1 year ago

The City of Demopolis lights path for Black Belt economic revival

DEMOPOLIS – Most people know the hardships of Alabama’s Black Belt — poverty, declining populations, lack of access to quality education and health care.

However, in northern Marengo County, one city has defied the worst of these trends.

Located on the bank of Tombigbee River, near its fork with the Black Warrior River, is the 200-year-old city of Demopolis. French colonists founded the Demopolis, a term for “The People’s City,” in 1817 and over time it was settled by other Europeans and American planters from the East Coast.

Initially, as Alabama developed from the south up, Demopolis was the last stop on the river before the advent of the lock and dam system.

Old Coca-Cola Mural, Demopolis (J.Poor/YHN)

Over time, the city benefitted from the various boom and bust cycles of agribusiness – cotton, cattle and catfish. Warehouses on the banks of the Tombigbee River attracted riverboat traffic. Later came the pulp and paper industry, lumber and timber, and cement made possible by the chalk in the soil.

Demopolis is a fair distance away from the hustle and bustle of Alabama’s metropolitan areas. Despite being connected by a four-laned U.S. Highway 80 and 20 minutes from Interstate 20/59, Demopolis is an hour-and-45-minute drive from Birmingham and Montgomery, and a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Mobile.

However, for those unfamiliar with Demopolis, it is one of the bright spots in the beleaguered Black Belt.

Education and Workforce Development

Demopolis Mayor John Laney sees his city’s model as a way to cure the region’s woes, which he argues requires regional cooperation.

“I think for the Black Belt itself, in this part of Alabama, to be successful, it won’t be any one area,” Laney said in an interview with Yellowhammer News. “It has to be all of us working together for the success of each other. I think Demopolis can be a very strong part of that team and I think we are doing things as a community to help improve and gain momentum towards that improvement.”

As an example of this cooperation, Laney highlighted growth in the Demopolis Higher Education Center, a dual-enrollment facility comprised of high school students and continuing education for adults from around Marengo County.

“You ask yourself, well how did that occur?” he said. “It occurred because people work together – that being the Alabama Community College System has taken an interest in the Black Belt, that being the vice-chancellor, Jeff Lynn, and the chancellor, Mr. Jimmy Baker, and Shelton State.”

John C. Webb Home, Demopolis (J.Poor/YHN)

“Those two entities have come in and are actively working to increase educational opportunities, not only for high school students, so that they’re work-ready when they come out of high school,” Laney continued. “But ultimately the goal is to have both programs in place for unemployed people as they want to gain the skills to participate in the workforce, as well as underemployed people that want to improve their level in the workforce.”

According to the Demopolis mayor, the success is all about team effort.

“It’s not any one thing. It’s everybody doing a little bit to where the total effort is greater than anything any one person is doing,” he said.

Laney argued that workforce development is “critical.”

“The number one thing, in my opinion, is that you have a labor force or demonstrated that you can train a labor force in an area that a company is looking to locate,” he said. “And if you don’t have that capability, or demonstrate that you have that capability, you’re not going to get a second look. You probably won’t get a first look.”

Demopolis Theater District (J.Poor/YHN)

Internet-readiness, Proximity to Interstates and Airports Highlight Infrastructure Offerings

Demopolis has three nearby industrial parks – one on its south side, another near its airport and one in the city of Linden, the county seat of Marengo County, approximately 17 miles away. According to Laney, all three parks have the “AT&T Fiber-ready” designation.

“We have two companies just in the last 12 months that have … relocated its corporate headquarters from an area that did not have good internet communication to Demopolis because of high-speed internet connection because their business takes them all over the Southeast,” Laney explained.

He added, “We have another company that was located just outside of our city limits that relocated their corporate office to inside our city limits, again, to get access to that high-speed internet because their operations literally go throughout the United States. It’s hard for a business to function today without that access to high-speed internet access.”

Rosenbush Furniture Company Building (now the Marengo County History and Archive Museum) (J.Poor/YHN)

Demopolis is located on the U.S. Highway 80, a major east-west thoroughfare, which over the last decade-and-a-half has been fully four-laned from Interstate 65 near Montgomery to Interstates 20/59 near the Alabama-Mississippi state line.

