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INTRODUCTION Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, ligula suspendisse nulla pretium, rhoncus tempor placerat fermentum, enim integer ad vestibulum volutpat. Nisl rhoncus turpis est, vel elit, congue wisi enim nunc ultricies sit, magna tincidunt. Maecenas aliquam maecenas ligula nostra, accumsan taciti. Sociis mauris in integer, a dolor netus non dui aliquet, sagittis felis sodales, dolor sociis mauris, vel eu libero cras. Interdum at. Eget habitasse elementum est, ipsum purus pede porttitor class, ut adipiscing, aliquet sed auctor, imperdiet arcu per diam dapibus libero duis. Enim eros in vel, volutpat nec eros. Dignis1

sim cras urna, ante convallis turpis duis lectus sed aliquet, at tempus et ultricies. Eros sociis cursus nec hamenaeos dignissimos imperdiet, luctus ac eros sed massa vestibulum, lobortis adipiscing praesent. Nec eros eu ridiculus libero felis. Donec arcu risus diam amet sit. Congue tortor cursus risus vestibulum commodo nisl, luctus augue amet quis aenean maecenas sit, donec velit iusto, morbi felis elit et nibh. Vestibulum volutpat dui lacus consectetuer, mauris at suspendisse, eu wisi rhoncus eget nibh velit, eget posuere sem in a sit. Sociosqu netus semper aenean suspendisse dictum, arcu enim conubia leo nulla ac nibh, purus hendrerit ut mattis nec maecenas, quo ac, vivamus praesent metus eget viverra ante. Natoque placerat sed sit hendrerit, dapibus velit molestiae leo a, ut lorem sit et lacus aliquam. Sodales nulla ante auctor excepturi wisi, dolor lacinia dignissim eros condimentum dis pellentesque, sodales lacus nunc, feugiat at. In orci ligula suscipit luctus, sed dolor eleifend aliquam dui, ut diam mauris, sollicitudin sed nisl lacus tempus. Ut facilisis ante in dui ac suscipit, turpis voluptatum donec, fusce suspendisse, quasi luctus amet urna tempor amet sit. Cras volutpat mattis hasellus justo massa sed, feugiat nunc praesent. Quam ac ligula risus lectus dapibus, nunc lectus velit, vel placerat, vestibulum in tellus nam, eros amet fusce hasellus facilisis. Vehicula sed, class dignissim ullamcorper eros, mauris consequat ut lacinia. Aliquam amet est, quam leo maecenas mauris turpis leo pharetra, vulputate lacus. Ad ornare donec, fringilla feugiat augue imperdiet laoreet, ipsum enim sit lectus felis at, aliquam blandit donec pede, luctus platea etiam mauris ut. Dui vel diam, vitae et scelerisque erat volutpat viverra velit, risus pellentesque tellus nullam nibh, morbi posuere. Curabitur labore. Ac augue donec, sed a dolor luctus, congue arcu id diam praesent, pretium ac, ullamcorper non hac in quisque hac. Magna amet libero maecenas justo. Nam at wisi donec amet nam, quis nulla euismod neque in enim, libero curabitur libero, tempus arcu egestas molestie pede lorem eu. Posuere tempus porttitor urna et, hasellus sed sit sodales laoreet integer, in at, leo nam in. Vitae et, nunc hasellus hasellus, donec dolor, id elit donec hasellus ac pede, quam amet. Eget nibh maecenas ac, nullam duis elit, ligula eget pellentesque viverra morbi tellus molestie, mi. Sodales nunc suscipit sit pretium aliquet integer, interdum consectetuer pede, et risus hac diam at eget, commodo in. Scelerisque sodales, mauris lorem non consectetuer. Felis maecenas sit adipiscing elit ullamcorper non, amet pede consectetuer quis rutrum sit, nec vestibulum sem, integer non felis a vel. Vel proin, sapien sit, mauris amet in semper dolor. Lacus non pariatur et dolor. Risus mattis. Eu tristique erat a, morbi vel. Tempor quis elit ac maxime et. Amet mauris nec voluptatum, habitant tellus dignissim sed eros, justo fames. 2


LOCAL GOVERNMENT Living democracy requires participation in local government and conventional forms of political engagement. Voting, discussing politics with family and friends, contacting public officials, and buying or boycotting products are all habits of active citizens. Alabama ranks higher than the national average for voter registration, although actual voter turnout is on par with the nation. Citizens in this deep South state talk with friends and family about politics at a higher-than-average rate (10th in the nation), but the conversation evidently begins and ends on front porches and at dinner tables. In 2010, Alabama ranked dead last for contacting or visiting a public official (6.4%), although the national average was still less than ten percent. Clearly, citizens of Alabama and public officials need to find themselves in conversations that create the opportunity for decision-making and public work.


City council meetings are perhaps the most underutilized opportunity for civic engagement. “I am ashamed to say that before this summer, I had never in my life been to a city council meeting and had absolutely no idea what to expect,” wrote Mary Beth Snow, who lived democracy in Collinsville. “When I envisioned a city council meeting in my mind, I saw something resembling a mixture of British parliamentary debates combined with Judge Judy and a town hall meeting from the television show Parks and Rec.” Only wo of our thirteen students had attended a city council meeting prior to Living Democracy, so most of them were in for a new civic experience. The formal and informal aspects of the meetings impressed students. “There is a sign-in sheet where you state your name and [indicate whether] you are recording the session,” wrote Angela Cleary of Bayou La Batre. “An agenda is passed out, and they start on time. The room’s chatter is silenced, and there is a feeling of somber respect as the Mayor begins the meeting by leading the Pledge of Allegiance.” Sierra Lehnhoff noted the details of the room in Elba. “The room is large and open with high ceilings and bowl-shaped light fixtures,” she wrote. “A large desk sits on a platform surrounded by white chairs. . . . Behind them are two American flags on stands and the framed nameplates of the former City Council members of Elba.” Sierra surmised that the room’s design created a sense of openness and communication. Students experienced city council meetings as opportunities for community celebration, as well places where community information is shared. Mary Beth Snow joined a large crowd at her first Collinsville meeting, since the Council recognized the high school soccer team for winning the state championship. Not only did the team secure the town’s first state championship in thirty-eight years, they did so as an all-Hispanic team, garnering national attention for this small town in northeast Alabama, a state well known for its strict immigration policy. In an interview with NBC News, one high school senior stated that the championship had deep implications. “I love the fact that we were so unique. We had something different that other teams didn’t have, “said David Hernandez. “We had love, and we wanted to make a difference---to make our community happy and make history.” Mary Beth, who has a strong interest in seeing new immigrants become active and engaged citizens, found her first city council meeting as a space for community celebration. Not every council meeting celebrates an aspect of the community, although perhaps a permanent agenda item ought to be congratulations bestowed upon some active citizen or group. But every meeting does include announcements of events and projects that are the habits of successful communities. Students encountered the nuts and bolts of public administration at city council meetings—the sometimes glamorous, but mostly mundane aspects of what it takes to make a municipality function. “They touched on the expected topics like the city’s property, new initiatives, attracting businesses, and more,” Alexis wrote. “But what caught my attention was the details smaller details, the things that you don’t ever think about. I never thought about how expensive dump trucks were . . .” The system of city government and the responsibilities of elected official became clearer to her as a result. Some students encountered the raw emotion of an angry citizenry at city council meetings. Laney Payne happened to live and learn in Bayou La Batre during the trial of former mayor Stan Wright, who was ultimately sentenced for corruption and witness intimidation related to a sale of property to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the Bayou’s rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Laney attended an unforgettable council meeting. “Interim Mayor Ida Mae Coleman opened the session with a tearful prayer,” she recounted. “’Heavenly Father, we need you. Help us….Hear our cry…Show us what to do,’” she prayed. One after another, citizens approached the podium to express their concerns and fears for the community. “We made our men stay home. Us women are going to have to fix this. They turn to fighting, and we have to do it this way. We all have to work together to get some4

thing done in this town,” Laney wrote. The crisis of the mayor’s conviction seemed to remind citizens that their destiny is ultimately in their hands. “We have to step up . . . . Enough with the bad publicity. Let’s work together and put an end to all this.” City councils and other official units of government reacted positively to Living Democracy students who attended meetings. Mary Beth Snow asked the Collinsville City County to match donations received by local merchants for downtown beautification projects, and she was pleasantly surprised that the mayor—who was lovingly described to her by his brother as a “tightwad”--was willing to match an even higher amount. When Blake Evans met with elected and appointed leaders of the Industrial Development Board in Linden to ask for a modest amount of money for a project, the Board responded that the request was too low and offered three times the amount. College students have experience in fundraisers—bake sales, car washes, and the occasional auction for charity—but asking elected officials to support a project demands a different level of thinking, presence, and response. While students appreciated the warm response they received from elected officials, the lack of citizen participation at city council meetings caused some students to reflect on what empty seats mean for our communities. Sierra Lehnhoff of Elba title her blog entry “Put City Council Meetings on Your Agenda,” since she found the meeting to be open, informative, and productive, even if only for the handful of citizens who attended. “Those meetings aren’t just to help those who run the show,” she concluded. “The regularly scheduled meetings can help those who attend be more informed and provide a chance to voice opinions on important items and issues. A productive town needs productive citizens of all walks of life, not just productive leaders.” Marian Royston lamented the fact that for most folk citizenship seems limited to voting, hence the lack of participation in city council meetings. Even if only to provide accountability to elected leaders, citizens need to be in the habit of participating, she said. Not all students understood low attendance at city council meetings corresponding to low civic engagement. “I know the citizens care,” wrote Alexis Sankey, “but you can’t really tell through the attendance of the city council meetings. . . . They are so involved in every aspect of the community that I don’t really think the attendance at these meetings reflect a disengaged citizenry.” Alexis surmised that the city council meetings are held at a time when people are getting off work, handling family responsibilities, or participating in community activities as a part of their lives as citizens. Attendance at city council meetings could and should be higher, but an automatic assumption that lack of involvement equals a disinterested citizenry is misleading, according to this Living Democracy student. 5

Blake Evans encountered another perspective related to lack of attendance that deserves attention. The mayor of his town suggested that, in a representative democracy, perhaps lack of attendance at council meetings indicates that citizens are satisfied with the work of their elected leaders. Whenever citizens are discontent, they take advantage of the opportunity to voice their opinions. “Elected officials are effectively service as the expressive voice for the citizens,” Blake determined from his conversation with the mayor, “and they continuously welcome public input from Linden’s citizenry.” This mayor’s perspective is likely similar to one held by many elected officials, and from the perspective of representative democracy, it makes sense. Elected officials are elected to lead and manage. City council meetings provide an opportunity for citizens to express concerns, hold elected leaders accountable, or simply find out whether or not their leaders are performing as expected. Elected officials, however, perform the real work. Some students noticed that the arrangement and structure of the meetings corresponds more closely to “representative work” than “citizen” work. Officials sit high above the audience in designated chairs, many noted. “Council members and the mayor spoke to one another rather than out toward the crowd,” Marian Royston wrote. Citizens are truly audience members at city council meetings, it seems, although they always have the right and opportunity to comment on the proceedings or any issue they deem worthy of conversation. Could a more citizen-centric design for city council chambers contribute to the public work of an elected body? “We shape our buildings,” Winston Churchill famously stated, “and then they shape us.” Despite the fact that many city council spaces and meetings lend themselves to politics-as-usual, Living Democracy students discover a perspective on public work that they could not experience otherwise. Angela Cleary’s blog entry captures this well: “I will never forget how my preconceived image of formal politics was completely changed this summer. I had never attended a City Council or commission meeting in my life. I had no interest in Birmingham politics for the first 18 years of my youth, and quite frankly would have been to intimidated to attend. Living in Auburn for the last five years has opened my eyes to the importance of participatory politics, but I have never made time to go (to a council meeting). Having the interest and making the time to walk into Bayou La Batre’s City Hall is a decision that changed the way I’ll think about politics forever.” What Cleary discovered, it seems, is that institutional politics can and should be an extension the relationships that already exist in the community. “Politics aren’t an unreachable resource for change that is reserved only for the elite,” she concluded. Not all learning experiences are positive and inspiring, however, and some students—as a result of living in the community and bringing a fresh, critical perspective to local politics—articulate prophetic observations that need to be heard. Taryn Wilson examined the council meeting she attended with a critical eye. The meeting lasted nearly three hours, but Wilson was not convinced that the length of time equated to progress. “The council seems to have the know-how to achieve most of the goals and objectives they set forth, but there seems to be a lack of execution and maintenance in some of their undertakings,” she noted. Wilson lamented the fact that the town’s historic hotel, owned by the city, is partly closed to the public and “has seen better days.” The company contracted to manage the hotel opted out of its contract with the city and left the town’s historic jewel in a mess. But for Wilson and other citizens, elected officials have let citizens down as well. “It seems that the blame is getting passed from one group to another instead of someone actually taking action and getting something done,” Wilson wrote. “I don’t know it if is a matter of money or politics or just a string of negative coincidences, but there really doesn’t seem to be any credible reason for the current state of the St. James Hotel.” Following Wilson’s departure from Selma, the 6

local paper reported that local citizens volunteered to manage the hotel after the contractor checked out, although the future of the historic site remains uncertain. City Council meetings offer Living Democracy students obvious opportunities to understand how a municipality operates, but more importantly, students have a chance to reflect on the roles of elected leaders and the relationships of citizens to elected leaders. College students can likely bring a new, fresh perspective to the council process, and we plan to introduce the following guiding questions for future Living Democracy cohorts. Guiding Questions for City Council Visits 1. Before the meeting: If you have not attended a city council meeting before, when do you think they take place and how often? Name a few agenda items that you think are covered at city council meetings? Whom do you predict attends city council meetings? Why do think citizens might attend these meetings? 2. At the meeting: Describe the meeting room. Where do citizens and elected officials sit? What else is in the room? How does the rooms contribute to or detract from the work that is happening at the meeting? What is the role of citizens at the meeting? Can you determine why citizens came to the meeting? How many people did you know at the meeting? How many people did you meet at the meeting? 3. After the meeting: What is the value and role of city council meetings in the overall ecology of democracy of your town? Do city council meetings possess untapped potential for strengthening democracy? If yes, what are the prospects and possibilities? Can these meetings contribute to the development of public judgment (as opposed to public opinion) on issues that matter to citizens? What are some practical ways in which citizens could be motivated to attend city council meetings?


Citizens speak out at Bayou La Batre City Council By Laney Payne Recovering from two major hurricanes and the 2010 BP oil spill that devastated Alabama’s Gulf Coast, Bayou La Batre citizens have the opportunity to come together regularly to meet face-toface with neighbors and local leaders at meetings of the City Council. Gathering on the first and last Monday and Thursday evenings of each month for work sessions and council meetings, these public meetings offer an open platform for anyone and everyone wishing to share their opinions or concerns. Bayou La Batre’s city hall sits next to one of the few stop lights in the coastal town and across from the bayou that brings vessels filled with hard working men in and out to sea each and every day in search of full cages and nets. Just weeks after

prior Bayou La Batre Mayor Stan Wright was convicted on conspiracy and corruption charges, interim Mayor Ida Mae Coleman opened the session with a tearful prayer before the citizens of her beloved city. “Heavenly father, we need you. Help us, Heavenly Father. Hear our cry. Heavenly Father. Show us what to do, Heavenly Father,” said Mayor Coleman. Although distraught over the upheaval caused by the mayor’s conviction, citizens gathered together in unity and filled the rusted leather seats with carefully researched documents in their sun-tanned hands. “Now is the time to do something. We have to step up,” shouted one citizen. “Enough with the bad publicity, let’s work together and put an end to all this,” shouted another. With discussions of the recent trials and board changes whispered throughout the room 8

and citizens shaking their heads in disbelief, one thing remains clear. Political change is needed in Bayou La Batre, and the people are ready and asking for it. During a recent meeting, concerned citizens were called one after another to approach the small wooden podium to express their concerns and fears. One woman said, “We made our men stay home. Us women are going to have to fix this. They turn to fighting, and we have to do it this way. We all have to work together to get something done in this town.”  Another tearful woman stood before the Council asking for change and said, “I’m scared of what kind of retaliation I’m going to face for speaking out. But I’m up here.” As each community member returned to their seats, a feeling of family exuded from each individual person they passed. People bonded together for a common cause and a better bayou for themselves and the generations to follow. After hearing their fellow shrimpers, mothers, cousins, ship painters and oyster shuckers’ cries, the members of the city council addressed their concerned audience. “I hear your struggle. I feel your pain. I know each one of you on an individual basis,” said interim Mayor Coleman. After covering police reports, library requests, cheerleading uniform changes, and other city business, the city council members of Bayou La Batre turned again to reassure the community of their continued empathy and efforts.  “We can’t promise you things we can’t afford to do. But let’s check on our neighbors and each do our part. That we can do,” said one council member. Another said, “Even if you think we aren’t listening, I promise you we are.” “I think they are each doing their civic duty. It’s their individual right to get their voice heard,” observed Malik Macon, a high school senior from

Philadelphia, Penn., who is working in the community this summer. “It’s such a small town here, but in a lot of ways it’s like Philly. Here, people know where each other stand. I think that can only help them,” said Ryan Mchugh, another Philadelphia native working in Bayou La Batre. Bayou La Batre seems to be united in their search for ways to work together to weather the political storms caused by the major’s recent conviction. This is not a community ready to roll over and call it quits. In a room overflowing with tension, hard working citizens clad in their gear from the day and a council split by the empty leather back chair and golden title plate awaiting the next mayor’s name, the coastal community will prevail with constant conversation and movement toward progress.


