1 month ago

Now more than ever: Liberty Learning Foundation helping Alabama schools teach citizenship amid pandemic, unrest

Since 2013, the Liberty Learning Foundation has offered highly engaging civics education programs to school systems across Alabama. The Huntsville-based nonprofit leverages community sponsors to fund the programs so schools do not have to divert precious resources from other important educational initiatives.

While the organization’s impact has grown from 14,000 students that first year to 50,000 students annually, no one was prepared for the timeliness of their lessons in 2020 and 2021. Amidst a global pandemic, divisive politics and social unrest, the Liberty Learning Foundation programs are teaching exactly what our students may need most: history, civics, empathy, gratitude and reinforcing the mantra that we are all in this together.

Brett Johnson, vice president of Liberty Learning Foundation, says that now more than ever, Alabama’s children need to understand how engagement in their community and country matters.

“In today’s 21st century economy, we’ve seen the education community emphasize important areas such as science, technology, and math,” Johnson outlined. “With that, the mission to prepare citizens to maintain our republic has, unfortunately, slid down the priority list. Liberty Learning Foundation was formed over ten years ago to address that need. After a couple of years in research and development, our approach to empowering schools with resources that teach citizenship and personal responsibility was implemented and it has reinvigorated civic knowledge and character education in the schools we serve and their communities.”

(Liberty Learning Foundation/Contributed)

By partnering with business sponsors, Liberty Learning Foundation operates a public-private partnership that allows the community to engage with its schools for the benefit of a well-prepared citizenry.

Johnson noted that the organization’s ultimate goal is to “help our students be prepared for that next step after high school, adulthood.”

“If we can do that, we know we’re preparing the workforce, family leaders, and businesspeople that we can entrust with our future,” he added.

In Alabama, leaders are recognizing the value Liberty Learning brings to community schools.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey stated, “Liberty Learning Foundation’s approach to instilling character education, promoting leadership through service, and celebrating great citizenship is greatly appreciated. America’s future is strongly dependent upon what today’s students are taught from the lessons of the past. Liberty Learning Foundation’s programs are designed to teach each student about the benefit of working collectively with fellow citizens to continue creating a nation that lives up to its promise of equal opportunity for all. Liberty Learning, in its efforts to uplift society through its students, emphasizes the benefit of core values, love of country, respect for our nation and one another.”

Liberty Learning Foundation enjoys input and support from across the political spectrum, which strengthens its position as an apolitical organization.

“These programs are exactly what our students need now more than ever,” said House Majority Leader Nathanial Ledbetter (R-Rainsville). “By helping children learn to care for their community and classmates, they’re really teaching our state’s future workforce to take responsibility for themselves, their co-workers, and neighbors. You can’t help but see how that can impact the character of these students, who are not really all that far from adulthood.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) was an advising participant in the research and development phase of the organization when he worked for Alabama A&M University before being elected to the legislature.

“It’s amazing to see how far Liberty Learning Foundation has come, and their growth couldn’t have been more timely,” Daniels advised. “We are at a point in this country where healing is not just wanted, it’s needed. In my view, these programs are making a difference because they take the long view by helping today’s students practice empathy and compassion so they can treat each other with respect and dignity as adults. That’s what I love. We need more of that.”

The organization was founded by Marshall County resident Patti Yancey, who currently serves as CEO. She retired as CFO of AlaTrade Foods to take on this important project which became her full-time passion. In the early days, she leaned on the advice of local legislators such as now-Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), who has been proud to watch the organization’s mission expand to positively impact so many schools and students across the state.

“Students learning the role that they as citizens play in the history and future of the United States is vitally important to our democracy,” Scofield remarked. “I’m so proud to have watched Liberty Learning grow out of the vision of Marshall County business leaders, and proud to know they’re making a real difference in so many other communities across the state of Alabama.”

Learn more about Liberty Learning Foundation here.

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

13 hours ago

Live HealthSmart Alabama celebrates phase one improvements in Kingston

Live HealthSmart Alabama, a University of Alabama at Birmingham initiative, celebrated phase one improvements in the Kingston community at Stockham Park. These improvements are the culmination of a yearlong implementation project to improve the community’s infrastructure, including new and improved sidewalks, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant street ramps, trees and flowers in Stockham Park, painted murals, new bus shelters, improved lighting in hard-to-see areas, and more.

“Live HealthSmart Alabama aims to advance healthy eating, physical activity and prevention and wellness in underserved neighborhoods throughout Birmingham and the state,” said Dr. Mona Fouad, principal investigator of Live HealthSmart Alabama and director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center. “To help achieve these aims, we started by making community improvements. This was especially evident in the built environment. We’re excited to show everyone what has been accomplished.”

