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Together, we can end the COVID pandemic. Find out where you can get a vaccine at www.vaccine.gov.

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#StrongHER campaign

 

Birmingham celebrates Women’s History Month with #StrongHer campaign

In 2019, Mayor Randall Woodfin’s administration launched the #StrongHER campaign to highlight some of the unsung “sheroes’’ living, working, volunteering or inspiring others in Birmingham. For 31 days in March, women were featured on the City of Birmingham’s social media outlets in celebration of Women’s History Month.

The message is that Birmingham is StrongHER, BoldHER, BrightHER, FierceHER, SmartHER and BraveHER because of HER.

That campaign continues in 2021.

“We live in a city where women are making moves that spark change,’’ Mayor Woodfin said. “The women highlighted in this campaign are just an example of the thousands of other female gamechangers working to make a difference in our city, our country and the world. I salute them all.’’

StrongHer 2021 Profiles

March 1 – Dr. Lori Croom

When many businesses shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic, Birmingham optometrist Dr. Lori Alyse Croom opened up to new beginnings. She became an author.

Between May 2020 and July 2020, she penned the book, “My God Today,” a 365-day motivational book that blends popular hip-hop lyrics and scripture to deliver Godly lessons. She published the book in September 2020. It had resonated with readers so much that it became a No. 1 new release in the Devotional Category on Amazon. Now, she’s looking at turning it into an audio book.

“I thought this book would be something that just a certain age group would grasp, but I have women who are up to their 80s, reading the book. They have stolen the book from their grandchildren,” said Dr. Croom, 35 and the mother of two daughters.

“They don’t have a clue what the lyrics are about, but they still relate to the messages. They say they feel like they are having a conversation with their homegirl.”

Dr. Croom wrote the book after having to temporarily stop seeing patients at her NowVision Eye Care because of COVID-19 restrictions. She later reopened in June 2020. She said God gave her the idea for the book, and she was determined to write it in two months. She disconnected from social media and wrote a certain number of pages per day.

She’s never had any professional training as a writer, which is further proof of how God works, she said. Now, people are telling her she’s inspired them to get going on their own writing projects, including those that have stalled.


March 2 – Julia Meyers

For nearly 9 years, Julia Meyers has helped lead the fight to end trafficking in Birmingham and Alabama. She’s done it on her own, with the help of several organizations and through Junior League of Birmingham, where she is chairwoman of the group’s Anti-Human Trafficking Committee.

She got involved to give a voice to the voiceless after hearing stories from her late brother, a public defender, who talked about how women were forced into prostitution because of human trafficking. She couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. So, she got involved to help fight for victims and build a stronger community. And now that COVID-19 has increased the risks of human trafficking, her efforts are even more important.

“My brother and I would have conversations about the importance of community awareness and understanding the issue,” Meyers said. “He felt that community awareness was important.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to exploit human beings for some type of labor or commercial sex purpose.

The Junior League offers on-demand, free trainings to any organization, company or resident in the Birmingham area. They provide resources on what trafficking is, how people can best combat it, and how to respond when residents suspect it. In 2020, the JLB worked with the Birmingham Airport Authority to get signs up in every bathroom stall to help the public identify human trafficking and how to respond if they see something.

“We are also partnering with End It Alabama to get signage in airports across the state and other transportation hubs,” Meyers said. “January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. We work hard that month and the 11 other months in the year to spread the word,” Meyers said.

To have a JLB member talk to your group in a virtual format, visit www.jlbonline.com to book a session.


March 3 – Della Nicholas

As a child, Della Nicholas dreamed of becoming a model and appearing on the cover of a fashion magazine. But her family couldn’t afford modeling school.

Then, when she went off to junior college, she used money from her part-time job at Pizza Hut to pay for modeling classes. But because of the cost of secondary education and playing basketball, she had to put her dream to the side – again.

Fast forward to 2019 when Essence magazine sponsored a contest for women turning 50 in 2020 to celebrate the publication also turning 50 in 2020. At the urging of a friend, Nicholas entered the contest. And out of nearly 2,000 entries, she was selected as a finalist. She won a trip to New York City, where she and six other finalists did photo shoots for the magazine’s June 2020 edition.

“I just thanked God for the opportunity. Even though it was a childhood dream, I never thought it would happen,” said Nicholas, a human resources specialist and married mother of two working in Birmingham.

“Age is just a number, and it doesn’t hinder you from whatever you want. I have had friends tell me that just for me to step out and submit the pictures, that has inspired them to go for some of the childhood dreams they have had,’’ she said.

“Something is still inside of me. I want to be a model,” said Nicholas, now 51. “I may step out. Who knows.”


March 4 – Ariel Taunton

Ariel Taunton was five years old when she competed in her first track meet. She didn’t do too well.
But a month later, she competed in her second track meet. She came in first in the long jump and second in the 100-meter yard dash.

After that, her track career, well, took off.

Today, the 10-year-old has more than 100 medals. Next week, she will compete in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Nationals in Virginia Beach, Va.

“When I’m at practice, I work hard so I can become good,” said Ariel, a student at Huffman Academy. “I tell myself, ‘I gotta push through it.’”

Due to COVID-19, her school did not have a track team this year. Currently, she runs with the KO.Flamez, an Elite track team that competes in the AAU and Junior Olympics. One day, she hopes to attend her father’s alma mater, Mississippi State University; be on the college track team; major in science; and go on to compete in the 200 long jump and the 60-meter dash in the Olympics.

“I ran track, and I feel like she worked harder than I did when I was kid,” said her father and trainer, Devin Jackson, who is also an assistant track coach at Wenonah High School. “She’s always been fast.”

“She just shows that girls can be just as good as guys,” said Jackson. “She has out jumped boys, and she’s out jumped girls older than her.”


March 5 – Nancy McDonald

After COVID-19 hit Alabama in 2020, Nancy McDonald’s daughter, Maggie, suggested she try sewing a mask.

And, McDonald did just that.

Then, Maggie said, “Why don’t you try making them for other people?”

And, once again, McDonald did just that. She first made masks for friends, and then she started making them for non-profit organizations, classrooms, teachers, the warming station at Boutwell Auditorium, Children’s Hospital and many more in the Birmingham area. She has also sent masks to hurricane victims in Louisiana, tornado victims in Tennessee, and fire victims in California and Colorado. To date, she’s made and donated nearly 7,000 masks.

“It was a lot of fun. I got up every morning and said, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta sew,’” said Nancy, 69.
Her first masks were made from airplane-themed curtain fabric leftover from her grandchildren’s bedroom.

She said what she and the other StrongHer honorees have done, demonstrates that “people can do things that can make a difference in very, very small ways.”

“Everybody can do something for somebody during this pandemic.”


March 6 – Comedienne Joy King

Back in 2017, Comedienne Joy showcased several Birmingham-area restaurants’ mouth-watering dishes on her TV show. People fell so in love with what they saw that they wanted to eat like Joy.

Since there was not a food bus tour in town, Joy decided to create one to share her food experiences with others. Thus was born the Eat. Drink. Ride. Food Tours.

“Supporting local restaurants is my world. That’s my heart,” Joy said. “I love the fact that when I take people to restaurants, they enjoy the food as much as I do. And when I return on personal visits, I see some patrons right back in the places they visited on the tour.”

The way Joy has creatively promoted Birmingham’s culinary scene before and during a pandemic has impressed many, including those connected to Beyonce. In January 2021, Joy received a $10,000 grant from Beyonce’s foundation, BeyGOOD, and the NAACP.

Applications for the grant opened last summer to support businesses affected by COVID-19. Joy’s bus tours were closed for four months in 2020 because of the pandemic. But, she started rolling again in August, adding temperature checks, sanitizing the bus in between stops, social distancing, requiring everyone to wear a mask and more. She said the funding will help her with bus payments.

Her bus tour means a lot to her, and she said she wants to keep it going for people who love good food from the great restaurants in and around Birmingham. “Getting the grant from Beyonce was like a prayer answered. It helps me keep both of my buses running. And as a thank you to Beyonce, each tour now starts out with songs by her. I like, ‘Run the World (Girls).’”


March 7 – Kristin Farmer

One night in 2015, Kristin Farmer had a simple request – to celebrate life.

But her joy soon turned into frustration because she couldn’t find celebratory items, such as a wine glass with images of women who looked like her.

She researched what it would take to make her vision a reality. However, she was disappointed to discover it would cost $20,000 to add her art to glasses. She put away the idea, which later saw a rebirth in 2017 when she created holiday wrapping paper of images of African-American women with natural hair. She named her company Curly Contessa.

“Curly Contessa is about embracing you,” said Farmer, 32 of Oxmoor Valley. “We are embracing our natural selves, and it’s about celebrating you and all that you are.”

In 2020, Oprah Magazine Creative Director Adam Glassman gave Farmer a shout out on social media as a Black company to follow and support. Also in 2020, she was a participant in Essence magazine’s Virtual Entrepreneur Summit. In February 2021, she won first place in the Black Girl Ventures Birmingham Pitch Competition, earning a $10,000 stipend, coaching with an accountant, and other prizes.

Her line has grown to include glassware, T-shirts, porcelain and china collections, kitchenware and an expanded Christmas line. Next, she plans to expand her kitchen and glassware lines. All of the women are drawn by Farmer.

“I just really want people to keep pushing and know there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is always something to look forward to,” said the Ensley native. “Every little win matters, and they need to be celebrated.”


March 8 – Journee Mines and Poppy Boyd

One day after demonstrators in Linn Park attempted to remove a Confederate monument in May 2020, Bria Mines and English McBride took their daughters, both 3 years old at the time, to the location.

The families did not know each other, but what happened at the base of that monument that day is a beautiful statement of what happens when love lives.

Journee Mines, who is black, and Poppy Boyd, who is white, began playing in the dust and climbing the stairs of the monument.

At a certain point, Journee sat cross-legged and began meditating, a skill her mother had taught her. Poppy joined her, and they sat in silence before embracing and resuming their play.
Their chance meeting and interaction were captured by Birmingham photographer Larry O. Gay. The scene moved several to tears.

“To find joy in something that symbolized so much pain was deeply moving,’’ said Poppy’s mother, English McBride. “We cried watching them play in the dust and destruction. I told my daughter that this statue represented something that was wrong and the mayor was going to take it down.’’ Journee’s mother is Bria Mines.

Mayor Randall L. Woodfin later arranged for the monument to be removed June 1.

Today, March 8 is International Women’s Day, which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of all women. This day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. May what Journee and Poppy did in May 2020 serve as a reminder that one is never too young or too small to help forge positive change for everyone.


March 9 – Viktoria Havasi

If you’ve ever wondered where to find cool murals in Birmingham, Dr. Viktoria Havasi can help.

Since Dec. 30, 2018, she’s been taking pictures of area murals and posting them to Instagram under @magiccitymurals. The hobby developed after she looked on Instagram to locate murals painted on the sides of buildings. When she couldn’t find a social media page with the information, she decided to start her own. She offers Google maps for locations of the murals she’s shot. (On Facebook, she’s known as Murals of Birmingham)

So far, she’s photographed about 175 murals featured on the sides of vacant buildings, occupied buildings, restaurants and even inside bathrooms around metro Birmingham. She has not run out of material, as there are some indoor murals she has not yet shot. And then, people continuously inbox her to tell her about their latest find.

“I like to photograph things that don’t move,” said Dr. Havasi, 44, a cystic fibrosis researcher in Birmingham. “Murals were sort of like that.”

Her efforts are helping people discover or rediscover the city.

“I feel a joy going on the mural hunt. I usually do it on the weekend,” she said. “I think it’s still exciting even after (more than) two years.”

She keeps it simple when capturing the images. She uses an iPhone 8.

“I try to get the best angle and to show as much as possible,” said Dr. Havasi, who was born in Hungary. “I don’t really have a secret. I’m just a girl with a camera phone.”


March 10 – Bonderia Lyons and Darlena Williams-Battle

Many Saturdays, you can find Bonderia Lyons and Darlena Williams-Battle working hard to keep Birmingham neighborhoods clean.

They do it through Magic City Blight Busters, a group of volunteers from eight Birmingham neighborhoods who rotate to clean up, cut grass and remove blight in the eight neighborhoods. The group has existed for nearly two years. Battle and Lyons hope the concept will spread to other Birmingham neighborhoods and residents will start their own clean-up networks.

On a recent Saturday, Lyons and Battle joined Magic City Blight Buster volunteers, Fountain Heights residents and others to clean up Fountain Heights. By the end of the day, volunteers had collected hundreds of bags.

“We have lived in Fountain Heights our entire lives, and we care about the community and the people in it,” Battle said. “We have a visual of what it used to be when we were little girls. We know the potential it can have, and we are striving to get it back.”

But clean-up projects are not all this duo does. Lyons is the president of the Fountain Heights Neighborhood Association, and Battle is the vice president. Together, they’ve also worked to bring COVID-19 testing, and mask/food box distributions to Fountain Heights residents. Before the pandemic hit, they partnered with an organization to bring in a grocery store truck to make it easier for residents to buy fresh produce.

They are also expanding their connections with nearby downtown businesses and organizations to make them aware that their addresses fall within the Fountain Heights footprint.

“I’m proud of the work we are doing in the community. I can see a change,” Lyons said. “We are boots on the ground. We are not asking residents to do things that we are not already doing. We just want better for our community and for ourselves.”

For more information on Blight Busters, visit www.blightbusters.co.


March 11 – Tamika Holmes

Tamika Holmes grew up in a dysfunctional household, where drugs and alcohol were prevalent among adults. She dropped out of high school at 15. She got married at 16. She became a mother at 17. And she was later tapped to be a long-term caregiver for her father.

But she did not shrink from her situations. Instead, she grew and used her past to build a future for today’s young people. In June 2014, she founded the Community Care Development Network to serve girls experiencing the same things she faced as a child. She started out mentoring two students. By summer’s end, she had 30 girls in the program, ranging in age from 11 to 18.