Council visits change perception of politics By Angela Cleary I will never forget how my preconceived image of formal politics was completely changed this summer. I had never attended a City Council or commission meeting in my life. I had no interest in Birmingham politics for the first 18 years of my youth, and quite frankly would have been too intimidated to attend. Living in Auburn for the last five years has opened my eyes to the importance of participatory politics, but I have never made the time to go. Having the interest and making the time to walk into Bayou La Batre’s City Hall is a decision that changed the way I’ll think about politics forever. Bayou La Batre’s City Council meetings follow political protocol like I’d anticipated, but truthfully, the meetings are as unique as the citizens that attend them and the officials that conduct them. Like you’d expect from any other meeting, there is a sign in sheet where you state your name and if you are recording the session, an agenda is passed out, and they start on time. Before being seated, Bayou La Batre’s Mayor Stanley Wright says a prayer on a more personal note. He thanks God for bringing everyone in attendance there safely and asks Him to guide the council’s decision making for the best of the people. Both times I have attended these meetings with the Bayou HOPE youth, and the Mayor thanks God for their dedication and service. He asks Him to bless them, for they are the future of Bayou La Batre. The mayor’s approachable personality shines though his prayer and the rest of the meeting’s conduct. He is very laid back and encourages feedback as matters are approved, motioned, seconded, and voted on. The room doesn’t feel stuffy, even the youth are comfortable. There aren’t many

people in the audience besides city officials like the water works, housing authority, and city engineer, but everyone greets one another with a smile. At the end of the meeting there is open time to address any concerns to the council, but I haven’t seen much input. Typically, everything is voted on Thursday’s Council agenda because it is discussed on Monday’s workshop. By having a planning session, which is also open to the public, matters are brought to the city’s attention in advance and a decision is made at the meeting. I was also invited to attend the County Commission meeting which was a much smaller event. I saw the familiar faces of the Mayor, Fire Chief, and City Clerk, there. I also met a member of the board who was a mechanic who’d been working on a school bus. Everyone there was so raw and real. They’d each come directly from their real jobs, even the mayor had on coveralls from  his oyster shop. My favorite aspect is afterwards, when everyone at the meeting seems to linger and socialize before leaving. It hadn’t occurred to me before Bayou La Batre that these council members and audience are more than just citizens of the same town. They are a community, a democracy. One’s family is the other’s neighbor, they bump into one another at cookouts and birthday parties. Local politics is not an unreachable resource for change that is reserved only for the elite. The people behind democracy are our family, friends, and neighbors. They are open to suggestions and conversation. They are excited to have productive citizens show up to workshops and meetings to voice their concerns and suggest ways to improve the quality of life. Democracy and politics are open to anyone and everyone that has the interest and takes the time.By Mary Beth Snow


Council meetings are interesting, important Of all of the new things I’ve experienced this summer, one of the most interesting is probably not what you’d expect: city council meetings. I am ashamed to say that before this summer, I had never in my life been to a city council meeting and had absolutely no idea what to expect. When I envisioned a city council meeting in my mind I saw something resembling a mixture of British parliamentary debates combined with Judge Judy and a town hall meeting from the television show “Parks and Rec”. I am (for the most part) happy to report that city council meetings in the real world are not quite that rambunctious. At the first city council meeting I attended near the beginning of my time in the community as a Living Democracy Fellow, a large crowd attended because the Collinsville High School soccer team was being officially congratulated for just having won the 1A-4A state championship. Recognizing the local champions was the first item on the agenda, so Mayor Johnny Traffanstedt called

the players up to the front of the small room where they posed for a picture with their coach. He noted that they are only the second state championship team in the town’s history, the first being the 1975 basketball team. The coach of that team, L.D. Dobbins, was present at this meeting, and he and his wife are regulars at most of the city council meetings. After the soccer team left, it was my turn to speak. I introduced myself to the council and the audience and then explained my summer projects. I told them that local merchants had donated $250 to go toward my efforts on downtown beautification. I then asked them to donate the same amount, which we could also match from my Living Democracy project fund. Much to my surprise, the mayor then asked me if I could match a higher amount if they donated more, a generous offer of support that astounded myself and many others, including the mayor’s brother who (lovingly) described his


brother Johnny as a “tightwad” to me the following week. The second city council meeting I attended was much different. Instead of a big crowd, there was only a small group of people: myself, Jennifer Wilkins, my community partner who attends every meeting to report on the activities of the public library, Coach Dobbins and his wife, and Miss Mattie, who was one of my students from the weekly Spanish class I taught in Collinsville. Jennifer and I reported on the different ways we used the funds that we had for the downtown beautification project. We were able to accomplish a lot during the summer with those funds: we bought six new planters to accompany the ones already lining the street, the soil and flowers to fill more than 20 planters and the supplies to renovate five trashcans downtown. With local help I spent a week in the blazing summer sun using power tools and pressure washing the trashcans before giving them a fresh coat of paint. Work continues on choosing the design for streetlamp banners that will line Main Street, but thanks to generous support from both merchants and city officials, the cost is covered. The best part of the city council meeting was that the mayor thanked us for all of the work

we’ve done this summer. It’s a dangerous thing to work for recognition, so I always try to work with the mindset that what I am doing will never be recognized and that keeps me focused on doing things for purer motives than personal glory. However, it is nice when recognition does come, and Jennifer and I were both happy to know that the work we’d done, along with the help of some great high school students and library board members, was making a difference around town. In all honesty, it’s a shame that more people don’t go to city council meetings. One of the biggest complaints that we hear about government and “politics” is that people feel disconnected or that their voice isn’t heard. But city council meetings are too often held in empty rooms. I don’t say that to point fingers. I know that people have things to do. There are baseball games to attend and dinner to cook and a million things pull us from every direction. I think that part of the problem is that we sometimes don’t even realize that things like city council meetings are going on and that they pertain to us, but they are and they do. That’s one of the best things I learned this summer. And you don’t have to be in Living Democracy to learn that. So next week be engaged, remain informed and go to your city council meeting! 12

Put city council meetings on your agenda By Sierra Lehnhoff The room is large and open with high ceilings and bowl-shaped light fixtures. One wall is a light brick with a bank vault door. To the left, a large desk sits on a platform surrounded by white chairs. Offices behind transparent glass walls sit to the right. It all adds up to create a sense of openness when entering the Elba City Hall room where the City Council meets. Elba City Council members Rolanda Jones, Tommy Skinner, Jack M. Mullinax, Jane Brunson, Harold Spicer, and Ronnie L Hammond sit with Mayor Mickey Murdock at the front behind gold nameplates with their names engraved. Behind them are two American flags on stands and the framed 13

nameplates of the former City Council members of Elba. They speak quietly into the microphone to their audience of five with Mayor Murdock and City Clerk Mullinax leading the majority of the business. A large agenda is offered in paper format to the attendees, briefing them on the last City Council meeting and noting the business for the current meeting. The majority of the discussion was about the Carl Folsom Field Airport and reviewing city bills. One citizen remarked on an issue of funding due to interest rates, and the council listened closely. The Council was very open about the public business, and the atmosphere was relaxed with jokes scattered here and there. These Elba leaders

very well reflect the rest of the citizens and the mood Elba portrays: light, relaxed, and not in much of a rush, leaving no detail overlooked and voicing few complaints. Another order of business was Gappa Wise’s resignation in District Two of the school board. Rob Logan was nominated to fill the open position. Logan has a son in 10th grade and is a graduate of Auburn University.  Wise was thanked by Mayor Murdock for his years of service to the school board. As the meeting neared the end, sirens of  fire trucks wailed outside as the trucks were inspected. The conversation then turned to a talk about the new City of Elba website. Mayor Murdock requested input from the committee. Jones and Brunson started a light-hearted conversation about wanting a more modern or professional look. The budget for the page and suggested changes in content were discussed. The future holds great promise in Elba, and I think over time more business and issues will be brought to the table to in efforts to move forward. A few older citizens were in attendance, but one day I hope there more participation from all types of citizens. This city council was not a room for complaints, but for business. Although that is good, one hopes that citizens will speak up for what they want to see in their town. Everyone wants some sort of change for the better, and the city council meetings are a great place to start. Who can help

you make a change in your city better than those who help run it? City council meetings also help you stay informed. Elba’s City Council was not just strictly business. Community news of interest was also shared. For example, Jones announced that a local church was having a football camp on July 20. They are bringing professional players, as well as some coaches from North Alabama, in for the event that starts at 9 a.m. All ages will be welcome, and children are especially encouraged to participate. Going to a city council meeting is a great way to stay informed on big projects happening in your town, bills that are being sent in, city funds, police reports, and the area’s schools. These meetings aren’t just to help those who run the show. The regularly scheduled meetings can help those who attend be more informed and provide a chance to voice opinions on important items and issues. A productive town needs productive citizens of all walks of life, not just productive leaders. 14

Council meeting offers surprises on first visit By Alexis Sankey The Fourth of July is a big deal for the town of Elba. Many of the downtown businesses not only close on that day in observation of the holiday, but for the whole week! Many of the people I talked to go to the Coffee County Lake for the week while others go out of town for vacation.  Few if any civic meetings or club gatherings are scheduled during the holiday week. However, I was excited to attend a city council meeting held the previous week.  I was excited about attending the city council meeting because it’s the first one I’ve ever been to in my life. I was interested in learning about the structure and organization of these official meetings.  I have never really had the opportunity to attend a city council meeting because I’m from a very rural area that doesn’t have a city council or even a mayor. I was also eager to attend because I felt like going to the city council meeting would encompass a great deal of what I’m here to learn and understand as a Living Democracy student. The meetings are designed to discuss the issues that really matter to citizens and the decisions communities face on a regular basis. I was actually quite surprised by the things that were discussed during the meeting. Some of the topics were things that I had never thought about as being a part of the decision-making process.  Of course, they touched on the expected topics like the city’s budget, the expense report, the crime rate, potholes, maintenance of city property, new initiatives, attracting businesses, and more. But what caught my attention were the smaller details, the things that you don’t ever think about. I never thought about how expensive city dump trucks were, or how important it is that every city service (fire department, police station, etc.) is not over budget.  Factors as small as who is cutting the grass on city-owned property and how much it will cost are just as important as the ma-

jor issues. After that meeting, I looked at Elba, all cities, differently. It really made me appreciate the work that they do. There are so many aspects to their job that I don’t think people realize. Regardless of how much work that the city council members do, I’ve noticed that citizen participation at the meeting was low. I know the citizens care, but you can’t really tell through the attendance of the city council meetings. I would assume that it’s because of the time frame of the meetings. People are either still at work, or just getting off and not willing to come back out. However, this doesn’t mean that the citizens of Elba aren’t engaged. It’s actually quite the opposite. They are so involved in every aspect of the community that I don’t really think the attendance at these meetings reflects a disengaged citizenry. Something really special that I noticed at the city council meeting was the way the city council members thought about how their decisions affected the people. I haven’t been to other city council meetings around Alabama, but I doubt that they know their citizens as well as Elba’s city council. The coolest thing I heard at the meeting was during the part where they were discussing ideas to make certain manual labor easier. They discussed getting a machine to do some tasks automatically. Before anyone gave it the ok, they all turned to each other and asked what would happen to the person who has been doing this job for years. They all came up with a solution so that the person wouldn’t be out of a job if they did go with the automatic method. I really thought that was a beautiful thing. If more council members and other government agencies in other places thought about their citizens in that way instead of just looking for shortcuts, I think it would make any town a much better place.


Big topics top small town council agenda By Audrey Ross One of the most important aspects of a community is its local government, and Hobson City is no exception. Just off Martin Luther King Drive, inside what used to be Hobson City’s C.E. Hanna School, one will find the city clerk, the mayor and the rest of Hobson City’s city hall crew. The meetings, held every other Monday at 6:30 p.m., take place inside the old school that now serves as city hall. Just inside the long, open room where the meeting occurs are two stacks of handouts for the attendees of the meeting. One stack contains the minutes and other information from the previous city council meeting and the other stack is the agenda for the current day’s meeting. In addition to the usual crowd of city council members, city employees and the mayor, everyday citizens are welcome to join the discussion and take part in their own government. A surpris-

ingly large group of citizens came out to see what was going on in their community at the city council meeting of July 22. As citizens filed inside the room and into the old church pews, the meeting was soon called to order. After the beginning prayer and reading of the previous meeting’s minutes, the first issue was brought to everyone’s attention. Hobson City is planning a community celebration to bring all of the town’s local churches together on August 19. In a town of 765, the churches are extremely important in uniting local citizens. The hopes of this special celebration are to further develop that sense of community. The mayor, clerk and city council members discussed the details of this celebration and shared in the excitement of a community-building event. Diane Glenn then approached the city council members to discuss a promising grant application. The Community Development Block Grant 16

(CDBG) program under discussion could potentially provide Hobson City with $350,000 to use toward renovating old and damaged properties within the town’s city limits. The city had applied for the CDBG program the previous year but was not awarded the grant. Glenn explained that a crucial piece of the grant application is showing that the city and/or property owners would be able to maintain the renovations. The council members discussed how this could be done and how much of the city’s money could be set aside for this project. Although most of the council members were hesitant to make any monetary commitments from the city, the benefits to the city in the event that it was awarded the grant were appar-

ent. At that point there was a consensus that it was time to take a leap of faith and commit to finding one percent of the total grant amount, $3,500, to continue to seek the funds. Other topics discussed at the meeting included a nearly $3.5 million project to improve the city’s recent water problems. What all of the topics of discussion had in common was a feeling of hope for brighter days to come. Initial reactions to such enormous and sometimes daunting projects may be that a tiny town of less than 800 people like Hobson City isn’t up for the challenge or that there simply aren’t enough funds. In many cases like these, all it takes is one person to stand up and believe that change can be made to inspire the rest to stand together and get things done.


Council meeting offers lessons in democracy By Marian Royston Attending a city council meeting in Hobson City is a required activity for anyone who wishes to better understand how the community works. Not only does it offer insight into the community’s institutional politics, but it also helps an observer understand the relationship between ordinary citizens and the organized government. From my city council experience in Hobson City, I was able to better understand the depth of the democratic process in town and witness some of the challenges that the community will have to overcome in order to include more citizens in that process. The topic of discussion at the city council meeting I attended ranged from administrative matters to important decisions with far-reaching consequences. Everything on the agenda impacted the town and its resources in some way. The council members and mayor spoke to one another rather than out toward the crowd. However, I understand. Hardly anyone was at the meeting. There was only one person there besides me who was not on the agenda for something. From my conversation with a town official I learned that lack of citizen participation at council meetings is nothing out of the ordinary in Hobson City. Citizen participation is one of the driving factors behind democracy, so it is highly distressing that more people don’t take the time to see what their elected officials dare deciding on their behalf. In regards to citizen participation, I can’t say that Hobson City is any different than other towns in Alabama. The only difference is that the issue may be more pronounced because of the size of the town. I have had the opportunity to attend city council meetings in both my hometown of Roanoke as well as the city of Auburn. In both places only a small sampling of citizens were present. Only when controversial matters are being discussed do citizens come out in droves. Oftentimes people feel powerless to do anything about their concerns, and have no idea what to do about issues that matter to them. We often direct our anger and blame at state and federal officials for problems that our municipal and county governments can handle in some way. Many citizens direct their ire at


far-away officials rather than those in our own backyard. Some of this, however, can be related to a lack of civic education. From my experience with city council proceedings in Hobson City and elsewhere, I have learned a lot about democracy. Citizens must be engaged in the democratic process in order for the system to function as it should. By engagement, I don’t mean simply voting every four years. Real engagement to me goes far beyond voting. It means voting, holding officials accountable, serving on councils and committees as able, staying informed, voicing opinions and having knowledge of how the government works. Democracy is about having control over our own destiny, and that is impossible without active engagement. Citizens must make it their business to stay informed and take action when necessary. If we leave everything to our elected officials with no accountability, we open the door to a number of nefarious situations. We need to make civic engagement a priority again if our way of government has any hope of thriving. The lack of democratic function here or anywhere else can’t be entirely because of a lack of citizen engagement. After all, citizens are disengaged for a reason. People want to know that their voice is going to be heard and their concerns taken seriously. What kind of broken promises must hang between the citizenry and government to result in this level of disengagement and for how long have these covenants gone unfulfilled? “We the people” are supposed to be the government, but as long as it’s the people vs. the government, nothing can prosper for very long. Living Democracy has given me a front row view of the problems that ail democracy today. Still, I don’t think that the situation is hopeless in any way. I see the trouble. But I also see workable solutions. I have a realistic view of democracy because of my experiences in Hobson City. I feel empowered and justified through Living Democracy to face the challenges to democracy as a leader who can help bridge the divide between citizens and government, and it is my sincere hope that others will answer the call to fix these problems.

Speaking at local meetings brings rewards By Blake Evans During my time in Linden, I have been present for key discussions during City Council, Industrial Development Board, and Utility Board meetings. Each meeting has uniquely shaped the city into its current state. My attendance at these has provided me the unique opportunity to report the results of my work for Living Democracy. For example, during the City Council Meeting on June 5, and the Industrial Development Board meeting on June 11, I gave updates on Linden’s promotional DVD script.  My information was received very well, and I have already been encouraged by constructive feedback. Through participating in these meetings, I have learned first-hand the importance of citizen involvement in civic meetings.  The board members hold their positions because they care about Linden, and they desire to make the future even brighter than it already is.  To achieve that, they really do want to hear the public’s vision for the community.  They desire to help citizens help Linden. In the short time that I have been participating in these civic meetings, I have received positive, uplifting comments that have encouraged me to keep working and keep persevering through whatever adversity I face throughout my project. For example, recently I sent a copy of a draft of Linden’s promotional DVD script to the Industrial Development Board.  When I sent it, I informed the IDB that I was currently in the process of condensing it.  Soon after I sent the e-mail, I received a comment back from Mr. William Curry, a former member of City Council and current member of the IDB and the Linden City Schools Board of Education.  He wrote, “This is great Blake, and I am sure the condensed version will be even better.” Also, in response to that same e-mail, Mrs. Gelean Wicks, owner of Screamers and current IDB member, stated, “You make me want to live here.”


Little comments such as Mr. Curry’s and Mrs. Wicks’ have served as great encouragement for me during my time in Linden; however, words are not the only way in which the IDB has helped me succeed throughout my Living Democracy project. In the first IDB meeting I attended, Mayor Mitzi Gates introduced me to them, and then she asked for $350 to $500 dollars to help with a project we were conducting with Linden’s Youth Advisory Board. After thinking about it, Dr. Walter Davis, the Chairman, simply did not believe that amount of money was sufficient.  The IDB graciously allowed us to use up to $1,500 dollars to make the project a success.  Their immense generosity has helped boost both our project and our morale, and I am very thankful for their input and support. I think that the few personal experiences I have described in the short time I have been in Linden prove the desire of board members on not only the IDB, but also the City Council and Utility Board, to help the citizens of Linden improve the city by working together.  They are there to help, but citizens must seek their support and advice. While some citizens do voice their opinions and ideas in civic meetings, involvement and participation is not very high.  However, some people, such as Mayor Mitzi Gates, believe this fact could be a good indication of the good work that current city officials are doing. In an e-mail interview with Mayor Gates, she said, “I’m not discouraged by the fact that citizens rarely attend our public meetings. To me, a lack of citizen attendance means in large part that the elected and appointed officials are representing our constituents satisfactorily!” The mayor continued to say, “When those full meetings occur, infrequent though they may be, the citizens know that they will be heard, that their opinions are valued, and that the elected and/or appointed leaders will make the decisions they believe are in the best interest of all citizens.”


