4 weeks ago

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

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.”

“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)

5 hours ago

Barry Moore lands Trump endorsement in AL-02 following Oval Office visit

Former State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) on Wednesday visited with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office.

After the meeting, Trump tweeted his endorsement of Moore’s Republican campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives in Alabama’s Second Congressional District.

Trump wrote that Moore will be “will be a terrific Congressman for Alabama.”

The president noted that Moore was an earlier endorser of his campaign in the 2016 cycle, adding that Moore “is Strong on Jobs, Life, the Wall, Law & Order and the Second Amendment.”

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“I’m truly honored to be endorsed for Congress by President Donald J. Trump. I have never regretted being the first elected official in America to endorse him for President in 2015, and I’m looking forward to working with him in the next Congress during his second term,” Moore said in a statement.

“President Trump has already accomplished so much and kept so many of his Campaign promises despite all that the Establishment and the Democrats have done to obstruct him, but he knows there’s still lots to be done,” he continued. “We must contain and control the COVID pandemic, restore our economy to the pre-pandemic level of growth and prosperity we enjoyed during his first three years in office. We must restore and maintain law and order on our streets and in our cities. We must finish building the wall, and then fix our broken immigration system.”

Moore outlined, “We had great meetings at the White House with the President’s Domestic Policy team. Larry Kudlow, Director of the National Economic Council was also there. We discussed a new Healthcare plan being introduced, economic recovery, trade with China, and expansion of opportunity zones in depressed areas. The President has a bright vision for America.”

“I’m convinced that Donald J. Trump is the President we need to lead us for the next four years, and I hope the people of Alabama’s 2nd District see fit to elect me to work with President Trump as their Congressman on November 3rd,” he concluded.

Moore will face Democrat Phyllis Harvey-Hall on November 3.

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

6 hours ago

Jerry Carl visits White House, gets endorsed by President Trump in AL-01

Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, the Republican nominee in Alabama’s First Congressional District, on Wednesday visited the White House and met in the Oval Office with President Donald J. Trump.

“It was an incredible honor to spend over half an hour in the Oval Office with President Trump and Vice President Pence today,” Carl said in a statement to Yellowhammer News.

After the visit, Trump in a tweet endorsed Carl for the Southwest Alabama congressional seat.

“He Loves our Veterans, Stands for Law & Order, and is Strong on Jobs and the Second Amendment. Jerry has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” Trump wrote.

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“The President is focused not only on his own race, but also on down ballot races nationwide,” Carl told Yellowhammer News. “He cares about the people of Alabama, and we had a good conversation about issues that are affecting Alabama’s 1st District.”

“I’m looking forward to working with President Trump to address some of these critical issues – stopping the spread of socialism, supporting our law enforcement, and getting our economy back on track,” he concluded. “Thank you, President Trump!”

Carl will face Democrat James Averhart on November 3.

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

8 hours ago

Sara Evans is a 2020 Woman of Impact

One of country music’s most popular artists of the 21st century, Sara Evans, has adopted Alabama as her own, and she is not slowing down.

Earlier in 2020, Evans released a new album, “Copy That,” where she covers 13 classic songs, and published a new memoir, Born to Fly.

She came to the Yellowhammer State after marrying former University of Alabama quarterback Jay Barker in 2008. They now make their home in the Birmingham area along with their seven children.

The singer performs and releases music under the name Sara Evans, which is how Yellowhammer News is referring to her for the purposes of this article. Evans does not shy away from her married name; just in 2019, she released a six-track EP titled “The Barker Family Band” which featured herself, her son Avery and daughter Olivia.

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Evans was born and raised outside of a small town in Missouri and began her lifelong connection with music at age four. She had recorded her first CD and was attending country music events by the age of 9 or 10, according to a 2011 interview.

Aspiring to a career in music, she moved to Nashville in 1991 and worked as a waitress while trying to find her big break.

“Three Chords and The Truth” and “No Place That Far,” Evans’ first two albums, were released in 1997 and 1998 respectively. They earned the artist solid reviews from critics but did not make a big impact on the charts.

“If I’m going to have the career I came to Nashville to find,” she told a newspaper at the time. “I’ve got to get on the radio and give today’s fans what they want.”

“Born to Fly,” the album that resulted from this change in sound, achieved everything Evans aimed to accomplish. The Recording Industry Association of America has certified it as double platinum; meaning it has sold over 2 million copies. Singles “Born to Fly” and “I Could Not Ask for More” placed first and second on the U.S. Country charts.