“Having that four-lane access has made a big difference if you’re going from here south,” Laney said. “Again, if you’re going from here to Montgomery, having that four-lane access has made a big difference because it cuts down that travel time.”

Laney also touted Demopolis’ access to four commercial airports within a two-hour radius of his city: Meridian, Miss., Montgomery, Birmingham and Jackson, Miss.

“From here you have got a lot of flexibility as to where you choose to fly out of,” he said.

Overcoming the Rural Hospital Crisis

For much of rural Alabama, the loss of population has led to the loss of health care options, primarily hospitals. However, in early 2018, Demopolis’ Bryan W. Whitfield Hospital partnered with the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) Health Systems.

“They’re beginning to show their benefit because they’ve just been instituted in the last four months,” Laney said. “But having that partnership with UAB is a key to helping our hospital turnaround because our hospital is a regional hospital, not a Demopolis hospital.”

As Laney explained, the hospital serves more than just the immediate area. Now it serves the entire west central Alabama portion of the Black Belt, making it a “regional health care center.”

Demopolis Public Square (J.Poor/YHN)

Downtown Revitalization Through Ordinance Enforcement

For new visitors to Demopolis, one of the first things you’re likely to notice is the abundance of historic structures. There’s no shortage of Greek revival antebellum homes, brick walls with murals advertising products of another era and a theater district that once showcased the talents of 1920s silent screen star Henry B. Walthall, boxer Jack Dempsey and escape artist Harry Houdini.

Laney credits a revitalization effort underway in his city’s downtown to the enforcement of dilapidated property ordinances already on the books in Demopolis.

“It’s interesting because, for years, we’ve had ordinances on the books,” he said. “But we are now actively enforcing our ordinances. Two things we have going are first, our dilapidated housing program and in the last two years, we’ve taken down 20 dilapidated properties throughout the city to improve the quality of life throughout the neighborhoods.”

Rooster Hall, Demopolis (J.Poor/YHN)

The other ordinances, Laney pointed to, are the “maintenance ordinances.”

“If you had come to this city six months ago, you would see vines growing down the side of buildings, trees growing out of gutters, windows broken,” he said. “But by taking advantage of those ordinances, we have started to make a turn there so that when potential investors come to our city, they are seeing fewer and fewer buildings that are rundown. They are being maintained properly to hopefully make for a more attractive place that someone would be willing to invest their money.”

Recently, Demopolis’ downtown has had a rebirth with the opening of a new jewelry store, clothing stores and two restaurants.

If You Create Jobs, Other Quality-of-Life Amenities Will Come

For Laney, his primary objectives are not to bring in big-box retailers or any other types of commercial business, but instead to increase employment so that ultimately there is more disposable income for such pursuits.

“[W]e can talk about movie theaters,” he said. “I’ve talked to the people that own the movie theaters in Tuscaloosa. We can talk about bowling alleys. I mean, we can talk about more restaurants. But until you get disposable income, you talk, and you talk, and you talk.”

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to create the infrastructure to attract businesses to create the jobs so that we will create the disposable income that will attract those other businesses,” Laney explained. “That’s the key to our success.”

Laney credited the Marengo Economic Development Authority, which has been successful in securing federal U.S. Department of Agriculture grant money for the Demopolis Hickory Mill, the maker of drumstick billets and ax handles.

Demopolis-based Robertson Banking Company Building (J.Poor/YHN)

Another promising effort Laney touted was the agency’s successful effort to lure Superior Inland Terminals to Demopolis and re-establish it as a riverport, which would give Demopolis the opportunity to capitalize on being on the Tenn-Tom Waterway System.

Presently, the recently launched operation is focusing on aggregates, unloading/loading of coal and wood pellets hauled from Selma to Demopolis by truck and then bound for the port of Mobile by boat.

In August, Demopolis will host the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken 14-Year-Old World Series.

“That will be out at our Sportsplex,” Laney said. “The Sportsplex is in good condition as it is, but we’re investing in it over the next several months to raise it to that world series quality so that people coming in from different places in the United States to participate in this event will feel like they’re coming to a special place.”