CIVIC CLUBS & ORGANIZATIONS Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, ligula suspendisse nulla pretium, rhoncus tempor placerat fermentum, enim integer ad vestibulum volutpat. Nisl rhoncus turpis est, vel elit, congue wisi enim nunc ultricies sit, magna tincidunt. Maecenas aliquam maecenas ligula nostra, accumsan taciti. Sociis mauris in integer, a dolor netus non dui aliquet, sagittis felis sodales, dolor sociis mauris, vel eu libero cras. Interdum at. Eget habitasse elementum est, ipsum purus pede porttitor class, ut adipiscing, aliquet sed auctor, imperdiet arcu per diam dapibus libero duis. Enim eros in vel, volutpat nec eros. Dignissim cras urna, ante convallis turpis duis lectus sed aliquet, at tempus et ultricies. Eros sociis cursus nec hamenaeos dignissimos imperdiet, luctus ac eros sed massa vestibulum, lobortis adipiscing praesent. Nec eros eu ridiculus libero felis. Donec arcu risus diam amet sit. Congue tortor cursus risus vestibulum commodo nisl, luctus augue 20

amet quis aenean maecenas sit, donec velit iusto, morbi felis elit et nibh. Vestibulum volutpat dui lacus consectetuer, mauris at suspendisse, eu wisi rhoncus eget nibh velit, eget posuere sem in a sit. Sociosqu netus semper aenean suspendisse dictum, arcu enim conubia leo nulla ac nibh, purus hendrerit ut mattis nec maecenas, quo ac, vivamus praesent metus eget viverra ante. Natoque placerat sed sit hendrerit, dapibus velit molestiae leo a, ut lorem sit et lacus aliquam. Sodales nulla ante auctor excepturi wisi, dolor lacinia dignissim eros condimentum dis pellentesque, sodales lacus nunc, feugiat at. In orci ligula suscipit luctus, sed dolor eleifend aliquam dui, ut diam mauris, sollicitudin sed nisl lacus tempus. Ut facilisis ante in dui ac suscipit, turpis voluptatum donec, fusce suspendisse, quasi luctus amet urna tempor amet sit. Cras volutpat mattis hasellus justo massa sed, feugiat nunc praesent. Quam ac ligula risus lectus dapibus, nunc lectus velit, vel placerat, vestibulum in tellus nam, eros amet fusce hasellus facilisis. Vehicula sed, class dignissim ullamcorper eros, mauris consequat ut lacinia. Aliquam amet est, quam leo maecenas mauris turpis leo pharetra, vulputate lacus. Ad ornare donec, fringilla feugiat augue imperdiet laoreet, ipsum enim sit lectus felis at, aliquam blandit donec pede, luctus platea etiam mauris ut. Dui vel diam, vitae et scelerisque erat volutpat viverra velit, risus pellentesque tellus nullam nibh, morbi posuere. Curabitur labore. Ac augue donec, sed a dolor luctus, congue arcu id diam praesent, pretium ac, ullamcorper non hac in quisque hac. Magna amet libero maecenas justo. Nam at wisi donec amet nam, quis nulla euismod neque in enim, libero curabitur libero, tempus arcu egestas molestie pede lorem eu. Posuere tempus porttitor urna et, hasellus sed sit sodales laoreet integer, in at, leo nam in. Vitae et, nunc hasellus hasellus, donec dolor, id elit donec hasellus ac pede, quam amet. Eget nibh maecenas ac, nullam duis elit, ligula eget pellentesque viverra morbi tellus molestie, mi. Sodales nunc suscipit sit pretium aliquet integer, interdum consectetuer pede, et risus hac diam at eget, commodo in. Scelerisque sodales, mauris lorem non consectetuer. Felis maecenas sit adipiscing elit ullamcorper non, amet pede consectetuer quis rutrum sit, nec vestibulum sem, integer non felis a vel. Vel proin, sapien sit, mauris amet in semper dolor. Lacus non pariatur et dolor. Risus mattis. Eu tristique erat a, morbi vel. Tempor quis elit ac maxime et. Amet mauris nec voluptatum, habitant tellus dignissim sed eros, justo fames.


Civic clubs help open doors By Sierra Lehnhoff The Rotary Club is an organization I have heard about since I was younger. In high school I heard about Rotary International because some of my friends and acquaintances traveled for a study abroad through this program. Although I had heard of Rotary, I didn’t know much about the local clubs. On a Tuesday afternoon, the Rotary Club of Elba meets in the back of the First Baptist Church. Not knowing what was considered the true “back” of the church, I wandered around to the side. Finally, I caught a glimpse of the correct door of the church and entered just in time for the meeting. I was greeted by a few members and the aromas of delicious food. I think the cook may produce some of the best southern delicacies around. Other members of Rotary Club started to trickle in as I sat and ate with two unfamiliar folks. Then I saw those I recognized: Mrs. Laurie Chapman and Mr. Kenneth Calhoun.  The tables divided the group into two, but Chapman had enough cheerfulness to fill the entire room. We sat there chatting until I finally asked, “What exactly is Rotary Club?” I had never known up until this day. Everyone glanced at each other and then they began to explain that Rotary was a club dedicated to helping the community. Membership used to be limited to two people of a certain profession in the club, but now most of it consists of business owners. I explained that the most I knew about the organization was the International exchange program and they said that was part of their mission but not the main reason the club found in communities across the country exists. Local service is a priority. They said that the last thing they did for this community was pack emergency event bags for the Elba City Schools. Finally, at 12:30 p.m., it was time to start the meeting. We said the pledge of allegiance, did some formal introductory practices, and then I got to start the Rotary pledge. I fumbled the introduction because I had no idea what I was doing, but the other members helped me out.


The 4-Way Test considers the following questions in respect to thinking, saying or doing: Is it the truth?   Is it fair to all concerned?  Will it build goodwill and better friendships?    Will it be beneficial to all concerned? Chapman introduced me to the group and spoke a little bit about my projects, and then I spoke. I had no Internet, so I was without any visuals for my presentation. I spoke about what Living Democracy was, what the goals were, and some of the projects my fellow classmates were doing in other Alabama communities. Even though I felt like I was rambling on for a long time, I got a lot of great feedback. It was nice to have people tell me that they support what I’m was doing and know that any help I can bring to the community is appreciated. I met a lot of new people at Rotary, and I think that speaking to a club, any civic club, helps to open a lot of doors to partnerships and relationships with people. By speaking I felt like I gained different kinds of support in Elba that were not as apparent as before. Informing others also helped me make sure that some important people had a good understanding of why I was in Elba. Some might have assumed, “She’s here to save our town”, but I got to explain that Elba did not need saving, and they would do just fine without me.  But every town has something or a few things they want to work on. I’m here to help and give ideas as an outsider. I can help make those ideas happen, but it is dependent on if the town wants them to happen. If the town doesn’t want it, I won’t push forward with it. Being able to say these things publicly helped me feel more understood, and I think Rotary Club was a great place to start because of what they stand for.  If one really thinks about it, Rotary Club and Living Democracy don’t seem so different after all.

Exchange Club emphasizes citizenship By Taryn Wilson Inspired by the 133rd Psalm, the Exchange Club operates by this motto. Two years removed from its centennial anniversary in 2011, the Exchange Club stands at 21,000 strong with more than 700 chapters all over the United States and Puerto Rico. Founded in Detroit at a luncheon gathering by a group of businessmen who wanted to “exchange” ideas, the Exchange Club continues to be an organization in which members are encouraged to bring their respective talents and interests together to accomplish goals in the community. The largest service organization operating solely in the United States, Exchanges places an emphasis on “activities designed to benefit, award and develop our nation’s youth, promote crime prevention, serve senior citizens and recognize military and public safety service providers.” Selma’s chapter of the club meets at the St. James Hotel every Wednesday and has its gatherings over lunch. Motivated by the club’s three core values of Family, Community and Country, Selma’s Exchange Club places its focus on projects that improve these three areas. Selma’s Exchange has new leadership in command and a renewed desire to make a positive impact on the community. The club has a history of receiving national awards for its projects, and the desire to repeatedly meet these goals continues into the present. Most of the awards focus on the number of pro-

jects undertaken by the Club, but some have the added caveat of recognizing the group for increasing membership. Maintaining members in a time when many are too busy to be active in activities outside of work and family has proven to be a difficult for civic organizations across the board, but the Exchange Club here has made it a goal not only to maintain the current membership, but also grow it. With multiple civic organizations in the area,


joint members are welcomed and encouraged to participate. The members are now assessing the viability of existing projects and looking for new opportunities. The projects that the Selma Exchange Club undertakes generally fall under one of their Four Pillars of Americanism, Youth Programs, Community Service and Child Abuse Prevention. Projects under discussion include passing out flags at patriotic celebrations and honoring a local law officer or firefighter with periodic awards for their service. The group is also discussing the Freedom Shrines they sponsor in the area. Freedom Shrines are “permanently mounted collection of 20-30 of the most important and historic American documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Gettysburg Address.” Freedom Shrines are a way for the Exchange Club to give local citizens, especially youth, “proof that the freedom and greatness we enjoy today were not purchased easily.” The displayed documents are intended to remind citizens of gifts that should be cherished and protected. The Selma area currently has at least 12 Freedom Shrines in varying locations, including schools and in the Selma Mall. Rededicating current shrines and dedicating new ones is a goal of every Exchange Club, with the eventual goal being to have a shrine in every junior and senior high school in the nation. The group also supports the Book of Golden Deeds Award. The National Exchange Club’s longest running project, the Book of Golden Deeds Award recognizes community members who volunteer above and beyond to make

their communities better places. This year’s recipient was Howard Tinsley, a local Exchange Club member of more than 27 years. A 22-year military veteran and longtime American Red Cross member, Tinsley has been serving the community in various capacities for many years. Present at the recent awards ceremony were many of the past Book of Golden Deeds Award recipients, including AU Living Democracy Community Partner Sheryl Smedley. In a society where negative headlines get more attention than positive ones, Selma’s Exchange Club continues to do positive work in the community. Its members show dedication and a desire to better their community, and that is all that can be asked of any civic organization. They have a strong commitment to family, community and country, and it is organizations like Exchange Club that will continue to create and utilize engaged citizens, wherever they may be. 24

Historical Association takes on a mission By Mary Beth Snow If you walk into the stores on Main Street in downtown Collinsville, you’ll notice something on the counter in many of them: a plastic jug collecting money for renovations for the Cricket Theater. The original Cricket Theater was housed in the building where the Collinsville Library now stands, but was then moved to the current building in 1946. The Cricket looms on Main Street, badly in need of repair. Luckily, a local organization, the Collinsville Historical Association, has stepped up to the plate. Collinsville may be a tiny town, but it has a great deal of history and no shortage of people who are proud of and willing to preserve that history. The Collinsville Historical Association is full of those people. They have lived in Collinsville, have seen the many changes it has undergone and want to record what they remember for future generations. One of these residents is Jean Edwards Box, a lifelong resident of Collinsville who is an active member of the Historical Association. Chatting with Jean after the service at the Methodist church this week, I asked her what motivated her to devote her time and energy to the group. She responded, “Because, mainly, I’m an alumni of this town. I was born and raised here, and I want to carry on what my parents, grandparents and ancestors did. They lived here too. I don’t want anybody to forget what it was like.” Other members of the Historical Association also voice a desire to record what life was like so that future generations can remember and appreciate their town’s rich history.

It’s this desire that led the society to purchase the Cricket Theater and begin the extensive restoration work that is necessary. They have removed the old marquee, which was a safety hazard, and hope to restore it in the future. But, first they must turn their attention to a sagging balcony on the inside. They have already accomplished a great deal with the theater such as repairing the leaky roof to prevent further water damage. The group is working to salvage as much of the original theater as possible and is involved in several other community projects. They played 25

a part in restoring the historic Seth Thomas clock from the Dekalb County Courthouse, made in 1924, by finding an organization that could properly restore the old clock, which now sits in the Collinsville town hall. They publish a quarterly newsletter and put on the yearly Turkey Trot festival held in downtown Collinsville. They also run the Collinsville History Museum that I had the fortune of visiting a few weeks ago with some of my high school helpers. It is filled with furniture, objects, photographs and memorabilia from Collinsville’s past and present. The president of the Collinsville Historical Association is Roger Dutton, who is also the local barber who knows everything that happens in the town of Collinsville. Roger has given me permission to conduct my oral history project in the name of the Historical Association so that they will have full ownership of the completed project. We’re very excited about the project staying in Collinsville, and I’m also excited about the chance to work with such an involved and strong organization.

The whole point of Living Democracy is that we don’t do what we do alone: we are part of a community. By working with an existing organization in my community instead of beginning totally from scratch, I not only make my own job a little bit easier, but I also have the fortune of adding to something that has already been created. It is a joy to work with an abundance of people who have a deeper understanding of Collinsville than I could ever fathom. I’m looking forward to the opportunity I will have through this project to learn about the Collinsville I never knew. I’ve heard snippets as I eat breakfast at Jack’s with the over-50 crowd: stories about the woman who used to run the dime store and tales of playing high school football in leather helmets when there were stumps in the end zone and a field of crops right next to the field. These stories and memories are what the Collinsville Historical Association works to protect, and I, because of Living Democracy, will get to be a part of that. What could be cooler than that?


Arts Council paints civic life with all colors By Kaleb Kirkpatrick Civic organizations are extremely important to communities, especially rural communities. These organizations can provide a wide variety of goods and services, such as volunteer work, food drives or cleaning up public places including parks. Other civic organizations host events for the public to relax and enjoy their community. All of this is helpful and play a vital role in the civic health of a community. An excellent example of a civic organization is the Two Rivers Arts Council (TRAC). According to Morgan Grimes, TRAC works in Marengo County to “provide quality arts exhibits and performances to the community it serves and to assist and encourage local efforts which enable the community to create and make their own arts.” TRAC was created in the 1970s to bring appreciation of the arts to the people of Marengo County. TRAC has a fall and spring concert in City Park in historic, downtown Demopolis. The concert is free and usually TRAC gets local musicians to play. Last December, the Montgomery Ballet performed “The Nutcracker “at the Demopolis High School Auditorium. Recently, they partnered with me on the Linden Art Walk and were essential in getting names of local and regional artists. The organization is funded by membership dues, grants, corporate sponsorship, the City of Demopolis and donations. TRAC seeks to secure government support for the arts at all levels and, through the support of over 100 members, TRAC continues to thrive and offer quality art exhibits and performances to the community. A Board of Directors consisting of fifteen members governs TRAC.  The board seeks funding from municipal,

county, state and federal governments, local, regional and national business establishments, foundations, and private individuals in the community. Each year, the Council encourages members of the community and local businesses to become members of the Council. According to Mrs. Grimes, “The Two Rivers Arts Council aspires to elevate the style and quality of life for the citizens of Demopolis and Marengo County.” TRAC also attempts to promote artists from Alabama throughout the region surrounding Linden, which is one of the main reasons the council wanted to assist with this project. Projects like the Art Walk help to benefit everyone and can bring together different organizations under the same umbrella of a cause. TRAC has multiple partners such as the Demopolis Chamber of Commerce, and the Demopolis Public Library. This type of cohesiveness and harmony between organizations is an excellent example of how common interests can come together to work on something. In addition, this group unity helps to promote everyone. For example, if TRAC had an event then the other partners from the other organizations will attend the event, all in the name of friendship. It’s a perfect picture of how citizens can come together and change their local communities. Overall, the Two Rivers Arts Council is a thriving and active organization in the heart of the Alabama Black Belt region. Their continued efforts will help to totally transform the area for the citizens living there. In addition, the organization and its partners can stand as a testament of how cooperation is extremely beneficial for small communities. With the help of the council, Alabama artists will continue to produce wonderful pieces of art for both private and public citizens.


Organization works to support Alabama’s ‘liquid asset’ By Laney Payne “This is our daily bread.” This is the simple idea that Bayou La Batre’s not so simple Organized Seafood Association lives by. Founded in 2002, the Organized Seafood Association is well known throughout Bayou La Batre and the surrounding region. From pushing legislation to helping shrimpers, fishermen and crabbers obtain licenses, Organized Seafood works around the clock. In their office next to the Subway in the quiet Greer’s grocery strip, Organized Seafood helps their neighbors help themselves. “If it affects a fisherman, we will find a way to help,” said Rosa Zirlott, a founder and one of two OSA employees. As the daughter of an Everglade beauty and a North Carolina traveling shrimper, Zirlott knows firsthand what it takes to make it in the industry. “You just gotta jump in the water and figure out what it’s about,” said Zirlott. “If I can talk

to them about my personal experiences, they’ll believe me. That’s how I can help them.” Zirlott has done just that for the past 11 years from the small office decked out with symbols of Gulf Seafood pride. Established as a nonprofit to distribute Katrina relief money from Marine Resources, OSA distributed more than $9 million to people who rightfully deserved it based on strict criteria for assistance. 28

“We wanted it to go to the right people. We only used half a percent to keep the lights on here. The rest all went to the people who deserved it,” said Zirlott. Even after the impact of Katrina and the 2010 oil spill began to ease and the disaster relief crews packed up and left the bayou, OSA continues to take a stand for the people of the community. By promoting local seafood, the association is fighting the constant monster that is hitting every seafood industry worker in the area: imports. At a price so cheap the locals find it hard to compete with, companies are turning to foreign countries for farmraised seafood packed with chemicals and disease. According to Zirlott, The United States tests only one percent of on all imported seafood. If contaminated, the shrimp or other seafood are dumped and forgotten, still leaving the other 99 percent to land on our plates. According to the staff, OSA is working to prevent the continued assault of imported shrimp by marketing their cause and working to change legislation to protect the livelihood of local seafood industry workers.  “You have the right to know where your food came from. Eat Gulf seafood,” said Debbie Jones, the grant writer for OSA. From their overflowing desks, Zirlott and Jones have worked to promote laws requiring every food establishment in Alabama to advise their customers about the country of origin of the seafood they serve. By displaying postcards that read, “You didn’t come this far to eat imported shrimp,” OSA is getting their cause heard. Legislation is just the beginning of what Organized Seafood hopes to change. More importantly, they hope to preserve a way of life that may soon be forgotten. “I’m afraid of losing a generation of hard workers and losing the knowledge of how to do this. My husband’s daddy was a net maker, just like his daddy. You have to know the 29

patterns and skills. We are losing all that,” said Zirlott. By helping each individual who walks through their doors, Organized Seafood is working to ensure the survival of a trade and its people.  Competing against foreign markets and declining prices, the association explores creative and innovative ways to show the people of the bayou that there is still money to be made and pride to be had in what they do. “Ask for Gulf seafood, and you’ll get it. It helps keep a livelihood open. People sometimes don’t have a clue. We have to create a niche market for this. Everyone loves a taste of the Gulf,” said Zirlott. The association has found many outlets to advertise their efforts, such as the Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama. According to Zirlott, when OSA first participated in the festival, nearly 100 percent of all concessions sold imported shrimp. After passing out free samples of “the taste of the Gulf,” 70 percent of all stands now sell Alabama wild shrimp. Furthermore, the association has partnerships with companies such as Zattaran’s to market and sell their product. The newly launched “Alabama Gulf Seafood” campaign provides billboards, flyers, and stickers with slogans such as “Support the waters that support Alabama” and “A different kind of liquid asset.” Serving as a representative for the hard working people of bayou, the Organized Seafood Association is the definition of collaboration and perseverance as they work to protect a seafood tradition that is vital in Bayou La Batre.