After the breakthrough success, Evans never left the country charts for very long over the next decade; buoyed by singles like “Suds in the Bucket” and “A Little Bit Stronger.”

Evans’ albums “Restless,” “Real Fine Place,” and “A Little Bit Stronger” are certified platinum and five more albums by Evans are certified gold.

She won Top Female Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2006.

Her five most popular songs available on the music streaming service Spotify have been played a combined 101,997,937 times.

Jerry Sharpe, a music writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, described Evans as having a “a strong, spring-water clear voice, which she uses well.”

Evans met her now-husband when they were both in their 30s with kids. They were introduced by Joe Beam, a Christian speaker that focuses on love and marriage who knew them both previously.

“One defining moment was, I made the decision to walk into my office and email Jay Barker and say, ‘Hey, so-and-so told me that I should reach out to you. I want you to know that I’m praying for you, and I’m sorry for everything that you’ve been through,” Evans recounted to music website The Boot.

Barker was the starting quarterback on the Crimson Tide’s 1992 championship-winning team, and at the time when he and Evans connected they had both recently gone through painful divorces.

“He emailed me back within five minutes, and that was definitely a defining moment,” she added.

Evans brought three children to the new family, while Barker brought four.

“Our house is full of children and activities and chaos, but Jay is such a great support to me,” Evans told The Boot about her husband, who hosts a sports talk show in Birmingham.

Radio play by country music stations is dominated by male artists and programmed by male deejays, something that has frustrated Evans in recent years.

She has become an outspoken advocate for more women in country music and voices her opinions on the subject with regularity.

Evans has appeared at events and spoken up for the organization Change the Conversation that aims to gain more representation for women in country music.

“The lack of voices heard on country radio affect not only those who are making music, but those listening as well. Music plays a powerful role in shaping our popular culture. Today’s music does not reflect who we are as a country and sends the wrong message to our girls and women. Too often, country songs portray women as a pretty ornament on the passenger side. It is time to reclaim a woman’s place in the driver’s seat,” the organization says on its website.

Evans has remarked that for her most recent original studio work, the album “Words” released in 2017, she placed a greater emphasis on including female producers and songwriters to give their careers a boost.

At a Change the Conversation event in 2017, Evans said, “When I first got my record deal, women were dominating country radio. We had Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, Patty Loveless and on and on. I was fortunate enough to join that group of amazing women.”

“[W]e need to change the conversation and figure out why it is not that way anymore. Why are there not enough women on country radio? Women artists are amazing and they have so much great music that we want to hear and we need to hear, so let’s change the conversation,” she urged.

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Sara Evans a 2020 Woman of Impact.

Editor’s note: Yellowhammer Multimedia recently announced the third annual Women of Impact Awards. Honorees are being featured on Yellowhammer News each weekday through October 1. We will tell their stories one-by-one, utilizing written and video formats. Check back daily for more of Alabama’s best and brightest.

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

9 hours ago

Baldwin County residents throw parade for linemen amid recovery heroics

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

9 hours ago

Shadowy web of 20 ‘news’ sites operating in Alabama, tied to national network that invented quotes, bylines

A shadowy group of websites masquerading as local news agencies has been launched ahead of November’s high-stakes general election.

An investigation by Yellowhammer News uncovered the existence of “Yellowhammer Times,” which purports to be a statewide news organization intended “to provide objective, data-driven information without political bias.” The site’s “people” section, where one would expect its employees to be listed, is blank.

“We provide 100% original reporting, including to share as much data as possible from government and other publicly available sources,” the site claims. “We also provide a platform for all citizens whose views on issues are rarely heard. If you want a voice in your community, we want to hear from you.”

The website is admittedly owned and operated by Metric Media LLC and its parent Metric Media Foundation, a Missouri-based entity just granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status last year. Publicly available data shows that Metric Media has not yet revealed having any assets, income or revenue through mandatory IRS filings. This means that at this point in time, the organization is effectively operating as a dark money group.

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Metric Media has a glitzy website that asserts, “Metric Media is funded by donations and grants from contributors who care about restoring local news in their communities.”

The website does list a three-person board of directors, which is reportedly chaired by San Francisco-based Rakesh Donthineni. The other named directors are Victor Chen of Los Angeles and Brent Southwell of Houston. Chen formerly worked for then-Beijing TV China, an entity of Beijing Media Network — which is owned and operated by the Chinese government, otherwise known as the Chinese Communist Party.

