9 months ago

Lisa Thomas-McMillan is a 2020 Woman of Impact

For Lisa Thomas-McMillan, it is the newness of each day that motivates her from the minute she opens her eyes.

Thomas-McMillan, founder of Drexell & Honeybee’s in Brewton, told Yellowhammer News in a recent interview that the excitement of discovering what each day holds propels her out of bed and to her restaurant as soon as she awakens before dawn.

“I don’t know what my day is going to bring,” she offered. “I don’t know what that day is going to bring to me. You don’t ever know who you are going to help and how you are going to help them.”

Helping people is something she has made her mission for a large part of her life. A donation-only restaurant, Drexell & Honeybees is a frequent deliverer of the unknowns in which Thomas-McMillan so often revels.

She recalls one day finding a note in the donation box with a message saying that Thomas-McMillan had provided meals for a family of four who had no means to do so themselves. Being unable to recall who might have fit that description in her restaurant the previous day was exactly the way she wanted it. According to her, the “beauty” of the unknown is that names and faces are less important than the simple act of service.

Stories like that shed light on why Thomas-McMillan took up the cause of hunger and has built a model recognized across the nation as an innovative charitable solution to feeding those in need.

“People suffer from hunger in silence,” she remarked.

So she decided to do something about it.

“People know a lot more about hunger now than 20 years ago,” Thomas-McMillan explained. “It was kind of something that people didn’t talk about. Getting around town and speaking to the elderly people in my hometown I realized a lot of them were choosing between medicine and food. So I started a non-profit food bank called Carlisa, Inc. By doing that I got a chance to go out in the rural areas delivering food, but I was also learning a lot about how people were living, some of the things they were kind of missing out on in life. Over the years, I said in my mind, wouldn’t it be nice to have a place where people could just go and eat and not have to worry about paying for anything.”

It was reading about a restaurant called “Soul Food,” and started by musician Jon Bon Jovi, that got her wheels turning.

“It fascinated me that he was doing this pay it forward thing,” she remembered.

Inspired by the story, she decided she wanted to open a similar restaurant.

After presenting the concept to her husband, Freddie, the couple set in motion plans which resulted in the opening of Drexell & Honeybees.

“We wanted it to be a place where everyone could fit in and feel comfortable and know they were in a good place with good food,” Thomas-McMillan said. “We wanted also to set it up where nobody would know who paid or if they paid or how much.”

And, so, they devised a private box for donations, a key feature of the restaurant’s function.

“One thing I learned over the years in delivering food is that people might not have money but they have pride,” she said. “I knew a lot of people would not come in if their pride would be questioned. So we set it up where they keep every inch of their pride, come in and enjoy a meal and walk out just like anybody else.”

Another part of the payoff for Thomas-McMillan is seeing what happens when people and food happen at the same time.

“I love to see people enjoy food,” she said. “Food is a great, warm thing that brings people together, makes them fellowship. When you see a group of people sitting around and enjoying food, they’re fellowshipping and enjoying each other. And that’s what the restaurant is all about, bringing different people in and saying, ‘I don’t even know you, maybe, but I’m sitting around this table sitting around this table having a good meal, enjoying the food, and I’m fellowshipping with a stranger.’ It is the best feeling in the world.”

It took quite a leap by Thomas-McMillan to arrive at this point, and along the way, it was her faith which played “the biggest role,” according to her.

Facing doubts from the outside that she and Freddie could make Drexell & Honeybees work, they were undeterred. As far as they were concerned, God gave them a mission, and they were going to fulfill it.

“The good feeling, the joy deep down in your stomach that you get from doing something like this,” she pointed out. “Money can’t buy the faith or the joy or the peace of mind. Those are priceless benefits that we get from this.”

People travel from all over asking if she thinks they would be able to replicate her mission. To which she replies, they can, and all it takes is faith and a sincere desire to serve others.