THIRD PLACES Discovering “Great, Good Places” In Living Democracy planning workshops, students asked community partners, “Where should I go to get to know your community?” The partners suggested that students “have coffee at Jack’s, hang out at the park, talk to the barber, have lunch at Lottie’s.” The partners eagerly pointed students to these “third places” where they knew the active work of community occurred. In addition, student reflections and academic preparation were designed, in part, to encourage civic adventures that would push them to discover community by spending time in local places that reflected the identity of their assigned community. In meetings with community partners they learned that civic aspirations were often connected to saving, creating, and sharing the story of special places such as the Cricket Theater in Collinsville and local gathering spots near rivers and parks. 30

One of the joys of living democracy turns out to be the discovery of third places at the heart of community life. Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s book, The Great Good Place, helped define and show the value of these informal gathering spots, which he describes as “essential yet informal spots central to for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.” Some of his defining characteristics of a third place are that they be comfortable and accessible to all, a place where “both new friends and old should be found.” Hanging out at spots ranging from post offices to pubs, our students learned, provided insight into local politics and issues of concern and helped them understand each community’s unique sense of place. Before their summer adventures began, students were introduced to the value of third places and other approaches related to civic journalism in the spring class. Resources included tools from J-Lab’s civic journalism site ( and Rich Harwood’s work on third places. Discussions about tools, such as civic mapping, were focused on how students interested in successfully living democracy could adapt them to their particular quests in our communities. In one academic exercise, students prepared civic maps, using guidelines found at Their maps listed what they learned about special places, people, and demographics in their assigned community. The second cohort of Living Democracy students also had the assistance of the first group who shared “you have to hang out here” tips when designing their third places section of the map. Civic mapping, Jan Schaffer noted in the Fall 2003 edition of Nieman Reports, helps reporters and others appreciate often-overlooked third places, “spots where people gather and trade information.” While journalists and others might neglect the importance of these informal hangouts, Schaffer noted that wise politicians “know where the third places are.” Because of their work on civic mapping exercises, the students knew the names and locations of several third places before they arrived, but not the characters or the character of conversations, the good food, and good times they would discover. Once the students were in community, partners were available to direct students to show up “at just the right time” to hang out with movers and shakers having morning coffee or chatting after lunch. The casual nature of third places allowed Living Democracy students to get to know both informal and formal community leaders in a comfortable setting. Visits helped them recognize the nuances that shaped communities as unique as the folks who showed up in these restaurants and barbershops on a regular basis. Mary Beth Snow described her own definition and discovery of third places noting: “Something we talked about a great deal in preparation for this summer is the concept of “third places” – places in the community where people casually encounter each other. These places differ from official meeting places in that there is no set time or plan for interactions there; it spontaneously occurs. They’re essential to healthy communities though. The definition of community involves people meeting together, and for people to meet and


form authentic relationships, they have to be able to do that naturally. Third places are where community is built.” The following excerpts reflect more significant lessons students learned in the living, breathing third places of the Living Democracy communities in Alabama.

Collinsville During her 2013 summer in Collinsville, Mary Beth Snow spent many mornings with the “Knights of the Round Table” who gathered for coffee regularly at a Jack’s, a fast-food restaurant just off the Interstate 59 exit that leads into Collinsville. She discovered spending time with her community partner, Myles Smith, and his friends there to be one of her best experiences of the summer. Nathan Simone, Living Democracy community journalist, also found stories worth stopping for at this third place. In his article “Knights of the Round Table” Simone wrote about Jack’s: “Every town has that early morning meeting spot for the local bigwigs. A place for the movers and shakers to have a cup of coffee, slap some gravy on a couple of biscuits and get local news the way it was disseminated for centuries before the printing press: conversation.” He explained that the regulars consistently gather at the back of the restaurant at two round tables in two different shifts. Simone described one fun and informal morning conversation: “Roger Dutton, owner of Cook’s Barber Shop on Main Street, also affectionately refers to the group of perpetually conversating older men as “Liars Club International,” a play on the popular secular service group, Lions Clubs International. ‘You can get your informal schooling in Collinsville two ways,’ Dutton jokes, ‘with a bachelor’s at Jack’s or an associate’s at the gas station up the road. Take your pick.’” Both Snow and Simone reflected that the conversations over coffee were not always fun and games, with tough topics like discrimination, immigration and economic concerns also on the table for discussion. Snow said one of the most important lessons she learned in Collinsville was that she could and should slow down and take time to stop and talk with Smith and other regulars at Jack’s. She noted, “I met a host of interesting people there, including a former mayor, two chicken farmers, and a woman who is one of twelve siblings.  Every time we go back, I am introduced to someone else from Collinsville, and I loved it.” 32

Another third place in Collinsville Snow discovered as central to community life was Trade Day, an event that happens every Saturday, rain or shine. She described Trade Day as the ultimate flea market, with everything from tools to fried pies offered for sale. She wrote, “For every person there because they really want to buy a new wrench or some flowers or chickens, there are probably three or four who are there because it’s a nice way to get out of the house and encounter your neighbors. Meeting with others is essential to community- you cannot be a community alone.” Snow connected a quote from Dr. Paul Waddy Jr., the state leader of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, “We need to cross the street and shake hands with one another, and that’s another way to eliminate some of the problems,” to her observations about Trade Day. She wrote, “For us to solve problems in our community, we have to BE a community, and that means meeting with our neighbors and getting to know them. And Trade Day in Collinsville is a sacred event for that reason: it gives people in the community a place to shake hands.”

MARION Student Catherine Tabor, who lived democracy in Marion, also discovered the value of third places in her community. Her favorite was the As Time Goes By Bookstore. The 62year-old bookstore owner, Charles Flaherty, told her: “I wanted the store to be like a little time capsule of sorts, a history lesson. And it’s something everybody can relate to. People don’t realize how much the world changes just during their lifetime.” Offering more than books, As Time Goes By gives patrons a place to enjoy coffee, pie or even a game of checkers. Depending on the time shown on a clock, he will spin records that that match both past decades and the colorful, retro décor of his bookstore. Another Marion establishment, Lottie’s Restaurant, also goes beyond the menu to serve locals. Tabor enjoyed the Southern meals and fellowship with patrons at Lottie’s, just down the street from the Perry County Courthouse. She said the owners set up the restaurant as a gathering place, with baseball games and NASCAR races shown on two televisions and plays and jazz concerts performed on a small stage at the back of the restaurant. Tabor wrote:


“It is places and moments like this that form the foundation of a community. A small gathering place, outside of work, or even church, where friends and family can commune with each other on a lazy Sunday afternoon without the hustle and bustle of the workweek is a much needed and often overlooked aspect in many communities. Luckily, Marion still holds onto hers, and it does not look like her citizens will let go any time soon.” The previous summer in Marion, Mary Afton Day found another third place at the Frosty Cow, an ice cream parlor on the square. She said the owner, English immigrant David Austin, said he started his retro ice cream parlor to bring citizens together because “ice cream is color blind.”

BAYOU LA BATRE Instead of ice cream, the owners of a Mexican restaurant in Bayou La Batre, Ole Maria’s, use karaoke, orchestrated by DJ and Elvis look-alike Danny Rand on Wednesday and Sunday evenings, to bring citizens together. LD student Laney Payne discovered the meaning behind the music in her 2013 summer experience. Rand explained to her, “We have such a different crowd here. Hispanic, Asian, or English, I’ve got it all. Everyone is comfortable with me, and I like it that way.” Bayou La Batre’s Police Chief Cliff Adams told her about the karaoke nights at Ole Maria’s, “Really, this is all we have. It means so much for the bayou to have a good family place to come and fellowship.” Alberto Rossi, the owner of Ole’ Maria’s with both Italian and Spanish roots, added that he believes the event at his Tex-Mex restaurant colorfully reflects the melting pot of culture present in Bayou La Batre. Angela Cleary, 2012 Living Democracy student, found fun and lessons at other Bayou third places, including the Bait Shop and a local tavern, Rodnocker’s. She observed that these gathering places for local citizens provided space where they could discuss concerns about political and economic issues. The “third space” Cleary found most interesting was the area around the state docks. She wrote: “People of every race, religion, age, and profession gather here to fish at their leisure or watch the sunset over the water. At times, they converse, other times they go just to enjoy the peace and quiet. This laid back atmosphere is the epitome of a third place, in my opinion. It’s completely open to anyone who is interested in going. “


As Living Democracy students planned summer events with community partners, the easiest question answered for most was where to host the event. Angela Cleary found a public park on the Mobile Bay was the perfect setting to bring together a large crowd for her end of summer celebration. She said that the park was a great setting for often divided community groups to put aside their differences. While some said the divide between certain groups and communities on the Mobile Bay, Coden and Bayou La Batre in particular, were considered a wicked problem, her celebration saw more than 200 citizens come together to participate in the youth-led event. The cool breezes coming off of Mobile Bay as a summer storm approached seemed to wash away those divisions, Cleary observed.

ELBA Cleary, like other Living Democracy students, discovered in their “third place” treasure hunts that some local citizens could not immediately point to one spot as “the place”, and most observed that there was a need for more third places in their rural communities. It turns out that realization has become a driving force for several Living Democracy community partners who are making the creation of such places a focus of their life work. Perhaps the best such example is the work of Mart Gray in Elba. Gray, Living Democracy community partner for two years and pastor of Convenant Community Church in Elba, spearheaded efforts to create the church-owned Just Folk Coffeehouse in a vacant building on the downtown square. Today, Just Folk fills a much larger purpose than dishing up delicious, homemade lunches. The coffeehouse, which served as the hub of activity for Living Democracy students working in Elba, also serves up bluegrass concerts and hosts art exhibits, including those created by youth working in the JumpstART workshops coordinated by both Auburn students who spent their summers in Elba. The revitalization of once-empty building into a civic space for Elba, Gray and others hope, can inspire others to see the potential of the area. Gray said Just Folk provides a comfortable space for community-centered conversations. Two of the regulars at Just Folk, Justin Maddox and Philip Box, often talk over their vision for Restoration 154, a nonprofit they organized with the goal of creating 154 projects to match the 154 miles of the Pea River that runs through town. So far, the pair has established a canoe and kayak shop called Pea River Outdoors, and the organization is hard at work trying to restore an abandoned movie theater to its former glory. Just Folk is a good space to dream about the future of the community, Maddox, a long-time resident, and Box, pastor at the Elba Church of Christ, said. They have been known to draw out plans and recruit supporters for their civic projects over lunch. Maddox and Box agree that Elba, hard hit by floods


and economic storms, needs third places like Just Folk to inspire hope that places that matter can be saved. Like the Restoration 154 founders, Sierra Lehnhoff , who lived democracy in Elba in 2013, was also inspired by the Pea River. After spending a Sunday kayaking on the river, she called the Pea River “154 miles of beautiful third place.” She, Like Maddox and Box, views the river as an asset that can bring the community together. Restoration 154’s slow and steady work is visible at Pea River Outdoors and in local events that bring citizens together. During the summer, Lehnhoff helped paint a new sign for the enterprise. She observed how the ebb and flow of the river, which some citizens still fear because of past floods, needed to be recognized as an asset rather than a threat. She wrote, “I believe often we think of community spaces as man-made parks or places to dine, but we often do not view the naturally occurring places as important civic spaces in communities.” Those who do in Elba are beginning see results, Lehnhoff noted, with events such as the summer Pea River Day, which featured pontoon boat tours, a color run and other activities.

HOBSON CITY Another group on a mission to create a third place as a symbol of hope is the Hobson City Economic and Community Development Corporation, community partners for Living Democracy students for two summers. A decade ago, an overgrown field, unkempt cemetery, and an abandoned building sat in the heart of Hobson City. As the historic town struggled to survive, Eric Stringer, Bernard Snow, Charity BentleyRichey and others stepped in to form the Hobson City Community and Economic Development Corporation (HCCEDC). Living Democracy students, over two summers, had the opportunity of watching one vision of HCCEDC unfold. Step by step, the HCCEDC wrestled a gleaming place of civic pride out of the fields. On the first day of Audrey Ross’ living democracy experience in 2013, she arrived for the town’s annual May Day celebration and grand opening for a sparkling new J.R. Striplin Park. Children and senior citizens, dignitaries, and donors all gathered to admire the new playground equipment, walking trails, and picnic tables. For members of the HCCEDC, the party was the result of years of work, with a more than $300,000 investment providing playground equipment, new roofs for pavilions and demolition of the old municipal building. But it was not the end, Stringer said, with plans for larger pavilions, restrooms and performance areas on the drawing board. Their version of this “field of dreams” required more than the thousands of dollars contributed by donors. Bernard Snow, who grew up in Hobson City and serves on the HCCEDC board, devoted many Saturdays to moving dirt and laying sod. Dozens of others joined the community effort.


HCCEDC President Stringer said at the May 2013 ribbon-cutting: “We’re trying to give the community hope, and we’re trying to show them that the strategies used to build the park are the same strategies we’ve got to use to develop the town as a whole.” Living Democracy student Marian Royston in 2012 and Audrey Ross in 2013, with HCCEDC’s Stringer and other board members as community partners, witnessed and participated in seeing the work of hope evolve. Royston saw the fields cleared in 2012, and Ross was able to direct a variety of youth projects in the park by the following summer. Royston was also impressed by other HCCEDC work such as a Community Pride campaign that encourages citizens to get together to clean up properties in disrepair. In addition, Ross appreciated other activities connected to developing third places. Hobson City’s mayor, Alberta McCrory, told Ross she hopes community pride and assets will grow through efforts such as a community garden and connecting the town to nearby Anniston’s Civil Rights Trail efforts. The boundaries of segregation that led to the community’s birth as the first all African-American municipality in Alabama in 1899 once defined the place. Citizens developed a thriving community with schools, jobs, and municipal services. Today, both integration and its place on the map -- squeezed between the larger Anniston and nearby Oxford -- can blur the definition of place, the boundaries that help with identity. With a small population, 765, Hobson City does struggle to maintain its distinctive sense of place. As in other small rural communities, residents now often work, dine, and play elsewhere. Those blurred lines, Ross and Royston agree, can make developing a strong civic identity difficult, making third spaces like J.R. Striplin Park even more significant. Third places, as Oldenburg and others have concluded, are essential for building civic life, offering informal outlets for vital community conversations and interaction. Students living democracy from Col-


linsville to Bayou La Batre learned as much about community life and politics in these places as they did in the classroom or more formal civic spaces. As community leaders in these small Alabama towns see it, great possibilities exist in developing, enhancing and appreciating third places. Royston wrote that witnessing the evolution of the park helped her understand that such spaces are vital to the civic health of a community. She explained:“They offer citizens a gathering place to share ideas, hopes, dreams, concerns and frustrations. These places are not simply the official places like city hall. No, the best civic places in my opinion are the informal places where citizens come together and casually discuss issues.” The Project for Public Spaces, a resource in the Living Democracy toolkit, offers many examples of successful place-making and generous attention to the value of third places. However, the majority of existing resources and research seems to focus primarily on urban areas. The value of third places in places both large and small, Oldenburg and others suggest, is endangered by citizens’ retreat to private homes away from both the formal and informal public arena. The good news is that the Living Democracy students are unearthing important stories from the small, rural communities where they lived and worked that show some are resisting the retreat from public spaces. Third places, according to both students and partners, are even more important today in an increasingly homogenous world of look-alike interstate exits. In rural communities, leaders like Gray and Stringer are working hard to put the brakes on that loss by creating third places that can bring citizens together. As Royston concluded about the Hobson City effort: “This park will be the common ground that the community desperately needs. Hobson City needs citizens that are loyal to it, and in order for that to happen for continuing generations, a public space must be created for people to feel as though they have a stake in the place they call home.”



SACRED PLACES Two required Living Democracy blog assignments connected students to sacred places in their respective communities. One asked them to attend a church service (other than a familiar one), and the other asked them to identify a sacred place that was symbolic to most or all of the community. Guiding prompts asked students to identify and talk with community partners about cherished and symbolic places prior to community placement. Both preliminary discussions and real world experiences created opportunities for reflection on what makes a place sacred and on how sacred places can unite and connect people on solid ground.


In these Alabama communities, our students easily discovered churches on every corner. But their search for the sacred often very directly connected to their search for how citizens engaged in powerful ways to protect and cherish such places. They also discovered the roots of civic action were often found in churches where religious leaders lead political and social action outside the doors of their churches in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr.’s faith-based action. In some communities, they came face to face with economic, social, and political challenges that seemed to threaten the very future of these rural communities. But the stories they captured showed the other side of the coin. The residents who are hanging on, fighting for the future, seemed held in place by a sacred anchor whether it was built on memory, family ties, or simply their desire to save a special place for future generations. And that was impressive to Living Democracy students coming from Atlanta or Birmingham suburbs linked by interstates with a symbol no more common than McDonald’s arches. The life-long citizens of Marion, Linden, Elba, or Valley often shared stories with our students that carried such sentiments, described by our students as “a heart for home”. Some noticed a special gleam in the eye that would come when citizens described a place in the community as “sacred.” Over two summers of work in the Living Democracy communities, Auburn students searched for lessons to be learned from sacred places. And they found plenty. While most Living Democracy students, whether at city hall or the local barber shop, understood the value of third spaces and

civic spaces and their connection to civic engagement, other, sometimes richer, experiences came from their discovery of “sacred spaces” in the community. As Sierra Lehnhoff noted in her 2013 Week Six reflection, “We’ve talked about places that are an asset to the community, written pieces on places where people gather, and shared about special areas in communities scattered all over the state.” Lehnhoff noted that such attention to place lead them to encounters with sites that held “deep, symbolic meaning to local citizens.” While definitions of sacred spaces are debated by scholars, Lehnhoff’s definition: “It’s not the place itself, but the meaning and the memories behind the location that hold value to the citizens and boost the importance of the place” is one that worked for students as they discovered and celebrated sacred places with local citizens. Certainly, most scholars seem to agree that burial grounds and churches can be sacred ground. Living Democracy students found that to be true in our seven communities. Our very first visit to Bayou La Batre with the 2012 Living Democracy students was highlighted by visits to local Cambodian and Vietnamese temples. These color-


ful yet simple temples were sacred places for Laotian, Vietnamese, and Cambodian refugees who arrived almost four decades ago. The Southeast Asian immigrants now make up a third of Bayou La Batre’s population. It was the clear that the temples represented both the dignity and diversity of these immigrants and their children and grandchildren. Even though the temples stand out, they don’t stand alone. As Laney Payne wrote in 2013, “In Bayou La Batre, one can find a vibrant Buddhist temple adorned with hand-painted dragons and strings of flowers just down the road from a Baptist church filled with women dressed in their Sunday best.

One common bond is meeting the need to reflect in a quiet place.” In Collinsville, Mary Beth Snow learned that the Hispanic Church of Christ, lead by minister Carlos Perez, was much more than “a Sunday morning only” church, serving all kinds of roles for Hispanic immigrants and their families throughout the week. In Selma, the historic Brown Chapel AME is a prime example, Taryn Wilson discovered, of a sacred place that honors its historic role in the Civil Rights movement yet actively reaches out to address needs in the community today.


In Bayou La Batre, Laney Payne spent the first part of her 2013 summer living in a camper parked next the Hemley Road Church of Christ, closely watching Pastor Daphne German work “seven days a week to create an atmosphere of love” as she and volunteers distributed food, diapers, financial assistance and more to the needy. According to Payne, German came to Hemley Road after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region to volunteer and ended up never leaving, working alongside William “Billy” Paulding to repair the church that was buried by almost six feet of water. As part of her summer experience, Payne stayed busy working alongside volunteers and church members, regularly handing out food to the hungry at the church where there were almost three children to every adult member. She noted, “The true virtue of ‘come as you are’ is quickly appreciated as barefoot children scurry through the dirt in search of Mr. Billy’s famous biscuits and gravy.” She reflected on the role of the Hemley Road Church of Christ: “Against all odds, the small southern church, stitched together like a patchwork quilt from pieces of leftovers and donations, keeps their doors open to provide a place to worship. Staffed by hard-working volunteers, shrimpers, grandmothers, waitresses, and barefoot children leading worship from song books nearly twice their size, Hemley Road Church of Christ is a place of refuge, service, and support for the community.” To the north in Alabama’s Black Belt, 2013 Fellow Taryn Wilson had multiple choices when selecting a church service to attend in Selma. The 205 churches listed in or near the city limits, she 42

wrote, meant “almost 14 churches per square mile.” Many of Selma’s churches, from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, organized in 1838, to the Temple Mishkan Israel, a Jewish Synagogue dedicated in February 1900, Wilson learned, had a rich history worth exploring. But she finally settled on Brown Chapel CME Church where Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders organized protesters before the famous “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. Almost fifty years after this pivotal turning point, Wilson found herself attending Brown Chapel, which is now listed on the National Historic Register. She expected to find a museum-like atmosphere with velvet ropes around the pulpit where King and then Senator Barack Obama later preached.