The organization has since expanded its services and partnered with various community organizations to include even more mentoring programs for females; offer mentoring opportunities for males and parents; and provide GED counseling, support for the elderly and assistance for people facing issues with rent and utilities bills. Between June and December 2020, her organization served about 3,600 households by offering food boxes, mentoring, clothes and more. In February 2021, the organization closed on a building in Huffman to serve those in need.

“God put it on my heart that all the trials and tribulations I went through in my life were not for me,” said Holmes, 42, of Roebuck. “There were other young ladies who were going through the same thing. And there were other young mothers who had experienced what I had experienced as a young mother. So, I did what I needed to do.”

Today, she has restored relationships with her parents. In June 2021, she’ll celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary. This fall, she plans to pursue her doctorate in education. And down the road, she plans on partnering with an Alabama HBCU to offer a trade school.

So how does she do it all? “With a wing and a prayer and the good Lord,” Holmes said. “I wake up in the morning and say, ‘What will the new adventure be today?’ I truly love what I do.”


March 12 – Becky Wright

Becky Wright serves as the director of Meals on Wheels of Central Alabama, which provides more than 28,000 meals each month to homebound seniors. While some agencies and offices had to temporarily halt services in 2020 because of the pandemic, Meals on Wheels kept rolling.

To help protect volunteers, the organization scaled back its five-days-a-week deliveries to once-a-week contactless deliveries. But Wright made sure seniors had enough food until the next weekly visit. To help meet a growing demand for food, Birmingham companies like Shipt delivered fresh milk and eggs. Also, Nourish stepped in provide additional meals for those on a waiting list.

“There’s more to it than just feeding people. We have to be present for them as well,” said Wright, 35, of Crestwood. “We have had so many people call and say they didn’t have any food in the house … but we showed up.”

Wright’s dedication extends beyond her job. Last year, she and her husband, Quinton, who have one son, became foster parents to an infant. She said she sees foster care as a form of advocacy for both children and their parents. “The ultimate goal of foster care is reunification,” she said. “We want to be part of the solution.”

She is also active at Christ City Church in multiple areas of ministries.

To learn more about being a foster parent, visit https://dhr.alabama.gov/foster-care/ or https://lifelinechild.org/foster-parenting-training-classes/. To get involved with Meals on Wheels, visit https://www.mowjeffco.org/volunteer/.


March 13 – Monica Yates Mitchell

Birmingham realtor Monica Yates Mitchell, 54, always considered herself to be pretty healthy. Sure, she was fatigued at the end of 10-hour work days and her bones hurt. But she figured it was connected to the job. She also bruised easily, but she thought it was because of her light skin complexion.

But once she had a heart attack shortly after Thanksgiving in 2020 and testing was done, she later learned those signs were all linked to acute myeloid leukemia, cancer of the blood. She was in shock. She didn’t know anyone with the disease, and she had never heard of it. She would need a bone marrow transplant to survive.

“I cried in the hospital. And in talking to God, I kept saying, ‘Why me?’” she recalled. But then she thought, why not her? She could use her diagnosis to educate people about the disease and encourage people, especially African Americans, to become bone marrow donors. Less than four percent of African Americans are signed up to be donors on the national bone marrow registry, she said. So, in between her seven weeks of chemotherapy at the hospital and right before she underwent an emergency surgery last weekend to remove clots from the side of her head, she’s been promoting the importance of becoming a bone marrow donor.

“People are dying because they cannot get the bone marrow they need,” she said. “It became my mission to start putting the word out.”

Today, March 13, she will head to Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, 1101 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., for a bone marrow drive, where people can sit in their car and do cheek swab testing to see if they can be a match for Mitchell and others. It will be held from 1 to 4 p.m.

“I know (today) I will get my match and maybe that individual who was told they didn’t have a match will get theirs, too,” she said. “I never want anyone to hear the words, ‘We don’t have a bone marrow match for you.’”


March 14 – Michelle Perkins

The pain in Michelle Perkins’ back can be so severe at times, she has to walk with a cane.

But the discomfort doesn’t stop Perkins, who is president of the North Pratt Neighborhood Association, from helping residents whenever they need her.

“If I am sitting at home, it hurts. If I’m out, it will hurt,” said Perkins, 56. “So, I might as well do something helpful instead of sitting at home, feeling bad for myself.”

She’s run errands for elderly residents. She’s helped be a point person for the tornado safe room in her community. And she’s mentored students in need of a listening ear.

“Students will call my grandchildren and ask, ‘Where’s your grandmama? I need to talk to her,'” she said. “For some reason, people come to me. I don’t know why. I just get caught helping.”

She’s also a big supporter of clean-ups connected to Village Creek. Although she can’t physically clean, she registers volunteers and doles out food to participants.

“I got being personable and being patient with people from my mom and grandmother,” she said. “I want to be an example for others.”


March 15 – Jessica Clark

Jessica Clark is all about helping others reach their dreams.

A few years ago, Clark was teaching a medical assistance class at a Birmingham-area community college. One of her students was about 12 weeks away from graduating, but the student had to drop out because she could no longer afford classes.

A month later, Clark saw the student working at a fast food restaurant. Clark encouraged her to return to school. Still, money was an issue for the student, who had to take care of family. At that very moment, Clark decided she never wanted to meet another eager student unable to attend school, so she decided to start her own medical tech school and offer scholarships for those 18 years old and up.

In 2019, Clark started the National Training Institute for HealthCare Technicians in Birmingham, which offers training to become an EKG technician, a phlebotomy technician, a medical assistant, and a patient care technician. It is open Monday through Saturday with morning, evening and online classes.

So far as the student who dropped out, Clark said the student enrolled in her school, graduated and is now gainfully employed.

“God wants us to give back,” said Clark, 39, of Huffman.”He wants us to be the change, and in order to that, you have to be in a position to change someone’s life. You have to be a part of the solution.”


March 16 – Michele Kong

In 2013, Birmingham doctor Michele Kong co-founded KultureCity to help create sensory-friendly environments for children with social communication or sensory challenges.

She and her husband, Dr. Julian Maha, got the idea for the program after their son was diagnosed with autism. Because of their son’s sensory sensitivity, going to restaurants and even games became difficult. Soon, they experienced social isolation from the community. (Common sounds, lights, crowds and even smells can be overwhelming and physically painful to individuals with a sensory sensitivity.)

The couple wanted to find a better way to make environments more accessible and inclusive for their son and others, regardless of their challenges. Soon, they came up with the concept for Kulture City, a non-profit organization, which works to promote awareness as well as acceptance with venues, their staff and the public.

Today, Kulture City has more than 700 partners around the globe, including in Australia and New England, providing resources and tools to help partners understand the effects of autism and other challenges. Kulture City has also partnered with various sporting leagues, including the NFL and NBA. In Alabama, there are 74 partner locations, including the Birmingham Museum of Art, Sloss Furnaces, Vulcan Park and Museum, and the McWane Science Center. A map featuring all partner venues can be found on their website, www.kulturecity.org.

“I think (Kulture City) just shows the beauty of Birmingham, which is the birthplace of the civil rights movement,” Dr. Kong said. “We are on the forefront of thinking of accessibility for so many individuals. It was birthed in Birmingham, and now it’s throughout the U.S It all started in Birmingham from a simple idea.”

Dr. Kong is, who is also a physician in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital and has been on the front lines in treating children with COVID-19, has developed a lecture series and organized workshops that cover issues related to critical assessment of children with sensory challenges in an emergency setting.

“It’s been quite a journey,” Dr. Kong said. “Even though we started, the work is there, and the need is there. And we are super excited to meet it and continue to meet it.”


March 17 – Carmen Mays

When West End native Carmen Mays saw how the pandemic had left so many creatives of color unable to connect with customers in 2020, she worked on a one-day market idea to increase exposure for them.

By partnering with Urban Impact Birmingham, she presented the Black Joy Bazaar last September on Fourth Avenue North, where the public shopped in an outdoor setting while also social distancing. One vendor told Mays it was the most business they had done that year.

Creating solutions for businesses and communities is what Mays, 35, does. In 2017, she founded Elevators, a consulting firm. And since starting the business, she’s hosted workshops to help small businesses grow, helped increased exposure for minority creatives, and demonstrated the importance of increasing diversity at the table.

In January 2021, Google tapped Mays to lead its Grow with Google Digital Coaching program in Birmingham. It’s an outreach program designed to ensure that black and brown entrepreneurs have the digital skills to be as successful as possible. They address everything from bookkeeping to project management. The next session, which will be on different tools managers can use, will be Thursday, March 18 at 5 p.m. To register, visit: g.co/digitalcoachbir.

Asked if Mays has a motto, she responded: “All rooms are my rooms. I work very hard not to limit myself. I usually walk around with the assumption that whatever I want to do, I can do it.”


March 18 – Carolyn Russell-Walker

Ramsay High School Principal Dr. Carolyn Russell-Walker has been working with her staff to establish innovative ways to make school more personable for students during the pandemic.

This year, with the help of counselors, she established Womanhood Wednesday virtual chats to allow students to hear from female speakers and discuss personal and societal issues. (Classes were not held on Wednesdays to allow for the school to be sanitized.) A vice principal leads a similar online chat session for the male students, calling it Manhood Monday and holding it before classes start.

In 2019, Russell-Walker started a Freshman Academy, to allow students to meet with teachers for additional support and address the transition from middle school to high school. Russell-Walker kept the program going during the pandemic, shifting the sessions to online.

And since this year’s freshman class never got a chance to really walk the halls and sit in classrooms when fall classes started in 2020, Russell-Walker hosted a visit at the school in November when students could return for in-person classes.

“They were excited to walk around, feel like actual high school students in a school and not be on Zoom,” Carolyn Walker said.

Russell-Walker didn’t want COVID-19 to stall the way the school highlights student achievements, so the school recognized students on social media and the school’s website. They hosted a virtual Honors and Awards Day presentation and National Honor Society tapping. The school also increased connections with parents by having virtual parent meetings and started a workforce development program for seniors to work in their career field of interest.

“Just watching the engagement of the students, they needed this,” said Russell-Walker, who is also big with working on community service projects and volunteering with her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. “These were platforms to let students know we are here. We’ve got you.”


March 19 – Carver High School girls basketball team

The Carver High School girls basketball team is a good example of what happens when hard work pays off.

In 2019, they made it to the state final 4. In 2020, they made it to the state regional finals. But on March 4, 2021 at Bill Harris Arena, they made school history by not only playing in their first 5A state championship game but also bringing home the school’s first girls’ state basketball championship win. They won 78-69 vs. Huntsville’s Mae Jemison High School.

“We are glad they had the opportunity to experience a state championship,” said Coach Jarvis Wilson. “Their legacy will be cemented here forever.”

There are usually 12 to 15 people on a team. But this team is comprised of seven members: Tamia Muse, Destinee Nelson, Randrea Wright, Ciondra Darden, Cameryn Dorsey, Precious Sturdivant and Kamaya Wilson. Wright was named tournament MVP and became the school’s first female player to sign a Division 1 scholarship in girls’ basketball, Wilson said. She’s going to the University of Central Arkansas on a full scholarship.

Wilson said team members sacrificed a lot and held each other accountable throughout the season. They self-quarantined at home, including during Christmas, to avoid exposure to COVID-19 and to be ready to play in a Dec. 26 game. On March 9, 2021, AL.com ranked the team as No. 4 in its Power 10 state girls’ basketball teams.

“They represent the strength of a woman,” Wilson said. “They are strong, mentally and physically. They were able to take on tasks in front of them and win.”


March 20 – Carrie Leland

Carrie Leland remembers going to Century Plaza as a child, seeing a homeless family and immediately wanting to help them. “I asked my mom to use the money she was going to spend on my school shoes to help the people,” Leland recalled.

The scene was monumental for Leland because she vowed that when she got older, she would do whatever she could to help families in need. Watching her father suffer with a debilitating disease and her mother doing her best to provide for the family made her sensitive to the suffering of others, and it instilled in her to never look down on those who are struggling in life.

Today, Carrie Turner Leland serves as the executive director of Pathways: A Woman’s Way Home in downtown Birmingham. She said leading the agency, which serves over 1,200 homeless women and children a year, is her dream job. “I am doing exactly what I was called to do in this life. It is a great honor to work for this agency,” she said.

Pathways provides emergency shelter, housing and childcare services for homeless women and children. Since her arrival in 2018, Leland has added two new services to Pathways: Stepping Stones, an emergency shelter program; and Pathways Early Learning Center, a free childcare center for homeless families that will open in May 2021. She said the Early Learning Center is going to be a real game changer for families experiencing homelessness.

“Birmingham is a progressive city where forward thinking is encouraged, and that is what I love most about working in Birmingham,” Leland said. “I try to show up every day and make a difference here.”


March 21 – Kelli Solomon

In 2020, Kelli Solomon, who is vice president of Operations and Programs for the Birmingham Urban League, Inc., organized several food drives to help more than 2,000 single mothers and senior citizens affected by the pandemic.

“Some people had a reduction of income. Some people loss income,” said Solomon, 37 and a married mother of two. “What we were trying to do was make sure that children did not go hungry, while we were also being supportive of the families.”

Her office used the food drives as a way to find out what else families needed. Did they need housing? Did they need a job? Did they need help filing unemployment claims? The surveys worked, and Birmingham Urban League helped close the gap of unemployment and underemployment for several Birmingham women.

Another way Solomon’s office assisted families financially hurt by COVID-19 was by providing federal financial assistance on late rent and utilities bills. One woman saw her income dwindle because the industry she worked in had taken a major hit during the pandemic. In November, the woman sought the rental assistance. She later went through a job training program and secured a full-time job in another field in December. That simple lift from Birmingham Urban League, helped put the woman on to the road to success, said Solomon, who is delighted with how she’s helping to bring a new joy to people’s lives.

