed $1,745.

“It just amazed me to see how quickly our employees came together to support these children,” Walley said. “It wasn’t like they were sponsoring just one student or two. There were four or 10; one employee even sponsored 40 children because she was a student at Hall when she was in elementary school.”

Mitchell was equally astounded, and verified Walley’s hunch that sponsoring each child individually would be more meaningful.

“It was truly amazing to see the team deliver a bag for every student in our school,” Mitchell said. “We appreciate all Alabama Power does each year to support our school, but it is extremely heartwarming to know this gift came to us through personal donations of employees.”

‘A win-win’

“I was so happy for my sweet kids at George Hall and so proud of my Barry family,” Walley said. “It was a win-win for me to be able to do this and not take away from their quarterly honor roll celebration and Operation Santa at Christmas.”

Mitchell commended Alabama Power for what it does year-round for George Hall.

“Many of our students do not have proper uniforms or supplies,” she said. “It is a comfort to know our school will always have the materials, supplies and clothing needed to support our students thanks to the support of Alabama Power.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 days ago

Itty Bitty Bakers makes cooking fun and informative for Alabama kids

(Brittany Faush/Alabama NewsCenter)

It starts with a special ingredient – in this case, registered dietician and educator Jessica Hamby.

Combine with the children willing to learn and participate. Flavor in a mix of art, crafts, reading and hands-on learning. Then top off with the capable hands of proven instructors and assistants, and you have Itty Bitty Bakers.

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Hamby started Itty Bitty Bakers in 2018 to bring her own love of cooking with healthy and fresh ingredients to children in her neighborhood. The belief was that if the children had a hand in preparing healthy foods, they would be more inclined to try and then enjoy foods that are better for them.

It worked. Hamby, who has a master’s in health education, created a curriculum that reinforces the recipes and helps teach children about where food comes from, how ingredients are used to make a dish and how cooking can be a fun and creative outlet for people of any age.

Itty Bitty Bakers has the recipe for making cooking fun and educational for kids from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

What started as a couple of summer camp classes quickly grew into monthly classes and then multiple classes for students of different ages.

“It really took off,” said Melissa Carden, an instructor with Itty Bitty Bakers. “It seemed to be something that the community really had a need for. There was always a demand.”

Today, the program has two instructors, teaching assistants, a team of youth helpers and even students from the University of Alabama nutrition program who intern during the summer.

At one recent bakers camp, the students picked basil, used it in a recipe, learned about growing fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables during story time, colored pictures of herbs and even took recipes and basil seeds home with them. The basil was used to make basil-cheddar biscuits, which they got to enjoy during snack time.

Each class and camp teaches children to be comfortable in the kitchen, builds on their understanding of where food comes from and encourages creativity.

“It’s really fascinating how much they enjoy the hands-on – the mixing, the pouring – every child gets to add at least one ingredient to the recipe,” Carden said. “It’s fun to see how capable they are. They’re capable of a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for.”

Itty Bitty Bakers offers classes for preschoolers, grade schooler and pre-teens. There are camps during the summer, classes during the school year and special workshops throughout the year. Prices vary and registration is done online. Itty Bitty Bakers will even organize parties.

Itty Bitty Bakers can be found online, on Facebook, on Instagram and Pinterest.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 days ago

Birmingham’s Alie B. Gorrie puts spotlight on disabled performers in new Amazon series

(Alie B. Gorrie/Contributed)

When Alie B. Gorrie moved to New York in 2015 after graduating from Belmont University, she was not unlike other young performers trying to find their way in the big city.

Armed with a resume that included shows at Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theatre Company (RMTC), Gorrie taught yoga and worked part-time as a teacher, all the while auditioning for (and getting some) roles at theater companies in the area.

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But look at Gorrie’s resume, and you’ll see something listed that provided some extra challenges. Under “Special Skills,” she notes that she’s “legally blind/visually impaired,” having been diagnosed at an early age with low vision.

“When I moved to New York, casting directors would say, ‘Why is one of your eyes crossed?’,” Gorrie says. “I didn’t expect to hear that after singing a song. … I’ve faced having to learn how to speak about it and articulate what I needed around it very quickly.”

Gorrie is not alone, and her latest project showcases other performers dealing with their own disabilities in the arts world. Gorrie co-hosts and co-produces, with Kallen Blair, “ABLE: a series,” which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. There are eight 15-minute episodes, each of which focuses on a performer with a disability, including recent Tony Award winner Ali Stroker, who is in a wheelchair.

The series was conceived after Gorrie saw a musical called “Sam’s Room” off-Broadway.

“I‘ve never been so moved by something,” she says of the show about a teen with non-verbal autism. “I had this impulse to buy 10 tickets and invite people I knew to see the show.”

One of those people was Blair, who has a brother with non-verbal autism.

“After the show, she was weeping, and she said that it was the first time she had seen her brother represented so well in a story,” Gorrie says. “That got us started in these inclusion discussions.”

Later, when Gorrie was working in California and Blair in Boston, Blair sent her an email.

“She pitched a documentary series shedding a light on inclusion in theater,” Gorrie recalls. “I said, ‘Yes, yes, sign me up.’”

Each episode features one guest interviewed by Gorrie and Blair. The guests include Evan Ruggiero, a dancer who lost a leg to cancer at age 19; John McGinty, a deaf actor who starred on Broadway in “Children of a Lesser God”; and Danny Woodburn, an actor with dwarfism known best for his role on the sitcom “Seinfeld.”
The two interviewed Stroker prior to her Tony nomination and win for “Oklahoma!”

“She is the one who is truly paving the way for disabled artists everywhere now,” Gorrie says.

Gorrie and her family created Songs for Sight, an event that raises money for the Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The fundraiser, which has included performers such as Vince Gill, Sara Evans and Grace Potter, celebrates its 10th anniversary with a free concert at Red Mountain Theatre Company in October.

Gorrie really found her calling at RMTC, where she performed for a number of years. She counts RMTC Executive Director Keith Cromwell among those who helped her realize she could pursue a performing career while dealing with her vision issues.

“It took me a while to find teachers and mentors who knew how to not make too big a deal out of it while also not ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist,” Gorrie says.

Cromwell is one who recognized Gorrie’s talents early on.

“When you meet ‘special,’ it has no age, it’s timeless,” he says of Gorrie, who is now 26. “As I watch her grow into a magnificent adult and amazing artist who is changing the world, I could not feel more privileged to witness her advancing her cause, her art, her center – the truth of who she is.”

That’s really what’s at the core of “ABLE,” too, as artists talk about embracing their disabilities and finding opportunities to shine, even though it’s still an uphill battle to get casting directors to cast disabled actors.

Gorrie and Blair are already planning Season 2 of “ABLE,” looking to focus less on individuals and more on theaters and other groups that are embracing inclusion of disabled performers.

“We want to go to theaters and film sets and do documentary-style episodes going into the places that are inclusion champions,” Gorrie says.

“ABLE: a series” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 days ago

United Way of Central Alabama kicks off fall campaign

(Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

In a world where superheroes dominate pop culture, it’s good to be reminded that real, everyday heroes are making a difference in our communities.

That’s one reason United Way of Central Alabama has chosen “Be an everyday hero” as the theme for this year’s fall fundraising campaign.