“Being in service to others is the best thing you can do,” said Thomas-McMillan. “After all, we were put on earth to help each other. Serving others is the highest compliment you can pay God for Him giving you your health and strength and keeping you sustained through everything. No matter what happens, God is going to take care of you.”

This does not mean her faith has not been put to the test during her years fighting hunger.

“I didn’t think people were taking [hunger] serious enough,” explained Thomas-McMillan.

So she prayed for guidance and felt a call to walk to Montgomery — from Brewton. Her goal was to hand-deliver a letter outlining her concerns for the hungry to then-Governor Bob Riley. After walking the approximately 115 miles, that is what she did.

Still feeling unsettled, Thomas-McMillan then felt called to walk all the way to Washington, D.C. to draw attention to her cause.

She laughs now looking back at hearing people say the walk was staged.

Thomas-McMillan remembers saying, “’Are you crazy? Do you know what it would have taken to fake a 53-day walk to Washington? It would not have been worth my time [to fake it].’”

Not only did the walk to Washington gain notice, but it also allowed her to explore the depth of her own conviction to help feed the hungry.

Before she had even left the state of Alabama, someone near Tuskegee asked her how much she was getting paid to complete the walk. She thought about it for a minute, and the answer became clear.

“’You know, they couldn’t pay me to walk to Washington,'” she recalled saying. “And that’s when I realized how great this was because you could not pay me to walk to Washington. But the fact that I’m trying to help people with hunger, I would do it for nothing. Just that one question made me realize, ‘Oh, Lord, Lisa, this is pretty awesome because you couldn’t pay me to do this.’”

Her mission statement is: “Feed the Need.” And this is a calling which she believes can be applied to anything and any situation.

Serving the food line one extremely cold day in January, Thomas-McMillan overheard a couple talking about how they did not have enough money to buy an electric heater. She took it upon herself to offer them the needed funds, with the request that they bring the receipt back to her.

They brought back the receipt, and some change, but it was what happened next which had the greatest impact on Thomas-McMillan.

“The man said to the woman, ‘Boy, those youngins gonna sure be glad to see this heater when they get home,’” she recalled. “That tore me up because I didn’t know anything about the children, and I could only imagine that they were so cold that night before, and I could only see them sitting around that little heater. That’s what I mean by ‘Feed the Need.’ People have to realize that I have learned over the last few years, and I’ve known this all my life, I think I have, the more money you give away, the less money has control over your life.”

While the mystery brought by each new day inspires Thomas-McMillan, it also never disappoints.

“Every day you can go home with this special moment from being here,” she said. “You leave with a special moment from things unfolding.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Lisa Thomas-McMillan 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 September 30. We will tell their stories one-by-one, utilizing written and video formats. Check back daily for more of Alabama’s best and brightest.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

12 hours ago

VIDEO: Prisons could be built with COVID-19 funds, Shelby endorses Katie Britt for Senate, Brooks battles with Swalwell as a new poll shows big lead and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and political consultant Mecca Musick take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Will Alabama really use COVID-19 relief funds to build prisons?

— Does Katie Britt’s entering of the U.S. Senate race shake things up, or has U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) already won this race?

— Can U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) keep the more radical members of the Democratic Party at bay?

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Jackson and Musick are joined by former U.S. Attorney Jay Town to discuss the issues facing the state of Alabama this week.

Jackson closes the show with a “Parting Shot” directed at those who want to use the illegally acquired tax returns of the uber-wealthy to push for higher taxes. He argues the released returns show that we should implement a flat tax and do away with all deductions.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN and on Talk 99.5 from 10AM to noon.

15 hours ago

Auburn’s David Housel tackles more than sports in ‘From the Backbooth at Chappy’s’

When David Housel retired from Auburn University in 2006, after a legendary career as athletics director for the Tigers, it wasn’t long before his wife urged him to get busy again – and a deli on Glenn Avenue in Auburn was the beneficiary.