“It’s not about status. It’s not about skin color. In my opinion, it’s about good Christian, unconditional love,” said Solomon, a Birmingham native. “I am giving back to the same community that raised me, and that’s why I do what I do every day.”


March 22 – Caitlin Moffatt

Caitlin Moffatt has had three miscarriages, and the pain of losing a life remains very real.
“It does take time,” Moffatt said of the grieving process. “It’s not something that will get better right away. You just push through it.”

Her last miscarriage was in January 2021. She was 15 weeks along. The baby was a girl, and losing her impacted her husband, Ben, and her.

“I want people to know they are not alone,” said Moffatt, 31. “I had to be strong myself, but a lot of people helped me, too. I want to be strong for all the other women.”

But although there have been sad times in three of Moffatt’s pregnancies, there has also been joy in another pregnancy. That pregnancy led to the birth of a daughter, who’ll celebrate her second birthday at the end of this month. As Moffatt prepares for the birthday, she also continues to prepare to help others in the fight against COVID-19.

She’s a respiratory therapist at St. Vincent’s Hospital, where she’s joined other frontline workers in helping to save lives during the pandemic. She is a leader in her department, where she supports her team and makes sure that patients receive the best treatment possible.

She said she grew up as a shy child, never picturing herself as a making a difference in anyone’s life. But, she’s making a difference in more ways than one in Birmingham.

“I’m glad I am where I am. I have been able to break out of my shell and become who I am today,” she said. “And I hope I can inspire my daughter.”


March 23 – Jamiya Anderson

Jamiya Anderson was 6 years old when she wrote her first poem. It was about falling off a Big Wheel and how that experience can be a lesson in life.

“When you fall, you have to get back up. You can’t just stay down forever,” said Jamiya, now 13 and a seventh grader at Putnam Middle School. “I still have the imprint of the scar from that fall, but I’ve grown from it. I look at it like this: You might get hurt from someone and you may not get over it. But you will eventually get through it.”

Jamiya’s ways of looking at things and putting them down on paper has gained the attention of those at Desert Island Supply Co. in Woodlawn, where they consider her to be a superstar in their poetry workshops. Jamiya’s latest poem, “Saturday Night Stars,” appears on pg. 128 of DISCO’s 2020 anthology, “Forgetting How to Spell Remember,” available at www.discobham.com.
The Gate City resident writes poems whenever anything happens to her. She also sees herself writing poetry years from now, while pursuing her dreams.

So where does she see herself in five years? “Hopefully, I will be on the way to college, fingers crossed. And I can determine which of my passions I will take on,” said Jamiya. “Will I go on to be an neurosurgeon, or will I be an entrepreneur? Either way I go, being an African-American female, I want to inspire others to know that nothing is too hard. Nothing is impossible.”


March 24 – Eileen Meyer

From spring until about August 2020, Dr. Eileen S Meyer helped organize and implement the clinical component of the UAB COVID-19 testing site at Southern Research in Birmingham, where she and so many others saw about 500 cars for two hours every morning. Then, she and a team would pack up their bags and head out to mobile testing sites to test those in underserved areas.

She did this in the rain. In the sun. And in the mud. But no matter the weather conditions, she met the daily needs of the public with a smile.

“When you go into this type of profession, it’s expected that you step up to the plate and help lead the way,” said Dr. Meyer, who has a doctorate in nursing practice and is a nurse practitioner.

Today, she’s back at UAB, where she is assistant director to Advanced Practice, working to elevate the nurse practitioner profession. She has received many local, state and national awards for her efforts. In 2020, she received the Alabama State Nurses’ Association Health Policy Award for working to expand nurse practitioners’ scope of practice. This June, she will receive the Alabama State Advocate Award from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners for working to increase patient access to care throughout Alabama.

She said that being female has never stopped her from doing anything. Dr. Meyer believes in giving back to the community and has established a nursing scholarship in her name at the UAB School of Nursing. Recently, she and her husband, Dr. Bruce Burns, funded a nurse practitioner tribute wall in the new UAB School Nursing building to highlight nurse practitioners and their contribution to their profession.

“I came from a little tiny area in West Virginia, and I think everything is achievable if you keep your eyes set on it,” she said. “No matter what obstacles stand in your way, you will find a way around them to keep moving forwards. You will get what you want.”


March 25 – Jessie Tyus

Smithfield resident Jessie Tyus was 27 years old when she decided to drop her waitressing job for something bigger: college. She enrolled at Miles College and graduated in three years with a degree in education. The oldest of 14 children, she was the first person in her family to go to college. She worked in education for nearly 30 years before retiring.

“It’s never too late to back to school,” said the Parker High graduate. “Whatever you need to do, do it.”

Throughout her life, Mrs. Tyus has been doing what she needs to do to get the job done, whether it was facing racism and threats while working in a predominately white school system, helping her husband while he was a Birmingham neighborhood leader or dealing with a life-threatening disease. Survival was the name of her game. “There’s no use in having a pity party. Nobody cares but you,” she said.

At the age of 85 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery and beat it. “Make sure you get your mammogram because that’s how they found it,” she said. “And trust in the Lord, and do what the doctor says.”

Today, at the age of 88, Mrs. Tyus remains an inspiration for family and friends, who say she gives the best advice. “They say I’m always upbeat and I don’t sound sad,” she said. When asked what’s behind her happy disposition, she said, “Because I’m a child of the good Lord. God is good to me. So far, I’m doing well.”


March 26 – Dr. Briana Patrias Morton

Dr. Briana Patrias Morton studied apparel merchandising in college, thinking she’d become a fashion magazine editor or work in high fashion. But once she graduated, education kept pulling at her. She couldn’t understand the call, until she turned around, faced it and gave in. She went on to become an educator.

She was so good in the classroom, advocating for students and their parents, that she received awards for teaching. In her second year of teaching, she was named Teacher of the Year.
She’s been an educator for 14 years now. Today, she serves as executive director of College Admissions Made Possible in Woodlawn. It’s her second year with the non-profit organization, which helps improve student performance for children in third grade, middle school and high school. She and her team have stopped students from dropping out of school and worked to show them what’s possible beyond high school graduation.

Morton, 40, still loves fashion and offers advice on it, but it’s not her career path. Education is.

“My journey is quite unconventional,” said Morton, who also has a master’s degree and a doctorate. “The children transformed me. I knew I wanted to help kids reach their potential, and I know that is what my calling is. I’m passionate about connecting students to their careers.”


March 27 – Arlillian Kate Bushelon

Arlillian Kate Bushelon manages Bushelon Funeral Home Inc in Birmingham, where she comforts families who’ve lost a loved one for various reasons, including to COVID-19. Due to the pandemic, she has had to physically distance herself to protect employees, family and others to avoid any possible spread of the virus.

Pulling back is hard, especially when you work in a business built around consoling the grief-stricken. But Bushelon, 36, does it while also delivering a message of protection and prevention. In making appearances on social media, the news and panels, she has stressed the importance of wearing a mask, socially distancing and frequently washing hands/sanitizing to remain safe.

Her words resonated with audiences, who thanked her for her honesty.

“I’ve had families come in and say they dropped their loved one off at the hospital and the next time they saw them, it was in a casket. You know, that’s gut wrenching,” the Titusville native said. “If I can make sure that I keep my family safe, I keep my mom safe, and I keep my community safe, I feel I can make a huge step in eradicating the virus.”

Bushelon said she has always been a big advocate of rolling up her sleeves to get things done. In January 2021, she received the COVID-19 vaccine. Some who were once skeptical of the vaccine saw that she was OK after the shot and decided to follow her lead.

“I’m always a big believer that it only takes a spark to get a fire going,” said Bushelon, who has been funeral director for 15 years. “So, if I can be that spark, then, that’s awesome.”


March 28 – Lacey Bacchus

In male-dominated industries, a lot of deals happen on the golf course or in spaces where women are excluded. Dismayed by this disparity, women created the national Commercial Real Estate for Women, or CREW, in 1989 to help women find resources, training and networking opportunities to put them at a greater business advantage.

Birmingham business developer Lacey Bacchus is a member of the Birmingham chapter, where she serves as the community outreach chair. She said that joining the organization has been the best thing she has done, professionally.

“I tell people (this) all of the time because (CREW) has opened my eyes to pay discrepancies in a lot of positions and the dollar amount of deals that are done, males versus females, in the real estate industry and how those opportunities often happen on the golf course,” said Bacchus, of Forest Park. “So, we are trying to create our own version of that.”

As outreach chair, Bacchus, 42, organizes the group’s volunteer efforts. Last winter, the group collected nearly 200 coats and winter items for a downtown Birmingham women’s homeless shelter. They are planning to host a diaper drive in 2021.

While COVID-19 may have limited their in-person appearances, the BirminghamCREW remains committed to doing outreach programs that focus on working to improve the community; connecting with students and universities to discuss different career options in commercial real estate, exposing students internships and CREW scholarships, and showing students how to get engaged after graduation, just to name a few.

Birmingham CREW has also helped grow friendships and put women in better places to serve in leadership positions in the commercial real estate industry. “I feel like it empowers women to learn the (real estate) profession without becoming uncomfortable in learning about the profession,” said Bacchus, who works for Retail Strategies in Birmingham.

Bacchus has served in countless other volunteer roles, including being a reader to second graders in Birmingham through Better Basics Ready2Read program and serving on the board of directors for Girls Inc. of Central Alabama.


March 29 – Marsha Hinkle

This month marks 17 years that Marsha Hinkle has worked with Kid One Transport, a Birmingham-based non-profit organization that provides rides to medical appointments for expectant mothers and families with children 19 years old and younger. They serve more than 40 counties in Alabama, including Jefferson County.

“That’s all I know, is to help someone,” said Hinkle, who is the director of business administration for Kid One. “If I had a job, going in and making widgets and not having interaction with families, not being able to see the results of what I did daily and how it impacted people, I don’t if I would have stayed on the job as long as I have.”

Demand for Kid One increased in 2020 after COVID-19 hit because families that once depended on a relative or someone else to provide transportation to doctor visits, for example, may have had to pull back because of the pandemic. Hinkle said Kid One still operated last year, carrying patients to chemotherapy, dialysis, physical therapy and more.

Hinkle grew up watching her mother, a nurse, and her father, a social worker, help others. Such examples established a public servant heart for her.

“You want to be able to show people who you are in the way that you live,” said Hinkle, 48.


March 30 – Audrey Lampkin

If you want to talk about improving the quality of life for chronically ill children and their families, talk to Audrey Lampkin. Lampkin knows the importance of partnering with families, medical team members, and others to make a difference in the lives of children and families in need.

As the director of Children’s Harbor Family Center at Children’s of Alabama for the past 24 years, she has witnessed the pain, hurt, stress, and worry that surfaces in families when a child has a medical situation. She works to provide families reliable support and resources, while also reassuring them that they are not alone.

Each year, more than 475 families are referred to the center for counseling, educational assistance, career guidance and social support, and thousands of families come to the center to play games, socialize, and sometimes have a warm meal. When Lampkin is not working, she volunteers with children who have developmental challenges.

Lampkin credits her steadfastness and accomplishments to resilient and confident women who reared her. When she was in the fourth grade, her mother once told her, “Learn to be independent. People will not always be there for you when you need them. But, you be there for them.” That lesson has remained with Lampkin, a married mother and grandmother, who is already ready to lend a helping hand.


March 31 – UAB Child Development Center

Every morning, Drs. Allison and Peter Jones, assistant professors at UAB, drop off their two children at the UAB Child Development Center. As the children laugh and giggle before teachers escort them into the center, the couple knows they are leaving them in good hands.

“We’re so lucky that in addition to our friends and families, these kids are being raised by some absolutely amazing women at the CDC,” Dr. Jones said.

The employees at the CDC put the “A” in “amazing” as they work through a pandemic to educate and care for children, from six weeks to about 4 or 5 years old. According to Susie White, lead teacher at the center, the love of the children is what keeps her going. “Every day, we make sure they are safe and their needs are taken care of. These children have a place to come when their moms and dads have to go work,” White said.

In following COVID-19 safety guidelines, employees are constantly sanitizing, social distancing, wearing masks and telling children to wash their hands. The children remain aware of the need to stay safe, even repeating little songs and sayings to stay on task. “We may say something like, ‘Germs are not for sharing,’ and ‘Wash, wash, wash your hands. Wash the germs away,'” said Renita King, another teacher.
“There’s never a dull moment here,” King said. “The kids are very entertaining. You learn something new from them every day.”

Others who work at the center include: Keiyonta Williams, Kayla Snipes, Sherry Hilton, Felicia Shelton, Vikita Waddy, Jessica Bolden, Coriyana Myricks, Emily Johnson, Akeiah Moore, Nia Barclay, Micki Carson, Rylee Burchfield, Joan Nwoke, Kaitlin Barham, Lucie Pradat, Ashleigh Rudolph and Theresa Wright.


March 31 – Shannon Spotswood

For some women, talking about money is hard. One poll showed that 61 percent of women would rather talk about death than money. Ouch!

Shannon Spotswood wants to remove those barriers and is passionate about educating women on how to build and grow wealth, which is why she created StrongHer Money. The online financial literacy platform has made such an impact in the financial industry, that it’s received national recognition. For Spotswood’s StrongHer Money efforts, InvestmentNews named her as a 2020 Women to Watch Honoree.

“At StrongHer Money, we want to make a positive contribution by creating a dedicated community for women to learn about money, investing, savings, spending and how that influences our goals and dreams,” Spotswood said. “Essentially, we want to coach women on how to live financially fearless.”

For 25 years, Spotswood has worked in financial services, holding numerous leadership roles in investment banking, hedge fund management and business development. Currently, Spotswood is the president of RFG Advisory. Under her leadership, RFG Advisory was named Best Places to Work for financial advisors in 2021 and a finalist for the InvestmentNews Innovation Awards 2021. In 2020, Financial Times named RFG Advisory a Top 300 RIA out of 13,000 firms.