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The organization has set this year’s goal at $36.5 million, which will help support more than 100 agencies throughout the region. They range from the A.G Gaston Boys & Girls Club to Alabama Goodwill Industries, from the American Cancer Society to the American Red Cross. Other agencies supported by United Way of Central Alabama include the Birmingham Jewish FederationChildren’s of AlabamaGirl Scouts of North Central Alabama, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, and the volunteer support organization Hands On Birmingham.

“To raise this amount of money is truly a community effort,” said Drew Langloh, president and CEO of United Way of Central Alabama. “It’s everybody in the community coming in together, saying, ‘I want to help my neighbor, I want to help people less fortunate than myself.’”

Langloh has worked his entire 32-year career with the United Way of Central Alabama.

“I am a social worker, and to have the opportunity to work with individuals and corporations throughout our community and find better ways to change lives and help our community is a social worker’s dream come true,” Langloh said.

United Way of Central Alabama has been a part of the community since 1923. This year, Charity Navigator awarded the organization with its the highest rating, four stars, for the 17th consecutive year. The award acknowledges strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency.

“When people give to the United Way, they are helping with the fight for better health, better education, and greater financial stability,” Langloh said.

The need is real:

  • One in six people in Alabama struggles with hunger, and 24% of those are children.
  • Only 21.4% of four-year-olds in Central Alabama have access to the state’s highly recognized First Class Pre-K program.
  • An estimated 15.6% of the population live in poverty in Central Alabama.

But so are the positive results supported through last year’s campaign:

  • Nearly 93,000 people received services from United Way partner agencies and programs.
  • More than 387,800 meals were served to seniors and those with disabilities through Meals on Wheels and the Senior Nutrition Program.
  • A total of 1,126 children received meals daily through the Summer Feeding Program, and seven new feeding sites assisted with food distribution.
  • More than 2,420 seniors received Medicare counseling through United Way’s Area Agency on Aging.
  • More than 13,900 children received literacy support in kindergarten through third grade from United Way partner agency programs.
  • Nearly 7,000 people received job training from United Way partner agency programs.
  • There were 30 financial workshops conducted, reaching 300 individuals.
  • Priority Veteran, a program specifically created to help homeless veterans find stable housing, assisted 555 veterans.
  • There were 39,200 calls received through the United Way of Central Alabama’s 24-hour call-in and referral center.
  • Nearly 6,400 seniors called the United Way Area Agency on Aging of Jefferson County to connect to senior services.

Learn more about United Way of Central Alabama and this year’s campaign by visiting https://www.uwca.org/.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 days ago

From Three on a String to Ken Burns documentaries, this Alabama Music Maker is making history

(Phil Free/Alabama NewsCenter)

Bobby Horton has been interested in the Civil War since he was 9 years old, igniting his lifelong love of history.

“Every adult male in my life, from my dad to my uncles to my baseball managers and even my band director were all World War II veterans,” said Horton. “When you understand that history is a story of real people, it pulls you in like nothing else.”

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His passions are music and history, and Horton has built a career weaving the two together. He especially loves film recording. Horton plays with the country-bluegrass band Three on a String and provides music for Public Broadcasting Service documentaries by Ken Burns.

Bobby Horton is an Alabama Music Maker providing soundtrack to Ken Burns documentaries from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Burns’ new 16-hour PBS series “Country Music” will be released by Florentine Films Sept. 15. It tells the history of country music from the early 20th century through the 1990s. Horton is credited with about 40 minutes of his music in the upcoming documentary.

Horton and Burns have worked on many projects together since the ‘90s. They connected through Richard Snow, the editor of American Heritage magazine, who had published an article about the work Horton was doing. Horton had produced a series of recordings sung by people who lived during the Civil War.

Snow ran into Burns on the streets of New York City. When Snow heard Burns was working on the Civil War documentary, he told Burns “there’s a guy in Alabama you need to listen to.”

The director-producer Horton is a Birmingham musician and historian. For about 20 years, his home studio in Vestavia Hills has been a one-man music workshop.

Over the years, Horton has produced and performed music scores for 18 PBS films by Ken Burns, including “The Civil War” and “Baseball,” two films for the A&E network, and 25 films for the National Park Service. Horton’s series of recordings of authentic period music has been acclaimed by historical organizations and publications throughout America and Europe.

Horton is widely recognized as one of America’s leading authorities on music from the Civil War period. Horton was a bugler for the Marine Corps when he was in high school. He has played taps for more than 60 burials of Marines. He is still active in Bugles Across America, an organization that provides a live rendition of taps by a bugler for veterans during their funerals.

Horton has been in a band since he was in the seventh grade. Jerry Ryan, the founder of Three on a String, approached him to play the banjo at the Horse Pens 40 music festival in the ‘70s. They’ve been playing together for nearly 50 years.

Horton can’t imagine doing anything else. “There are very few jobs you look forward to going to,” he said. “It’s still pretty fun.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

State Traditions is inspired apparel based in Alabama

(Brandon Robbins/Alabama Retailer)

In 2012, John McElrath decided it was time to take a leap.

He looked at his wife, who was holding their newborn baby, and said, “I think it’s time for me to quit my job and really do this.”

He was talking about jumping full time into State Traditions, a state-themed apparel and accessory line that he and two friends had created and launched in Birmingham five years prior.

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Until that point, the men had been running the business part time, first out of the trunks of their cars and then out of McElrath’s dining room, selling both online and wholesale to high-end men’s clothing stores throughout the Southeast.

“At that point, the wheels had started spinning pretty quickly,” he remembered. “It was sink or swim.”

How it all started

State Traditions was born out of a simple observation. McElrath remembers he and friend Keith Brown, his co-founding partner, started noticing the rise in popularity of something they referred to as “critter brands.”

“People were wearing shirts with whales, fish or some other type of animal. We thought, ‘What does that symbol actually mean to the people wearing it?’ That gave us the desire to create a brand that really meant something to the person wearing it,” McElrath said.

The friends started with the idea that everyone is from somewhere and had special traditions created in the places they consider home. McElrath, Brown and another friend, Marty Lyons, officially incorporated State Traditions in 2007, with their first product being a cotton polo shirt.

“We started an online site, which was much different than it is now, and our first retail customer was The Locker Room in Tuscaloosa,” McElrath recalled.

In the beginning, they were embroidering and putting private labels on the shirts themselves. McElrath said the brand was more of a creative outlet for them until they went to their first men’s apparel market. That’s when the orders started flooding in, and so did the demand for products other than polo shirts. Soon after, they rolled out state-themed belts and hats followed by T-shirts and other men’s accessories.

“Once we figured it out, we allowed ourselves to continue to grow. We found that you must recreate yourselves every six months or so. You can carry items through, but you always have to have something fresh,” McElrath said.

Keeping the brand fresh

The company has long outgrown McElrath’s dining room. After first occupying a 600-square-foot office space in Pepper Place, they moved to a 4,000-square-foot space near Regions Field in downtown Birmingham before the most recent move into a facility with room to grow. The current 43,000-square-foot office and warehouse in Avondale, a revitalized and booming neighborhood and business district on the east side of Birmingham, is large enough to allow the company to remain there for some time.

“We believe Birmingham fosters new businesses very well, and we especially love being here in the Avondale district. We regularly get together with our neighbors; it’s very much a creative hub,” he said.

McElrath continues at the helm of the company as president and chief executive officer with six full-time employees. Their products now feature all 50 states and can be found in hundreds of fine men’s stores, outdoor specialty stores, golf shops and even children’s boutiques throughout the country.

“We now say we can fit a gentleman from head to knee, we just don’t do socks, shoes or pants,” McElrath said.