“Susan wanted me to do something to get out of the house,” Housel recalls. “I started going to Chappy’s to drink coffee, read the paper. Pretty soon, Kenny Howard would meet me there, and it just kind of grew from there.”

In short order, friends of Housel began to gather, first a few one day a week and then, just prior to the pandemic, 12-16 people nearly every day of the week.

They meet at Chappy’s, where a plaque commemorates Housel’s booth, and they talk – about sports, of course, but about pretty much anything that’s on their minds.

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Housel began to write essays about those mornings, posting them to Facebook. He’s now compiled more than 100 of those pieces into a new book, “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s: Stories of the South: Football, Politics, Religion, and More.” It’s officially released next week at a series of book signings at Chappy’s in the Auburn area from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. each day: Tuesday in Auburn, Wednesday in Montgomery and Thursday in Prattville.

“Consider this Housel unleashed,” the author says. “Most of the stuff I’ve written in my life has been about Auburn on an Auburn platform. Even after I retired, I was a representative of Auburn, even though I wasn’t working there. This is not an Auburn book. It’s about football, politics, religion and more.”

“From the Backbooth at Chappy’s,” with a foreword by Auburn graduate and acclaimed journalist Rheta Grimsley Johnson, evolved as Housel’s morning gatherings at Chappy’s evolved, though he began writing the essays fairly early in the process.

“When something is in your mind, in your heart, in your head, if you’re a writer, it just has to come out, and it just comes through your fingers,” Housel says. “Turns out people like to read it, so I got the Facebook page. I shared thoughts and essays and that kind of thing. It was not a planned thing.”

When COVID-19 came along, Housel decided to listen to a few folks who told him his musings would make a good book.

“I had been thinking a lot about it, and it was time to do it,” Housel says.

Housel has written six other books. Most have to do with Auburn sports history, but one, “From the Desk of David Housel,” is similar to “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s.”

“That one was primarily sports, but it had some other things in it,” Housel says. “This one is about the other stuff, but it has some sports in it.”

Though the three topics in his book’s title – football, politics and religion  – are often the subjects people are warned not to bring up if they want to keep the peace, Housel and his friends don’t shy away from any of them. Housel especially gravitates toward religious topics.

“I like the ones that I hope make people think,” he says of his essays. “The good Lord gave us a mind, and we’re supposed to use it. Too few people who call themselves Christians do what the Lord said and use their minds. … Faith has got to be built not on challenging God but questioning God. I think God likes that, because it shows we’re engaged and that we care.”

Now that the pandemic is ending, the Backbooth at Chappy’s events are slowly but surely returning to normal. On Mondays, Housel eats two eggs scrambled, lean bacon and a helium biscuit; on Tuesdays maybe a parfait with granola; on Wednesdays, it’s blueberry pancakes, and Fridays a waffle.

What remains constant is the conversation. And the writing.

“I’m still writing the Backbooth, and since the first of the year, I’ve written a couple I think are book-worthy,” Housel says. “I started out doing maybe one a week, but I’m old enough that I don’t have to meet a self-imposed deadline. When the spirit moves me, I write.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

17 hours ago

State Rep. Pringle pushes to ban critical race theory in public schools — ‘Woke culture indoctrination,’ ‘Needs to be stopped in its tracks’

Last week, Florida’s Board of Education banned so-called “critical race theory” from its public schools, and it is a move State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) hopes to follow in Alabama.

Critical race theory, a belief that racism is ingrained in some of America’s sacred institutions, is widely panned by critics because it distorts and weaponizes history for political gain.

Friday, Pringle discussed his prefiled bill for the Alabama Legislature’s 2022 regular session to prohibit critical race theory from being taught in Alabama’s public schools.