But she found that no white gloves or velvet barricades were required at one of Selma’s most historic churches. Organized in 1867, Brown Chapel was the first AME church in Alabama. Nearly 100 years later, Wilson noted, the church made history again as a key location for mass meetings organized at the church despite injunctions against such gatherings. Today, Wilson wrote: “The pews and seating in the upper level remain the same. The organ pipes you see behind Dr. King in the classic photo of his fiery speech in 1965 are still used by the organist today.” In her 2013 visit, Wilson found that the church leaders and members were more focused on the present than the past. She wrote, “The church and its members understand the legacy that lives within the walls of the church, but they don’t let it hinder them from continuing to reach out to the community.” She noted the pride in the Rev. Leotis Strong’s voice as he announced that 84 children had attended Vacation Bible School, celebrated as “a huge achievement in an area where drugs and violence are too often a problem for the community.” She wrote: “In a time where the battle is not as much about racism and discrimination as it is drugs and violence, Brown Chapel has yet again taken a stand and pledged to make a change. I suppose the reason why no parts of the church are roped off or forbidden is because the members of Brown Chapel do not want to separate themselves from the history that has taken place within the walls of the church. And in a time where the fight to stop the violence is going on in full force, it seems this generation of Brown Chapel’s congregation is ready to take on this new battle.”

Selma, with multiple museums and sites commemorating Civil Rights era history within walking distance of the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, is considered the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement. However, the nearby town of Marion claims the title as the birthplace of the Selma to Montgomery March. It all started there at a sacred place visited by Living Democracy student Catherine Tabor, the Zion United Methodist Church. It was at that small brick church on the night of February 18, 1965, where 500 gathered to sing before starting a peaceful protest march to the nearby Perry County Jail. Planning to continue singing hymns, the marchers walked to the jail to protest the imprisonment of young civil rights worker James Orange. Marion police, deputies, and Alabama state troopers confronted the marchers in front of the 43

jail. Violence erupted, and Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed. This became the spark that ignited plans for the Selma to Montgomery March known as “Bloody Sunday.” For both Wilson and Tabor, the church visits provided an opportunity to consider the role of churches in civic action and in building community both in the past and present. Beyond the sacred spaces of local churches, Living Democracy students began to ask if abandoned theaters or schools could be sacred places. Could the remains of a local school citizens worked to save be a symbol? Across the communities students discovered a common thread indicating some community icons were held sacred. What the abandoned textile mill buildings and empty theaters had in common was the passion expressed by local citizens devoted to saving these symbols because of the story they told of who the community was and continues to be. One such site was the Lincoln Normal School in Marion. Both Mary Afton Day and Tabor learned about this school that has inspired graduates near and far to find creative ways save the school. Coretta School King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., is among the accomplished men and women who graduated from Lincoln before it closed in the late 1960s. Since it closed, Lincoln alumni and others have banded together to find innovative uses for space at the school. Both Day and Tabor enjoyed spending time learning about quilting from members of West Perry Arts and Crafts Club, a group of women who now get together at Lincoln to sew and socialize as they pass along their craft to the next generation. The quilters and others are determined to keep the doors open and memories of Lincoln alive. The school, open for more than 100 years, was one of the earliest institutions established for

the education of African Americans after the Civil War. Graduates, now spread across the country from Chicago to New York, formed an alumni association that works together to honor the school and its impact on their lives, holding regular reunions. Mary Afton Day, in 2012, said she was honored to attend the 19th Biennial Lincoln School Reunion in Marion. She was able to meet alumni who traveled to the reunion from across the country. Janet Howard, a 1966 Lincoln graduate, shared her story of being at the march where Jimmy Lee Jackson was shot and about her participation in the subsequent Selma march. Howard, who spent three days in a hospital for injuries sustained in the march, told Day that she and other Lincoln graduates at the reunion are “blessed beyond measure” to be able to celebrate and preserve Lincoln Normal School’s role in history and remember their own participation in the push for civil rights. Two other educational institutions in Marion, a community that proudly claims the title of “College City”, Tabor suggested, also qualified as being sacred spaces. In the minds of local citizens. The historic colleges, Judson College and Marion Military Institute, stand in the heart of Marion. Both Tabor and Day lived on the Judson campus, which dates back to 1838. Nearby, the Marion Military Institute, formed in 1842, claims an 44

equally rich history. Judson, one of the few remaining all-female colleges in the nation, is home of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. MMI, ranked high on the U.S. list of top community colleges, houses the Alabama Military Hall of Honor. Tabor noted both institutions provide both pride and opportunity in the small rural community. Further to the southeast in Elba, Sierra Lehnhoff described another “sacred space” citizens rallied to save in her story about the Elba High School “monument”. After the school was destroyed by a Pea River flood that devastated the entire community, citizens rallied to preserve the front of the building and the front steps. Today, three double doors stand beneath tall Elba High School letters. Alumni gather on the stairs leading up to the doors, all that is left standing. According to Mart Gray, Living Democracy community partner in Elba, the school was “the central hub of community life for generations.” When Laurie Chapman and other citizens in Elba got together to discuss construction of a new playground, all that remained of Elba High was slated for destruc-

tion. But then Chapman and others “decided that saving an important part of the old Elba High School would symbolize hope in the face of tragedy created by floods.” Lehnhoff observed: “After the school was damaged, the community banded together and made good happen. Chapman and the committee behind the playground development were able to keep some of Elba’s history as well as bring a new asset to the area. These two things combined into one sacred 45

place. They salvaged what they could to tell a story of a town that wasn’t going to give up.” Today, visitors at Elba’s Tiger Town Park can look through the rescued Elba High Doors to a modern playground that stands behind it. As Lehnhoff wrote, “The citizens can look through the doors of the past and see Elba’s future. They can see hope as they reminisce about the days they cherish.” Despite the positive outcome in Elba, Living Democracy students found that passion does not always come without controversy when it comes to “sacred places”. They encountered passionate battles between those who want to remove “ugly eyesores” in the name of progress and those who fight with all they have to save historic “treasures”. Kaleb Kirkpatrick observed this in Linden as members of the historical association fought to save old Marengo County Courthouse built in 1848. The courthouse gained national attention in 1890 when notorious train robber Rube Burrow was shot there. After a new courthouse was built in 1902, the old courthouse was left behind. Today some are determined to save the old structure on Cahaba Street. Kirkpatrick noted: “Discussions on the fate of the old courthouse can be contentious. Some people feel it is an eye sore and that it should be demolished. Others, especially the Marengo County Historical Society, see great value in the courthouse. They see it as an asset.” But perhaps the most contentious battle connected to a sacred space was observed in the summer of 2013 by Taryn Wilson. History 46

and passion collided in the peaceful setting of the town’s historic Old Live Oak Cemetery. A clash that rages on today, Wilson said, started over a monument in remembrance of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, honored by some as a great soldier of the Confederacy and seen by others as a known slaveholder and early leader of the KKK. A 7-foot-tall granite monument honoring Forrest was moved to the Live Oak Cemetery after controversy erupted over its original placement in front of a downtown museum.

The move did little to calm the protests from African Americans that the tribute to Forrest had no place on public property. On March 9, 2012, the bronze bust of Forrest disappeared, essentially decapitating the monument. In the summer of 2013, the bust had not yet been found despite a $40,000 reward offered on billboards and a sign near the monument. Wilson, writing in her “Glory in Graves” account, described how the controversy has disturbed the peace at the historic cemetery first set aside as a graveyard in 1829. She summarized the ongoing saga that many local leaders told her they wished would go away writing: “The presence of the bust in the park became a key fighting point between two groups in the community. One side of the argument, given by Civil Rights groups, suggests that the monument glorifies a racist leader and contradicts progress made in Selma and beyond. The other side, backed by Sons of Confederate Veterans and Friends of Forrest, suggest that the bust was a tribute to a successful Confederate general who led the push to protect Selma from Union forces during the Civil War.” At first, Wilson said, the controversy “seems just a little bit childish, like two kids fighting over a toy.” But in a deeper reflection, she wrote: “But to the people who live in Selma this is a matter of pride, even a matter of glory. Each side is fighting to protect and glorify what they believe in and those who fought for it. I don’t know that either side has a true advantage in the matter (except perhaps the individual who has the bust, of course), but I have a feeling that the city council and other local leaders are going to be mediating battles on this topic for some time to come. In a situation where opponents are at such polar opposites, I don’t know if a solution exists that would appease both sides, but I look forward to the day that a decision is made on the topic.” Some of the most powerful people in Alabama, particularly from the Civil War period, are buried beneath the moss-draped trees at Old Live

Oak Cemetery. These include historic figures such as John Tyler Morgan, a U.S. Senator, Brigadier General in the Confederate States Army and the father of the Panama Canal, and Edmund Winston Pettus, a U.S. Senator, Brigadier General in the Confederate States Army and namesake of Selma’s famous bridge over the Alabama River. The bridge that bears his name is certainly one of the most symbolic and sacred places in Selma today. Black and white images of the bridge are forever captured in film clips and photographs of the 1965 Bloody Sunday March. The span over the Alabama River leading into Selma is today both a blessing and a curse. Every spring, pilgrims and politicians come back to Selma to commemorate the “Bloody Sunday” March as a crucial turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. One argument goes that history, with the multiple museums and rich stories associated with Selma’s history from the Civil War


through the Civil Rights era, should be the town’s greatest asset. However, despite the civic tourism potential, other local leaders see the bridge as a symbol that anchors the town to a past that is long gone, serving as a negative image that makes it difficult to prove how far race relations have progressed and how eager Selma’s citizens are to build a better future. In her first week in Selma, Wilson reflected on the negative connotations associated with Selma and its historic bridge. She noted, “Selma is a beautiful place with beautiful people, but when people only mention it in reference to the racial turmoil that happened here nearly 50 years ago, the city and the people who live here today suffer.” Reflecting on a historic marker at the bridge commemorating the site as “The Beginning” of the Selma movement, Wilson predicted, “ I think there is going to be another Selma Movement, another beginning, in which the citizens of Selma are going to take the time to redefine themselves and the Black Belt area as a region that is not defined by its past, but defined by what it plans to do in the future.”

Certainly, Wilson’s Selma experience was shaped by visits to sacred spaces such as the Brown Chapel CME and the Old Live Oak Cemetery. But, for her personal journey, the Edmund Pettus Bridge became a meaningful symbol. In a post-summer interview, Wilson said, “I began my summer walking half way across the Edmund Pettus Bridge before turning back on the first day. On my last day in Selma, I completed the journey, walking all the way across. My summer taught me it’s all about crossing the bridge”.



CIVIC SPACES Beyond third spaces and sacred places, other more formal civic spaces gave Living Democracy students a front-row seat where they learned about local government. Living Democracy student Blake Evans, for example, worked from an office in Linden’s city hall just across the hall from his community partner, Mayor Mitzi Gates. All of the Living Democracy students attended city hall and county commissions, visited courthouses and attended other events in civic spaces such as museums and libraries. Two of our Living Democracy students based their work in civic spaces that they learned were the hub of the community, libraries. Mary Beth Snow taught Spanish lessons and coordinated reading groups at the Collinsville Public Library, which she used as a base for her Living Democracy experience. To the south in Hobson City, Audrey Ross started a Hobson City Club for youth, working closely with li49

brarian Donna Ross. In Marion, Catherine Tabor hosted a summer reading celebration at the Perry County Library while Mary Afton Day found the restored train depot headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce the best place to celebrate a photography exhibition created by local citizens. The multiple venues of the Living Democracy experience acquainted students with the function and value of civic spaces. In both the official places where the business of democracy is conducted to the local museums and libraries, students found community “classrooms” where they both worked and learned. Blake Evans, from his Linden City Hall summer office in 2012, noted that it was a hub for communication between citizens and government officials. He observed, “Having worked alongside the city secretary, Bruce Ward, for many weeks, I have had an opportunity to see and hear the good, bad, and the ugly. Evans observed Ward as he handle all kinds of calls, including one from an irate caller who blamed the city for a cable outage that disrupted her soap opera viewing. Evans also found that working from city hall put him in contact with municipal workers who handled water and other essential services. Snow found that at the Collinsville Public Library on Main Street but her in the middle of all kinds of action. She wrote, “In a time when most public libraries go undervalued and underused, the Collinsville Library is filled with people every day. People come to get books, use the computers, make copies, have meetings, or just to spend time with their neighbors. It functions as a hub of community for all different members of the Collinsville population.” Snow, as well as other Living Democracy students, enjoyed getting to know citizens who wanted to save and create civic spaces for the community. From a gazebo on the public square in Linden to the efforts to save the old Cricket Theater in Collinsville, local citizens saw the value of protecting, building, preserving places where citizens could gather.


Library offers everything from books to s’mores By Audrey Ross If there is one thing a community needs, it is a place for ordinary citizens to come together outside the formality of city hall and other public arenas. In Hobson City’s case, that place is the library. The Hobson City Public Library sits in the center of town, right in front of the newly revitalized J.R. Striplin Park just off of Martin Luther King Drive. Although the inside of the library isn’t much bigger than your average living room, it plays a crucial role in the town. Because of Hobson City’s small population, fewer than 800 people, the number of spaces available for people to gather is limited. The library offers citizens of all ages a safe and quiet space to work, play and meet away from the heat or rain. In addition to books, the library is equipped with computers with Internet access and a colorful children’s room full of educational toys and cozy beanbags. A big round table is available for gatherings. Librarian Donna Ross’ vision for Hobson City’s main meeting place was to create not only a place to access information but also a place for people to connect with each other and spend time outside of their normal routines. "The library is a place where people connect, whether by technology or in person, with the things they need," Ross said. "The Hobson City Library strives to be a place where people are exposed to different ideas and ways of thinking, perhaps at times opening patrons up to a world which would otherwise be unavailable to them." Her unique passion for her work has paid off and made the library an amazing place to be. “Donna is honestly the best librarian that Hobson City has ever had,” says Hobson City Community and Economic Development Corporation secretary Charity Richey-Bentley. Much of the library’s focus is on providing the children of Hobson City a place to learn and develop. This summer Ross directed a reading program that inspires kids to read and join in library 51

activities. Since its start, the reading program, and the youngsters’ enthusiasm for the program, has continued to grow. Activities vary greatly. From story times to movie nights to arts and crafts, Ross’ objective was to expose the kids to things they may not have done before and give them something positive to do within the community. Ross also connected Hobson City’s youth with other local groups and citizens by inviting them to participate in library activities. For example, an entomology student from Jacksonville State University came to the library for a fun, messy evening of s’mores and storytelling. Ross handed the reins of the library to new head librarian Nikki Gaskins in July. Gaskins will continue the work of Ross in developing this third space for citizens of all ages to enjoy. Ross will now devote her time and leadership skills to her work as president of the Anniston City School Board. The real value of the library can be seen on the children’s faces as they speak with enthusiasm about the activities to come. The library's varied summer programs give children who would otherwise have little else to do something to look forward to each day and keeps their eyes open for new opportunities. Ross created diverse programs that built a strong foundation that Gaskins will build on for the benefit of Hobson City for years to come.

Know your history (and build it too) By Nathan Simone COMMUNITY REPORTER Many of us aren’t lucky enough to live in a small town that can trace its history back to its founders and original families. But for Collinsville, members of the Collinsville Historical Association have made preserving the history of the town a collaborative effort since 2003. Housed inside the Collinsville Community Center, a former National Guard armory, is the Collinsville History museum. While no more than a few rooms in size, what the museum lacks in space it more than makes up for in meaningful content. Mary Beth Snow, a sophomore with Auburn University’s Living Democracy program, is mentoring a group of Collinsville High School students this summer. Her mission, in part, is to help them discover Collinsville through public work and striving to be engaged citizens. Snow wants them to care about their community and

help it grow as well. So it happens that on Thursday, May 29, Snow decided that it would be a great idea for the group to visit the museum. Snow’s group on this particular day included Deanna McKinney, Lynda Pedro and Naomi Cummings, girls of different backgrounds, ages and interests. On our way to the museum, the girls joke about each other’s quirky habits. Pedro is known as the “and then” girl because she always follows lists of potential activities with “and then…”, Cummings is a self-professed “read-aholic” who spends the majority of her free time either in the Collinsville Library or at home reading any number of books. “I’m reading four Harry Potter books at the same time,” Cummings said. “And watching the movies to see how it differs.” Snow said she immensely enjoys having a group of kids to talk to and address problems with and wants to instill in them a sense of responsibility and love for the place they’re from. 52

“I want these kids to know that there’s nothing wrong with loving where you’re from and wanting to stay there,” Snow said. “Growing up doesn’t mean moving away.” After trips and having fun, Snow said she has talked to her high school group about “brain drain” in rural Alabama and the effect that acts like shopping locally can have on a community. “I’ve had discussions with them about serious topics, about how shopping in your community keeps dollars that eventually gets used in other ways,” Snow said. “It’s just something you don’t really think about until someone else prompts the discussion. I certainly didn’t when I was their age.” And so their trip to the museum is part fun, part historical research and part personal discovery. Rebecca Clayton, Gail Moore and Martha Barksdale are all women who volunteer at the museum when it is open Thursdays from 1 – 4 p.m. All of them were born and raised in Collinsville and, if only gone for short periods of time, have all returned. Clayton said that the museum presently has items from more than 100 donors. As we speak, Gary Bowen, chief of police in Collinsville, enters the museum with an old rotary phone. “Found that downstairs,” Bowen says. “Looks like 1920s, maybe 30s.” One of Clayton’s favorite pieces housed within the museum is a movie marquee, originally located on the  movie theater that now houses the Collinsville Public Library. Other artifacts housed within the museum include antique beds, high school yearbooks, old newspaper clippings related to a variety of wars and Coca-Cola bottles stamped with “Collinsville, Ala.” on the bottom from when Collinsville had a bottling plant. Myles Smith, a community partner with the Living Democracy program, said that since its opening fourth-grade students in Collinsville usually receive a tour of the museum and the town.

“We take them to the museum and show them around downtown,” Smith said. “Just try to give some background on where they are.” A highlight of the trip is discovering the 1954 Collinsville High School yearbook, with Smith’s picture inside. Everybody exclaims “oh my gosh, it’s Myles!” and gathers around to look. While our group is further exploring the museum, Clayton points out a miniature model of the former glory of the Cricket Theater, currently being renovated downtown. “If you like that, there’s more where that came from,” Clayton says. By then it’s closing time (4 p.m.) at the museum, and we’re invited just a step away from Gail Moore’s house, located off of Highway 68, where “Little Collinsville” is housed inside a large metal shed. “Little Collinsville” is a collaborative effort by Gail and Charles Moore to re-create miniature models of Collinsville buildings from the 1940s and 50s. It features buildings of importance to Collinsville in beautiful crafted detail. A spot near a reproduction of a Baptist church has a fully functioning well (think a teaspoon of water at a time) and a replica of an historic African-American church stocked inside a preacher and congregation member figurines. Many residents, said Moore, aren’t aware that “Little Collinsville” even exists. “People have heard about it, but most haven’t visited it,” Moore says. “We welcome everyone to take a look.”