The experience of shopping

While online sales make up nearly 30 percent of State Traditions’ sales, the largest portion of its business comes from retail stores that carry its product lines.

“We believe that, in order to be successful in today’s retail climate, you have to have both a retail location and a website. Both drive traffic to each other,” McElrath said.

McElrath said online shoppers expect a sizing chart, a good description and real reviews. He said their brand ensures sizing and quality remain the same, even as they launch new and different lines.

“You have to be reliable and not change it up too much. When people come back, they’ll know what they’re getting,” he said. “Even so, it is hard to replace the in-person shopping experience.”

The State Traditions team plans to continue blazing a new trail in apparel inspired by a connection. They believe the company’s core mission – spreading hometown pride, cherished memories and favorite pastimes – especially resonates in today’s consumer landscape.

“Today’s shoppers make decisions based on how it makes them feel, and we think our products make people feel good,” he said.


The essentials

Founded: June 2007

Number of employees: 6

Smart move: Bringing our inventory and distribution in-house to our Avondale location.

Learning moment: Too many to count. Learning moments happen often.  We must be aware of them, so the lessons are not lost.

Wisdom shared: Trust but verify.

Showroom: The Avondale warehouse that houses State Traditions includes a showroom with some of its signature products displayed. Those products include polos, T-shirts, shorts, hats, belts, koozies, keychains, stickers, cuff links, flasks, money clips and ties.

Online: statetraditions.com

This story originally appeared in the Alabama Retailer, published by the Alabama Retail Association.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 days ago

Great Alabama 650, toughest paddle race in the U.S., hits water Saturday

(Alabama News Center/Conributed)

It’s a test of strength, endurance and mental fortitude.

The Great Alabama 650 takes paddlers on an epic adventure along the core section of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, the longest trail of its kind in a single state.

From rushing whitewater to the ambling river delta, the race will challenge even the most experienced paddler.

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The world-class race starts Sept. 14 on Weiss Lake in northeast Alabama and end at Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay. Racers have 10 days to complete the course, and a $22,500 prize will be split among three divisions.

Race director Greg Wingo owns a consulting firm specializing in outdoor recreation. He was approached by the Alabama Scenic River Trail based on his background of organizing events. He’s an ultra-runner and co-founded a trail running group in Birmingham.

He said organizing a race on the water is much different than one on the land and presents unique challenges for competitors and organizers alike.

“When it comes to a paddle race and, specifically with our race where we have several different bodies of water, the logistics behind that are quite a bit more complicated,” Wingo said. “On top of that, there is a level of navigating and orienteering that’s involved for the paddlers that’s not quite as common in most running races.”

The three race divisions are male solo, female solo and two-person teams. Racers who sign up for the solo division must have at least one “crewperson” to assist throughout the race.

Also providing help are “trail angels,” people who live along the water who will assist racers, offering snacks or a place for a hot shower.

“All along the trail, there are people that live close by and love this waterway and love to help out paddlers,” Wingo said. “We’ve created a network of these angels to help out paddlers with pretty much anything on their route – acts of kindness that have been in place for decades now and we’ll be utilizing them for this race.”

These angels and a host of other volunteers will be a major force in keeping the race running properly. Most will be stationed at eight portages along the race. At the portages, racers will be required to get out of their boat and take a mandatory break. Most of these stations are at sites of dams and other places that will need to be bypassed.

“Volunteers are absolutely critical for this race,” Wingo said. “The primary responsibility of the volunteers at the portages will be to make sure racers get their mandatory time out of the water and to check on them.”

Wingo said as the race proceeds and competitors spread out, more volunteers are needed to staff the stations, some hundreds of miles apart.

“At the beginning of the race this isn’t a huge deal because the racers are still close together, but as the days go by the racers spread out, based on their ability, pretty far, so we’ll need to man multiple portages over a couple of hundred miles, staffing them 24 hours a day,” Wingo said.

As a safety precaution, race coordinators and volunteers will be able to track racers.

“We’re going to have an entire mapping system using spot trackers so you can look at the map and see where racers are at all times,” Wingo said.

Roger Yeargan, Hydro manager for the Lower Coosa River system, said Alabama Power’s hydro plants will be partnering with Alabama Scenic River Trail in support of the Great Alabama 650.

“Safety is our first priority, and EMTs will be provided access at the downstream portage locations to evaluate the racers prior to reentry,” Yeargan said. “Alabama ranks in the top five in the United States for water resources, and this event should put a spotlight on one of our great natural resources.”

At each of the six Alabama Power dams along the Coosa River, employees will verify the canoe portage is clean and ready to use. Race participants will exit the river at a designated point above each dam and reenter the river at a designated point in the tailrace below each day.

For more information on registering as a volunteer or as a racer, visit alabamascenicrivertrail.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Tuberville slams ‘the politically correct crowd’ after Opelika City Schools bans pregame prayers

(Tommy Tuberville/Facebook)

Opelika High School is scrapping student-led prayer before its football games.

Per The Associated Press, Opelika City Schools Superintendent Mark Neighbors announced this week that the high school will instead hold a moment of silence.

As reported by WTVM, members of the local community are not pleased with the decision.

“First of all, I don’t like it,” Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller told the TV station.

The mayor is certainly not alone. In a Facebook post and follow-up statement to Yellowhammer News, former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville expressed his dismay that the local school district in Lee County backed down to “the politically correct crowd.”

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“Bureaucrats are ruining our country,” Tuberville, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, emphasized. “Rather than stand up for the people they are appointed to represent, they give in to the politically correct crowd.”

“Left in control, the career politicians will ruin this country. Prayer is an important part of sports!” he concluded.

Locals seem to agree with students being able to voluntarily lead prayer at games — even non-Christians.

Brian Hawkins, the rabbi at an Opelika synagogue, told WTVM that having a Christian prayer before football games does not bother him.

“I’m a Messianic Jew, and I don’t oppose Christian praying at all,” Hawkins remarked. “I think everyone has a freedom in this country to be able to pray.”

However, the infamous out-of-state Freedom From Religion Foundation has gotten involved, which led to Neighbors’ decision.

The foundation claimed a parent complained about a pregame prayer delivered over a loudspeaker before Opelika’s game on August 22.

“I understand that Dr. Neighbors and the Opelika City School Board have no choice in the matter because of how the Supreme Court has ruled,” Fuller added.

A social media movement is reportedly underway encouraging fans to recite the Lord’s Prayer during Friday’s moment of silence when Opelika High School hosts Wetumpka at 7:00 p.m.

‘God and prayer are the cornerstone of our nation’

This is certainly not the first time recently that Tuberville has bashed political correctness or what he perceives as bias against Christians in modern America.

“One thing I will not be is be politically correct,” Tuberville has said. “I’m tired of that. They’ve lost their mind, folks.”

One humorous way he has been emphasizing this point on the campaign trail lately is mocking the newfound federal policy of miniature horses being allowed on commercial airline flights as service animals.

Tuberville has decried taking prayer out of schools, saying he will immediately introduce a constitutional amendment to allow prayer in public schools if elected to the U.S. Senate.

“God and prayer are the cornerstone of our nation,” Tuberville has stressed.

As someone who has been involved with education for 40 years, Tuberville previously advised that he has witnessed America’s public education system “slowly disintegrate.”

“We took prayer out of the schools in the mid-60s. [Since] we did that, it’s really gone down hill,” he lamented.

He has pointed to what he views as unfair treatment of Christians in public schools.