Spotswood – who has been a frequent speaker at events on strategic execution, technology, and best practices on leading, recruiting, and mentoring financial advisors – has experience talking about start-ups. She built a luxury children’s clothing brand from the ground floor up. With her partner, the company grew from a trunk-show business based in a garage to a successful brand featured in Vogue, in stores and online.

She currently serves as vice chairman for the Birmingham Education Foundation, and in July, she will take on the role as chairman. She also serves on the advisory board of Alabama Futures Fund, an early-stage VC fund. She lives in Birmingham, where she and her husband have raised their son and two daughters.


April 1 – Corietta Mitchell

Talk about being a trailblazer.

On March 24, 1963 when the City of Birmingham was still under segregation laws, Corietta Mitchell became the first African American to have an art show at the Birmingham Museum of Art. On that Sunday evening, her showcase of seven oil paintings and five prints attracted nearly 600 people.

“This was a huge milestone event,” said Dr. Graham Boettcher, museum director.

Between 1959 and 1963, African Americans were only allowed to visit the museum on one designated day each week because of Jim Crow laws. But on July 23, 1963, a newly-formed Birmingham City Council repealed all segregation ordinances. Afterward, more African American artists showcased their art at the museum.
Mitchell had a long relationship of the arts in Birmingham. She was an arts instructor at Ullman High School, president of the Birmingham Art Club, and she helped organize the Afro-American Invitational as part of the Birmingham Festival of Arts. The Birmingham resident was also a well-known soprano, performing at several social events across the city, according to local newspaper articles.

“In the article I found about her, it said, ‘Ms. Mitchell was the first of her race to have an educational television program on art, which was seen in six states,’” Dr. Boettcher said. “She was a trailblazer not just in her role in Birmingham but also in broadcasting.”

Research has also shown that Mitchell was the piano teacher for Cynthia Wesley, one of the four girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on Sept. 15, 1963.

“I think that we’ve just got to tell her story and get the word out there. She deserves the spotlight to be shown on her,” Dr. Boettcher said. “My ultimate goal is I would love for us to be able to locate examples of her work and to add her work to our permanent collection.”

Anyone with more information on Mitchell, who lived from 1910 to 1982, may contact Dr. Boettcher at gboettcher@artsbma.org.


StrongHer 2020 Profiles

February 28 – Janice Kelsey

On May 2, 1963, she was one of nearly 1,000 students who skipped classes to march and protest segregation in Birmingham. It was a peaceful protest in downtown Birmingham. But she was still jailed for four days. She said the experience, known as the Children’s Crusade, made her even more determined to speak up and speak out about injustice.

“I hope that what I did empowers young people to stand strong for their beliefs and do it in an honorable and peaceful manner,” said Kelsey, who wrote about her foot soldier experience in the 2017 book, “I Woke Up With My Mind on Freedom.’’

Later in March, the grandmother of five will visit Birmingham, England to share her story as part of a major United Kingdom’s exhibition about the role women, men and children played in the civil rights movement.

“What happened to me and hundreds of others in 1963, shows that you don’t have to be in charge of a movement to make a difference in a movement,” said Kelsey, a retired principal Powderly Elementary School now working with an educational program at Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.

“Young people need to be informed by seeing and hearing the realities of the past,’’ Kelsey said. “Hopefully, they will be able to relate and learn from the past as a catalyst for change in a peaceful, non-violent manner today.”


March 1 – Ursula Smith

Ursula Smith was 23 years old when she opened her first dance studio. But three years later, the Great Recession of 2007/2008 forced her to close. She was devastated.

“When the economy crashes, the first thing parents do is pull their kids from extra-curricular activities,’’ said Smith, a Birmingham native and mother of two.

She didn’t stop teaching dance. She just did it in rec centers, churches and any place people would allow, no matter how tight the space.

Her dream of being in a building again became a reality on Feb. 1, 2020, when she opened the Ursula Smith Dance Academy inside the A.G. Gaston Building in Birmingham’s civil rights district. Gaston, an African-American multimillionaire and grandson of a slave, used the building to house many of his companies including an insurance company, a business college and a savings and loan.

Whenever she walks through her dance academy doors, she often finds herself thinking about one of Gaston’s famous quotes: “Find a need and fill it.’’

Said Smith: “I have been doing that for the last 20 years: finding a space and finding a platform for children, youth and adults to dream and to create. I definitely feel the weight of what Dr. Gaston accomplished, and I feel the weight is on me to inspire and impact the next generation of artists to find their need through their art and fill it.’’

“My No. 1 mission is to be a beacon of light and change in Birmingham, through the performing arts,’’ said Smith, who offers various forms of dance five days a week. #StrongHER


March 2 – Martha Underwood

Whenever Martha Underwood delivers a speech about going after what she wants in corporate America, it’s not unusual to see women waiting at the end to talk to her.

With comments such as “Don’t be afraid to take a risk’’ and “Know your value,’’ it’s hard not to want to hear more from the Birmingham bank executive.

She has a lot to share.

Several years ago when she was in a different state and with a different company, she and a male counterpart did the same line of work. However, the male co-worker was paid more. She addressed the issue with leadership. Eventually, her pay was increased to that of her male counterpart.

So, why not just stay quiet? Her answer is simple: No one else is going to do it for you.

“If you continue to allow it to go on, then you become resentful. And then, your performance suffers,’’ she said. “I’m addicted to excellence, and I am not going to allow people to undervalue me based on what I can bring to the table. The best person to discredit what I can bring to the table for an organization is me.’’

Her zeal for women’s empowerment, equal pay and advanced opportunities keeps her going and gives her purpose. She also runs her own company, ExecutivEstrogen, where she offers one-on-one and group mentoring sessions designed to provide women entering corporate America the tools they need to succeed.

When she’s not mentoring career women, she can be found helping young girls get and stay interested in STEM.

“I’m here to help women get to the next level,’’ she said. #StrongHER


March 3 – Sarah Robinson

In 2019, Sarah Robinson took a hard look at herself, at Birmingham and asked: “What do I do well, and what can I do well for my city and its youth?”

She’s always been a natural at public speaking, so the answer was easy. She’d find ways to help people show up as great communicators in any setting. Thus, Birmingham Speaks was born. Through that outlet, she offers one-on-one coaching and workshops to help people improve their public speaking skills. It wasn’t that she had encountered bad public speakers in the Magic City, it was just that she didn’t see anything wrong with people having a coach. Because after all, even the greatest CEOs in the world have coaches to help them deliver messages.

But she didn’t stop there. She also started her “Spark” breakfast series, which is a panel discussion held once a month and features some of Birmingham’s best and brightest sharing stories of tests, transformations and triumphs. Her March 5 Spark event will feature an all-female panel set to discuss women in leadership.

“I have a real passion for the women of this city. That’s why I’m doing this women’s panel,” Robinson said, who’s also an author. “It’s important to me because I have lived and traveled all over the world, and I’ve seen what women are capable of. And if there is anything I can do to encourage women to take up that leadership role … I want to do it.’’

“I was never told, ‘You’re a woman. You can’t do that,’ ” Robinson said. “I was always encouraged to put myself out there.” #StrongHER


March 4 – Malika Freeman

As valedictorian at Woodlawn High School, Malika Freeman has already amassed more than $500,000 in scholarship offers. She expects more offers to come before graduation. And as a participant in the school system’s Early College program, she’s already earned 36 college credits from UAB.

She wants to major in mechanical engineering in college, work as an aerospace engineer and return to Birmingham to start a program that exposes young girls, especially African-American girls, to careers in engineering. Until all of that happens, she will continue with her classwork, work a part-time job and focus on hosting an anti-gun violence rally in Birmingham in May. (She’s doing the rally after losing two friends to gun violence in 2019.)

“When you have something in mind and you have to do it, you just do it,’’ Malika said. “I’m an action person. If you really want something bad enough, you do it.’’ #StrongHER


March 5 – Taylor Peake

When Taylor Peake started college at UAB – The University of Alabama at Birmingham, she majored in accounting with plans to go to law school.

But it didn’t take her long to realize that law and accounting weren’t for her. She consulted with her college counselor, who suggested she take a programming class.

Peake fell in love with the course, which connected her with her future. At the age of 19 in 2010, Peake launched MotionMobs, a custom software consulting and development firm.

The Birmingham-based business and many of its executives have earned national and local recognition. Last year, Peake was named UAB Alumnus of the Year for Information Systems. Also, the company was one of the top three finalists for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Dream Big Awards in 2019.

She currently sits on boards for the Crisis Center, Alabama Central Six Development Council and BBVA. She is a past board member for REV Birmingham and a current member of Kiwanis Club of Birmingham, Birmingham Venture Club and TechBirmingham. She is also a mentor for the Velocity accelerator program. #StrongHER


March 6 – Evanne Gibson

As president of the Germania Park Neighborhood Association, Evanne Gibson has worked with residents over the years to help improve the area. Her latest efforts have landed the association in the running for a national award.

In 2019, Gibson talked to her church’s youth about cleaning up around the church grounds. The concept grew into something much bigger: youth shadowing city code enforcement officers to learn what they do. The experience was the perfect mix of workforce development, education and community involvement. Now, Neighborhoods USA is looking at the association’s “Youth Code Inspectors” program as a finalist for its “Neighborhood of the Year Award.” Winners will be announced in May.

Gibson, 71, credits committed residents and city partnerships in helping to bring change to her neighborhood. “In everything we do, it’s not just me,” she said. “You have to have citizen involvement and give them ownership to make them feel a part of something.” #StrongHER


March 7 – Sara Franklin

In 2018, Sara Sanderson Franklin was diagnosed with epilepsy, a serious brain disorder that affects 3.4 million people in America. When she told others in 2019, she didn’t experience whispers behind her back. Instead, it was quite the opposite.

“Now that I’ve been open that I have epilepsy, people have opened up to me about their own journey or that someone in their family has it,’’ said Franklin, who recently gave birth to her second son.

She is executive director of Epilepsy Foundation of Alabama, which serves the more than 54,000 people in Alabama with epilepsy. Two months after taking on the position last fall, Franklin helped lead what would become one of the nation’s largest awareness and fundraising walks for epilepsy. It was held in Railroad Park. She and her team are gearing up for another big walk at Railroad Park on Nov. 7, as well as other events.

For Franklin, raising awareness about epilepsy is a true calling that is breaking down barriers and misconceptions.

“There is a stigma connected to epilepsy and there shouldn’t be,’’ she said. “It is not based on age, race or gender.’’ #StrongHER


March 8 – Aquilla and Madison Harris

Last year, Aquilla Burney Harris was crushed when she learned her daughter, Madison, had insecurities about her short hair. And Harris realized she had only made it worse by adding weave to Madison’s hair through the years. Determined to be a living example that a person is not their hair, Harris cut off her own long hair into a pixie cut. It was a lesson in self-love and inner beauty.

“I told her we are not going to do any more weave. We don’t have to have long hair in order to be beautiful,” Harris said “No matter if your hair is long, short, curly or straight, we are beautiful just the way God made us.”

Harris’ husband caught the hair cut and exchange between Harris and Madison on video, which was posted to Facebook in March 2019. The clip went viral, gaining more than 200,000 views. The public’s reaction was so strong that Harris created Maddgirlz2 to advance her message, provide an empowerment group for young girls and donate hair bows to girls. Madison, 11, now accepts her natural hair.

“Maddgirlz2 is to inspire girls to love themselves, to love life and to empower girls and women to change the world,” said Harris, 45. ” We are strong beautiful black women. We are supposed to be different. We are different.”

Harris, who has spoken to groups about her movement, will make an appearance with Integrity Salon Spa at the Natural Hair and Health Expo at the BJCC on March 21. #StrongHER #InternationalWomensDay


March 9 – Dr. Monica Baskin

Dr. Monica Baskin is a fierce advocate in focusing attention and resources on community health issues.

She is a professor of preventive medicine and vice chair for Culture and Diversity at UAB – The University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she works with a diverse coalition of organizational leaders to promote programs, practices and policies to ensure that everyone in Birmingham has a fair opportunity to live a long and healthy life. This effort, under the umbrella of the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership, includes her working with leaders from various areas that represent public health, non-profit and faith-based organizations, philanthropy, medicine, education and business.

Her office has led trainings with Birmingham-based organizations on equity, diversity and inclusion and provided support for improvements in areas such as low-cost ride sharing and biking programs. This work is helping to show the world that Birmingham strives to be a healthy place for people to live, work and play.

“I am hopeful that my visibility as an African-American woman leader in this community shows other women and young girls that we belong in spaces of leadership,’’ Dr. Baskin said. #StrongHER


March 10 – Leticia Watkins

As the director of Children & Youth at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Leticia Watkins creates year-round youth programs to help students reach their fullest potential. One program of note is Collision. Started in 2018, it gives teenagers a unique space to become leaders in the church and do public service. Within 12 months, the church saw a 188 percent increase in teen participation.

Watkins is also on the Titusville Youth Sports Association Board; is founder of L4L Mentoring, a self-empowerment program for preteen girls; and serves as the advisor of SOLUTIONS, a teen-led program that teaches emotional management and conflict resolution to elementary school students.

Mentoring, she said, isn’t a task for her. It’s life.

“My journey is saturated in faith, determination and love,’’ said Watkins, 35. “I want others to be encouraged to take steps of uncertainty. I want our youth to be eager learners and problem solvers, always thinking of improving the lives of others.’’ #StrongHER


March 11 – Meredith Calhoun

Meredith Calhoun spent 14 years working as a leader in the commercial real estate community to help transform and grow Birmingham’s city center.

But in 2018, she left it all behind for an even bigger calling – to start Practice Works, a shared workspace for wellness professionals. “We are changing the way wellness professionals work and how the wellness seekers have access to them,’’ Calhoun said.