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To reenergize the community and encourage walkability, Live HealthSmart Alabama – in partnership with Brasfield & Gorrie and subcontracted through AG Gaston – knew sidewalks in Kingston needed to be either repaved or built from scratch. To contribute toward this initiative, Kirkpatrick Concrete donated all the concrete used to make these improvements.

Other partners that contributed to the accomplishments in Kingston include O’Neal SteelCoca-Cola United, the city of BirminghamAlabama PowerSteward MachineBirmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority MAXGoodwyn Mills CawoodBlank Space BhamNAFCOBirmingham Parks and Recreation, and Watkins Trucking Company.

“It has been a great and rewarding experience working with the city of Birmingham and Alabama corporations to accomplish the built environment improvements in Kingston,” said Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., director of the UAB Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center. “I believe these strong partnerships between academia and industry are built to last forever.”

Food deserts: A mobile solution

While each community’s needs are unique, a consistent issue Live HealthSmart Alabama has found in underserved areas is that these neighborhoods fall within areas that either have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables or are food deserts.

According to the USDA, a food desert is a place where one-third of residents live more than one mile from the nearest grocery store. Using this definition and census tracts, the USDA estimates that roughly 19 million people (or 6.2 percent of the U.S. population) live in a food desert.

To bring healthy and affordable food to Birmingham residents, Live HealthSmart Alabama introduced its new Mobile Market at the Kingston ribbon-cutting – which will run in partnership with Promoting Empowerment and Enrichment Resources (P.E.E.R.) and East Lake Market. Each week, the Mobile Market will visit communities in Birmingham, starting with their demonstration areas (Kingston, East Lake, Bush Hills and Titusville). Shoppers can purchase proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains and a variety of other healthy food options using cash, card, EBT or Double-Up Bucks.

“Currently, Alabama has some of the worst health outcomes in the nation,” said Mona Fouad. “The goal of Live HealthSmart Alabama is to move our state out of the bottom 10 in national health rankings. To do this, community members have to have access to healthy food options and the tools to be successful. The Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market helps to provide that.”

In addition to its weekly route, the Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market will also host monthly evening events in June and July where community members can shop and watch chef Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club conduct a demonstration using food pulled directly from the market.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, UAB President Ray L. Watts, Myla Calhoun of Alabama Power and other UAB and community leaders also attended the event.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

18 hours ago

Birmingham Black Barons among Negro League teams getting more play in online stats

Barbershop banter about the greatest baseball players ever has more ammunition after Baseball-Reference.com, a Sports Reference website, dramatically expanded its coverage of the Negro Leagues and historical Black major league players.

Following the website’s launch on June 15, Major Negro Leagues from 1920-1948 – including the Birmingham Black Barons – are listed with the National League and American League as major leagues.

“Our view is that these players always were major league players, and it was an oversight on our part that we did not list them as major league players,” said Sean Forman, president of Sports Reference. “Such was the quality of play in the Negro Leagues. Just saying the term major league, we’re implying that they’re at the top league, in the top echelon of baseball being played. Certainly counting Willie Mays and Satchel Paige among your alumni for (the Birmingham Black Barons) lends it a certain level of quality.”

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Paige is No. 2 on the website’s list of all-time Birmingham Black Barons, behind Sam Streeter. Following Paige are Harry Salmon, Ray Parnell, Poindexter Williams, Artie Wilson, Piper Davis, Robert Poindexter, Ed Steele, Tommy Sampson, Sandy Thompson and Bill Powell.

A release on the website said Baseball Reference is “not bestowing a new status on these players or their accomplishments. The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues. We are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact.”

The website acknowledges the work of Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Mike Lynch, Kevin Johnson and Larry Lester on the Seamheads Negro League Database, where the data was acquired. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and its members were credited with being instrumental in researching and publishing the history of the Negro Leagues.

Lester, chairman of SABR’s Negro League Committee, said adding Negro Leaguers to the lists of statistics isn’t going to change the leaderboard of baseball greats because Negro Leaguers played fewer career games.

“But we can still quantify their greatness by showing that Satchel Paige struck out almost one batter every inning, which is very close to what Nolan Ryan and other ballplayers have done,” Lester said. “We can show that Josh Gibson hit a home run every 13 or 14 times at bat, which is right in line with Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth. Across the board, we can take statistics and show how great these Black players were.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

19 hours ago

Why Peach Park in Clanton is a must-stop on summer road trips

It’s that time of the year, again, when beach vacationers traveling on Interstate 65 stop for peaches in Clanton.