“Let me give y’all a little stat. There’s 10 states, Texas being one of them, that there’s another religion that can have five prayers a day in the school. If we say the Lord’s Prayer, our kids get sent home. Wrong,” Tuberville has said. “There’s a double standard in this country, and if we don’t stand up and start speaking out for God, prayer and the values that we need to get back, we’re not going to be a country anymore.”

On Friday, Tuberville also commended a newly enacted Alabama law passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Kay Ivey during this year’s regular session.

The law allows public schools to voluntarily offer history classes on the Bible as an elective to students in grades 6-12.

“I believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture,” Tuberville concluded. “I commend the legislature for putting the Bible back in schools. We’ve got to continue to fight back against the politically correct crowd!”

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

1 week ago

Faith Church in Florence recognized as one of America’s 100 fastest-growing churches

(Faith Church/Facebook)

Faith Church in Florence, Alabama, is one of the country’s fastest-growing churches, according to Outreach Magazine.

Pastored by Steve Huskey, Faith Church came in at number 61 on the publication’s list. Statistics provided by Outreach indicate the Northwest Alabama church’s attendance has grown 16% from the previous year.

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Outreach compiles its rankings based upon surveys it sends annually to thousands of churches across the United States. The surveys record attendance averages for February and March (excluding Easter weekend). The magazine compares those numbers to the prior year and ranks the top-100 based upon a combination of numerical and percentage growth.

This is not the first time Faith Church has made an appearance in this category. It was ranked 77th fastest-growing in 2018, 59th in 2017 and 95th in 2016.

McLean Bible Church in Virginia, led by former Birmingham area pastor David Platt, was ranked by Outreach Magazine in two separate categories. It was recognized as one of the country’s largest churches and one of the most active in church planting.

McLean Bible Church’s average attendance was recorded at 10,101 people.

Platt previously served as pastor of The Church at Brook Hills and as president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer News

1 week ago

Alabama firefighter’s 9/11 tribute inspires, unites — ‘The spirit of our nation and our greatest gift’

(Taylor Zales/Facebook, Jen Davis/Facebook)

While there were numerous emotional tributes across Alabama and the nation on Wednesday marking the 18th anniversary of 9/11, one small act in Hoover is making big waves.

According to a Facebook post by Jen Davis, her friend — Heather Goss — on Wednesday morning was at the local YMCA to work out.

It was an every day occurrence, one that many of us can relate to. However, out of something so ordinary, an extraordinary moment was born.

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“I had only planned to warm up on the treadmill this morning,” Goss outlined, through Davis’ Facebook post. “Then I saw him behind me.”

As seen in a picture Goss captured, there was a young man, with firefighter gear and uniform on, using a StairMaster in the row of equipment behind her.

“Carrying the weight not only of his uniform and gear but of all the fight in our country and hearts from the last 18 years,” she said. “He climbed countless floors on that stairmaster in memory of those who climbed to their death.”

The power of the moment motivated Goss to join in the tribute.

“I made the decision to run as fast as I could until he stopped,” she detailed. “Miles and miles later… many more than I wanted and planned for…I got off to tell him what an honor it was to carry the weight with him this morning.”

“That’s how we remember best. Carrying each other’s weight. Carrying a strangers weight. Stopping to notice who is beside you and deciding to fight with them even when it’s not your battle,” Goss emphasized. “That is the spirit of our nation and our greatest gift to each other. Let’s not forget that either.”

At first, Goss did not know the young man’s name.

“I have no idea who this local firefighter is, and she doesn’t either. But I wish I could thank him,” Davis said in her post made early Wednesday afternoon.

Just as the tribute had motivated Goss in-person to join in, hearing her friend’s story led Davis to do so after the fact.

“I, too, will climb those stairs today. It’s the least I can do,” Davis wrote.

Since then, the man’s name has been revealed as Taylor Zales.

(Taylor Zales/Facebook)

While it is often hard to capture the raw emotion of real experiences like this through social media, this incredible Alabama 9/11 tribute has touched the hearts of so many already.

As of 10:00 p.m. Wednesday, Davis’ post had over 1,600 shares.

According to a public list kept by the Alabama Fire College, Zales is a firefighter at the Indian Ford Fire District headquartered in Bessemer. The district covers parts of unincorporated Jefferson and Shelby counties.

RELATED: Alabama’s elected officials reflect on anniversary of 9/11, honor American heroes

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

1 week ago

Reports: American veteran killed in Korean War returns to Mobile 69 years later

(@TylerFingert/Twitter)

According to local TV stations WKRG and WALA, one American hero is finally set to return home to Mobile nearly 70 years after fighting his last battle.

Master Sergeant James Gerald Cates was reportedly listed as MIA while fighting in North Korea on December 3, 1950, in the Chosin Reservoir. He was then presumed dead on December 31, 1953.

Cates reportedly joined the U.S. Army in 1940. The World War II and Korean War veteran was known to his family as “Jabbo.”

For years, his remains had been interred as an “unknown soldier” at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, HI. Following recent advancements in technology, DNA testing identified him on May 31.

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Cates was originally slated to arrive at the Mobile Municipal Airport Tuesday night at 7:30.

Unfortunately, the plane was delayed until after midnight due to hazardous weather.

The Patriot Guard, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and others were waiting hours to escort the fallen hero’s remains to Radney Funeral Home.

However, the long delay caused the escort to have to stand down for the night.

Cates is set to be laid to rest in Chunchula on September 21. Funeral details will be announced in the coming days.

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

2 weeks ago

Byrne stands by Brees after NFL legend attacked for Christian faith — ‘Have to keep fighting’

(Bring Your Bible/YouTube, B. Byrne/Facebook)

New Orleans Saints quarterback and future NFL Hall of Fame inductee Drew Brees is under fire from Democrats and members of the national media after encouraging students to “live out” their faith and “share God’s love with friends.”

This comes after a video was released Thursday featuring Brees supporting “Bring Your Bible to School Day,” which will occur on October 3 this year.

Watch:

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This day is student-led and completely voluntary, which aligns with the tenets of religious freedom in the U.S. Constitution.

Despite Brees’ succinct, seemingly uncontroversial message, he was immediately attacked.

Because Focus on the Family sponsors the day and has opposed policies like gay marriage in the past, critics essentially tried to say that Brees must support everything that this “anti-LGBTQ group” does.

Responding to one of these articles specifically, Brees released a follow-up video clarifying his original message of faith and love.

Watch:

Brees has been supported through the controversy by a diverse group of colleagues and celebrities, including former University of Alabama star running back Mark Ingram.

Now, you can add Brees’ fellow Gulf Coast resident, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), to his list of backers.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Byrne said, “These attacks on Drew Brees are pathetic.”

“I’ve always admired Brees as an outstanding football player who has never forgotten his family values and his roots,” the Republican U.S. Senate candidate continued. “No one should face criticism for simply encouraging a ‘Bring Your Bible to School Day.'”

“Our country is a far cry from the days when you were at Church every Sunday and kneeled by your bed to pray every night, and we have to return to moral foundation. We have to keep fighting for our Christian values that have made our country so strong,” Byrne concluded.

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

2 weeks ago

Muscle Shoals Sound Studios founder Jimmy Johnson dies

(WHNT/Twitter)

Jimmy Johnson, a founder of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and guitarist with the famed studio musicians “The Swampers,” has died.

He was 76. His family announced in a Facebook post that he died Thursday.