Practice Works, based in Avondale, is not your typical therapy practice, yoga studio or spa. The building is home to more than 30 professional members with wellness offerings such as nutrition, concierge medicine, massage, counseling, coaching and yoga therapy. They also offer a range of classes, including meditation, Tai Chi, Wall and Chair Yoga and Mat Pilates. Their classrooms double as event spaces perfect for any group seeking to integrate a little wellness into their meeting agenda.

“My business partner, Becca Impello, and I started Practice Works because we wanted to solve a problem in Birmingham and change the conversation around access to preventive wellness services,’’ Calhoun said.

When she’s not at work, Calhoun exercises her creative side through board service to non-profits and mentoring young professionals. She serves on the Board of Directors for REV Birmingham, Children’s Aid Society of Alabama and Oasis Counseling for Women and Children. Earlier this year, the Birmingham Business Journal recognized her as one of the Top 40 Under 40 of the Decade. #StrongHER


March 12 – SaNiah Dawson

Ramsay High School senior SaNiah Dawson has a challenge for those with a heart for Birmingham: Step up!

“Birmingham is my home, and I believe in treating this beautiful city in the same manner as my house. From cleaning up Birmingham, to being a supportive peer … I encourage the citizens of Birmingham to become sustainable and serve our community,’’ said SaNiah, 18. “Stop littering and reduce the use of plastic. Also, use your privilege to help the underprivileged.’’

SaNiah has a 4.3 GPA and is salutatorian for her class. Once she gets to college, she wants to start a college career readiness organization to help low-income students and minorities in Birmingham prep for success after high school.

“When I was growing up, college was not emphasized in my household. I didn’t know about financial aid, what to look for in a college and things like that,’’ she said. “I want to help those in similar situations like me. I feel like students will be able to connect to me. Hopefully, they will look up at me and say, ‘If she made it, I know I can.’ ’’ #StrongHER


March 13 – Courtney Nelson

As director of social emotional learning for Birmingham City Schools, Courtney Marie Nelson brings awareness to mental health issues students face. She works to educate the community on erasing the stigma related to mental health and break barriers to services for our children and families.

The passion she has for her job is her super power, says Nelson, 40, the former principal for Avondale Elementary School.

“When I am working with our children and families, I am able to reach them and build trusting relationships because I lead my work with the passion that I bring every day,’’ she says. “I am often told by the children and families I work with that they feel supported and valued because of my passion and ability to advocate on their behalf.’’

“If we ensure students’ social, emotional and personal needs are met through wraparound services in our schools then we will guarantee further success in their future,’’ she says.

In her spare time, Nelson speaks in the community about mental health awareness, services and resources available to families and various other issues related to mental health and other topics. #StrongHER


March 14 – Michelle Chambers

Bellview Heights resident Michelle Moses Chambers felt like she had struck gold when she enrolled her two daughters in NorthStar Soccer Ministries in 2006. At the time, there was not really a soccer club on her side of her town. But the club’s offering of faith, fellowship and field goals made it hard to resist.

Chambers volunteered with the organization, serving as team mom, a team manager, on the board of directors and more. When her daughters got older and eventually moved on, Chambers did not. She stayed with NorthStar, still volunteering to this day.

“I’m a firm believe that every child deserves a champion, who is an advocate. I feel that I fill that role,’’ said Chambers, 42.

NorthStar serves more than 200 students, boys and girls, per season. It has students not only in western Birmingham but all over the metro Birmingham area. In 2019, NorthStar honored Chambers for her years of commitment and dedicated service.

“It’s important for me to make sure that programs are accessible to children who may not be able to afford this opportunity,’’ Chambers said. “Soccer is expensive. But NorthStar isn’t. Children should be able to have that opportunity.’’

“I have a passion for this, which is why I stick around.’’ #StrongHER


March 15 – YWCA Central Alabama

Women are the heartbeat of the community. When you lift women up, you lift entire communities. The YWCA Central Alabama does this by providing programs and services to support women as they rebuild their lives, transition to work and build or maintain their independence.

Thanks to the YWCA’s commitment of change, women and girls learn to advocate for themselves, maybe even discovering their voice for the very first time. Voices of the abused, for example, are championed through the YWCA’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Services. Every day, this team brings its A game to help victims navigate the deadly cycle of domestic violence and provide advocacy and care. Such journeys have given women experiences of growth, strength and courage.

Promoting peace and empowering women are just some of the goals that live within the souls of those serving through the YWCA. They are Birmingham warriors who believe in a world of equity, human decency and opportunity. Their efforts matter as much as the people they serve. #StrongHER


March 16 – Kimberly Speights

In 2016, Kingston native Kimberly Speights created Leadership And Mentoring Program (L.A.M.P.), a mentorship program for girls 12-18 years old. The free, after-school program teachers girls in Gate City, Kingston and parts of North Avondale to know their self-worth, avoid bad relationships and operate in their purpose.

Her work is changing behaviors and possible futures.

“Four girls who started with us are now getting ready to graduate from high school. They were on the verge of being put out of school when we got them in elementary school,’’ said Speights, 47. “But seeing them wanting something out of life instead of them saying, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do,’ is significant. I’m so proud of them.’’

For women 18 years old and older, Speights created The End in 2017. It helps women identify and break toxic habits and cycles. Attendees in the eight-week curriculum set smart goals, receive mentorship and accountability partners and more.

Speights, a married mother of two and a minister, said she feels like she is changing lives simply by working to change mindsets. “If we change the way people see themselves, that automatically changes everything they see around them, including behaviors and their choices,’’ Speights said. #StrongHER


March 17 – Tracey Young

Tracey Young is vice president of Key Club at Jackson-Olin High School, where she and her fellow club members are working to open the Green and Gold boutique to provide free clothes, shoes, school supplies and hygiene items for students in need. “We feel that is something each school should have,” said the Ensley resident.

Tracey, 17, lives her motto of “Service above self” in that she wants to be a blessing to others and help them with their problems.

With a 3.9 GPA and salutatorian of her 2020 class, she plans to major in criminal justice at Troy University in the fall. She said she wants to graduate so she can help crime victims and rehabilitate the incarcerated. Currently, she’s a participant in the Birmingham Promise Apprenticeship Program, interning at a Birmingham law firm.

“I am striving to be the example that shows that greatness comes from the City of Birmingham by excelling in all aspects of my life,” she said. #StrongHER


March 18 – Felicia Carter Johnson

Felicia Carter Johnson is a Jill of All Trades.

By day, she’s a professional business manager at AT&T. And in her spare time, the sky’s the limit. From mentoring young women and reading to children to volunteering as a clown and working to promote tennis opportunities to underserved communities, she works to inspire people to learn and grow.

Johnson is the past national president for the American Business Women’s Association, which is a professional women’s association with a mission to provide opportunities for women to grow personally and professionally through networking, education and leadership development. She is also vice president of the volunteer arm at AT&T, which is known as the AT&T Pioneers organization. Through the group, they do quite a bit in the community, including donating items to assist Miles College students and packaging food for food banks. As vice president and scholarship chair for the James Lewis Education and Tennis Foundation, Inc., she helps the group partner with local schools to provide tennis instruction, tutoring and summer programs.

When she’s hard at work, she can’t help but think of the words that keep her going: “Let my light so shine that others will see my good works and glorify the Father in heaven.” #StrongHER


March 19 – Birmingham City Schools cafeteria employees

Ever since Birmingham City Schools closed this month to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a group of women have still been reporting to work to make sure students receive well-balanced meals. These school cafeteria employees from various Birmingham schools are making hundreds lunches at Carver High School every day and packing up meals, which are placed on refrigerated trucks and delivered to Birmingham schools and rec centers for pick up.

The women show up smiling.

The women pack lunches smiling.

The women leave smiling.

“We are working to provide students with the meals they need to sustain them while they are away from our schools,’’ said Michelle Sailes, director of the Child Nutrition Program for Birmingham City Schools. “When I put out the call for help, no one hesitated. They are committed. They come in as early as 7 o’clock in the morning.’’

“What pushes us is the love we have for our students. This is all happening because of the care our school district has as well as the care partners like the Summer Food Program, the City of Birmingham and Birmingham Park and Rec have for our students,’’ Sailes said. “Everything that we can do to help students to get through this time, we are here, and we want to be here through the duration.’’

(Meals are served at schools from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. At Birmingham rec centers, lunches are served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For a list of where students may pick up lunches in Birmingham and across Jefferson County, please visit www.birminghamal.gov/coronavirus. To qualify, students must be 18 years old or younger. Students will not have to show a student ID or lunch room code.) #StrongHER


March 20 – Crystal Mullen-Johnson

Crystal Mullen-Johnson’s mother died when she was 14. Then, she buried her mother one day before her 15th birthday.

Although Crystal had family support to get through tough times, she did not have professional counseling to address the deeper pain of losing her mother at such a pivotal time in her life.

It wasn’t until Crystal was enrolled at Alabama A&M University, her mother’s alma mater, that Crystal realized what she needed: stronger mental health options. And with that, Crystal pursued studies to become a mental health care expert. She secured a degree in social work.

For 16 years, Crystal has been helping people cope with stress, depression, anxiety and more. Clients have sought counsel from her on everything from divorce and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to most recently, coping with the threat of COVID-19. Through her company in downtown Birmingham, Strive Counseling Services, she provides therapeutic counseling to address mental health conditions.

“It’s my social responsibility, as a mental health provider, to raise awareness about mental health,’’ said Crystal, 39. “In 2019, I started the Community Mental Health Awareness Initiative, in partnership with the City of Birmingham, to host free, monthly educational learning sessions at the downtown Birmingham library. These meetings, which involve licensed mental health or healthcare professionals, are held for one hour, once a month on a Saturday. Times and dates vary.’’

“This program is game changer for Birmingham in that it educates attendees about mental health, provides free resources and removes the stigma about mental health,’’ she said.

(Because of the coronavirus threat, Community Mental Health Awareness Initiative sessions have been postponed until further notice. To learn more, visit www.strivebhm.com.) #StrongHER


March 21 – Kylin Gibson

Last October while watching TV, a segment on childhood bullying caught Kylin Gibson’s attention.

This shouldn’t be happening, she thought. Then, she wondered: What can I do to stop bullying? She figured a club at her school could help, so she started the Super Girl Power Club.

The club’s goal is to motivate peers to gather, exchange ideas and build self-esteem.

“What I like about the club is it’s helping other people and encouraging others to do great things,’’ said Kylin, a fourth grader at Phillips Academy. “I want everyone to feel happy, not feel left out and feel excited. I just want people to know that everything is going to be OK.’’

The A/B Honor Roll student, cheerleader and National Beta Club member wants to be a fire marshal when she grows up. Once the coronavirus crisis subsides, she wants to celebrate fire fighters and paramedics with a special recognition in a Birmingham park and take doughnuts to the city’s four police precincts.

“I just appreciate them and everything they are doing to help out the community,’’ Kylin said. #StrongHER


March 22 – Myra Williams Armstead

Bump into Myra Williams Armstead and you just may walk away with a pair of shoes or suit from the trunk of her car.

In 2015, she started blessing strangers with items like gently-used suits, dresses, accessories after meeting them by chance and talking to them. Her generosity to women, given as part of her non-profit Trunk Ministry, have helped them score much-needed clothes for job interviews, work or just everyday living.

“I’m led to whomever I need to bless at the time,’’ said Armstead, 42, who has also donated women’s clothing to the YWCA. “I feel like my mission and my purpose are to be a person of impact. A person who makes a difference.’’

Another way she wants to bring change to women’s lives is by sharing her trials and tribulations. Last September, she published the book, “Divine Purpose.” Part of it covers losing her father to gun violence when she was 16 and how that prompted her to pursue law school. She graduated from Miles School of Law in 2018.

Now, she uses messages from her book in public speaking appearances to uplift and encourage women. “The book just tells people that if God did it for me, He can do it for you. You just have to remain faithful and trust Him,’’ she said. #StrongHER


March 23 – Megan Hand

Megan Hand’s first profession was as an architect, which she loved. But unfortunately, she had to give it up because of the recession. While searching for an architectural job, she started businesses, many of which failed. Yet, she kept working to find something to sustain her creatively and financially.

Finally, she landed on photography, which was a true love that loved her back again and again. It allowed her to travel the globe, photograph people at their happiest and serve as a volunteer with The Tiny Footprints Project, which provides free newborn and family photography to NICU families. Earlier this month, Click Pro Photographers named Hand to its international list of “100 Female Photographers to Watch in 2020.” It was a recognition, Hand said, that made her feel seen. “It gave me the confirmation I needed that I was on the right path toward my goals,” she said.

Outside of photography, Hand founded the Birmingham chapter of the Silent Book Club in January 2017. The group, which started in California in 2012 and now has several chapters across America, meets to socialize and discuss books before attendees break to read any book they choose in collective silence.

“I hope that when other women hear my story, they remember that they have it in them to live the life they want, doing the things they want,” said Hand, 36. “Failure is normal. What matters more is what you do with those failures. Do you grow or wilt away? When you manage to finally overcome your own fears and hang-ups, the world can be yours.” #StrongHER


March 24 – Katelyn McCray

When Katelyn McCray was little, she was bullied because of her size and shape. And even though her father often told her she was beautiful, and she could do anything, it was hard for her to believe. That is, until he suggested she take up karate at the age of 9.

“I learned that my size doesn’t mean I can’t do the same thing a girl who is smaller than me can do. I can probably do the same or even better,’’ said 17-year-old Katelyn, who now has a black belt in karate. This summer, the West End resident will test for her second-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do karate.

“When I was younger, being bullied made me feel like I was less than everyone, like I wasn’t worthy enough,’’ said the Wenonah High School senior. “But since starting karate, I’ve learned my value and worth and know that I can do anything that I put my heart to and my time.’’

Thanks to her instructor at North Star Martial Arts, Katelyn took a mission trip to Guatemala in 2019. She plans to return for another mission trip this year before leaving for Johnson and Wales University in Denver, Colo. to study culinary arts. And while she’s away at college, she won’t forget about the metro Birmingham area. She wants to join her martial arts school in offering online karate classes to teach self-defense moves to all ages.