Gaineswood, Demopolis (J.Poor/YHN)

A Plea to the Alabama Department of Commerce

The leaders of economically struggling regions often complain that the State of Alabama government has put too much of a focus on the bigger cities while neglecting rural areas.

Laney told Yellowhammer News that is no different for the Black Belt.

“Jobs are the key to the success of the Black Belt,” he said. “One of the concerns that I’ve had as mayor is that I’ve watched, looked at things on a statewide basis – you see a lot of focus on the Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

Trinity Episcopal Church (established 1834) (J.Poor/YHN)

Laney argues that the Department of Commerce should revisit their incentive programs to encourage companies to locate in rural Alabama counties. According to Laney, as the state attracts more business to metropolitan areas, jobs become more concentrated in the cities, and more people abandon rural counties to take those jobs.

He noted that as people depart rural areas, it impacts hospitals, which lose their patient base; and it impacts the local skilled workforce, which is the lifeblood of economic development.

“I think the overall health of the state would be far, far better if there was more focus towards incentivizing companies to not only locate in the MSAs but also the rural counties,” Laney added. “I’m not talking about just the Black Belt, but I think this would be a general statement for all the rural counties in the state of Alabama. I think that seriously needs to be revisited.”

The Rivers as a Natural Resource

While Demopolis attempts to improve its standing as a riverport, currently the main benefit of proximity to the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers has been industrial.

“Being on a river – where it has helped Demopolis more than any other activity is it is a very good source of water for these big mills.”

Overlooking the Tombigbee River, west of downtown Demopolis (J.Poor/YHN)

He cited the nearby Alabama Power Greene County steam plant and other mills operated by Georgia-Pacific and Westrock.

“As far as being a river port, that’s what we’re trying to develop, and that’s where Superior Inland Terminals we view as being the beginning of that,” Laney outlined.

Still Reaping the Benefits Cooperative Integration

Demopolis is known for how it avoided much of the strife that took place throughout Alabama, including in the nearby city of Selma, during the Civil Rights Era. Locals take pride in that, and to this day, Demopolis City Schools continue to benefit.

“Back in the ‘60s, during the period of integration, Demopolis city leaders – black and white – were faced with a decision, and that decision was do we let the federal government tell us how to integrate, or do we do it ourselves and try to do everything we can to help our public school systems survive?” Laney explained. “City leaders came together, put together our own integration plan, took it to Washington to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice approved the integration plan.

Confederate Monument on Main Avenue at Capitol Street (J.Poor/YHN)

“And we have, without a doubt, one of the best public school system you’ll find in the state of Alabama,” he continued. “The private school systems in this area have been relatively weak because of our strong public school system. One-third of our student body comes from outside of our city limits.”

“It’s because we, meaning all the citizens of Demopolis, work together for the success of this city,” Laney added.

The Closing Sales Pitch

When asked to give a closing argument as to why someone should consider Demopolis over other options, Laney highlighted all the quality-of-life amenities already in place and the low cost of living. That, he argued, makes his city a place not only to open a business and raise a family but also to retire someday.

“We are an ideal community for small-to-midsize businesses,” he said. “We have a ready-and-able workforce. We’ve got great schools. We’ve got a great hospital. And we have a good quality of life.”

“We’re an ideal location for a retirement community because of our cost of living is very reasonable compared to a lot of the Metropolitan Statistical Areas,” Laney added. “Again that goes back to our medical facilities. If you’re a retired person looking for a quality place to live with good medical care, we definitely should be on your list of places to consider.”

Bluff Hall, Demopolis (J.Poor/YHN)

History backs up the claim, as evidenced by the number of well-maintained historic structures, Laney said.

“Demopolis is a historical city,” he said. “We’ve got Gaineswood. We’ve got Bluff Hall. We’ve got Lyon Hall. We’re open for business every day with regard to historical tours.”

“One of the things that makes Demopolis so vibrant is the interest that people take in our city in general,” Laney added. “This city doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because you have a lot of people who love this city and care for this city.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

10 mins ago

Alabama-based Jack’s Family Restaurants chain raising money for coronavirus relief

Local Jack’s Family Restaurants across the South are now asking guests to join their efforts in raising funds to support organizations and families in crisis as a result of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Through the brand’s 501(c)(3) foundation, the Jack’s Family Fund, guests are invited to make a donation with every order.