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As a studio musician, recording engineer and record producer, Johnson played a role in iconic hits by Percy Sledge, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd and others.

Musician Jason Isbell posted on Twitter, writing “The mighty Jimmy Johnson has passed.

A lot of my favorite music wouldn’t exist without him.”

Bassist and business partner David Hood said Johnson was a “friend who became a brother” and an inspiration to him and countless others in the music business.

“Jimmy was just an all-around phenomenal music guy,” Hood said.

Johnson began work as a professional guitar player at an early age and became a studio musician with Fame Studio.

He later helped found the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, which became a recording destination for well-known artists.

According to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Johnson’s “distinctive guitar fills” can be heard on the recordings of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers and others.

Johnson also was renowned as a recording engineer working the controls of Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” and the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” and other hits.

Hood said in the studio that Johnson could hear things that others didn’t.

“When he first signed Lynyrd Skynyrd, nobody thought anybody would want to hear that,” Hood said of the long-haired group. “But he believed in them, fought for them and never gave up on them.”

The group immortalized the Swampers with a reference on “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Johnson always remained humble, Hood said, recalling how Johnson’s mother would host home-cooked dinners for “all these rock and roll people” in their small home in Sheffield.

Johnson’s son, Jay Johnson, wrote on Facebook: “He is gone. Playing music with the angels now.”
 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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2 weeks ago

Auburn releases TV ad — ‘If you thought you knew us, think again’

(Auburn University/YouTube)

Auburn University has released its new advertising campaign for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Dubbed,”Think Auburn,” the campaign features a new television spot that debuted at noon on Friday, which also happened to be College Colors Day in Alabama.

“You may know Auburn, but do you really know Auburn?” the video begins.

The ad then shows how Auburn is excelling off the field.

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“We work hard, dream big and soar past today’s limits to the possibilities of tomorrow,” the narrator says. “Auburn. If you thought you knew us, think again. War Eagle.”

The ad was produced by Auburn’s Media Production Group.

Watch:

Auburn has also set up a landing page that explains the significance of the various visuals in the main ad.

“You may know Auburn, but do you KNOW Auburn? Do you know the outstanding academic programs that make today’s Auburn a strong and influential institution—programs recognized for the contributions they make to the world?” the website prefaces. “There’s a lot to discover at Auburn. We invite you to learn more about our dynamic and forward-looking university.”

Some of the programs and initiatives further highlighted online include architecture; industrial designfashion; forestry and wildlife services; Auburn Equestrian; aviation; fighting the opioid epidemic; Military REACH; poultry science; nursing; cyber education; and motion capture.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Auburn University executive director of public affairs Brian Keeter said, “Think Auburn showcases some of the many ways Auburn improves lives, designs the unexpected, advances technology and innovates beyond the classroom.”

Auburn was recently named the best college in Alabama by Forbes and Niche, as well as the top value in the state by Money. A study released by the university on Wednesday concluded that Auburn has a $5.6 billion economic impact on the Yellowhammer State annually.

Related: WATCH: University of Alabama releases new ‘Where Legends Are Made’ TV spot

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

2 weeks ago

WATCH: Ala. Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed stuns crowd with rendition of ‘My God Is Real’

(Tammi Noelle Taylor/Facebook, WH/Flickr)

Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) is already known as one of the state’s greatest orators and most accomplished conservative statesmen. However, judging from a Tuesday performance, Reed might also be the leading contender if there was ever an “American Idol” or “The Voice” style singing competition among Yellowhammer State elected officials.

Per a Facebook video posted by Republican grassroots activist Tammi Noelle Taylor, Reed attended a civic meeting in the town of West Jefferson at which he sang “My God Is Real,” which was made famous by the likes of Don Gibson, Johnny Cash and Mahalia Jackson.

Reed, in a powerful rendition, certainly did these music legends justice.

Watch:

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Additionally, Alabama political observers may be interested in this fun fact: Reed actually previously recorded his own album entitled, “Classic Revival.”

Picture of Reed’s “Classic Revival” cover. (Photo: Tammi Noelle Taylor)

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

3 weeks ago

WATCH: University of Alabama releases new ‘Where Legends Are Made’ TV spot

(The University of Alabama/YouTube)

The University of Alabama has released its latest television commercial for the award-winning Where Legends Are Made campaign, which celebrates the achievements of influential Capstone alumni.

Those watching the Crimson Tide’s televised game against Duke on Saturday may have already seen the spot, which opens with a scene featuring the UA football team.

Viewers are then introduced to a montage of university legends represented in scenes highlighting their accomplishments as entrepreneurs, authors, performers, innovators and CEOs.

The advertising campaign was created by Linda Bonnin, UA’s vice president for strategic communications.

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“What most people know about us is that we play great football,” Bonnin said in a statement. “In the commercial, we pivot from that to the rest of the story. Let’s talk about the great things our alumni have created and done that you may not know us for.”

First, the University of Alabama’s entrepreneurial spirit is showcased in a scene featuring students meeting at The EDGE, a new state-of-the-art facility that supports entrepreneurial collaboration and innovation. The scene pays homage to such UA alumni as Joe Gibbs, co-founder of The Golf Channel; Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia; and John Hendricks, founder of Discovery Channel.

A second scene showcases a stack of books written by university alumni. These include The New York Times best seller “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, who earned her degree in English and creative writing from UA; “Forrest Gump” by Winston Groom, who graduated from UA in 1965; and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, who studied law at UA and edited the campus newspaper. She received an honorary doctorate from UA’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1990.

The university’s influence on the performing arts is also represented in a backstage shot at UA’s Allen Bales Theatre. The scene pays tribute to alumni such as Sonequa Martin-Green, Sela Ward and Michael Luwoye for their accomplishments on stage and screen.

Next, a scene was shot in Tuscaloosa’s Alberta community at a house built by Habitat for Humanity, founded by the late Millard Fuller, who earned his law degree from UA in 1960. For his work, Fuller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1996. The house featured in the commercial was built through a partnership between Habitat for Humanity and the Nick’s Kids Foundation, created by Tide head football coach Nick Saban and his wife, Terry.

One of the ultimate highlights of the ad comes near the closing moments and features Marillyn Hewson — chairman, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp, as well as an alumnus of UA. Hewson is seen directing a meeting at the Lockheed Martin facility in Bethesda, Maryland. She was named one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” for 2019 and CEO of the Year in 2018 by Chief Executive magazine. Additionally, Hewson was recognized as No. 1 on Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” last year.

Watch:

Bonnin emphasized that this is merely a sampling of UA’s alumni who have had an exemplary impact on their industries and the world.

“Our graduates have given the world amazing gifts with their talent and entrepreneurial spirit, and they continue to bring national and international recognition to The University of Alabama,” Bonnin concluded. “We want the world to know this is the place where legends are made, and we can back up that assertion every day with the accomplishments of our alumni.”

The commercial was internally written and produced by UA’s Division of Strategic Communications. Earlier this year, Where Legends Are Made was named the best advertising campaign internationally for higher education by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education through its 2019 Circle of Excellence awards program.

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

3 weeks ago

Publix donating $500,000 to Alabama food banks

(Publix/Twitter)

Publix Super Markets Charities has pledged to donate a total of $500,000 to four food banks in Alabama this month.

The donations were announced as part of Publix’s ongoing support of hunger relief efforts and in recognition of September being Hunger Action Month.