“I want us to help all communities and not just my community,’’ she said. #StrongHER


March 25 – Kristie Clayton

In 2017, Kristie Clayton attended a training session with about 50 integrators (chief operations officers) from different companies. What she noticed was only a few women were in the room.

During a networking break, Kristie connected with some of the women and discovered they all had the same thought – their approaches, perspectives and points of view were just slightly different. It wasn’t that the men or women were right or wrong. The women just had a different approach to solutions.

Although Kristie is not intimidated by men, a few women said they didn’t speak up when they saw things differently because they didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. Since they were outnumbered, it was harder for their voices to be heard. So, Kristie thought something for women like them should be created to discuss and solve issues. And so was born the Female Integrator Mastermind, an international peer group for female leaders who run their companies on EOS, a specific operating system for entrepreneurs. Kristie is looking to hold FIM’s 2021 or 2022 summit in Birmingham to allow women to learn from each other and hear from leadership experts.

“I encourage the women in my office to be heard and to speak up when they have an idea or a solution,’’ said Kristie, 40, the integrator and chief compliance officer at BCR Wealth Strategies. “We’re strong women who have different experiences, and we can help each other by supporting each other and being part of each other’s growth and development. Sometimes, that means being the example, so they see someone doing it first-hand.’’ #StrongHER


March 26 – Claudia Hardy

For more than 20 years, Claudia Hardy has worked to encourage those in urban and rural areas of Alabama to get screened for lung, breast, prostate, cervical and colon cancer.

But she doesn’t do it alone. She recruits various community health advisors to help spread a wealth of knowledge on what’s available in the fight to reduce cancer disparities and increase cancer screenings. They are warriors working to save lives, erase fears and debunk myths about medicine and cancer. Her next move is to address chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

“This allows me to pave the way for the underserved, those without a voice,” said Hardy, 50, program director for the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement for the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. “I’m a champion for those who don’t have a voice.”

Hardy has received international recognition for her work, even traveling to Zambia, Africa, to show individuals how the community health advisors model that she uses, works to deliver health messages and community-based research interventions.

“I’ve been called ‘The Cancer Lady’ for what I do,” Hardy said. “It’s an honor, but it carries a tremendous … responsibility to measure up. I’m always on. I don’t miss an opportunity to educate and to offer some advice for how people can get connected in a system.” #StrongHER


March 27 – Dr. Ankrehah “Kre” Trimble Johnson

Dr. Ankrehah “Kre’’ Trimble Johnson, president and sole owner of Brownstone Healthcare & Aesthetics, gives back in so many ways.

First, she is the founder of the nonprofit Three Twenty Girls Inc., which awards the Courtlin Arrington Scholarship every year to a Birmingham City Schools female graduating senior interested in pursuing a career in the medical field. The scholarship is named after Arrington, a Huffman High School senior with dreams of becoming a nurse, who was killed in a March 2018 shooting.

Second, Johnson hosts the annual Wifeology conference in Birmingham, encouraging wives to stop putting themselves in last place and to practice more self care.

Third, she runs a direct primary care medical practice and an HIV prevention clinic, where she doles out solid medical advice, caring hugs, an unforgettable smile and thoughtful prayers.

And with everything this wife and mother is doing, Dr. Johnson keeps going and giving because serving others is a major priority.

“Excellence is my standard, not my goal,” Doctor Kre said. “This keeps me working hard and setting the bar high for myself.” #StrongHER


March 28 – Libby Lassiter

Whether she’s working to create places people love or to raise the profile of the community, Libby Lassiter is an inspiration for women in Birmingham and beyond.

She is part of a group of Christian business leaders who’ve partnered with Common Thread, a Birmingham non-profit group, to raise funding to renovate a six-acre property in Titusville. Their goal is to create a community center and increase local entrepreneurship and economic development opportunities for the area.

The center will become home to a job/trade skills training group and other initiatives/partners. Organizers are aiming for an opening date of fall 2020. Lassiter also serves as a mentor for up-and-coming business leaders of Common Thread.

“I have been so inspired by the Common Thread community of believers, the successful launches, and their impact and holistic approach that I want to be involved in the areas where I can help make an impact,” said Lassiter, who’s president of Bayer Properties LLC.

Prior to volunteering with Common Thread, Lassiter helped launch the ChristFit program in Woodlawn. ChristFit was a faith-based ministry dedicated to training and mentoring student athletes mostly from Woodlawn High School.

Lassiter is also a member of REV Birmingham’s board; is involved in the sustainability group “Faith Meets Business: Climate Solutions for the Common Good,” which hosted its first community event on the climate crisis earlier this year; and was selected by the Birmingham Business Journal as a “Woman to Watch in 2019.” #StrongHER


March 29 – Peggie Faulks Myles and Frances Faulks

Peggie Faulks Myles and Frances Faulks followed in their mother’s footsteps in career and public service.

The sisters, both in their 70s and residents of Birmingham’s Belview Heights neighborhood, are retired school teachers. And both volunteer for about 20 clubs and organizations, including the Imperial Club Debutantes; the education sorority, Phi Delta Kappa Inc.; their neighborhood association; their church; and Girl Scouts of the USA.

As Girl Scout leaders, they co-lead the troop at Birmingham’s Brown Elementary. Peggie Myles also heads the troop at Oxmoor Valley Elementary, and Frances Faulks heads the troop at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church.

“Girl Scouts gave us a sense of belonging, confidence, character and courage,’’ said Peggie Myles. “And we try to share what we learned with the girls we encounter.”

Girl Scouts has recognized them for their outstanding work. But possibly the bigger reward they get is just hearing how the children they have taught or mentored for more than 50 years say that they would not be where they are today had it not been for the two sisters. Students have gone on to become lawyers, nurses, doctors, elected officials and even Miss Alabama State University, just to name a few.

There are even more young people they want to reach and teach.

“We are not going to stop until the Lord says so,” Peggie Myles said. “We feel strongly that we need to help the children and their parents.” #StrongHER


March 30 – Jenny Waltman

For 11 years, Grace Klein Community, a Christian-based nonprofit, has fed thousands of food-insecure families. At the onset of COVID-19, Grace Klein Community partnered with other churches, business leaders and nonprofits to form the Joint Supply Coalition to coordinate food distribution for Birmingham and outlying communities.

Grace Klein Community operates through massive volunteer engagement. One of those volunteers is Jenny Waltman, director of the board for Grace Klein Community.

“The only appropriate response (to COVID-19) is to increase our efforts to adequately care for our city through this crisis. We understand the need and many of our volunteers have years of experience in home delivery service,” Waltman said.

Before COVID-19, Grace Klein Community provided food to approximately 500 families per month through home delivery, and another 8,000 people picked up food at its center. Now, the group is serving thousands more because of COVID-19.

“Last Friday, we fed 3,124 individuals, a very large amount in one day,” Waltman said. “Recipients include those who have lost jobs because of COVID-19, seniors, parents who require additional food support now that children are home from school, etc.”

Waltman said they are charting new territory in not only serving those in poverty, but also serving the general population. From the time food is donated, packaged and delivered, volunteers take extra safety precautions to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Soon, they plan to have food delivered to distribution centers in Five Points West, Titusville and Fairfield from hubs located at Royal Divinity Ministries in the Wylam/Ensley and the GKC office in Hoover. Distribution centers will provide food to drive-thru sites, which will distribute the food in a drive-thru system. “Home deliveries will be coordinated for those at high risk,” Waltman said.

Want to help? Visit volunteer.gkcbhm.com. Want to donate? Visit gracekleincommunity.com/donate. #StrongHER


March 31 – Jan Bell

For several years, Jan Bell has bicycled across Alabama and the country to raise funding and awareness about child sex trafficking.

The cause has meant so much to her that she bicycled 2,200 miles from Mobile to Canada in 2017 to raise funds to support the Child Trafficking Solutions Project in metro Birmingham. It took her about five weeks on the solo trip.

Through that trip and other efforts over the past three years, she has raised about $25,000. Because of her efforts, nearly 5,000 law enforcement/first responders, health and mental health providers, child welfare and juvenile justice staff in the metro area have been trained in recognizing, rethinking and responding to child trafficking through the Child Trafficking Solutions Project, Children’s Policy Cooperative of Jefferson County.

With the coronavirus taking a toll on the economy now, traffickers are even more likely to target and recruit young females via social media sites. To help fight this, Bell encourages people to learn more about child sex trafficking and ways to prevent it.

“I am passionate about this work because the children and youth who are victims of trafficking, tend to be the most vulnerable,” said Bell, 63, the executive director of the Children’s Policy Council affiliated with Jefferson County Family Court. “They are, thus, the most urgently in need of advocates fighting for them, not just against the traffickers but for the services, stability and survivor care they need to overcome their trauma and to thrive.” #StrongHER


March 31 – Pamela Butler

Pamela Butler is a walking example of what hope looks like.

She was addicted to drugs for 10 years until 1993 when she found treatment that worked for her. And since then, she’s been drug and alcohol free. For seven years, she has worked as the coordinator of recovery resources for the Alabama Department of Mental Health. Prior to that, she worked in substance use disorder for more than 20 years.

“I’m a survivor, and I want my story to help other people caught up in addiction to know that they can go from darkness to light,” said Butler, who also created peer support certification training in Alabama for those in recovery helping others struggling with addiction. “They can have a successful life.”

The Roebuck resident said she wants people to understand that drug and alcohol addiction can happen to anybody. But when it does happen, the person who is addicted does not have to stay in active addiction. She was in and out of treatment centers 15 times before she finally made the decision for a better life. Butler shares her journey and more with those she counsels and mentors.

“Addiction robs you of anything of hope. You are just a shell of a person existing,” said Butler, 55. “When I was blessed with recovery, I just dedicated my life to helping other people. My life has been raising (my two children); going back to school to get my degree in social work; working two, full-time jobs early on; and trying to be a good mother and daughter, which I think I am.”

“I’ve got to maintain recovery because it is a gift from God. I don’t want to waste it.”

If you know of someone in need of help, please call the Substance Use Disorder Helpline at 1-844-307-1760 or visit rosshelpline4u.org. #StrongHER


April 1 – Chanda Temple

As we round out our celebration of Birmingham women, we couldn’t let the opportunity pass without celebrating the architect behind this great project.

There’s no stronger champion for Birmingham women than our own Chanda Temple.

For the past two years, Chanda has lead the City of Birmingham’s StrongHER effort, highlighting unsung women heroes who have made uplifting others their life’s work. As the Public Information Officer for the City of Birmingham, Mayor’s Office, Chanda serves as the city’s chief connector – ensuring that lines of communication are strong between government and the residents it serves.

Chanda is a veteran reporter turned media relations maven. She has worked as a seasoned writer across various Birmingham publications; managed public relations, blogging and social media for Birmingham City Schools; and worked at BBVA Compass as an employee communications consultant. She’s the coauthor of the award-winning cookbook “Birmingham’s Best Bites,” which features recipes from renowned Birmingham eateries, as well as “Magic City Cravings,” a second cookbook with Food Network Star Martie Duncan.

Chanda’s true passion lies in storytelling, especially stories that shine the spotlight on women who are pushing Birmingham forward.

“There are lots of words to describe Chanda – words like ‘dedicated’ and ‘compassionate’ come to mind,” said Mayor Randall L. Woodfin. “But for me, I like to use the word ‘shero,’ a true advocate for women in our city with a fierce drive to celebrate their stories. We’re happy to honor a woman who has spent a lifetime honoring others.” #StrongHER


StrongHer 2019 Profiles

March 1 – Deirdre Gaddis

Ten years ago, Deirdre Gaddis’ hair started thinning so she cut it short. As the thinning increased because of a condition that’s the female version of male pattern baldness, she added weave here or a wig there to cover up what she felt was missing. One day in 2013 at 1 a.m., she got out of bed, took a hard look in the mirror and shaved her head. And she’s been rocking her bald head ever since. She goes to work bald. She performs as a singer bald. She inspires others to be bald.

Gaddis works as an administrative clerk by day. But in her spare time, she sings. On March 23 and 24, she will be one of the background singers for Grammy-nominated singer Miki Howard at Boutwell Auditorium. “I’m not a cancer survivor, but I’ve been able to encourage other women who face that fight and are struggling with their impending baldness,’’ she said. “I can show them that being bald isn’t a drawback. In fact, baldness forces others to focus on your true inner beauty instead of the hairdo you’re wearing at the moment.’’


March 2 – Amanda Storey

In 2008, Amanda Storey was laid off from a publication. But that closed door didn’t deter her. She knocked on the door of Jones Valley Teaching Farm for a new opportunity and offered her marketing services in exchange for a box of veggies each week. Jones Valley accepted. A decade later, she’s now leading the organization, using the power of healthy food to impact the lives of young people in Birmingham. Amanda helps build teaching farms on school campuses as well as steer a hands-on food education program, Good School Food, in Birmingham City Schools. Her perseverance is proof that behind ever closed door is an even bigger opportunity.

 

 

 


March 3 – Ashley Jones

Published poet Ashley Jones knows the power of words. Jones has co-produced 100 Thousand Poets for Change in Birmingham since 2015, raising funds for local organizations. She’s also founding director of the Magic City Poetry Festival, which seeks to celebrate the community via poetry and community-centered events. In April, the event will bring renowned poet and activist Sonia Sanchez back to her hometown. “We are edging toward a cultural moment where women are valued as the powerful and prominent changemakers they are. We are more than just shadows of men,” Jones said.