For nearly 40 years, the farm stand, restaurants, and gift shop at Peach Park have been prime destinations for travelers wanting to take a break with some peach ice cream, possibly buy a jar of peach butter to enjoy back home, and certainly pick up a basket of Chilton County’s much-loved fuzzy fruit.

Some of those freshly-picked, perfectly-ripe peaches will stay in the state. But a fair amount wind up in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana—states further north on I-65, which bisects Alabama.

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Alabama’s peach season, which basically runs from May through Labor Day, is just starting to hit its peak. Over the summer, Peach Park will sell more than 70 varieties that ripen at different times, guaranteeing a steady supply.

More than two-thirds of the peaches grown in Alabama come from Chilton County. The 74-year-old annual Peach Festival—which includes a pageant, music, fun run, art, and parades—is set for June 19-26 in Clanton.

Like Durbin Farms, its older competitor across I-65 at Exit 205, Peach Park started as a farm stand. Gene and Frances Gray opened it in 1984 to sell fruit from their own orchards and become an outlet for other area fruit and vegetable farmers.

Frances created the recipe for the much-loved peach ice cream, which premiered in 1988. She still helps make the frozen treat, some of the 10,000 gallons per year produced at Peach Park.

The family-owned business now is run by a second generation, the founders’ son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Robin Gray.

Peach Park’s seven-acre footprint boasts a barbecue restaurant (“Peach Pit Bar-B-Que”), meat-and-three, bakery, clothing boutique, playground, gardens, RV park, rental space for events, and other amenities.

Peach Park is generally open from mid-February until Christmas, operating seven days a week.

But during the summer it’s famous in tourist guides as a one-stop shop for all things peach. Ice cream flavors include peach caramel and peach cheesecake, along with straight-up peach (it graces a frozen yogurt there, too). You can order a scoop to top a piece of the peach cobbler made in the bakery.

The bakery also uses peaches in bread and cakes, and to fill its legendary fried pies—one of the state Tourism Department’s “100 Dishes to Eat and Alabama.” You can buy jars of peach preserves to take home, or order some congealed peach salad to eat there.

Don’t forget to get snaps by the giant peach replica out back, a smaller cousin to the peach-shaped water towers that mark prime producing areas in the Southeast, including Chilton County (that water tower is off Exit 112 on I-65).

Of course, we Alabamians don’t need a beach trip as an excuse to drop in to Peach Park. But with Sunday the busiest day; a weekday is the best time to relax in a rocking chair on the porch at Peach Park, working on an ice-cream cone or fried pie, and then pick up a basket of fruit for home.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

20 hours ago

Birmingham leaders launch new Prosper collaborative

Birmingham-area leaders on Monday announced the launch of Prosper, an initiative focused on creating a more prosperous and equitable Birmingham by investing in opportunities that grow the area’s economy in an inclusive way.

Prosper intends to be the table where everybody has a seat, setting regional priorities for job growth and retention, job access and job training.

Its mission statement reads: “Prosper is a coalition of community, civic and business leaders committed to creating a more productive economy that is inclusive of all races and genders.”

The launch, which opened with a speech by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, included the introduction of Prosper’s board of directors and its CEO J.W. Carpenter, who most recently was executive director of the Birmingham Education Foundation.

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Birmingham leaders launch Prosper initiative from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“On the heels of a recession, a worldwide pandemic and a social justice movement, we hope to do something transformative in Jefferson County and the city of Birmingham,” Carpenter said. “We will bring together business, educational, civic and entrepreneurial interests to create and grow economic opportunities for all, focusing specifically on our Black community and women.”

A recent Brookings Institution study reveals that the Birmingham area is creating fewer quality jobs and less access to economic resources than its peer cities. Those findings are a driving force for Prosper.

“This region can do better in providing opportunities to its residents, especially the Black community,” said Alabama Power President and CEO Mark Crosswhite, who is chairman of the Prosper board. “Prosper will work to align key priorities: growing quality jobs, preparing workers and investing in communities. We know that – together – our impact can be exponentially greater.”

Prosper is committed to helping transform the way Birmingham and Jefferson County create jobs in the innovation economy and the way the region prepares its people of color to thrive in those jobs, with a focus on ensuring that all residents, regardless of race, gender or ZIP code, have access to those jobs and can fully contribute.

Prosper will concentrate on four initiatives: Health Tech Industry; Business Advisory Services; Birmingham Promise; and Black-owned Business Acceleration.