The four Yellowhammer State food banks receiving a donation are as follows:

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Community Food Bank of Central Alabama Birmingham, $150,000
Feeding the Gulf Coast Theodore, $150,000
Food Bank of North Alabama Huntsville, $100,000
Montgomery Area Food Bank Montgomery, $100,000

Publix will donate a total of $5 million to Feeding America member food banks, schools and other nonprofit organizations across the southeastern United States.

This brings Publix’s total contribution to hunger relief organizations to more than $22 million over the last five years.

“Millions of people in the Southeast — many of them children and seniors — may not know where they will find their next meal. Together, we can help change that,” Kelly Williams-Puccio, executive director of Publix Super Markets Charities, said in a statement. “We are proud to continue our commitment to feeding communities across the Southeast and offer dignity and nourishment to our neighbors in need.”

According to the USDA, one in eight people across America struggles with hunger, including more than 9 million people in Publix’s operating area.

“Every day, food banks in the Feeding America network are on the ground helping children and families who need it most, but we know that we can’t end hunger alone. We are grateful to Publix and Publix Super Markets Charities for their long-standing commitment to fighting hunger in communities across the Southeast. Your donations will have a tremendous impact on the lives of people we serve,” Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, commented.

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

3 weeks ago

Alabama’s Ruffner Mountain focus of new book

Carlee Sanford, left, and Mark Kelly hold "Back to Nature," a book Kelly wrote about the history of Ruffner Mountain. (Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Ruffner Mountain, a landmark in the history of Birmingham’s industrial rise, is the focus of a new book, ”Back to Nature.”

The book tells the long, tumultuous story of the Mountain — from its geological formation, through the days of Birmingham’s explosive growth as a steel producing and iron ore mining city and ending with four decades of strenuous effort to preserve it. Author Mark Kelly, a senior market specialist for Alabama Power and longtime volunteer with The Ruffner Mountain Nature Coalition, said it was important to make sure all of that was included.

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“When someone asks when the history of Ruffner Mountain started, you say, ‘about 500 million years ago,’” Kelly said. “You have the geological history of the mountain where you have two of the three ingredients: iron ore and limestone, that made Birmingham ‘Birmingham.’ There is the mining history which ties into the history of Birmingham and some of the personalities and events that were involved with that, which is a pretty fascinating story by itself, and then this place sat dormant for the better part of 40 years until the advent of Ruffner Mountain Nature Center. It started with 28 acres and today it’s over 1,000 acres — one of the largest urban nature preserves in the country. It’s a great story from a lot of angles.”

Kelly said the idea to write the book began more than 10 years ago during a conversation with Bob Farley and Michelle Reynolds.

“Bob and Michelle put in a lot of volunteer time at Ruffner over the years,” Kelly said. “We started talking and come up with the idea that maybe we should do a book about this place.”

Work began, but it wasn’t until Carlee Sanford was hired as executive director of Ruffner Mountain in 2015 that research for the book took on the momentum it needed to be completed.

“When I started at Ruffner, I was told during the first week that we had to finish this book,” Sanford said. “I didn’t know if we would ever finish it because I didn’t know what it was, and now it’s this beautiful piece that Ruffner will have long after me.”

‘It wasn’t pretty’

From schoolchildren to hikers, Ruffner Mountain is visited by more than 30,000 people annually. However, the mountain has not always been a natural attraction; for more than 60 years it was mined, providing millions of tons of iron ore that helped Birmingham establish itself as a national leader in the rising steel industry of the early 20th century. When mining operations at Ruffner Mountain ended in 1953, what was left was not pretty, but Sanford said its appearance led directly to the creation of the nature preserve in 1977.

“Part of the reason it is a nature preserve today is because of what was done to this mountain,” Sanford said. “No one wanted it. It wasn’t pretty. The value of the property was different, so it’s kind of amazing when you see these pictures today of wildlife or lookouts or something that was mined and quarried. It’s so beautiful and it takes time on the longer scale to be able to see the beauty that can come out of what we did to the land with industry.”

Today, the nature preserve is the main attraction. More than 1,040 acres are under the management of The Ruffner Mountain Nature Coalition, making it one of the largest privately-funded nonprofit nature preserves in the country. Visitors can hike more than 14 miles of trails winding through the former limestone quarry and mine land, observing a diverse array of distinct natural plant communities and wildlife habitats.

“I hope between the work they’re doing every day at the Nature Center and the release of this book contributes to a greater knowledge and awareness of what this place has meant to the history of the city,” Kelly said. “You can hike, you can look at a lot of the artifacts from the mining era or you can just find a place to sit down and meditate. It’s a great experience. It’s a great asset for the community.”

Sanford said she hopes the book will help visitors understand that Ruffner Mountain is operated through private donations.

“Oftentimes when I talk to visitors, they assume this was a state park or it’s a federally-funded place that used to have some mining and the intent was always to be a nature preserve, and that’s so far from the truth,” Sanford said. “When you read the book you see that this took decades and it was the work of hundreds of people to get to the point that we are at today.”

“This is a great place,” Kelly added. “It is something not every city has. People need to appreciate it and come out and enjoy it.”

Kelly’s book will officially launch Sept. 4 at 5 p.m. during a book signing at Alabama Booksmith. A second signing will be held at the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center Sept. 19 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Kelly and photographer Bob Farley will attend both events.

The book also is available at the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center and at RuffnerMountain.org., as well as other local bookstores. For more information, visit RuffnerMountain.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Business leader called to build partnerships across racial lines — ‘Race relationships became a part of our journey in life and in our faith’

(ARC Realty/Facebook, YHN)

Tommy Brigham, Jr. points to the discipleship of three men who helped him grow one particular aspect of his faith.

“Really helping to understand how to put your faith into action has really been by the shaping of others in my life,” he told Matt Wilson in a recent episode of Wilson’s Living Life on Purpose podcast.

Brigham credits his late business partner Molton Williams, Drayton Nabors and a man he calls his closest friend, Richard Simmons, with guiding him to understand that putting his faith into action is a calling and essential to spiritual growth.

And Brigham’s call began to lead him in a direction which carried him across societal lines and behind locked doors.

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“Early on in my walk with Christ I got involved with Prison Fellowship,” he explained. “It puts you in a paradigm where I’m coming from one socio-economic circumstance into the prisons.”

Brigham is one of Alabama’s most accomplished real estate developers, a recipient of countless awards in the business community.

Yet, that experience with Prison Fellowship allowed him to look at his own city and state from an entirely new vantage point.

“It gives you a different perspective,” he recalled. “And then along the way we got involved with going to an intercity church. Our kids got exposed to worship with the African-American community. One of my partners today is an African-American woman. That all started back then.”

Brigham’s outreach became an enduring part of his life and that of his family.

“Race relationships became a part of our journey in life and in our faith,” he emphasized. “That led to being part of starting First Priority with a group and involved with kids. That was a foundational part of my own personal experience that caused me to recognize that there’s a lot out there to be involved with.”

Developing a friendship with one pastor in Birmingham set in motion events which would allow Brigham to undertake one of the more unique partnerships in his successful career in business.

He became friends with Tom Wilder, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, a church Brigham called “the most bombed church in America” as a result of it being a target of Klan bombings during the civil rights movement.

“We became friends and built a personal relationship trying to make sure that we understood each other as who God made us out to be not how we looked through the political lens,” said Brigham. “How we looked through our core values and our common faith.”

After years of friendship with Wilder, Brigham felt called to a new venture in real estate, even while admitting to himself it was getting a little late in his career.