Jack’s has partnered with several local media affiliates, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Mayfield Dairy Farms, the University of Alabama, Lamar Advertising Company and THINC Advertising to assist in their efforts through grants, in-kind support and other financial donations.

The endeavor began last week and continues a storied history of community involvement and charitable giving for Jack’s, which was founded in 1960 in Homewood, Alabama, as Jack’s Hamburgers. The company has grown from a walk-up hamburger stand that served burgers, fries, sodas and shakes to a powerhouse with 180 locations in four states.

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“At Jack’s we have always focused on supporting our communities in meaningful ways, especially in times of need, and we want to make sure no one goes without during this unprecedented time,” Jack’s CEO Todd Bartmess said in a statement.

“In the South, we take care of each other and appreciate that our partners and vendors share this vision and are committed to helping those who are hardest hit by COVID-19,” Bartmess added.

Throughout its 60-year history, Jack’s Family Restaurants has also supported its local communities by donating food to local schools, hosting fundraisers, partnering with area organizations to serve those in need and much more.

Jack’s has released a video ad spreading awareness for the company’s coronavirus relief efforts.

Watch:

Donations can be made to the cause online here.

You can also follow along with the company’s efforts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

RELATED: Keep up with Alabama’s confirmed coronavirus cases, locations here

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

1 hour ago

Why Governor Ivey is the champion Alabama’s prisons desperately need right now

Alabama’s prisons are a dangerous place to be. Alabama’s prison population sits at over 160% of its designed capacity, with a homicide rate nearly nine times the national average. In 2019, there were 14 homicides in state prisons. This does not include the number of suicides or drug overdoses, which are also high in the state’s prisons.

But thanks to Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama’s correctional system is undergoing a vital transformation. This is especially important as prisons across the U.S. continue to pose a high coronavirus risk. There have been no diagnosed cases of coronavirus in Alabama’s prisons yet, but the governor’s COVID-19 task force has been at work with the Alabama Department of Corrections on a proactive plan to stop the spread of the virus in prisons.

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Furthermore, in January of this year, Governor Ivey convened a Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy, which is an example that other states struggling with prison violence and high crime rates should draw from. The Group is bringing an informed, thoughtful and research-based approach to modernizing Alabama’s justice system to create safer and more thriving communities than the way our country has approached incarceration in the past.

I commend the governor for the steps she is taking for Alabama’s future – both before and during the coronavirus pandemic. In February, Governor Ivey endorsed several justice reform initiatives that will increase safety in the state’s prisons and support rehabilitation efforts. The measures include a revision to the oath of office taken by correctional officers that emphasizes rehabilitation; increased funding for prison education and mental health services; a requirement for prisoners to undergo mandatory supervision before their release to reduce recidivism; and eligibility for revised sentences for nonviolent crimes.

Measures like these do not make our communities less safe; in fact, they do the opposite. With justice reform measures being taken in both the federal and state systems at unprecedented levels, violent crime has decreased 5% over the past three years. According to criminology experts, incarceration actually has a marginal impact on crime, especially violent crime; in some cases, research has shown that incarceration can actually increase crime. This has been referred to as “the prison paradox.”

What does decrease crime? Education. Substance abuse services. Mental health services. Employment assistance. All of these have been proven to lower recidivism and crime. Since 2007, more than 30 states have passed reforms that address these issues and prioritize prison beds for serious offenders. Indeed, if smart and measured approaches recommended by the Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy are adopted by the legislature, Alabama can see its crime rates drop, its overall prison population drop, and its state prison budget drop.

Justice reform is one of the rare issues that is receiving bipartisan support – not just in Alabama but across the country. America’s high incarceration rate – the highest in the world – takes a massive human toll on families, individuals and communities. But increasingly, leaders like President Trump on the federal level and Governor Ivey on the state level are proving that you can be both “tough on crime” and “smart on crime” at the same time.