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“It’s simply a bill that says in public education, you can’t teach or indoctrinate our children with critical race theory,” he said. “People are waking up all around the nation to how bad this stuff is. I mean, this is woke cancel culture gone completely amuck. They want to completely disregard our 14th and 15th Amendment rights, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act. If you don’t agree with them — here’s what’s crazy: They want to send you to a reeducation camp. Think about that, a reeducation camp. Don’t they do that in China, Russia and North Korea?  That’s how bad this stuff is. Either you agree with them or you have to be sent off to a reeducation camp.”

“This is just indoctrination — the woke culture indoctrination of our children,” Pringle continued. “That’s all it is and it needs to be stopped in its tracks. I mean, our children need to learn history and we ought to open a frank discussion about history — the good, the bad. But this is not about good or bad. This is teaching our children that our nation is a bad nation, is an evil nation and is not the great country that we live in. We are the safest, freest people in the world and that’s what our children need to learn.”

“Do we have problems? Yeah,” he added. “Have we done bad things? Yeah. But we’re still the greatest nation in the history of the world.”

According to the Mobile County Republican lawmaker, the response to the effort thus far has been positive and supportive.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

20 hours ago

Why Sylacauga marble is known around the world

If you’ve ever visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and stared up at the translucent marble ceiling, you’ve witnessed a piece of Alabama history. The ceiling is made of white marble mined in Talladega County’s Sylacauga (appropriately known as the Marble City).

In addition to lending its natural treasure to some of the nation’s most notable buildings, Sylacauga also holds the title for having the longest deposit of marble in the world. The bed of stone runs 32 miles long, a mile and a half wide, and more than 600 feet deep. The marble found in this quarry is especially desirable for two key characteristics: its purity and its durability. When paired together, these distinct qualities make Alabama marble some of the most desired in the world for large-scale buildings and monuments, as well as homes and sculptures.

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The History of Alabama Marble

sylacauga marble

The Sylacauga Quarry (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

Marble is formed when limestone is subjected to extreme pressure and heat. In Sylacauga, the conditions are perfect for the formation of metamorphic marble. Sylacauga’s massive deposit was first discovered by Native Americans, but it wasn’t quarried until 1834, 20 years after army surgeon Dr. Edward Gantt stumbled upon the vein while passing through with General Andrew Jackson’s army.

In the years that followed Gantt’s discovery, Sylacauga’s marble business thrived. More quarries popped up, mining the marble for everything from funerary monuments to building projects to sculptures. By the 1960s, the use of the quarried marble shifted toward the utilitarian. Rather than being mined in huge chunks for building material, the marble was being ground down for use in products like cosmetics, diapers, magazine paper, fertilizer, fiberglass, toothpaste, and chewing gum. In 1969, marble was named Alabama’s state rock.

A Timeless Treasure

Sylacauga Quarry (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

Today the charge for Alabama marble is being led by the Swindal family, who own Alabama Marble Mineral & Mining Co. (AM3). AM3’s 50-acre quarry in Sylacauga is the world’s only supplier and leading distributor of Alabama marble. Owner Roy Swindal’s goal is to reintroduce the world to Alabama marble, once again marketing it as a prized material for both commercial and consumer construction. According to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, around 30 million tons of marble have been pulled from the ground in Sylacauga since 1900. The Swindals hope to add to that number by continuing and improving upon the state’s tradition for many years to come.

Marble Mania

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Sculptor Enzo Torcoletti at the Sylacauga Marble Festival (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

It’s only fitting that a town built on marble pay tribute to the stone that brought its success. For the past 13 years, the city has celebrated its marble mining heritage with the 12-day Magic of Marble Festival. The festival, typically held in April, features several activities and events that are all free and fun for the whole family. Festival participants can take a tour of operational quarries and visit the Gantts/IMERYS Observation Point that overlooks the town’s historic first quarry. The creative side of marble is put on display at Blue Bell Park, where 25 sculptors create original pieces made entirely of marble. On the final day of the festival, the finished pieces are displayed and sold at nearby B.B. Comer Library. Other activities include a 5K run and a scavenger hunt.