So Brigham approached Wilder’s wife, Mechelle, with whom he had worked previously.

“That whole thing was what would it look like if we formed a real estate company with a white boy from Mountain Brook and a black girl from Montgomery,” remarked Brigham.

Mechelle Wilder was the youngest of 11 kids and a scholarship graduate from Samford University.

Brigham recollected his pitch to Mechelle Wilder.

“’This is the time in life where we have got to take a risk,'” he remembered saying. “‘Our community needs to hear this, see this. They need to see a white guy and a black woman, gender, race, the whole deal, and how do we do this and do it in a meaningful way because we share the same core values, we’re good friends, you’re an unbelievable professionally-talented person, and I just think it’s the right time for our city and who knows what God would do with that. And we don’t always share the same views politically, and that’s okay, because we love each other through our differences.’”

Together they formed ARC Realty.

For the company partners, their mission is in the name. ‘ARC’ stands for ‘A Relationship Company’ and is built on the message of Philippians 2:3-4:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (ESV)

The meaning of those verses is clear to Brigham.

“That means that when our agents walk in the door, when our employees walk in the door, we’re serving them,” he said. “Our first and foremost focus is to serve them with whatever tools, technology, training, professional standards we can provide because we want the buyer and seller to feel the same way. We want our agents serving above self.”

He explained that this approach works regardless of your beliefs and people always agree.

For him, it comes back to Augustine’s instruction to “preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words.”

“Just try and live it,” said Brigham. “If the Lord opens a door for you to engage in a conversation, it takes place. But you have got to the best of your ability try to figure out how to live it.”

Part of that is opening your heart to the circumstances and experiences of people much different than ourselves, according to Brigham.

“If you’ve never worn the shoes of the other person, it’s hard to really understand him,” he said. “So you’ve got to try and figure out how to wear those shoes, and it just takes hard work. It’s not easy. I have a lot of really good African-American friends, and I love my brothers and sisters in the African-American community. And we have some tough conversations. I need to hear the voice that they have because it’s different than the way I grew up.”

Listen to the rest of Matt Wilson’s conversation with Tommy Brigham:

For more stories of how people have lived their lives with a purpose, listen and subscribe to Living Life on Purpose with Matt Wilson on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spotify and Google Play. Matt’s guests include Andy Andrews, UAB head football coach Bill Clark and many others.

3 weeks ago

Johnny’s gives an Alabama twist on a ‘Greek-and-three’ restaurant

Johnny's in Homewood marries Greek and Southern cuisine in what's been termed a "Greek-and-three" restaurant. (Brittany Faush/Alabama NewsCenter)

Johnny’s restaurant in Homewood is more than a meat-and-three. It’s more than a Greek-and-three, too. It is, in fact, one of the best places in the entire country to get this type of homegrown cuisine, and chef-owner Timothy Hontzas has three consecutive James Beard Foundation nominations to back that up.

The restaurant specializes in local Southern ingredients with Greek influences, and it just celebrated its seventh anniversary. Hontzas’ fresh, inventive approach to familiar foods is one reason for the lines out the door every day. The restaurant’s consistency is another.

“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to stay consistent in what we do; that’s so important to me,” he says. “I’ve been writing recipes since 1993 and designing them and tweaking them and changing them, and there’s no reason for us not to be consistent. I’m proud of the work ethic of my staff and for them buying into me. They work really hard.”

RELATED: Alabama chefs and bar named James Beard semifinalists for 2019

The menu at Johnny’s is written in chalk for a reason. It changes seasonally, of course, but it also changes weekly and daily, depending upon what’s absolutely fresh. There are two of these chalk menus, and you’ll want to make note of both. The first one you’ll see on the wall that faces the door is “Tim’s menu.” It’s the one that lets this classically trained chef shine with dishes like fried chicken thighs drizzled with chipotle- and coriander-spiked Eastaboga honey.

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The menu above the cash registers showcases Southern favorites like squash casserole, lady peas, turnips, fried catfish, the ever-popular chicken potpie and Parmesan grit cake. (Do not pass up that grit cake.) There’s usually a daily special, too, and it is always special: This chef’s take on a tuna stack features sashimi-grade ahi tuna marinated in Creole spices and served with seaweed salad, chipotle sticky rice (from the Mississippi Delta), pickled shrimp from Bayou La Batre and a smoked sungold tomato compote with a ponzu-Dijon vinaigrette.

The vegetables Hontzas serves come from his farm partner, Dwight Hamm, who has farms in Cullman and Hanceville. “He dictates the chalkboard for us,” Hontzas says. Sometimes Hamm brings in ingredients Hontzas didn’t order (like those sungold tomatoes), and Hontzas says, “That pushes me to be better and to create.”

Hontzas has been loyal to Hamm since the beginning.

“He’s old school,” Hontzas says. “He’s not (growing) micro arugula and horseradish frisee; he’s growing collards, turnips, cantaloupes and okra and watermelons. I had one of his watermelons last week, and it was one of the sweetest watermelons I’ve ever eaten. No irrigation system, (he) depends upon God for the rain, and he just does an unbelievable job.”

To Hontzas, though, local is about more than location. It’s about knowing the actual provenance of your food.

“I can tell you where everything came from,” he says. “I can tell you where the molasses came from that’s in our barbecue sauce; it’s from Scottsboro, Alabama. … I can tell you that the eggs come from Gillsville, Georgia. I can tell you where the fish comes from: Bayou La Batre, Bon Secour, Apalachicola. That’s what I want to give to our customers – for them to know what they’re eating.”

Johnny’s prides itself on delivering fresh ingredients from Alabama farmers and fishermen. (Brittany Faush/Alabama NewsCenter)

Johnny’s is named for Hontzas’s grandfather Johnny Hontzopolous, who, at age 19, traveled to the U.S. on a cattle boat in 1921 with $17 in his pocket. Hontzopolous (the family’s last name was shortened to Hontzas in the 1950s), like many of the immigrants from the tiny Greek village of Tsitalia in the Peloponnese, found a job in the restaurant industry.  He worked hard and made a name for himself and a living for his family with a series of successful eateries in Mississippi, the last one being a 325-seat restaurant in Jackson called Johnny’s. Interestingly, this same Hontzopolous family made their mark on Greek-influenced meat-and-threes in Birmingham, too, with Niki’s West being one of the most famous and beloved.

And so Tim Hontzas cooks what he grew up eating:  spanakopita, souvlaki, rolo kima (Greek meatloaf with lamb), and tzatziki and cheesecake made with homemade yiaourti (Greek yogurt). Born and raised in Mississippi, he also grew up eating Southern foods like field peas (which they grew and shelled themselves), cornbread and turnips, so he cooks that, too, but in ways that are healthy and fresh.

“We just treat that product with respect,” he says, “and try to let the product itself shine.”

Instead of relying upon ham hocks for flavoring peas, Hontzas uses bay leaves grown in his backyard from a tree that originated in his Papou’s village. Instead of adding sugar to temper the bitterness of turnips, he caramelizes onions to sweeten them naturally. The okra, available only during summer, is never any bigger than your pinky and it’s fried whole in a light and crispy panko breading. There is a 15-hour pot roast.

And because this is his place and he can do what he wants, Hontzas cooks with the fine-dining methods he learned while working with James Beard Award-winner John Currence at City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, and while apprenticing with classically trained chefs like Erling Jensen, Chris Nason and Rick Kangas.