Moreover, the goals of justice reform measures are consistent with faith-based values. These values balance personal responsibility with forgiveness, compassion and mercy. This is an issue that can’t wait for attention. It’s also an issue that will allow us to pull together at a time when we face an unprecedented “invisible enemy” in the coronavirus, when we are divided by political partisanship and are facing an uncertain economic future. In this time of anxiety for vulnerable family, friends and loved ones, Governor Ivey is taking the necessary steps to bring change to Alabama’s justice system. I support Attorney General Barr’s recent order to the federal Bureau of Prisons to grant home confinement to many sick and elderly inmates during the coronavirus, and hope similar steps are taken in state and local prisons across the country. And I urge Alabamans not to forget about the incarcerated as they consider the future of their communities and their country.

Timothy Head is the executive director for the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a national grassroots movement of over 2 million conservatives and people of faith in support of time-honored values, stronger families, and individual freedom.

Byrne: Hope in the time of the coronavirus

In Genesis 2, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” He made us for Himself, but he also made us for one another. We are intimately connected to one another, and separation, even though for our own physical health, and even though on a temporary basis, is painful for us all.

John Donne, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London during the 17th century, said, “No man is an island, entire unto itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” He went on to say, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

We are not “islands,” we are part of the “main” of all humans and “involved” in the life of the world here and now. Disease and death diminish us all. But, they don’t have to defeat us. We can and will defeat this disease.

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This fight against the coronavirus called COVID-19 is hard. We are forced to separate from one another, a necessary infringement on our humanity, and however necessary, an infringement on basic liberties. Our economy is sorely wounded. Worse, our neighbors are infected with this disease, some fighting for their lives, some tragically losing that fight.

We are better, stronger than this disease. Brave men and women on the frontline, doctors and nurses, first responders and health paraprofessionals, pharmacists and those working to provide us food and necessities, are showing the indomitable American will, the will to win. And, yet, all of us have a role to play, to responsibly social distance from one another, to practice proper hygiene and to know when its time to be tested and/or to quarantine ourselves.

We have weathered diseases before in our history. The 1918 Flu Pandemic. The Polio Epidemic of the 1950s. Yellow Fever ravaged early Mobile and all of Alabama off and on during the 19th century. But, in all of those we didn’t have the public health resources in near the abundance we do now.

The public health professionals tell us that we must slow down the spread of the disease so it doesn’t overwhelm our hospitals and health care providers. That’s why we have social distancing.

We know the disease is spread person to person or when one of us touches a surface where the virus is still alive. By stopping our natural human contact, in our jobs, our schools, our restaurants and bars, our non-essential retailers, our group meetings, our social meetings and even in our worship services, we stop the spread and give our health care professionals the time and resources to help us, to heal us and, for some, to save us.

This obviously hurts us economically and socially. And we don’t need to continue it one minute longer than is needed. We will know when we can start to relax the mandates against social mingling. It will be when the number of new cases starts to come down on a sustained basis; not when we have no new cases, but when the number of new cases, or the rate of new cases, comes down day after day. As we get more tests out there, and new tests are increasing at a fast pace now, we will have a lot more cases. That doesn’t mean it’s spreading at that rate. In part, it just means that we are seeing the natural result of all this new testing.

A couple of data points are important to keep in mind. Only between 10 and 15 percent of all people tested in the US at present are testing positive. The vast majority tested here don’t have the disease. And remember, we are in many places only testing those at risk. As testing gets far wider, that rate may come down. Of those who do test positive, 80 percent have no or only mild symptoms. But, 20 percent need some form of significant care. They are of all ages, by the way, so the fact that you are young doesn’t protect you. And, tragically around 1 percent to 1.5 percent die. That may not sound like much but it’s 10 to 15 times higher than the flu.

Meanwhile, all levels of government play an important role. Our governors and mayors, as well as public health officers, must issue the appropriate orders to protect us all. Closing restaurants and bars, beaches and parks, small retailers and large group meetings, are each hard decisions. The economic and social ramifications are far-reaching. They must start, and they must end, at the right times, based upon sound medical and professional advice, and plain common sense.

We at the federal government must work with state and local leaders to inform their difficult decisions and help them, where appropriate, carry out these tough decisions.