Metric Media’s explicit presence in Alabama does not stop at the statewide Yellowhammer Times. The bottom of this website links to 18 more sites, all appearing to be local or regional news agencies across the state. These publications are identical in format to Yellowhammer Times and are as follows: Auburn Times, Baldwin Times, Decatur Times, East Central Alabama News, Gadsden Today, Huntsville Leader, Jefferson Reporter, Mobile Courant, NE Alabama News, NW Alabama News, North Birmingham Times, River Region Times, Shoals Today, South Alabama Times, South Birmingham Times, Tuscaloosa Leader, West Central Alabama News and Wiregrass Times.

Publicly available domain information shows that these sites were all registered in May of this year.

That same month, Yellowhammer Times published its first “original story,” which was about COVID-19 related liability issues. The author is listed as a “T.H. Lawrence.”

Almost every story posted since then has been a completely automated story, mainly using RSS feeds to populate the stories on the site. This includes republishing press releases from Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama State University and the University of Alabama. The automated stories also include a lot of identical templates that simply display federal government-released data.

In all, Yellowhammer Times as of Wednesday at noon hosted more than 2,300 stories on the site — with only two listing a human author. The automated stories name “Metric Media News Service” or other entities such as “Locality Labs News Service” as the author.

One short story about lost Alabama tax revenue related to the pandemic simply does not list an author.

The second story to actually list an author, Juliette Fairley, advocated in July to fully reopen the economy and return students to school in the fall. This story was based on exclusive quotes from Alabama-based John Chamberlain, board chairman for Citizen Health. Citizen Health advocates for subscription-based medical services and disrupting the healthcare industry.

Yellowhammer News dug into the two authors listed on the site. Fairley is a national freelance author specializing in finance, while T.H. Lawrence’s name popped up across several sites in Metric Media’s network of more than 1,000 sites nationwide.

Yellowhammer News’ investigation also uncovered that T.H. Lawrence is indeed Tom Lawrence, a career journalist from South Dakota who was once executive editor of the state’s Black Hills Pioneer. He is now a freelance writer and blogger, appearing in local publications (under his real name) such as the Dakota Free Press, American News and South Dakota Standard. He also has his own blog, the Prairie Perspective. It should be noted that American News is owned by national conglomerate Gannett.

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) in December 2019 published an in-depth investigative report that revealed some disturbing findings about Metric Media and its related entities, including Locality Labs. The investigation concluded that the network can be traced back to Illinois-based businessman and conservative activist Brian Timpone.

CJR was able to find at least 450 sites, all linked, operating under the banners of Metric Media, Locality Labs, Franklin Archer, the Record Inc. and Local Government Information Services. The entities at times — while being aimed at different states — shared IP addresses, Google Analytics IDs and other technical identifiers. Since December, the network has more than doubled in size, according to Metric Media’s own website.

CJR further traced Locality Lab’s origin story. The entity was once known as Timpone’s company “Journatic.” Journatic had to rebrand in 2013 following a national scandal over “faking bylines and quotes, and for plagiarism,” per CJR.

The CJR report followed a story published in October 2019 by a Michigan paper about Metric Media’s network that had popped up in that state. More local and national reporting followed, including by the New York Times and Guardian.

Yellowhammer Times republishes stories from other named entities in this Metric Media web, as well. For example, the publication ran a story from Empire State Today of New York.

This also includes another Alabama-focused site not directly linked at the bottom of Yellowhammer Times. Alabama Business Daily stories are republished on the site, and CJR previously reported there is an identical entity curated by Metric Media in each state. Yellowhammer News found that Alabama Business Daily’s domain was registered in February 2018.

With the 2020 election rapidly approaching, the existence of this network of sites in Alabama should raise alarm bells across the state.

Alabama was already besieged in the 2017 special election cycle by “Project Birmingham,” which utilized “Russian tactics” by Democratic operatives to aid the campaign of then-Democratic nominee Doug Jones.

Alabamians will hope that this type of disinformation campaign is not repeated this time around through Metric Media or its sister entities.

Secretary of State John H. Merrill has previously warned residents to arm themselves with the truth and to be wary of unknown sources spread on social media, especially.

“It is of paramount importance that the 4.8 million people who make up our state are informed with up-to-date, complete, and accurate information,” Merill has said in a statement. “All election-related information should come directly from our website or from your local election official. We are your trusted source for information related to the elections process.”

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