In addition to Crosswhite and Carpenter, Prosper stakeholders – including Mike Kemp of Kemp Management Solutions, Rachel Harmon at Birmingham Promise and Tiffany Whitlow at Acclinate Inc. – discussed their support for the initiative and the need for inclusive economic growth in Birmingham.

“Elevating our city’s Black- and women-owned businesses while increasing job access for Black and women residents will ultimately lift all of Birmingham,” Woodfin said. “We must remain vigilant in eliminating any obstacles to inclusive growth in our city.”

Carpenter said he will seek input from Prosper partners, stakeholders and its board of directors.

“Prosper must be collaborative, bringing a diverse group of people to the table to solve problems,” he said. “I don’t want to dictate a path forward. I want to absorb the best ideas from the brightest and most passionate minds around lifting Birmingham in a way that’s equitable and inclusive.”

The highlight of the event may have been a passionate speech by 20-year-old Jarvis Prewitt, one of the first students to intern as a Birmingham Promise student. He credited that internship at BBVA with giving him the financial literacy that opened the door to his pursuit of a college degree. He’s now a rising junior majoring in mechanical engineering at Alabama A&M with a 3.91 GPA.

“Why not Prosper? Why not the Magic City?” Prewitt said, pointing out that when he earns his degree, he plans to come back home to Birmingham. “Not Texas. Not Atlanta. I want to give back to the people and the community that has given so much to me.”

For more information, including a list of board members, visit the Prosper website. For all media inquiries, contact Jasmine Phillips at jphillips@lrymediagroup.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

21 hours ago

Power Moves: Stillman College President Cynthia Warrick creates partnership, impact and legacy

Culture is defined by its leadership. At Stillman College, Cynthia Warrick is the “rudder,” so to speak, in setting the course for the students and staff, alumni and others.

As the seventh president of Stillman and the first female president, Warrick’s vision has changed the path of the college.

“I have the opportunity to put in place a vision that will move the college from survival mode to a transformation into an institution that is sustainable throughout the 21st century,” Warrick said.

She daily proves this statement, setting a stage that will have an impact on the entire college for generations to come.

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Stillman has received a grant from Alabama Power and Southern Company to provide technology and dual-enrollment opportunities for high school students in three Black Belt school districts. This grant extends an existing U.S. Department of Agriculture telehealth grant and places state-of-the-art distance-learning equipment in the school districts connected with Stillman to provide courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), cybersecurity and ACT preparation.

“COVID-19 has made a significant impact on higher education and demonstrated that flexibility and change is needed,” Warrick said. “The use of technology is critical to sustainability.”

The pandemic has shown that dependence on traditional sources of revenue, including tuition and fees, is not sustainable for future growth and success. Warrick’s vision embraces technology and seeks to create public-private partnerships for economic development that benefit Stillman and west Tuscaloosa.

She said “providing everyone a seat at the table” and involving them in decision-making will help improve lives and quality of life, so that all people can succeed.

Historically Black colleges and universities like Stillman brought people from slavery to be entrepreneurs, community leaders, educators, health care professionals, engineers, builders and other successful Americans. The impact has included creating more opportunities for students of color and for students from marginalized backgrounds and environments, positively affecting not only the students but entire families and communities.

“We need everyone’s intellectual capital to solve today’s problems … to ensure a better tomorrow,” Warrick said.

“Stillman looks for opportunities to expose students to business and cultural opportunities. We want professional development partnerships to enhance our students’ communications and soft skills,” Warrick said.

As an accredited institution, Stillman is required to have a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). Stillman’s QEP focuses on intergenerational communication.

“We want to ensure that our graduates are able to communicate effectively across the five generations in the workplace,” Warrick said.

Warrick seeks to make Stillman a place of community that partners with others, including businesses, schools, nonprofit and community organizations, and local and state governments.

“We want to be a service to west Tuscaloosa and provide educational and recreational programs for youth and the elderly,” she said.

 As Stillman grows and creates more opportunities for its students and the community, the vision Warrick is working to put in place is building a legacy designed to stand the test of time.

“The major lesson I have learned throughout my career is not to focus on what I want, but to focus on what my organization, students and community need to be successful. Their success makes me successful,” Warrick said.

“My legacy is the development of future leaders who take the baton and carry on the work that I’ve started,” she said. “I have had the opportunity to make a difference in so many young people’s lives, and those professionals are now serving their families and communities. That legacy keeps on giving.”

Power Moves, an ongoing series by Alabama NewsCenter, celebrates the contributions of multicultural leaders in Alabama. Visit AlabamaNewsCenter.com throughout the year for inspiring stories of those working to elevate the state.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)