 


March 4 – Benga Harrison

Benga H. Harrison’s mission is to teach Birmingham the power of volunteerism. The Avondale resident serves as director of Hands on Birmingham, the volunteer arm for United Way of Central Alabama. She and her team make it easy for people to find causes online, sign up  and volunteer for a day or a lifetime. “Communities are only as good as their weakest link,” she said, “therefore, when government, corporations, the faith community, nonprofits and individuals work together to make positive social change, the community as a whole improves and I find it very rewarding to be a small part of the process.” #StrongHER

 

 

 

 


March 5 – La’Zariya South

You’re never too young to bring change. Take Hemphill Elementary School fifth grader La’Zariya South of the Mason City community. When she was in the fourth grade, she asked her principal if she could make the school announcements instead of the adults. She figured her peers would listen a little more to people their own age. They did, and today more students have applied to be part of her broadcasting crew. (She even organized the auditions and secured upgrades for the school’s equipment so she could incorporate tech tricks into the broadcasts.)

But La’Zariya, 11, didn’t stop with the announcements. She also started the school’s SGA, which has held canned food and clothing drives and raised money for the Sickle Cell Foundation and the local Alzheimer’s Walk. “Most of the time, people doubt (women) and say we can’t do things. But I think that we can do anything that we put our mind to …,’’ said  La’Zariya. “When you go the extra mile, you can do anything.’’ #StrongHER


March 6 – Sherri Ross

Birmingham’s Cheerleader Sherri Ross lives up to her nickname. The Crestwood North native volunteers in numerous women’s, children’s, animal, homeless organizations, as well as art and music festivals. She is the force behind Birmingham Dance Walks, a free fitness event; Free Hugs Birmingham, which encourages people to embrace their neighbors, and Encouragement Encounters – mini-pep rallies for residents in need of a little love. Sherri’s mission is to keep our city laughing and loving together. If you are down, Sherri always gives you something to smile about. #StrongHER

 


March 7 – Amber Hooks

Staying up to date on everything happening in the city can be a daunting challenge. Thankfully, Amber Hooks is here to help. Hooks is co-owner of Happenin’s in the ‘Ham: A Better View of Birmingham, a newsletter and Instagram account that informs people of affordable and interesting things occurring in the city. One quick glance at her social media posts, and you’d swear there are 20 of her. She’s everywhere.

Her mission is to help residents get out and enjoy all Birmingham has to offer. “I may not be a scientist or a politician or a CEO, but I believe change starts from within each heart,” she said. “I use our social media as a platform to spread love and ignite hope. I want women to know that we have no limitations.” #StrongHER

 

 

 

 


March 8 – Bertha Hidalgo

Bertha Hidalgo may be mostly known for her wildly popular fashion blog/Instagram channel Chic In Academia, but her beauty is much more than skin deep. As a genetic epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Hidalgo is dedicated to studying the relationships between environment, genetics, and cardiometabolic diseases, including type-2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. She also serves as chair of the Minority Affairs Committee for the American College of Epidemiology. Her passion is improving the health of underserved populations, helping to break down complex, scientific findings into easier-to-digest language and sharing those findings in an effort to help keep Birmingham’s residents healthy and happy.

“The city of Birmingham is experiencing a shift in energy and one that many women have contributed to in many ways,” she said. “I moved to Alabama from California in the latter part of 2007, and have witnessed the evolution of the city of Birmingham; many of those efforts led by women. Celebrating those contributions is not only important but inspirational for those wanting to make Birmingham, and Alabama in general, a place where everyone can thrive.” #StrongHER

 


March 9 – Georgia Blair

On May 6, 1963, Georgia Blair and classmates marched from the now-closed Rosedale High School in Homewood to Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to protest segregation. After meeting at the church, the teenagers filed out of the building to march down the block. Soon, they were arrested for parading without a permit.

Blair spent 10 days in jail. The charges were dropped that August in juvenile court. To this day, she carries a copy of her court summons in her purse. It’s a reminder of her place in history. For this Jones Valley resident, who received a death threat in 1965 for simply trying to register African Americans to vote, running from a problem is not an option. Facing it head on is.

“I would march again because I feel like I’m entitled to all of the freedoms and liberties that anyone in this country has,” she said. “I was always taught that nobody is better than me because of their complexion. My rights don’t depend on how you feel about me.” #StrongHER

 


March 10 – Raquel Ervin

For the last five years, Chef Raquel Ervin has been filling bellies at various Birmingham venues through her Panoptic Catering business. Fans return again and again for her traditional Southern cuisine. A major standout is her five-cheese mac n’ cheese, which won first place at the 2018 Magic City Mac + Cheese Festival. “The judges were looking at me saying there was no way this 33-year-old young girl came up with this,” said Ervin.”They said it was an authentic Southern recipe.”

The dish is a blend of what she learned from her grandmother, a Birmingham native who lived to be 101; her mother; and herself. After that contest, so many asked her about the mac n’ cheese that she selected three Birmingham families to receive free orders last Thanksgiving.

On Sunday, March 10, even more people will learn about her culinary skills and maybe even that mac n’ cheese when she, her sister and niece compete against another team on Food Network’s new show, “Family Food Showdown,” for $10,000. The episode will air at 7 p.m. CST.

Serving up good food and good Birmingham vibes comes easily for her. “I believe it is important to celebrate not just women but people in our city who are striving to see our city grow and thrive through their contributions,” said Ervin, a board member of the Birmingham chapter of the American Culinary Federation. “I want to be part of the movement that empowers women so that they do not feel inferior, overlooked or satisfied simply working in the background.” #StrongHER

 


March 11 – Chocolate Milk Mommies

Birmingham’s own Chocolate Milk Mommies are dedicated to strengthening the bonds between mothers and children. The parenting support group has been diligently working to remove stigmas and clarify misconceptions about breast-feeding, especially in the black community. The group has held two community baby showers, a Mother’s Day brunch, a Halloween “BOObie” party, visited new moms in the hospital to provide lactation support, organized play dates and spent countless hours responding to local moms about breastfeeding difficulties through social media, email and personal interaction.

“We are all mothers who have experienced the lack of information and resources when it comes to breastfeeding, so serving women and their support systems will forever be held near and dear to our hearts,” said Jennifer Miller, president and co-founder of the group. #StrongHER

 


March 12 – Amrita Lakhanpal

Amrita Lakhanpal, 18, hasn’t even graduated from high school yet and she’s already raised $46,000 to buy Chromebooks and start coding clubs for three schools within Birmingham City Schools.

It all started when Amrita was a 15-year-old volunteer, teaching after-school and summer computer classes to first and second grade students at EPIC. Since some of the school’s outdated computers caused issues and frustrations as she taught, Amrita took matters into her own hands and started the Screens for Schools Laptop Initiative to buy new ones. She wrote a proposal and asked local businesses for their support. Amrita raised $18,000 in six weeks to buy 60 Chromebooks and two charging carts. She also started a coding club at the school.

Success at EPIC encouraged her to do the same at Central Park Elementary. She raised $13,000 and is now working on finding volunteers to run a coding club there. And in February 2019, she presented a $15,000 check to Martha Gaskins Elementary officials to buy 60 Chromebooks and two charging carts. She plans on starting a coding club, there, too. She also wants to host week-long coding camps at all three schools.

“I hope that through my work, the younger generation will see that I’m not too much older than them, and was only 15 when I started this initiative,” said Amrita, a senior at The Altamont School. “So, even at a young age, if you are passionate about something, you, too, can make a difference.” #StrongHER

 


March 13 – Jamie Bonfiglio

Jamie Bonfiglio graduated from UAB in 2003 with a biology degree and plans to be a forensics scientist. But the heaviness of an internship in the field – gory images and sad circumstances attached to each case – became too much of a load to carry home every night. She needed a change.

“I walked into a local supply store and asked what was good for beginners. They said acrylics,” said Bonfiglio, 38. Without ever taking a lesson, her talents exploded onto the canvas. She kept buying paint and kept practicing. In 2013, she made painting her full-time profession.

Today, she is painting her way through the Magic City, one brush stroke at a time. In 2017, she was one of the artists featured at Arts, Beats and Lyrics in Birmingham. In 2018, she painted a mural for a downtown engineering firm of the Birmingham buildings and structures they helped create. Also in 2018, she collaborated with another artist to create a community mural now hanging in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Next up: teaching art classes and painting more murals.

“When women are heard and seen, magic happens,” she said. “Innovative ideas start to swirl. And young girls get to see more possibilities for themselves.” #StrongHER

 


March 14 – Jacquie Fazekas

Last fall, Jacquie Fazekas moved from Philadelphia to Birmingham with plans to start an executive health coaching business. But God had something else in mind.

One day while researching local health food stores to share with potential Birmingham clients, she found Health Foods West in Five Points West. While visiting, she learned the 30-year-old store was about to close. The store’s history and meaning to the community struck a chord with Fazekas. She knew she had to do something.

She met with the deceased store owner’s grandson about the store’s future. She described the meeting as “magical,” seeing the building as more than a business or a store. It was like home. She dropped her coaching business idea and stepped in to run the store. She repainted the store in bright greens and blues, redid the awning, added new signage, redid the roof and created a new website and logo. She met people across the city willing to help. She opened the new store, Bama Health Foods, in February 2019 with new supplements, packaged herbs, pre-packaged foods, snacks, vitamins and bottled water. There’s also an updated activity space for meetings and classes on nutrition. Eventually, she wants to sell fresh produce.

Her name tag says, “Aunt Jacquie” because she feels everyone is family.

“You’ve got to trust God’s timing,” said Fazekas, 51. “It’s not what we want, it’s what He wants for us. And if you truly live in that space, you will not be frustrated. You live adventurously like, ‘What’s the next thing He has for me to grow?’ I just followed where God was pulling me, and I’m really amazed at the journey He has me on.” #StrongHER

 


March 15 – Kamil Goodman

Kamil Goodman, 17, always has time for more.

She’s SGA president at Parker High School, where she’s captain of the girls’ soccer team, on the girls’ varsity basketball team, on the dance team, in the Beta Club Honor Society and in the Theater and Fine Arts Guild.

This weekend, she’ll be in D.C. as a delegate for the National Black Women’s Roundtable with Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson and Congresswoman Terri Sewell. Kamil, of West End, was also a delegate in 2018. And for a week this summer, she’ll be at Harvard University for a leadership program.

Last year, she was a finalist in the NextGen Pitch Competition, where she introduced Emerge Inc., a forum for city youth leaders to share their ideas with elected Birmingham officials. She does all of this while maintaining a 3.4 GPA.

“Women of all ages have always been at the forefront of change, whether that change has been in civil rights, social justice, education or business. I’m working be part of that change,” said Kamil, a junior. “Because of HER, Birmingham is RicHER, TougHER, GrandHER and GreatHER.” #StrongHER

 


March 16 – Amber Kinney

Amber Kinney, a proud member of the National Association of Women in Construction, knows the importance of mentorship – especially in a sector that has minimal female representation. “There are less than 9% of women currently working in the construction industry,” she said. “We feel it’s critical to bring to light the fact that construction is viable and fruitful career choice for women.”

Kinney has worked in the construction industry for more than a decade and she wants to inspire more young people to enter the field. One of the greatest joys of her field is the opportunity to engage with students of all ages. She’s hosted Block Kids Building Competitions at Cornerstone Elementary, a national competition that introduces children to the construction industry; worked with high-school students as part of the Academy of Craft Training, which educates young people about careers in construction; and has sponsored networking events for the UAB Society of Women Engineers. Kinney hopes her passion for leadership development will encourage more women to enter the construction field. She believes empowering women to be successful in a predominately male-dominated industry is important to ensuring equality for generations to come. #StrongHER

 


March 17 – Judith Anthony

On June 25, 2008, Judith Anthony was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Having had five breast cancer scares over the years, she immediately decided to undergo a bilateral mastectomy. Receiving this kind of news has the potential to cause anyone to lose hope, forget their passions, and feel isolated.

Anthony decided to retire after she received her diagnosis. As a retirement present, her brother gifted her a snow globe engraved with the words “retire from work and not from life.” These words became Anthony’s mantra and she’s been living her best life ever since.

Anthony is not just a breast cancer survivor, but an advocate and confidante for other women of color battling the disease. Through organizations like Sister Survivors and Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies, she strives to provide support, services, education, and financial assistance to breast cancer survivors and their families in the black community. “When I receive the call from these ladies seeking financial help, a great number of them really need emotional support and a relationship is formed when I confide that I am their sister in pink,” she said. Anthony knows that education, support and empathy are the tools to save lives in Birmingham. #StrongHER

 


March 18 – Valerie Collins Thomas

Valerie Collins Thomas admits she was reluctant when she relocated to Birmingham in 2010. Stories about the city’s segregationist past were all that she knew. But it didn’t take long for her to fall in love with her new home, quickly becoming one of the city’s biggest ambassadors.

In 2014, she launched The VAL Group to provide recruiting and relocation support to UAB and Children’s Hospital to make sure the good news of Birmingham is experienced by fellows during those first and second visits as they consider making Birmingham home. What’s her way of welcoming newcomers to the city? With gifts connected to the Magic City and diverse tours, of course.

“Every place I live, I always want to contribute to the well being of the city, my friends and neighbors,” she said. “Being a small part of helping the hospital recruit the physicians that they want, so that my friends and neighbors have the best health care possible, is my way of being a part of the fabric of Birmingham.” #StrongHER

 


March 19 – Karin Korb

Karin Korb was a 17-year-old gymnast when she broke her back in a vaulting accident, leaving her paralyzed.

Ten years later, she was introduced to the world of tennis. And just a few short years afterward, she would call herself a champion. Korb is a two-time Paralympian and a 10-time member of the USA World Team. She was the first person with a disability to receive a Division 1 athletic scholarship to Georgia State University to play intercollegiate wheelchair tennis. She would go on to assist other universities in creating their own wheelchair tennis programs.