If you can’t wait for next year’s festival and you want to see Alabama’s famous white marble in action now, there are several locations around the state to see it put to good use. In Birmingham, try the John Hand Building, Wells Fargo headquarters, City Federal building, or the Chamber of Commerce. If you’re in Montgomery, don’t miss the “Head of Christ” sculpture at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. It was created by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, who also happens to be the artist behind Birmingham’s Vulcan.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

20 hours ago

The economics of paying ransom

The cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline by the hacker group DarkSide disrupted gasoline supplies across the Southeast. The company caused a stir by paying a 75 Bitcoin ransom to DarkSide. America historically has been opposed to paying evildoers, as reflected in the slogan, “Millions for defense, but not one cent in tribute,” and President Jefferson sending the Navy and Marines to fight the Barbary Pirates.

Ransomware raises many economic issues. A first question is, do hackers ever give the data back if paid? DarkSide provided Colonial Pipeline a key to decrypt their data. According to Proofpoint, this is the norm: 70% of ransom payers got their data back, 20% never got their data back and 10% received a second ransom demand.

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From an economic perspective, this is not surprising. About two dozen groups, identifying themselves by name and known to insurance companies, carry out most of the sophisticated attacks. Insurers would never recommend payment in the future to a group which has reneged. The hackers must deliver as promised to make money.

Some have suggested making payment of ransom for cyberattacks illegal. If no one ever paid ransom, the hackers could not make money. Refusing to pay ransom though faces two significant economic challenges.

The first is time consistency. Kidnapping illustrates this concept. Before an event, the incentive exists to say, “We will never pay ransom.” If the bad guys believe this, they will never invest the time, effort and expense to stage a kidnapping. Once they hold hostages, however, our incentive changes; negotiating just this one time now makes sense. Our policy to never pay ransom is not credible.

Collective action poses the second challenge. Businesses collectively have an interest in not rewarding cybercrime, yet individual businesses suffer these attacks. A business which does not pay ransom benefits other businesses, creating the challenge. Why should Continental Pipeline suffer losses to make other businesses less likely to be attacked?

Why do businesses pay ransom? Reports mention several factors. A business may face a closure of unknown length and cost. Customers’ personal information will be sold if ransom is not paid, leading to fines and bad publicity. And the hackers might sell proprietary information to competitors.

Good economists know better than to second guess business managers’ decisions. Decisions to pay ransom often involve the business’ executives, its insurance carrier and tech security experts. They know the options and likely costs and should make a good decision, despite the pressure of a crisis.

Insurance companies and government regulations reduce organizations’ vulnerability to hackers, which is good. But what about channeling President Jefferson and going after the hackers? Most of the hacker groups operate in Russia, which provides Safe Haven as long as the hackers do not target Russian companies. Some law enforcement options may exist. Federal prosecutors apparently recovered most of the Bitcoins paid to DarkSide.

Crime is a very costly way to transfer wealth. Stolen merchandise typically sells for one-third (or less) of market value. A criminal might have to steal thousands in property to net $1,000. Ransomware appears much more wasteful than traditional theft. Consider just the value of the time Americans spent searching for gas during the disruption. Remember then that the ransom was about $4.4 million.

Cybercrime makes us poorer. The hackers and defenders at tech security companies are highly skilled computer programmers. But instead of making new apps or games, they are hacking or defending existing computer systems. Add to this the service disruption during cyberattacks, the reduced use of technology for fear of being hacked and the time spent on security training. The costs may be $1 trillion annually, or one percent of global GDP.

We must guard here against comparing the real world to an imagined utopia. We cannot costlessly protect our property from thieves or our computers from malware, or make people no longer willing to steal from others. Economics teaches that there are no perfect solutions in life, only tradeoffs. Vigilance, antivirus programs and backup are the tradeoffs we face with cybercrime.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.