Langdale Mill holds great potential in Valley By Audrey Ross There are many different civic spaces in which the work of the city takes place. Naturally, the center of the city’s civic work is Valley City Hall. Most of the official business of the city is conducted here, and citizens can attend city council meetings in order to stay up to date with what is happening in their community. City Hall isn’t just a place for business; it’s also the place to start if change needs to occur. What makes City Hall a great civic space are the knowledgeable and caring staff who listen to the citizens’ needs and point them in the right direction to solve their problems. By having access to the many contacts of City Hall, one or a few citizens can get the answers and support needed to make positive strides and changes for the community as a whole. In addition, Valley City Hall, the police department, the post office, Alabama Power, and EMS are all located in the same complex of buildings. This allows for better connectivity within these entities and brings a variety of people to the same location. Another important civic space is the Valley Community Center. The unique thing about this location is that the community center and sportsplex are combined into one building. This can allow for many different types of events to be held at the Community Center, and it also draws different demographics to the same area. Various community programs and events take place at the Community Center, but there are also the members who come to use the walking track, weight room, and indoor pool. Another great civic space is the Langdale Mill, which holds offices and hosts a farmers’ market throughout the summer as well as other community events. But the real potential of the space

is to come, with revitalization plans in place to turn the area into a city center. Though the traditional areas of civic commerce in Valley are great, citizens’ work does not stop when we leave city hall. Places such as the beauty shop down the street, the local coffee shop, and the many churches throughout the area are also key locations. Like many communities, much of the civic activity that goes on in Valley happens in these “third places”. Citizens can gather, discuss city issues and politics, and most importantly become a more cohesive group. The majority of these types of places start with a small group of people who understand the value of unity and community. They are able to quickly grow by word of mouth and citizens can accomplish goals by the group’s shared connections and resources. For this reason, oftentimes a city’s third places can be more effective than traditional civic spaces. One of the things that is lacking in Valley is a city center. Many cities have a downtown area where much of the work and commerce of the city takes place. Shops are located back-to-back and citizens can go there just to browse, walk around, and spend time with their community. Because Valley doesn’t have an area such as this and the community is too spread out to allow for most people to walk from place to place, there are fewer opportunities for everyday interaction between citizens. The plans to revitalize the Langdale Mill recognize this problem and strive to create that “city center”. The addition of the Langdale Mill complex has the potential to greatly improve the overall civic health of Valley by giving citizens a central location to gather, exchange information, and become more connected with their community. 54


WICKED PROBLEMS Living Democracy requires citizens to approach problems in ways that are appropriate to the type of problem that exists. The types of problems that most worry communities are those that endure over time, seem to be symptoms of deeper problems, and are often controversial, even in name. Poverty, crime, poor health, food insecurity—and more—are problems that stem from deeper systemic issues in society, and oftentimes citizens may not even agree on what to call the problem, since the way in which we name problems assumes a type of response we believe is required. Over forty years ago, Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber gave great advice to community planners in a classic, brief essay that differentiated “tame” problems from “wicked” problems and


suggested that society would benefit if the two were less frequently confused. Scientists and professionals work as engineers who seek measurable, desired outcomes for “tame” problems—those that have definite, measurable solutions. If citizens in a community need access to the other side of the river, for example, engineers construct a bridge. If a child breaks her arm skateboarding across the bridge, there are scientific and time-honored methods for making the arm whole again. Tame problems have names that everyone recognizes and solutions developed by trusted professionals. Wicked problems are just the opposite in nature, and they are the subjects of Living Democracy experiences, since they are only mitigated through democratic practices and innovative solutions that require collaboration among individuals, groups, and institutions. We ask students to identify a wicked problem in their community, reflect, and write. Laney Payne discovered that the old proverb, “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” is not always true in Bayou La Batre, since the problems facing that fishing village are much deeper than a training program can solve. Taryn Wilson and Sierra Lehnhoff write about community history as a wicked problem. Although history and heritage are components of tourism and economic development, these students see their towns’ relationship with the past as potential for the future but problematic for the present. Marian Royston found civic disengagement and lack of community identity a tangled set of factors that prohibit innovative decision making. Mary Beth Snow discovered the exact opposite: a high level of engagement can sometime prevent newcomers from becoming a part of the community’s civic structure and life. Andrew Odom discovered the recidivism rate of youth offenders to be a symptom of a deeper, underlying problems related to civic life. Rittel and Webber urged community planners to understand the characteristics of wicked problems and act accordingly. “Here the aim is not to find the truth,” they concluced, “but to improve some characteristics of the world where people live.” We instruct Living Democracy students to do the same. But in the process, we implore to do their work democratically, building on the existing will of citizens, so that the characteristic of the world improved is quality of the citizens who love in it. When students understand that, they find the truth. Bayou battles three strikes


Bayou battles three strikes By Laney Payne An old proverb says “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Sadly, that might not always be true in the coastal town of Bayou La Batre, Ala. After a devastating Hurricane Ivan, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and finally the massive BP oil spill, Bayou La Batre’s citizens have struggled to get back onto their feet and create a firm foundation to withstand the next storm. “Ivan, Katrina, and oil. Three strikes and you’re out, right?” said Daphne German, a citizen of Bayou La Batre who came for hurricane relief work and simply never left. “Before everything hit, I would hate sitting at the stop light waiting for the shrimp boats to pass under the draw bridge. Now, I’m so thankful that they are even headed out to sea,” she added. Most of Bayou La Batre’s citizens work at bustling internationally known shipyards, on shrimp boats, such as the vessels featured on TLC’s hit show “Big Shrimpin’” based on a local shrimping crew, or among the many crab and oyster shacks sprinkled throughout the bayou. Just three years after their most recent tragedy, the community still manages to push out to sea in search of the fresh start that each tide brings.  However, the deserted boats left tied to weathered wooden posts, struggling seafood shacks and empty storefront windows show that jobs in Bayou La Batre can be as hard to find as the small shark teeth that wash up on the shore. With patience and luck, you just might find one. In a town with nearly 29 percent of the population living below the poverty line, the people of Bayou La Batre use whatever means necessary to make ends meet. Some blame “disaster capitalists” who came to town after the oil spill for making the aftermath even more difficult for citizens. “BP ruined a way of life,” said Tommy Myers, a 16 year resident of nearby Mobile who visits Bayou La Batre to volunteer with the youth. “Don’t give us money. We need suitable industry

and education for work we can do to recreate a way of life here.” “People got desperate. They signed quick claims with BP in exchange for a lifetime promise to not sue BP for their suffering. If you didn’t sign, some had to pick up their claims in New Orleans. Well, if you don’t have a job, you don’t have a car, and you don’t have gas, then how can you get to New Orleans? People didn’t think about that. They handled it all wrong,” explained Myers. Jeremiah Baky, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate in Bayou La Batre, said, “Unemployment, it’s weird. It’s all tied together. When people don’t work, they turn to drugs, and then parenting and education takes a hit and suffers too.” With many citizens on hourly pay and in constant search of the next day’s work, some residents are forced to turn to government assistance for help.  “Everyone is on unemployment and looking for help,” said Myers. “We give out nearly 15,000 pounds of food to thousands of people each week.” 57

It seems as if there is no end to the turmoil of the job situation in Bayou La Batre. As more and more seafood jobs are sent overseas for cheaper labor costs, the long-time workers in their gleaming white “Bayou Reebok” rubber work boots may be left standing empty. “The oil spill gave them the excuse they were waiting for to send their business overseas,” said Myers. “If it’s not from the bayou, I won’t buy it.” When asked, “what do you want to do when you grow up?” many children reply, “I want to fish.” The children of Alabama’s seafood capital know fishing as a way of life, as their parents and grandparents before them.  Unfortunately, the “fishing” way of life is changing

dramatically, and more and more students are in need of new training and options. “You have to invest in your education in order to make a living. You never know what’s going to happen,” Baky recently told a group of younger children with dreams of setting sail instead of hitting the books. Something is needed to bring an air of possibility to the bayou again.  The resilient citizens of the small community are bonded together by deep family roots and have learned to survive and persevere.  Perhaps Bayou La Batre has entered into an era of:  “Teach a man something more than fishing, and he will eat for a lifetime.” 58

Selma can spark new beginning By Taryn Wilson A few days ago I watched a segment of ABC News called “What Would You Do?”, a hidden camera show documenting how people react when they witness a conflict over a hot button issue as portrayed by actors. In this episode, a waiter refused to serve a family because of the sexual orientation of the parents. Many of the other customers looked on but very few took the time to speak up to the waiter. One of the few who did, the son of two Holocaust survivors, said, “I thought I was in Selma, Alabama, listening to you speak. It’s an outrage speaking this way.” Now the man’s intentions are honorable, and clearly his intentions were good, but the negative connotation Selma receives from his argument is much less honorable. Selma is a beautiful place with beautiful people, but when people only mention it in reference to the racial turmoil that happened here nearly 50 years ago, the city and the people who live here today suffer.


Selma is not the place that it was March 7, 1965. Though many residents still live here, Selma’s citizens are not the same people who were here that eventful day. The problems people currently face are not the same. The accomplishments that have been made are not the same. The fact of the matter is that Selma is not the same. It is better. It has grown. It has developed. It has changed for the good. I’ve had the opportunity to live in this community for the past week as a Living Democracy student. I can say that, in my honest opinion, I truly feel that this city has moved beyond that moment in history and has used it to become a stronger, more united city. When I had some free time, I walked to visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Bloody Sunday occurred in 1965.  As I stood on the street corner taking pictures of the bridge from afar, a woman in a red pick-up truck, with a less than approachable pit bull mix looking on from the bed of the truck, yelled across the street to me. She said, “Make sure that you read that sign over there.

That’s where it all began! It all started right here!” I gave her a thumbs up and as I turned around to say thank you, the light had turned green and she had already driven off. Of course, I walked over and read the sign and the title of it was “The Selma Movement.” And that sounded poignant and historic, but under it in parentheses it read “The Beginning.” Simple, but deeply meaningful. That Selma was “The Beginning” means that Selma had, and continues to have, the spark that can ignite something huge. Now I’m not one for premonitions, but I think those two titles have the potential to be applicable not only to the Civil Rights Movement, but also to a time in the very near future. I think there is going to be another Selma Movement, another beginning, in which the citizens of Selma are going to take the time to redefine themselves and the Black Belt area as a region that is not defined by its past, but defined by what it plans to do in

the future. I think that time is coming very soon, and I think that the next Selma Movement is going to change people’s impression of Selma and what its people are capable of doing. I’m not sure when that moment will come, but I am hopeful that when it does, Selma will be getting people’s attention for all the right reasons.By Sierra Lehnhoff

Past memories slow steps forward By Sierra Lehnhoff My freshman year at Auburn University was the first time I had encountered the term “wicked problem.” A wicked problem is a type of problem that has little or no solution. When one is faced with a wicked problem that can be solved, the steps needed to solve it are often strenuous and time consuming. In order to solve a wicked problem, one might have to commit their whole life to finding solutions for it, if at all possible. The biggest “wicked” problem I tend to see in Elba is the fear of moving forward in new directions. The town has a long history of dealing with floods that come when the Pea River overruns its banks.  The most devastating flood hit in March 1990, putting the whole community under water for four days. Before this residents tell me Elba was a happy, successful little town. They had large industries such as Dorsey’s Trailers, tractor companies, and more inhabiting the town. Elba had few dilapidated areas. 60

The town had been able to bounce back from earlier floods, but the 1990s brought two major floods that seemed to swamp a lot of hopes as well as many structures and possessions. When I was talking to a resident, they described to me how Elba was so sad for years after that. It took a lot to come back from the devastation. Only now in the past two years has the town started to perk up. When the town started to rebuild, they had lost a lot. Big industries moved out of the area, taking jobs and residents with them. Some people ended up moving out for fear of another disastrous flood. While researching Elba, I found reports that some citizens were concerned about the increase in public housing that came in as the town tried to recover. To me, I don’t see this as the main problem; the problem is opposition to change. There are those who want Elba to go back to how it was before the floods, but it can’t because the industry that made it the successful town it was moved out. I believe Elba can return to the same happy town, but it will have to go about it in a different way. Everyone knows that it is hard to come back from tragedy, but the fear has to be put behind because those problems are in the past. The fear has put blinders on some citizens, causing them to only look back and wish for things to be as they were. When the fear is coped with and the blinders lifted, a new positive direction can be seen. I feel that some citizens wear these blinders still, and it makes it hard to see a positive future. But, as an outsider, I see a lot of potential and positive activity in Elba. The fact of the matter is that a town can’t survive without its citizens supporting it. One day a woman told me that she would never go toward the dam and was very hesitant about going near the Pea River. Even after all these years. The river is beautiful and a great asset that could be utilized by the people who live in

Elba, instead of being feared. Some are doing that, but others prefer to keep a distance from new development. It’s hard to accept that they may never grow to love the river due to the past flooding, but maybe it will be accepted in time. I hope the new generations of children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren who were scarcely or never affected by the flood will embrace the river as an asset and not a hazard. This may not be enough to help those affected by tragedy, but perhaps, with time, the scars will fade and they will warm up to the possibilities the river offers. Great changes are happening in Elba with the creation of this summer’s Pea River Day. Also new wall murals that incorporate the river into them as a symbol of prosperity and not tragedy are planned. Restoration 154, an effort headed by Philip B. Box and Justin Maddox, is focused on developing projects connected to the river.  Some citizens who have seen Elba change over the years for better and worse may be hesitant about the changes, but I believe they will see Elba transform back into a better town over time and warm up to the “new” Elba. One day those passing through for vacation will see a lively river town and decide they might just like riverfront living more than the beach. I do believe Elba must embrace its past tragedies and work through it to transform it into something better than fear in order to prevent the past problem of floods from becoming a never-ending wicked problem.


Disengagement can be detrimental By Marian Royston All communities are charged with the task of making important decisions at one point or another. These decisions can be every day decisions that keep towns functioning or they can be pivotal decisions that determine the future course of that community.  Regardless of the gravity of a decision, it is important that members of a community are able to work through issues and reach a conclusion that everyone is willing to live with. During my time in Hobson City, I have not had the privilege of witnessing members of the community making any such decisions. This is not simply because the opportunity has not arisen; it is because ordinary citizens seem distanced from civic matters. One of Hobson City’s tough issues is the fact that many citizens feel powerless when it comes to determining their future. The town has been in a state of stagnation for so long that many people have come to accept it as a way of life. This is apparent from the conversations that I’ve had with many citizens over the course of my project. Many express their concerns about the community, but they feel that the odds of things getting better are not good. Only a select few members of the town participate in committees and councils that can help determine the course that Hobson City is to take. Many people in the community acknowledge that they are disengaged from civic matters because they feel that there is no place for citizen activism outside of official roles. Others are disengaged because they don’t know how to become engaged. As a result, everyone is not present at the table when important decisions are to be made in Hobson City. This disengagement can be detrimen-

tal to the further development of Hobson City. I’ve learned throughout my time in Hobson City that community development is not simply making things happen in a community. Community development involves creating a citizenry that genuinely cares about the welfare of its community and empowering that citizenry to make important decisions regarding the future of that community. There is a spark in Hobson City these days. That spark is present in the people that I interview. Despite the aforementioned level of disengagement, citizens are beginning to believe that change is possible in their home. The spark is apparent in the Hobson City Pride campaign that I’ve written about in the past. When people see progress, they want to be a part of it. That is the case of Hobson City. More people are concerned with the future of their community, and they want to do what they can to help it. That sentiment has been the key to me speaking with many candidates for the needs assessment. When I tell people that the data they provide will help make Hobson City a better place to live, they eagerly offer me the information I seek. I don’t believe that Hobson City’s residents are apathetic about civic life. Instead, I think that they are simply watching and waiting for opportunities to participate. The community could very much benefit from more open, honest dialogue about the town. If citizens don’t come together and meet face to face they will never know about the challenges and opportunities that the town has. Hobson City is undoubtedly on the path to recovery, but community unification is one of the obstacles that the people will have to face soon in order to move forward. The citizens here are very capable of making important decisions; they simply must be given a fair opportunity to do soBy By 62

Closeness can be curse, blessing By Mary Beth Snow Sometimes the best attributes about a place can also be the worst. In the case of Collinsville, which has so many great attributes, it’s not hard to discern what is one of the best: Collinsville seems to be the epitome of a “hometown.” People love Collinsville because it’s small, and they know their neighbors – and their neighbor’s mothers and their cousins. People know each other’s names, and also whom they went to senior prom with and what part they played in the fourth grade play. It’s a beautiful thing to be so close to people in your hometown, but that closeness can make it difficult for outsiders to feel like they’re a part of the community. This was something discovered at our community discussion held a few weeks ago, moderated by visiting Living Democracy journalist Nathan Simone. Peggy Wright, the town circuit clerk, commented about how isolated she felt when she first moved to Collinsville. Her parents had grown up here and she had some family in the area, but she still found it difficult to adjust. What Peggy had to say came as a shock to Jennifer Wilkins, Collinsville librarian, who has lived in the community all of her life. Jennifer was completely unaware that Collinsville can seem intimidating or unwelcoming to newcomers. Being a Collinsville native, she’d never a reason to discover this viewpoint. Peggy’s sentiments are echoed by Mark Shatzel, a library board member and active citizen who moved here with his wife after retiring from their jobs in South Florida. Mark is a volunteer firefighter and member of the Collinsville Rescue Squad, but he said he can still feel as if he is not

fully a part of the community. He said, “The people here tolerate me, and I think they even accept me, but I’ll never be one of them.” Last week, Mark devoted countless hours of his time to help me clean, repair and paint trash cans out in the hot sun. While we were working one day, another member of the fire department stopped by and gave Mark a blank check to pay him back for a new rescue vehicle Mark had gone to pick up in Oklahoma the week before. The level of trust indicated by that transaction proves that Mark is becoming more and more a part of the community, but it can be a long process. Peggy is integrated into the community, but she has also lived here for 25 years. In the words of Mark’s wife, Pat, “I’m new in town too… I got here in 2007.” The best thing about realizing that a problem like this exists is that you’re already one step closer to solving it. After our community discussion, Jennifer began to discuss plans for a “welcome wagon” effort to greet new people in the community. The main problem is that residents, like Jennifer, often don’t realize that this problem exists because they have never been in the position of being on the outside. As Jennifer says of her beloved hometown, “Living in Collinsville is like your favorite book that you never get tired of rereading. Familiar without ever being boring!” That’s the secret to the charm of a small town and can also be the cause of problems for outsiders and newcomers. It takes time to get acclimated to a new place, especially a place rich in its own unique culture and tradition. The Shatzels and Peggy Wright have all handled their problem in the best way possible: by becoming involved in


their community, meeting their neighbors, and devoting their time to make the community better. Though my arrival to Collinsville was 25 years after Peggy’s, after discussing, we shared some of the same experiences. In a small town, everyone knows if you’re new. People stare more than they’re aware of and it’s not hard to discover that people are talking about you, whether it is good or bad. I have met countless people who, after introducing myself, said, “Oh, YOU’RE the girl from Auburn.” In a town of 1,985 people your reputation precedes you. I have felt a taste of what Peggy and the Shatzels and other newcomers have felt, and it is intimidating and somewhat

hard to deal with. But even after being here for only six weeks, Collinsville is already starting to feel like home. The men at Tyler’s Feed Store yell “War Eagle!” when I walk in, and when I walked into a new church last Sunday, I saw a friend on the second row who invited me to sit with her. Breaking into community isn’t easy, but it’s worth every second if it. Hopefully, with newfound awareness of the problem, long-time citizens can go a bit more out of their way to be welcoming, and newcomers can go out of their way to carve their place in community. As far as I’m concerned, there are few better places than Collinsville to do that.