Sometimes Hontzas’s food traditions and cooking skills come together in an unusual, yet still delicious, way. The roasted tomato soup on the menu is made from the tomato-rich braising liquid left over from the fasolakia (Greek-style green beans). “My Papou’s brother died of starvation in World War II,” Hontzas says. “We don’t throw anything away.”  The leftover sauce from the green beans is a beautiful product on its own, so he toasts coriander, caramelizes some garlic and onions and adds a touch of cream to create a soup.

For the past three years, Hontzas has been a James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef South. He says the recognition never gets old, and it’s also not all about him.

“I was proud for myself, but I was proud for my staff. They deserve just as much of the recognition: number one for putting up with me, but number two for being there alongside me. I always thought that I’m just going to work harder and I don’t need anybody and I’ll be able to do this, but that’s not true. I need those … gentlemen and ladies back there to help me. I need their support and I feel sometimes, well, they need my direction and I hope that they’re learning from that direction.

“But I was truly honored and flattered. For us to be a meat-and-three, you know, those accolades and nominations are usually reserved for white-tablecloth, fine-dining restaurants. We’re starting to see some other people come out with a story to tell … I just want to keep – to quote Jason Isbell – ‘keep dropping the hammer and grinding the gears.’ Just keep pushing to be better.”

As for the coveted Beard award, he says: “It’s about us but not about us. It’s for y’all. It’s for the customers. I tell everybody, ‘It’s not about me. It’s about the food, and it’s about y’all’s experience.’ … (Awards) drive business and they’re great, but it’s almost like I’m proud to be nominated for our clientele, if that makes sense. I want it for the city. I want it for the customers. I want it for the staff. I want it for all of us.”

These James Beard nods, stories in Food & Wine and Garden & Gun and a Southern Foodways Alliance video have brought Johnny’s national recognition, but what happens here every day at lunch is much more personal. The restaurant’s mantra – written on the wall for all to see – was Hontzas’ Papou’s mantra, too: “We prepare food for the body, but good food to feed the soul.”

“Our food has a story to tell,” Hontzas says. “I want you to taste that. I want you to taste our history. I want you to taste our past, our culture, because it’s very similar to Southern hospitality. The two cultures are very similar.

“Greek-Southern cuisine,” he says, “it’s family. It’s breaking bread together. It’s community.” There are very few differences, he adds, that can’t be put aside for collard greens and cornbread.


Johnny’s

2902 18th St. S., Suite 200

Homewood, AL 35209

205-802-2711

http://www.johnnyshomewood.com

Lunch Hours: Sunday through Friday 10:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Private parties available in the evenings.
Closed on Saturday.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Jerusalem’s biggest Bama fan is ready for some Alabama Crimson Tide football

Hani Imam's Alabama: The Heart of Dixie store in Jerusalem attracts Tide fans and those curious about the shop's connection to the Crimson Tide. Many items marry local items with the his beloved football team and school. (contributed)

While it can be hard to claim absolutes, it’s a safe bet that Hani Imam is the biggest Alabama Crimson Tide fan on his street. In his neighborhood. In his city. In his country.

It’s a claim that would be hard to make in a place like Tuscaloosa, Birmingham or pretty much any Alabama or Southern city. It would even be debatable in many U.S. cities.

But Imam lives in Jerusalem, Israel. His shop is a destination for those Tide fans making a Holy Land pilgrimage. Everyone from talk show host Conan O’Brien to Alabama U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne have documented their visits to the shop.

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“My store is my biggest statement as an Alabama fan,” Imam said. “I love it when Americans walk in my store with their mouth open. I just laugh and yell, ‘Roll Tide,’ and they laugh and scream and holler.”

RELATED: Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide found on the streets of Jerusalem

Hani Imam owns a store in the dark and covered alleys of heart of Jerusalem. In the store, Alabama, The Heart of Dixie, you won’t find what most shops sell, from Red Sea stones to frankincense to stars of David to wooden rosaries to Jewish prayer shawls to bottles of holy water.

What you will find is all kinds of Alabama merchandise such as footballs, photographs, plates, shirts, art of football players, signed items, souvenirs and memorabilia with the Alabama logo front and center.

When I called Imam from Birmingham, it was midnight is Israel. He was still excited to wake up and talk about the Crimson Tide and his shop. When asked about Alabama’s loss in the national championship game last season, Imam’s voice dropped a couple of notches.

“We just did not show up last year against Clemson,” he shrugged. “I wouldn’t have been as upset had we played a good game, you know, a close game where the players played to the wire. They just didn’t, and that was very upsetting. That game was a disaster.”

Alabama lost to Clemson 44-16. Imam believes the team has learned from the loss.

“We are ready this year,” he said. “We learned from what happened, and the new coaching staff is very strong. We will win the national championship this year. We have a tough schedule, but we will win for sure. We have seven new assistant coaches; we will show up this year.”

RELATED: Jerusalem’s biggest Crimson Tide fan ready for Alabama football season

The new assistant coaches include Steve Sarkisian, who rejoined the staff as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and Pete Golding who was promoted to defensive coordinator after being linebackers coach last year. Charles Kelly was named associate defensive coordinator and safeties coach, and Brian Baker is be defensive line coach and associate head coach. Sal Sunseri coaches the linebackers, Kyle Flood coaches the offensive line, and Holmon Wiggins coaches the wide receivers.

“This might be the strongest coaching staff we have ever had on the team,” Imam said. “When you combine that with what happened last year, what I mean is what the players learned, to show up for the game, we are winning the national championship for sure. Here is another reason why I think Alabama will win this year: The players have the heart for the win.”

Hani Imam was born in the West Bank and lived in Israel most of his life, but attended the University of Alabama from 1985 to 1989. He majored in Business Administration and became a huge Alabama fan. He loves showing his loyalty at his store.

“All the locals want to know why I am such a big fan,” he said. “I tell them Alabama has the greatest football team ever. Then they ask me what ‘Roll Tide’ means, and I say it means the same thing, the greatest football team ever. My favorite part, and what I have loved for years, is when an Alabama fan walks in with disbelief in their eyes. It’s like they’re dreaming. They look around, then look at me and point to the store sign. I just laugh and say, ‘Roll Tide.’ It never gets old.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Birmingham woman puts her life back together after devastating loss

Diane Robertson talks about how friends and family have helped her move on after tragically losing her husband, William, four years ago. (Joseph Allen/Alabama NewsCenter)

William Robertson followed his passion down rural roads and city streets, his love for cycling inspiring many others in the Birmingham area to climb on their bicycles and ride.

Four years ago today, Robertson was pedaling down Highway 75 in rural Blount County when a pickup truck struck him. Robertson, who worked in Alabama Power’s Real Estate department,  died while two other bicyclists were hurt.

Robertson’s widow, Diane Welch Robertson, still grieves over her devastating loss, even as she has learned to live a fulfilling life without her soulmate.

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“In these four years, I’ve kept getting up and kept moving forward,’’ she says. Helping her son with his business was “a lifeline” that gave her a reason to get up every day.

“I think that’s important, to find something to hold onto, because grief is a spirit and it will take you all the way out,” Diane says.

Watch the video to learn more about how Diane Welch Robertson has put her life back together “one day at a time.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Follow these tips for a safe Labor Day weekend on and off the water

(Pixabay,YHN)

Labor Day weekend is here and we know many of you are heading to the lake for the long weekend. Whether boating, fishing, swimming or just relaxing by the water, keep safety a priority with these quick tips:

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