The fathers of two of my House colleagues have served at the highest level of our government. I asked them both if their dads had seen anything like it. Jimmy Panetta, whose dad, Leon Panetta has been White House chief of staff, secretary of Defense and CIA director, said his father had never seen anything like it. Liz Cheney, whose dad, Dick Cheney has been vice president, White House chief of staff and secretary of Defense, said the closest experience in her father’s career was 9/11. Jimmy and Liz, Leon and Dick, Democrats and Republicans. We’ve rarely, if ever, seen anything like this.

When last week’s unemployment insurance filings were reported at over 3 million, the highest ever by far in our history, and when the number of cases and deaths dramatically expanded, it was clear we had entered truly extraordinary times, calling for extraordinary government action.

So, with broad and deep bipartisan support, we passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security Act (CARES Act), providing over $2 trillion in support for individual citizens, workers who have lost their jobs, small businesses so that they will not close or lay off their workers, larger businesses in the way of loans and not bailouts, healthcare, education, transit, and more. Unprecedented resources have been quickly directed for more tests, more personal protective equipment, research and development for treatments and even a cure, and ultimately a vaccine.

I don’t like everything in the bill. In fact, there were parts that I strongly disagreed with. The time to talk about those, and how they came to be stuffed into an otherwise crucial bill, will come later, and those responsible will be named. But, our people are hurting, our way of life threatened, and this is no time to let these issues slow down the effort to get the job done. Indeed, I had hoped that the vast majority of us in the House could have avoided having to take the risk to actually travel to Washington and be in a room with hundreds of others as we have ordered the rest of the country not to do, but one member threatened to further delay the bill and so I and another 200-plus members made the trip and got the bill passed.

Like most of you, I am working from home and maintaining social distance. My staff is also working and our offices open for you but we ask that you call and not try to come in. We have helped repatriate a number of citizens from our district who have found themselves stuck in a foreign country closing its borders. We are answering many phone calls on the laws we have passed to respond to this disease and with questions about the disease itself.

I must confess, I don’t like to be kept at arm’s length from the people I serve. It runs against everything in me, but I recognize the wisdom of it. We in positions of public authority have the heavy responsibility of gauging how long this must continue and I pray that it is a matter of weeks, not months. But, unfortunately, the virus dictates that; I just want us all, at every level of government, to exercise good common sense. In the meantime, I feel like the words of the old song by one of Alabama’s sons, Hank Williams: “I’m so lonesome I could cry.”

Last week, I was on a number of conference calls with groups in the district and a teletownhall with nearly 4,000 constituents. In one, a person asked me to give them hope. I was struck by that simple request, that we provide hope.

So, here goes.

We are a great and powerful nation. We were born in an uncertain and dangerous revolution, invaded even in our Capitol by the greatest power in the world just 40 years after our founding, suffered a civil war costing 600,000 of our lives, fought two desperate world wars, watched our economy nearly disappear in a Great Depression, tore ourselves apart in the social upheavals of the 60s, and endured an attack by terrorists on our largest city and the center of our national defense. And yet, after each one we Americans not only survived, we learned how to make our country greater, how to perfect our union.

The prophet Isaiah, writing during the Babylonian captivity, put it in beautiful language:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

And, as we approach Passover and Easter, let us remember the hope expressed in the miraculous delivery of the Jewish people from slavery and the resurrection of Christ who defeated death itself. Indeed, Solomon said in his Eighth Song, “Love is as strong as death.”

That’s the ultimate reason for hope: God’s love for us all overcomes death.

As we mourn those we have lost to this disease, as we continue to miss the physical presence of one another, as we struggle with the testing and spread of the disease, and as we fight to preserve our economy and our way of life, let us be confident in the ultimate result, using our own strength and leaning on God’s.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

3 hours ago

‘We Are Magic’: Video highlights resilience of Birmingham in face of coronavirus, urges support of local businesses

Birmingham-based Telegraph Creative on Sunday released a moving video entitled, “We Are Magic,” showcasing the spirit of optimism, unity and hope that Magic City residents are displaying in the face of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Coronavirus continues to impact the city in unprecedented — and sometimes devastating — ways, but Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who narrated the video, praised locals for being “people who dig deep and don’t quit.”