‘Wicked problems require wicked courage’ By Andrew Odom This week has passed by so fast but I know so much has been accomplished. There have been many opportunities for me to interact with students of elementary, middle, and high school age with the Dallas County Summer Feeding Program. Through conversations, I have learned what they feel is going on in their communities, both the good and the bad. I believe that a major wicked problem–a problem not easily solved– in this area is that of recidivism.  Recidivism is defined as the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after they have either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or have been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior. It seems that so many times a kid falls into the same cycle of that of a drug addicted parent, becoming involved with law enforcement at a young age, or quitting school early. Sometimes there can seem to be rampant recidivism, but then there are glimmers and even bright beams of hope that shine throughout the community. Change will have to start at the grassroots level, with conversations happening and actions being taken between individuals, and I can see this happening in Selma and Dallas County, especially with my interactions with 64

students at the summer feeding program. It brings me great joy as I see the smiles on the faces of the kids when I arrive at their site to bring them lunch and play football, soccer, or basketball with them. They look up to me as a leader as I organize games and they listen to what I have to say about teamwork and sportsmanship. There are several youth leadership groups in addition to Living Democracy that organize and enrich students in their daily lives. One example of this is an art program organized out of the old Dallas Academy building, and another is the children’s summer reading initiative that is currently being led by the Selma and Dallas County Public Library. The world is indeed hurting, but there are many individuals who have committed to making a difference in this community. Small changes very quickly add up to sweeping changes, so I feel that this wicked problem of recidivism can have numbered days if more community members hear the call of civic engagement and step up to the place to take their city by the reins. A wicked problem will require wicked courage and a strong will to change it by the community. I believe that the survival of the community depends on its people becoming selfless enough to reach out.


ACTIVE CITIZENS CRAIG CLARY Bayou La Batre By Laney C. Payne There are people in this world who possess the power of changing the lives of anyone they come in contact with. If we are lucky enough, we each have the opportunity to meet such an individual. Bayou La Batre’s Craig Clary is one of those special souls. Wearing a faded “Preventative Maintenance” shirt and scuffed brown leather boots, 47-year-old Clary is a humble man with a story to share and a heart of gold. As a product of the bayou, Clary’s roots lie deep in the thick mud that covers the oyster-clad bottom of the Alabama Gulf. “Those pictures in the Bayou La Batre museum, those are all my kin folk. 65

This here is my great great granddaddy’s oyster shucking knife. It’s real special to me. This place, it’s in my blood,” said Clary as he grasps a weathered wooden knife with a family “H” for the name Hodges engraved in the bottom. Today, with bayou pride in his soft blue eyes, Clary makes it his personal mission to serve the people of his community. After 20 years of safe truck driving and time in the seafood shacks, Clary drove his 18-wheeler back to the place he now calls home. As an employee of the city of Bayou La Batre, Clary works up and down his hometown streets. “I came to work for the street department and saw the need. When you see a need, you find a way to fill it,” said Clary. But Clary’s work doesn’t end at punch-out.  From a chance meeting with a now fellow volunteer after Hurricane Katrina, Clary saw the work that people were doing and found a way to get involved. “A blue van pulled up handing out TV dinners to folks. I saw the good work they were doing and wanted to do some myself,” said Clary. Each week on his day off, he does just that. Clary loads up his ’85 Chevy pickup with fresh produce to take out to the people of bayou. Whether it is Buddhist monks, Cambodian crabbers or Vietnamese grandmothers with children on their hips, Clary delivers food to whoever needs it. “I created this route, and the people know me here. It’s the most rewarding thing, gaining someone’s trust,” said Clary as he tells of times passing tangerines through fences to local children. With a strong respect for the people who live along the narrow streets on his route, Clary waves at each and every individual that passes by his beat-up work truck.  “They know my truck, and come on out. I tell ‘em don’t be shy, just take what you need,” said Clary. “I got this old thing when I traded my Mustang, now it’s loaded down with food and whoever wants to join me along for the ride.” While handing out bananas, citrus fruits, radishes, and other produce items, Clary explains the story of each and every individual we meet.

“This man here is Neang Nou. He was hit by an AK-47 and now works hard crabbin’ and shrimpin’. If you look up there on the porch there’s ten sets of shoes, he takes care of ‘em all. If we leave food here, he’ll get it to whoever needs it. Plus, I don’t mind the Buddhist monks sayin’ a prayer for me,” said Clary with a laugh. As his truck chugs along the back roads through family-owned crabbing shacks and gardens supporting the people who live in houses on the crowded lots, Clary is sure to let everyone he comes in contact with know how thankful he is to do what he does. With each delivery, Clary is met with offerings of smiles, coffee, or fresh rice. Instead of saying, “You’re welcome,” Clary replies with, “Hey ya’ll, I really appreciate it, I’ll see you next week.” “What keeps me coming back is the feeling you get off of it. It’s not something you buy in a store,” said Clary. “I love the people I meet. I help take care of them, and they take care of me. If I’m out working and they see me, they stop and feed me or give me a drink. We help each other.” Not naive to the struggles and differences of life in Bayou La Batre, Clary keeps his focus on the people of the community. “After Katrina, ‘catastrophe’ was a proper word. That winter, we all struggled through,” said Clary. “Some people think we aren’t educated here, but they are wrong. This is their education. They are making it, and they are almost completely self sufficient,” Clary added as he pointed


out crop lines and homemade trellises covered in budding vines. Clary is the meaning of community, and the lesson he teaches through the cab of his truck is just the beginning of the work he is completing. As I am beginning to reach the end of my Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre, I find myself eagerly waiting for my time of making rounds with Craig on Friday mornings.  If ever in Bayou La Batre, keep your eyes peeled for the ’85 pickup loaded down with boxes of bananas and be sure to wave and lend a hand to a man giving his all for his community.

ELAINE & LEON HUFSTETLER By Mary Beth Snow I was standing outside City Hall chatting with my community partner, Jennifer Wilkins, after the Collinsville City Council meeting Monday night when a woman drove by in an SUV on her way to the Rescue Squad building. She rolled down the window to talk to Jennifer, and I could see that she was wearing bright pink lipstick. Jennifer told her to “get to that meeting and keep those men straight”, and I knew I had met someone who I needed to talk to. Her name is Elaine Hufstetler, and I had the fortune of talking to her at the Rescue Squad meeting that night. I didn’t know what to expect from the meeting, but most of it was devoted to stocking a used rescue vehicle that the crew just bought from a town near Oklahoma City. There were 10 of the most active members on the squad there working hard to make sure that all of the necessary supplies were

loaded so that the new vehicle would be ready to go out on calls. With this new addition, the rescue squad now has three vehicles. They also have


two boats that can be used for creek and lake rescue missions. Elaine, one of only two women on the rescue squad, has been a part of the squad since the early 90s. She joked that the men only wanted her to join because she could “pay the bills for them”; the joke has merit, since she handles the bookkeeping and office work so the men can go out on runs. Her husband Leon mentioned that she had gone on a few rescue calls but had to stop because it always seemed that there were injured children on the ones she went on and she couldn’t handle seeing it. Now she does her part by making sure things run smoothly for the all-volunteer group funded almost entirely by biannual “road block” fundraising, where the members of the organization ask for donations from visitors traveling to Trade Day on Saturday mornings. Leon is on both the rescue squad and the volunteer fire squad in addition to his jobs of driving an ambulance and an ice delivery truck. When asked about all of his involvement, he simply replied “somebody’s gotta do it.” That seems to be a motto for this very involved couple. Elaine is also the secretary and treasurer of the Collinsville Christian Women’s Society. The two have been married for 52 years. Elaine grew up in Collinsville and Leon in Sand Rock, and they’ve lived in Collinsville for most of their adult lives, except for a few years spent traveling when Leon was in the army. In fact, many of the people on the rescue squad are involved in the community. I saw many faces I’ve seen elsewhere in town. One active member of both the rescue and fire squads is Mark Shatzel, a member of the library board who is the one who helped me clean, repair and paint the downtown trashcans this summer. I also recognized David Bowen, District 3 representative on 68

the City Council, who has been supportive of my projects this summer. The captain of the squad,  Travis Butler, works at Graves Hardware downtown and has helped me buy everything from wood planks to ant killer for various redevelopment projects. These men, and others like them, donate their time and energy to being a part of the rescue and fire squads without receiving compensation for the very reason that Leon gave – “somebody’s gotta do it.” It’s a simple phrase, but it’s powerful and it’s true of everything. Someone does have to do it, or it won’t get done. One of the most important aspects of living in community, especially an engaged community, is realizing the things that need to be done and then taking action to do them. It’s not enough to notice something wrong or missing and sit back on our heels hoping that someone will step up to the plate.  As members of s community, that’s our job. We see the roles that need to be filled, and we step up and fill them. That’s what the men and women on this squad do. They bring together their diverse talents and personalities and become a group of people who are committed to responding to emergencies in their community, sometimes even at the risk of their own lives. It’s that attitude of “others above self” that makes community work. It would have been easy for the squad members to spend Monday evening at home with their families instead of stocking a rescue truck.  But here they were working together to get the job done because somebody’s gotta do it, and they do.

Justin Maddox & Philip Box By Sierra Lehnhoff Elba is a small town with a large range of assets for prosperity. The assets of a community are not only places and things, but people as well. It takes many types of people to make a community work, such as official leaders, catalysts and connectors. In these groups are the “movers and shakers.” Movers and shakers are people who make change happen for their community. Most often, they would be described as unofficial leaders. And Philip Box and Justin Maddox, founders of nonprofit group Restoration 154, are shakin’ Elba. Restoration 154’s accomplishments in the community include opening a canoe and kayak shop called Pea River Outdoors right beside the boating dock on the Pea River. They are also restoring the old downtown theater to its former glory.

“We’re hoping that they’ll become two gathering places in the community, and that people will come by just to see what’s happening,” said Box. Yet, their dreams don’t stop with these two enterprises. Box envisions restaurants they could start, programs to run and stores to open. Both speak of smaller projects as well, such as putting up mile markers for the river.  They explain that Restoration 154 has a dual meaning, standing for the 154 projects they plan to do as a nonprofit and the 154 miles of the Pea River. “Do we want to start 154 businesses? Yes. Could we run 154 businesses? Not effectively,” Box said. “But if we can provide 154 stepping stones for others to join our community and help them out, then that’d be perfect.” The way Restoration 154’s founders move through the town is amazing.  One can’t enter a restaurant without someone saying hello. Box even remarked at lunch the other day, “Justin 69

knows everybody” as Maddox greeted almost everyone walking in the Just Folk Coffeehouse. Maddox is a long-time resident with deep family history and ties to the town and Box is the pastor at Elba Church of Christ. Each has their own relationship with the community and a drive to pursue projects in their town. Each new idea is full of excitement, and nothing is too outrageous to consider with Restoration 154. The excitement for Restoration 154 projects is contagious, and people constantly walk up and ask them how the theater is doing or how Pea River Outdoors is progressing. Every new idea is tackled with force, such as my own project in designing a sign for them. We talked over a sketch one Friday and Box said, “Okay, we’ll have the sign ready to paint on Monday for you.” When a person visits Elba, they can ask anyone who Restoration 154 is and most people can tell you. By focusing on what their community needs, they are able to listen to the community to figure out what it wants. One project in the works is a community garden, to soon be located on one of the 37 plots of land the city received from FEMA after past floods. Other plans suggested included a dog park or city park. No permanent structures can be built on the land. “We have these large plots of land that are available for use, so we thought a community garden would be a great idea,” Box said. “The possibilities of how to use the land are endless.” Another interesting thing about Restoration 154 is how they embrace the river. In a past article, I wrote about how some citizens view the river in a negative light because of past floods. Box and Maddox chose to embrace the river and see it as an asset instead of a threat. Restoration 154 could have chosen not to use the Pea River as a focal point, but they did and

that says Box and Maddox are looking forward toward Elba’s future and its assets, as well as developing potential assets, instead of trying to reach back into the past. Their projects are playing an important role in making the Pea River a positive place where good memories can once again be made. The biggest drawback that Restoration 154 faces is a lack of funds, but the town continues to support them steadily. This doesn’t deter Box and Maddox from pushing forward. “The worst thing you can do is appear stagnant,” Box said. “We’re always planning and creating.” Both have faith that a generous donor or sponsor will come along or something will work out. Most often things fall in to place, and they get where they need to go. Maddox remarked that sometimes they don’t get from one point to another as fast as they’d like, but the movement in their projects is consistent and, with time, a new idea forms to help pick up the pace. With each project they do, hope for Elba to once again become a thriving and lively town grows. How long does Maddox think it will take to finally scratch project #154 off the list? “Probably the rest of my life,” he said, “And that’s fine.” Restoration 154 not only promises 154 projects, but gives Elba 154 miles of hope to believe that anything is possible for their town.


CHARLES E. FLAHERTY By Catherine Tabor Veritable treasures can be found in bookstores. From long-forgotten dramas read in high school to tales never heard of that become cherished tomes, all can be found within the four walls of a bookstore. Inside of a little bookstore in Marion, another treasure can be found. His name is Charles E. Flaherty and he is 62 years old. Mr. Charlie, as he is referred to by members of the Marion community, owns and operates As Time Goes By. Born in Rutherford, N.J., Flaherty was the youngest of seven children. The love of reading was introduced to him at an early age and he continues to build his collection of books. It was his love of books that eventually led him to opening his own store. However, before opening As Time Goes By, Charles Flaherty had a couple other business ventures and odd jobs. In New Orleans, he owned a balloon and novelty shop. And at another point in time, he previously owned a dart business. Eventually, both of those stores closed and he moved on. He worked for the circus for about 13 years and was also was a truck driver, a manager of a Dollar General store in Uniontown and a field representative for Book Market for 5 years. It was his job at Book Market, once the United States’ 4th largest book chain, which really set the idea of As Time Goes by in motion. With the inexpensive prices that Book Market sold their books for and his employee discount, Flaherty built up quite the collection of books and soon his house appeared to be getting smaller each time he set foot in it. He decided it was time for him to get a bigger house, one that had enough space for a library. The 1960s corner features an antique Coke machine that still sells bottles of Coke for 50 cents.

His job at Book Market allowed him to travel and he searched seven states for his new residence. Eventually, he settled in Greensboro, in a nice, old house that he was able to fill with his books and antique collections. But his job at Book Market did not last and ultimately he sold his house. He worked a year at Carson & Barnes, a big tent circus, as the “24 hour man” who travels one day ahead of the show and helps lay out the route, deals with supplies and sponsors, and helps lay out the tent. He moved back to Alabama after the year on the road and he settled down in Marion. He was able to obtain a job at Judson College as a maintenance worker and he has worked there ever since. He mostly does painting and repair work. And while the money isn’t as good as he is used to, he acknowledges that jobs are hard to come by in Marion. Two businesses in Marion, Bonnie’s Bak71

ery and Polka Dots, have even closed down within the last week. The idea for As Time Goes By was in the back of his mind for 10 years and he was able to finally open it in 2011. He found an uninhabited business ruined by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 that had been left vacant until 2011 when he decided to open As Time Goes By. After borrowing some money from the bank and his brother, he was able to renovate the store and in September he was open for business. When asked about the name of the store, As Time Goes By, Charles Flaherty remarked, “I wanted the store to be like a little time capsule of sorts, a history lesson. And it’s something everybody can relate to. People don’t realize how much the world changes just during their lifetime.” And the store is something he is very passionate about. He loves history, music, books, and pies and As Time Goes By combines all four things. Patrons of As Time Goes By can enjoy a slice of pie or some homemade cheesecake and coffee as well as a large variety of books. And each booth is set up to represent a decade from the 1900s with keepsakes and antiques from that decade displayed on the wall behind the table. For the 1960s, Mr. Charlie has a working coke machine in which he sells small bottles of soda for 50 cents each. Flaherty and his book shop were mentioned on The Official Travel Site of Alabama as an interesting person and place to visit in Marion: “Down the street is the town’s bookstore and coffee house, As Time Goes By (418 Washington St.; 334–683–6757; map). Here you will find Charles Flaherty, who will sell you a book, pour you a cup of coffee, serve you a piece of pie and even spin records from the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s depending on the time of day on his music clock. Flaherty


opens the store on selected days and the hours are limited, so call ahead.” Visitors can even play board games while they read or enjoy a slice of pie. As Time Goes By can be found on Facebook. Browsers are more than welcomed and buyers are even more appreciated. And with an I.D., visitors are able to play board games while in the store. Marion may be a small town, but it has a lot of heart and passion and Charles Flaherty possesses a fair share of it. With a personal collection of books that includes literature from all over the world and a record collection and past just as varied, Flaherty is certainly a man to know and a wonderful citizen of Marion.