Korb was named the USA’s Junior Wheelchair Tennis World Team Cup Coach and led the top American juniors into international competition, where they are currently ranked No. 1 in the world. Her career in both advocacy and policy has spanned over three decades, including working with Lakeshore Foundation’s Lima Fox Trot Military program for injured military; chair of the Alabama Obesity Task Force; as well as the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program’s PADD (Protection and Advocacy of Persons with Developmental Disabilities). Her mission is to advocate for inclusion of people with disabilities at every level of sport and life. Korb is driven to best represent the vision of inclusivity and most importantly, global respect.

“Access is love. When I can go anywhere that I choose to go, just like anyone who doesn’t have a disability, that is a very loving experience to me,” she said. “When you don’t have access, that is almost a form of violence against people who can’t access the space because builders and programmers simply forgot to include us from the inception and that is unacceptable.” #StrongHER

 


March 20 – Kim Lee

When Kim Lee founded Forge, she knew local business owners and entrepreneurs not only needed an affordable location to work, but opportunities to engage and network with likeminded individuals and organizations.

Forge, the innovative coworking space in the recently renovated Pizitz Food Hall in downtown Birmingham, combines everything Kim and her team love: building community, serving and growing the city, and providing an ecosystem for small businesses. Lee also knows that for a business to operate at its full potential, women need to be seen as equals in the workplace.

“Women need opportunities to develop their leadership skills while feeling supported in celebrated in every sector,” she said. Kim has provided an outlet for small business owning women and men to support one another and celebrate each other’s successes. #StrongHER

 

 

 


March 21 – Girl Scout Troop #576

Girl Scout Troop #576 is selling Girl Scout cookies to build a community garden at St. John AME Church in downtown Birmingham. This is the first time for a them to do a garden, which will help supplement the church’s snack program that feeds the homeless and others in need. When troop leader Tammy Davis proposed the idea, the girls jumped at the chance to give back. They plan to build the garden this spring.

This is not the first time the girls, who attend schools in Birmingham and surrounding areas, have offered a helping hand.

In November 2018, they hosted a canned food drive, collecting more than 300 cans. In February 2019, they visited a Birmingham nursing home to throw a Valentine’s Day party for residents. Last weekend, they participated in the Annual Valley Creek Clean-Up, collecting more than 25 bags of trash. This April, they will travel to Huntsville for a state Girl Scout workshop on cyber security. And in July, they will use a portion of their cookie sales to visit the birthplace of Girls Scouts in Savannah, Ga. There are nine girls in the troop, ranging in age from 5 to 11.

“When we collected cans, some girls even used their own allowance to buy cans because they knew the canned foods would be donated to the Daniel Payne Center, which has a food bank that distributes food to several areas in Alabama. They really do have a big heart,” said Lonita Walker-Mede, a mother of two girls in the troop and a troop volunteer. “I am proud of them and proud that they understand you have to make a sacrifice in order to uplift your community.”

 


March 22 – Anna Threadcraft

As a registered dietitian and the UAB Employee Wellness director for Alabama’s largest employer, Anna Threadcraft is charged with educating and empowering employees to take realistic and sustainable steps toward healthy living. But make no mistake, healthy does not mean skinny. Rather, it’s a lifestyle that encompasses mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Threadcraft lives this every day in Birmingham.

When she’s not promoting colorectal cancer prevention, heart disease awareness or healthy eating, she’s offering encouragement to others to get out and enjoy the outdoors like she does so many times at Railroad Park, Ruffner Mountain, Rotary Trail and Vulcan Trail. She says that being outdoors provides mental and emotional benefits that empower people to manage anxiety, to sleep better and to have a fresh perspective on the daily stressors that can often feel overwhelming.

In addition to standing strong for healthy living, she stands strong for her faith. She’s a founding member of the Birmingham chapter of Women Business Leaders, a faith-based, non-profit organization that strives to develop young women in the Birmingham workforce through community, mentoring and discipleship. Her messages through meetings, speaking engagements and social media posts leave people motivated to move in new ways.

“Women have long been overlooked for their invaluable contribution to the health, culture and beauty of our city,’’ said Threadcraft, 36. “When we collectively raise one another up, we leave a legacy for those who are behind us that speaks of the unity of affirmation.’’ #StrongHER

 


March 23 – Jean Hernandez

Serving as the Latinx Outreach Coordinator for AIDS Alabama has allowed Jean Hernandez to bring together her passions of empowering women of color and providing support to vulnerable populations across our state. Jean lives her life as a fierce advocate and liaison for the Latinx LGBTQ+ community in Birmingham. Through her work she connects Latinx individuals living with HIV/AIDS with translation services, transportation and housing assistance, and help navigating the legal immigration system. Jean likes to approach her work through shared heritage and culture. “You can bring people together through language, food, and traditions while celebrating what makes us unique,” she says. “When you have a sense of belonging you are home and you are not alone anymore.”

She credits the strong Latinas in her life for molding her into the passionate activist she is today. Her abuela (grandmother), mama (mother), and hija (daughter) help her each day to find the strength to fight against injustice and to end HIV/AIDS in the Latinx community and Birmingham as a whole. For Jean, serving and celebrating others isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life. #StrongHER

 


March 24 – Jane Reed Ross

If you’ve ever ridden your bike along the Rotary Trail or taken a stroll in Railroad Park and admired the aesthetically curated natural design, you can thank Jane Reed Ross.

Whether Jane is designing outdoor spaces in Queensland, Australia, or right here in the Magic City, people have always been at the center of Jane’s natural creations. As a landscape architecture for 35 years, Jane has sought to build community and improve the quality of life of all people through innovative design and thoughtful planning. A park or trail is not just an outdoor space for Jane, but a catalyst for civic engagement, environmental responsibility, and economic development in the surrounding area.

Many of her projects are changing the way people live, play, work, and travel in Birmingham and the surrounding areas. The Red Rock Trail Master Plan, Rotary Trail, Pinson Park, Lincoln Park, Jones Valley Complete Streets, Enon Ridge Trail, Railroad Park and the Birmingham Children’s Zoo are just a few of the many civic spaces that Jane has helped design. Jane’s work also transcends municipal borders and promotes regional connectivity. The Freshwater Land Trust on the Red Rock Trail System is knitting together a network of pedestrian and cycling trails across Jefferson County.

Jane is at the forefront of women who are changing the game in urban renewal and design. To her, recognizing women for their accomplishments is key in order to see more women excel in their fields. “Raising the bar for women raises the bar for all,” she said.

 


March 25 – Angelia Strode

Angelia Strode has dedicated her life to the service of others. In fact, she first began volunteering for the American Red Cross at age 14.

So when she was suffered – and survived – three heart attacks prior to her 50th birthday, she knew how important it was to spread awareness of healthy living. As a volunteer with the American Heart Association, Breast Cancer Awareness, Alys Stephens Center, Shepard Center, Omicron Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., United Way of Central Alabama, and Children’s Hospital, Strode is passionate about working in the community to share her story about triumphing over heart disease.

Volunteering has become Strode’s passion. She is a tireless voice for wellness, working closely with residents of Southside, East Lake, Avondale, Pratt City, Ensley, Titusville and West End. “It was instilled in me at an early age to give back to your community not only your money but your time,” she said, adding “it is very therapeutic for me because I gain so much when I volunteer.”

“We truly live by the quote by Shirley Chisholm, ‘Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.’” #StrongHER

 


March 26 – Keiah L. Shauku

Keiah L. Shauku has two great loves – community building and educational outreach. She strongly believes that the best way to close the gaps created by disparity in our community is through the power of education.

Shauku teaches programming, robotics, and engineering, by working with and developing programs for organizations like TechBirmingham, Alabama Humanities Foundation, West End Library, Vulcan Park and Museum and several area schools. Shauku says that teaching STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – opens doors beyond the technical aspects of the field. “It is in understanding their world that people can begin to appreciate the limitations that constrain them, and how to overcome them,” she said. It’s through those programs that Shauku helps foster community building – bringing resources to underserved areas to address inequalities that hamper growth and understanding.

“To celebrate women is to celebrate life,” Shauku said. “We celebrate women because without them, neither Birmingham, nor any other place can flourish.” #StrongHER

 


March 27 — Joellyn Beckham

Joellyn Beckham has spent a lot of her life debunking stereotypes of what it means to be Southern. The majority of her career was devoted to advertising and marketing services for clients on the West Coast and in New York. During this time she found herself trying to prove that she was just as capable as other freelancers from more “prestigious” Zip codes across the county. Working with clients who only knew Birmingham by its contentious past lit a fire in her to prove that there’s so much more to this city, state, and region. She has made it her mission to make Birmingham, and Alabama, a place that is accepting of all, regardless of race, age, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

This longtime resident of the Forest Park neighborhood has become unapologetically proud to be her own unique version of a Southern woman. She now works with clients closer to home, like the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church during their campaign to make the denomination more inclusive. She has also developed and grown her brand, the Bright Blue Dot, in her spare time. She seeks to connect progressive individuals across the South who might not fit into the stereotypical Southern box. “When people tell me that they moved to Birmingham from out of state and were full of trepidation about coming until someone pointed out the Dot and told them what it means — that’s when I know it really is more than a bumper sticker” she said. Joellyn loves celebrating other strong women across the community who are paving the way for progress in Birmingham.


March 28 – Vernessa Barnes

When Vernessa Barnes’ daughter, Javonti Barnes, died unexpectedly in 2018, Ms. Barnes stepped in to raise her grandson, Deon Arnold, now 13. Barnes also stepped to fulfill a bucket list of four or five promises made between mother and son. On the list was finding a way to help Mayor Randall Woodfin reduce the violence and crime in Birmingham, something Ms. Barnes’ daughter and Deon discussed often.

In January 2019, Deon formed an organization, The Solution, with some of his friends and a youth minister at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. Barnes has been by Deon’s side the whole time, driving him where he needs to go to help him carry out his vision of addressing conflict resolution for youth. “He says I’m the secretary. I’m the typist. I’m the one capturing everything happening,’’ said Barnes of East Lake. “He will run things by me to see if they make sense and to see if they align with the city’s plan against crime.’’ (On Friday, March 29, Deon will stand in as the “youth mayor’’ at the city’s police academy graduation and deliver the greeting. The program will feature Birmingham youth taking on the roles of the adults.)

Barnes, 64, retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as a congregational care minister at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church so she could spend more time with Deon. This summer, they plan to go to the Bahamas, which was also on Deon’s bucket list with his mother. Knowing he wants to be an actor and later an attorney, she’s enrolled him in acting classes and makes sure he receives tutoring for school.

“When the scripture says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go,’ I want to make sure Deon’s heart’s desires are addressed and that he can truly answer the calling that God has on his life,’’ said Barnes, 64. “Our children can be like arrows in a warrior’s hand. We can choose to shape them and sharpen them so that they can be shot toward fulfilling their goals.’’


March 29 – Charletta Sheehy

When reality knocks, you answer. Such was the case for Charletta Sheehy in 2013 when she could no longer ignore what had been plaguing her – diabetes.

Her blood sugar levels were above normal, and her doctor told her if she didn’t help lower it, the fallout would not be good. Sheehy faced the possibility of stroke, heart attack, blindness or even losing a limb. Never one to run from a challenge, Sheehy faced diabetes. She got active – a lot.

She started daily walks in her College Hills neighborhood. She did water aerobics at the YMCA.
And she watched what she ate. Eventually, she walked an hour a day and became such a fitness fixture in the community, that if neighbors didn’t see her walking, they inquired if she was OK.

Sheehy still does all of this while also traveling to take care of her 87-year-old mother and sharing information about healthcare, health issues, housing, assisted living and nursing homes with senior citizens.

Recently, she won a heart health challenge presented to members of her Magic City Alabama Chapter of The Links, Incorporated. She beat out nearly 30 other women. Her fitness routine and caring spirit have inspired others to get better with their health and approach to life.

“I’ve had people to be shocked that I’m 68. To me, I know that I’m that age. It doesn’t stop me from doing what I want to do,’’ she said. “I still wear high-heeled shoes. Every Sunday. If I have to dress, I’m going to have on my high-heeled shoes.’’


March 30 – Cheryl McWhorter

 

Cheryl McWhorter’s gift of song has helped her become a survivor. The gospel artist recorded a song in October 2017 that originally served as her personal testimony as a domestic abuse survivor but later became a fundraiser for abuse victims.

Cheryl quickly realized that her message of empowerment could go even further. She created the #NoMore Domestic Violence Support Group on social media and then in October released the #NoMore Calendar of Domestic Violence Survivors, featuring 12 Birmingham-area women who haven’t just survived abuse, they’re thriving – tirelessly working to uplift other women. #NoMore now stands as a nonprofit organization that raises funds to support victims, promotes domestic violence awareness and prevention and serves as a willing ear and loving arms for women looking to rebuild their lives.

“#NoMore steps in when a victim decides to step out on faith, step away from their abuser, and step into a safer future,” Cheryl said.


March 31 – Walladean Streeter

Walladean Streeter ’s love for her Bush Hills neighborhood can be seen in how much she gives back to it. She’s lived in the same house for 47 years. She started the neighborhood’s block watch 46 years ago. And for the last five years, she’s served as president of of the Bush Hills Neighborhood Association.

Since she’s been in office, the association has hosted an Easter Egg hunt for students at Bush Hills Academy; created a green space for a park on Graymont Avenue; established a neighborhood garden; distributed 150 pairs of shoes at Bush Hills Academy; established a litter patrol for the entire neighborhood; donated items to patients at an area nursing home; and continued to grow the block watch programs.But she doesn’t do any of this by herself. It’s truly a community effort.

“Neighbors have been involved in this 100 percent. Because of their participation, they make it all possible,’’ Streeter said.

Streeter’s love to help others also extends to her church, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Ensley, where she has taught vacation Bible school, worked with the youth department, served on the usher board, served as a deaconess and made the costumes for the Easter and Christmas plays. Her giving heart is also evident at home. Every December, she and her family make care package bags for the homeless and distribute them on Christmas Eve.

“I love my neighborhood, and I stay involved because I feel that I can help move it forward, bring about change and make things a lot better,’’ she said.