Woodfin pledged that “we will thrive the only way we know how — by lifting each other up, and helping our neighbors.”

In keeping with the theme of the project, every aspect of the video is local.

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Just over two minutes in length, the video was shot in Birmingham and features local talent, businesses and business owners, as well as music by a local musician. Some recognizable faces include Ezekiel Hameen from Z’s Restaurant; Chris and Idie Hastings from Hot and Hot Fish Club; Andrew Collins from Cayo Coco; Tim Hontzas from Johnny’s; and Kristen Hall and Victor King from The Essential and Bandit.

Telegraph Creative CEO Cliff Sims advised that the company created the video as a way to bring people together at a time when everyone is having to keep their distance in an effort to stop the virus from spreading. To keep all involved parties safe and healthy, social distancing rules were observed during the making of the video.

“These are difficult and uncertain times. We are fighting an invisible enemy that’s tearing through our communities, and it’s taking a toll on all of us,” Sims said in a statement.

“Our team created this video to show the spirit of unity that’s building, even in the midst of hardship — people buying a little extra to support local shops, tipping a little more to help out their favorite restaurants, and smiling a little longer to comfort a stranger across the street. Mayor Woodfin perfectly sums it up when he says, ‘The real magic of the Magic City is us, together. Even when we’re apart.’ The spirit of Birmingham is unbreakable,” he concluded.

Watch:


Full video transcript as follows:

They call her “The Magic City.”

She earned the name because
she rose up from nothing, seemingly overnight,
forging a place of her own.
Birmingham rising
was truly a thing to behold.

On downtown streets born from industry,
where neighborhood shops line the same cobblestone alleys,
Birmingham’s history looms over her present,
like an inventor over her apprentice,
imploring us to keep the magic alive.

Birmingham’s magic is more than a nickname.
It’s the people who dig deep and don’t quit,
with the grit and determination to build something incredible.
It’s the steel-clad bonds that make a community,
and an iron will to survive.

If we have learned anything, it’s that
the spirit of Birmingham is unbreakable.
And we will thrive the only way we know how —
by lifting each other up, and helping our neighbors.

The real magic
of the Magic City
is us, together.
Even when we’re apart.

We are Birmingham.
We are magic.

RELATED: Keep up with Alabama’s confirmed coronavirus cases, locations here

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

3 hours ago

Merrill outlines how Alabama will spend election-related federal stimulus money

Included in the recently enacted $2 trillion federal coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus package was $400 million to be allocated to the states to protect the integrity of the nation’s electoral process.

Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill’s office on Monday released information detailing that the Yellowhammer State will receive $6,473,611, which will further be matched 20% by the secretary of state’s office ($1,294,723) for a total of $7,768,334.

This funding will cover both the primary runoff on July 14 as well as the general election on November 3.

“Our intentions are to use this funding to reimburse counties for various preparation and election expenses including, but not limited to, masks, gloves, disinfectant spray, hand-sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and professional cleaning services to return the polling places back to their safe and sanitary pre-election condition,” the secretary of state’s office stated.

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An application for county commissions to request reimbursement will be provided on the official website of the secretary of state’s office as soon as the money is made available to the State.

Additionally, $900,000 of the total will be allocated to reimburse absentee election managers for increased costs resulting from the lengthened absentee voting period, and $1,000,000 will be used to compensate poll workers with an additional $25.00 on Election Day.

“I am extremely grateful for the leadership displayed by Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator Richard Shelby and for their listening to the concerns I expressed as well as the advice and guidance provided by other chief election officials from across the country. It is important that those at the state and local level are granted the flexibility to address the needs of their respective communities,” Merrill said.

“This funding will protect the health and safety of our voters, poll workers, and others involved in the electoral process,” he added. “I also appreciate the assistance provided by Governor Kay Ivey’s Office, the State Comptroller’s Office, and the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.”

Reports of state spending will be submitted to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission for full transparency and public inspection. All resources must be expended for these purposes no later than December 31, 2020, Merrill’s office advised.

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