RICHIE JEAN SHERROD JACKSON By Taryn Wilson If you are looking for a sweet lady to tell you stories and bake you cookies, Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson is not your woman. At 80 years young, Mrs. Jackson is far from your typical older woman. A product of the Silent Generation, a term that could not be less appropriate for the outspoken widow, Mrs. Jackson has seen more history unfold in front of her than many of us could ever dream of seeing. She captured much of that history in her book, “The House by the Side of the Road: The Selma Civil Rights Movement”. Hailing from Mobile, Mrs. Jackson grew up under the watchful eye of strong, God-fearing female role models and not surprisingly has followed right in their footsteps. An educator from the days when a stern warning was enough to straighten out most any unruly child, Mrs. Jackson’s no nonsense attitude is still in full effect to this day. When asked about making a visit to her house to purchase one of her books, she asks what time and says her goodbyes. No time for small talk, no time for conversation. As soon as you pull up in her driveway, it is very clear that you are on her time. If you want to ask questions you had better have them ready and don’t even think about letting the conversation lull for too long. That’s a guaranteed way to have your visit end early. From the moment you walk step into her den, she is assessing you. How you carry yourself, what kinds of questions you ask, how respectful you are. It is clear that she is willing to give you only as much effort as you give her. If you come to her unprepared and intimidated, you will most likely leave just as unprepared and a lot more in-


timidated. She answers questions with an interesting combination of succinctness and eloquence, certainly a skill reflecting her years as a teacher. Talking about the things that happened in her home, a greyish-blue, one story house, seems to be one of the things that breaks her out of that mode and gets her talking and telling stories. And considering the history that unfolded within its walls, it is more than understandable why. Nearly 50 years ago, Selma was at the forefront of Americans’ minds thanks to the visuals of Bloody Sunday. Bruises, cuts, scrapes and violence flashed on TV screens and presented viewers all across the nation with the cold hard facts of race relations, or the lack thereof, that existed in the South. But to make that march and many of the other protests and boycotts happen it required intricate planning and strategizing. Much of that planning took place at Mrs. Jackson’s dining room table. And in her study. And in her kitchen. Even in her bathroom. In a time when hotel rooms weren’t offered to African Americans and would’ve been too dangerous even if they were, the Jacksons opened their home to Civil Rights leaders when they needed a place to meet or spend the night in Selma. One of the most notable visitors was Martin Luther King Jr., whose wife was a childhood friend of Mrs. Jackson. If Dr.King, or Martin as she fondly calls him, needed a place to stay, he knew he could go to the little house on Lapsley Street. After multiple visits, Mrs. Jackson got to know his habits very well, too. When he came he liked those pajamas, liked to use this bathroom, and loved it when she cooked him a healthy serving of his favorite foods. In a way, Mrs. Jackson got to know Dr. King better than anyone other than his close advisors and family. It is probably safe to say she became a part of his team, his family. When he was sick she gave him medicine, when he was hungry she fed him, and when he was threatened she protected him, all things she chalked up to participating in what she

knew could become history. And it did indeed. Mrs. Jackson has preserved much of her home as it was during the 1965 voting rights campaign when it became Dr. King’s unofficial Selma headquarters. In addition to King, other national leaders including Ralph David Abernathy and John Lewis, held strategy sessions at the home. In her house today, a lot of the furniture has not changed since that formative time. The table and chairs where two African American Nobel Peace Prize Laureates sat together for the first time still remains in her dining room, as does the flowered armchair that Martin Luther King Jr. sat in and watched the televised announcement of the Voting Rights Act. Even the phone that Dr. King received calls on from former President Lyndon B. Johnson remains next to the bed where Mrs. Jackson would have to quickly wake King up to talk when the Commander-inChief called late at night. In a house full of more history and poignant memories than I could encapsulate in 1,000 words, Mrs. Jackson was kind enough to allow Living Democracy community journalist Nathan Simone and I a tour and spoke to us about the importance of what it means to be able to put her stories in perspective. The place that could certainly be a museum is still her home, and people who want to walk in and see and touch things are usually turned away before they step foot in the house. Luckily for us she made an exception. In a time that is seeing change happen on a daily basis, Mrs. Jackson feels


the need to educate young people on their history. “You can’t go forward if you don’t know your history,” she said, as she reminded us that knowing your history is one of the keys to building selfconfidence and developing a solid “gut feeling” about the decisions you make in life. Though I don’t think I could develop a fraction of the self-confidence and gut feeling that she has, I do know that she has empowered me to want to make a difference in the world so that someone can talk about me the way that people certainly talk about her. And hopefully, with a little work and a little luck, I will get there.

JACK BERGSTRESSER Old Cahawba By Taryn Wilson Sometimes when you are looking for something, you end up finding something even better that you could never have expected. In my time in Selma, Jack Bergstresser has been that something better. An Air Force brat born in Montgomery, Jack moved all around the world as a child before coming back to Alabama for college. He studied at the University of Montevallo and the University of Alabama at Birmingham for his undergraduate and graduate degrees respectively, focusing on history and anthropology before obtaining his PhD from Auburn University with a focus on historical cultural development as a result of technology. After receiving his doctorate he returned to UAB where he worked as a research assistant professor while he did small archaeological projects. He continued on, spending time working at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park and working for the Alabama Historical Commission before he landed at Old Cahawba Archaeological Park ( At Old Cahawba, Jack, whose position is listed as an Archaeological Interpreter, spends his mornings conducting group tours or archaeological projects and mans the Visitor Center for the second half of the day. During all of his work experiences Jack has continued to take the time to study and do research, with his main focus over the past 15 years being on the migrations of African Americans within the state of Alabama during the 19th Century. Searching for knowledge on the subject has been a leading reason why Jack has worked in the places that he has during his life. “The jobs were platforms,” he said as he explained how he used his employment opportunities to get deep into the history of the African-American movements and migrations before, during and after the Civil War. During his time at Tannehill and Red Mountain

Park he was able to investigate the influx of African-American families during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era when the Birmingham area became known for its industrial prowess. Digging farther back into the story led him further south to Old Cahawba, the site of the first state capital and later a successful freedmen’s town. “I don’t want to complete the story. I just want to add another chapter, and Old Cahawba allows me to do that,” Bergstresser said. The site of Alabama’s first state capital from 1820 to 1825, Old Cahawba was once a booming southern antebellum town. At the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama Rivers and on the Cahaba, Marion and Greensboro railroad, the town was at the center of the cotton boom of the late 1850’s. At its prime, the town made Dallas County


one of the top five richest counties in the entire United States. But, like many communities in the South, the Civil War crushed the promise of the area. With the departure of the county seat to Selma, Cahawba was all but finished. The few who remained in the area after the war were mostly the freed slaves, or freedmen, from nearby plantations. Many of them were skilled artisans and craftsmen who learned their trades while Cahawba was still in its heyday. They lived in Cahawba, whose population had shrunk to barely 500, up until the turn of the century, when even they decided to leave the area. However, in the short time they were there, the community produced landowning, civic-minded citizens who fought for the political freedom granted to them by emancipation. Later some of these individuals even went on to serve in state level political offices. Unfortunately, with the outflow of the capital, the county seat, and the cotton industry, the town could not manage to provide most families with the opportunity they needed to stay, and most left for nearby Selma or Mobile. The few who remained managed to build a small one-room schoolhouse next to the church to educate the local children. Though the town is now deserted, evidence of the African American community that once existed there can be found in the Negro Burial Ground and in some of the few remaining structures of the town. The stories passed down from generation to generation about these places also shed light on what life might have been like living in Old Cahawba. When asked what his favorite place in Old Cahawba is, he doesn’t waste a minute before saying that the old one room schoolhouse is his chosen location. A small wooden building with the remains of an outhouse behind it, the building is not much to look at. But as a true archaeologist, Jack sees beyond the structure to the story that it tells. “The school house represents a monumental effort,” he explained. “You’ve got people in Dallas, Texas, thinking they’ve done something special by making a [five way interchange], but it’s really the 76

people like these old sharecroppers who built this school house that really made a difference.” Used until the schools became desegregated in the 1950s, the schoolhouse is a strong indicator of what the community at Old Cahawba was capable of. They built a community for themselves and created opportunities for the citizens to be successful even in a time when African Americans had less opportunity. “I just have an interest in finding out how humans got to how they are today,” Jack said. “I want to look at the challenges and struggles and how they came together to deal and how they triumphed. And honestly there is no better group to look at than the African Americans during the 19th Century.” Not limited to just studying these topics, Jack also takes the time to share his broad knowledge with those who he interacts with in the Old Cahawba Visitor Center and on tours. During a recent opportunity with Concordia College student volunteers, Jack made sure to take the time to share the facts and history with the students. “I just want people to understand the freedmen’s accomplishments. Yes, Old Cahawba was the first state capital and we have to tell that story,” he said, “but there was also a freedmen’s community and that is a story that needs telling as well.” As a scholar and a teacher, Jack has been unbelievably helpful. He’s taught me about African American Diasporas, how to kill privet, what to do if you see a snake and even how to drive a Bush Hog. He has been a great source of information and has taught me too many things to recall in the short time I’ve been here.  And while he may not want to take credit for it, I think his story is worth telling just the same as the stories he loves to tell.



CITIZEN ALUMS Jeremy “Boss” Green By Laney C. Payne Jeremy “Boss” Green is using his Auburn roots to grow some new ones at Alma Bryant High School in Bayou La Batre. Sporting a worn navy “AU” ball cap with pride, the 27-year-old Auburn University graduate uses what he has learned through Auburn’s College of Agriculture to help Mobile Bay students learn about the world around them from the ground up. From shotgun safety, fisheries, wildlife science, and turf grass management, Green is educating his students and working to create opportunities to open their eyes to how they can turn a passion for the outdoors into a profession. 78

“I loved being outside, but today kids seem to be oblivious to it,” said Green. “I found a way to turn that passion into a career.” Green also serves as the Future Farmers of America advisor for his Alma Bryant High School students. Wearing a weathered blue corduroy FFA jacket earned from his time competing in his high school days, Green works to coach teams in tractor safety, floriculture, and livestock judging to compete in the upcoming district and state competitions in Enterprise and Auburn. “Mr. Green, he’s so laid back. He makes it easy to learn,” said Sylvester, an 11th grade student who is currently enrolled in Green’s wildlife science class. When reflecting on his time at Auburn, Green explained how he feels he was not prepared for the real-world experiences he faced once getting out of the “college utopia.” “When you are in college, you are in a whole different world. You make your own schedules and get up and go to class. Out here in the real world, things are a bit different,” said Green. Although Green recognizes the many opportunities that have come his way because of his education at Auburn University, he said he feels that colleges and universities need to begin to do a better job preparing their students for the experiences that arise after college. “Universities share a responsibility in making productive citizens,” said Green. Growing up on his family farm in Citronelle, Ala., Green explained how his time outdoors has impacted nearly every aspect of his life as he walked around the baseball fields that double as his personal turf grass management lab. “If you didn’t have land, you knew someone who did. We weren’t alien to getting outside and doing something,” said Green. “We definitely weren’t city kids.” When talking about the community surrounding Alma Bryant High School, Green explained the history behind the facility. Prior to Alma Bryant, students in the area attended one of

two schools in Bayou la Batre or Grand Bay before the two schools merged in 1999. “The two communities are very different,” explained Green. “Grand Bay is all about farming, and the bayou is all about shrimping. They are two different communities with very different people.” As a coastal community, the citizens of the area have been affected by the gulf oil spill, hurricanes, and a troubled economy. Green said feels that by engaging his students, he can create an air of opportunity and guidance for kids who otherwise might never receive it. “My students tend to be children of shrimpers who are out at months at a time or shipbuilders who work late night shifts,” said Green. “If these kids get involved, whether it be in FFA, sports, or something else, it’ll impact their life.” Working year round as a teacher, FFA advisor, avid hunter and fisherman, Green keeps busy working to make an impact on his student’s lives. “I have contact with my kids over the summer. That’s when we pick out our hogs!” said Green. As the FFA advisor, Green works with locals to raise hogs to compete with in the annual FFA fair. As a new employee to Alma Bryant, Green quickly made his mark, earning his nickname, “Boss.” It seems his work never ends. “Somewhere along the line, ‘Boss’ came in. Ever since then it’s been ‘Boss Green’,” the Alma Bryant agro science teacher said with a grin.


Johnnie Mac & Patricia Edwards By Mary Beth Snow It doesn’t take much time talking with Johnnie Mac and Patricia Edwards to figure out the things that they love: their family, their community, and their God. The couple, both natives of Collinsville, Ala., got married during their time as education majors at Auburn University before returning to raise a family and work in their hometown. Both retired teachers, Johnnie Mac spent years at Collinsville High School as a high school history teacher and football coach, while Patricia worked as an English Language Learners teacher in the elementary school. Patricia said of the draw back home to Collinsville, “We came back because it’s where family was.” She adds that the community “sticks up for each other.” It’s a community that the two are very much a part of. Myles Smith, another mover and shaker in the community, said of the couple, “You wouldn’t find anybody in the entire neighborhood that didn’t look up to the two of them.” Something important to both of them is taking up for the needs of the immigrant population, especially the children. Johnnie Mac said that the biggest change he’s seen in his lifetime in Collinsville is the change from a bi-cultural community to a multi-cultural one. Being an ELL teacher, Patricia has had many opportunities to be in close contact with the immigrant population. Johnnie Mac describes how she would pick up van loads of children and take them to Bible school and about a time the mother of one of her students came over to teach her how to make tamales, an authentic and notoriously hard to make Mexican dish. Johnnie Mac also mentioned a former student of Patricia’s, Walter, who still calls her three times a week, even though he was deported back to El Salvador. Patricia has known Walter since elementary school. She was actually the one who made the decision to hold him back in the third

grade because his English wasn’t good enough to continue on. The same age as their oldest son, he spent much of his high school years in the Edwards’ home. He was the first Hispanic to join their church, and the first all-state Hispanic football player from the Collinsville High School football team, which was coached by none other than Johnnie Mac. Though retired, both still actively volunteer with church ministries and at the schools. Their son Riley, known as “Coach Riley” to his students, also teaches at the high school. He often teaches the children of the students his own mother taught in elementary school. Walking into the kitchen wearing a Collinsville Panthers sweatshirt, their son spoke about his preparations to soon go to Europe to share his faith through sports-based children’s camps. Sports have also been an important part of Johnnie Mac’s involvement in the community. He attributes the acceptance of the Hispanics into the community to the fact that they were family-oriented and involved in sports, making it much easier for them to find a place in the community. It’s this level of involvement in people’s lives that make Johnnie Mac and Patricia so important to the people around them, making it easy to understand why multiple people in the community claim, “If you want to get to know Collinsville, make sure you go meet the Edwards.”


Laurie Chapman By Sierra Lehnhoff Two border collies sprinted up and circled the Toyota 4Runner pulling up onto the dirt and grass drive. Off to the left sits a home with two charming French doors painted in bright red. Laurie Chapman, 36, stepped out from between the parted doors, donning a bright green shirt in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Her blonde hair was pulled back and a smile radiated from her face as Chapman welcomed visitors to her home. Chapman is the owner of an internet-based stationary business known as Wiregrass Weddings. Her home office is a room riddled with endless amounts of stationary, presentation boards and desks. The two-and-a-half hour drive to Chapman’s home in Elba isn’t a far stretch from a place she used to call home back in college: Auburn University where Laurie Chapman obtained her bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management in 1998. She worked at J&M Bookstore and the Auburn Hotel, and met her husband, Jim Chapman, at Auburn University. Chapman fondly recalls her senior year as her favorite year. She said she enjoyed the friendliness of everyone at the university and, with a little laugh, adds that marrying her husband was another favorite, of course. After Chapman graduated, she moved to Elba, Ala., where her husband obtained an engineering job. With few restaurant and hotel management jobs, Chapman decided to get crafty in the most literal sense of the term. She started craft81

ing for some older ladies at her church in 1999. Often she was encouraged to turn her crafting hobby into a business, and this became a reality in 2003. Chapman’s daughter, one of her two children, fell ill, and the Chapman family needed more money to help pay off the medical bills. Deciding to start her own business, Chapman combined her crafty hobby and managerial knowledge to open her online business, Wiregrass Weddings. She speaks fondly of her and her husband’s collaboration on building her work office, and rebuilding a 1950s letterpress. Her husband’s creation of a heated ribbon-cutting machine was helped along by his Auburn engineering degree. Both of their skills have largely contributed to the success of Wiregrass Weddings, Chapman said. Though her products mainly focus on wedding invitations and prints, Chapman’s web site on ( offers a wide range of cute wedding details from banners to buffet markers. The web site screams choruses of praise with great reviews about how timely and perfect the products are. In 2009, the Elba Chamber of Commerce awarded Wiregrass Wedding the most Outstanding Business of the Year for Coffee County. The success doesn’t stop there, in 2010, Wiregrass Weddings placed top 20 out of 4,000 applicants in the Make Mine a Million $ Business Competition held in Houston, Texas, which was sponsored by American Express and Count Me In. Then, in 2012, Inspire Smart Success Magazine chose Wiregrass Weddings’ products for a feature editorial in their inaugural issue. Chapman is not only a business owner. She has also been an active member of the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce and was the general manager of a playground-building project in Elba. She also does free printing for organizations such as the Covenant Community Church and Elba’s Girl Scout Troop. From running Wiregrass Weddings to helping build a community playground , Chapman’s days in rural Elba are anything but slow.

Eric Stringer By Audrey Ross Long-time Hobson City resident Eric Stringer is doing big things for his community. Originally born in Dothan, Ala., Stringer moved with his family to Hobson City when he was just 6 years old. He spent the majority of his childhood in Hobson City, attending Hobson City’s black schools from 1st through 6th grade and transferring to the nearby town of Oxford’s school system when the two schools integrated. “The first two or three years after the schools integrated was really tough, but you know people got used to each other,” Stringer said. Stringer played basketball at Oxford High School before obtaining a basketball scholarship to Auburn. He played for Auburn for four years and through hard work he became one of the early African American athletes to graduate from Auburn. After graduation, Stringer came back to Hobson City but couldn’t find any work. He left his hometown and went to work for Campbell’s Soup for several years before moving to Birmingham to try his hand in the business world. Things didn’t turn out quite as he had hoped in the big city, but one day Stringer’s mother called him on the phone about a job offer back in Hobson City from Stringer’s old advisor at Auburn, Tracy Trussell. Stringer describes this moment as his “call back home.” He didn’t plan on going back to Hobson City, but he quickly decided to come back to his hometown. Trussell, then the dean of instruction at Gadsden State Community College, enlisted Stringer as the director of business and industry training, a position Stringer has kept for the last


19 years. The more time Stringer spent in Hobson City, the more involved he became in his community. His father served as mayor of Hobson City for two terms in the 1970’s so Stringer was always around city business growing up. He wasn’t particularly interested in city matters at the time, but he always felt like he could make a difference in the world. “I was always kind of a class leader growing up, when most things happened in the class I and a few other students were always taking the lead.” When Stringer came back to Hobson City, it wasn’t the thriving community he grew up in. Many people had left the smaller town for more opportunities in the surrounding towns like Anniston and Oxford. Almost every business shut down or left Hobson City, and they no longer had a tax base to support themselves. “ Stringer, along with long-time friend Bernard Snow, formed the Hobson City Community and Economic Development Corporation in 2007 in hopes of building a better future for Hobson City. They work to raise money used for community development projects around the city. “We are trying to change the culture. There’s a brighter view of the world, a brighter view of Hobson City. People just don’t accept change easily,” Stringer said. The HCCEDC has generated $300,000 to $400,000 for Hobson City, he said. Their most recent and ongoing project is a park right in the center of the town. Stringer and partners have transformed the park in the last year, installing new top-notch play equipment and making plans for new pavilions. “We wanted to give people something so big that they can’t ignore it,” said Stringer about the new park. “Give them something that they can see and touch and feel to inspire hope.” Stringer said community apathy is the biggest challenge to their success. “Everything we do is to draw more people into the process and help them to bring about the change.” Stringer added that the park project will inspire the community, showing them how to accomplish the next big project for Hobson City.

Tiffany Echols By Kaleb Kirkpatrick Tiffany Echols is a southern woman who has lived in rural communities most of her life. Echols grew up in Demopolis, Ala., just a short drive away from Linden, Ala., where she lives now with her husband, Carter Echols, owner of the local grocery store in Linden called Papas Foods. Echols attended Auburn University and graduated with a degree in apparel merchandising. She was the first in her family to earn a college degree. According to Echols, her parents are “very proud” that she graduated and got an education. She originally met her husband at Auburn, which is what led her back to Linden. Echols claims one of the first things she wondered when she came back was “how would I use my degree, because there’s just not much of a market for that kind of thing here.” She says she began decorating homes in the community. Slowly but surely she realized there was a need for certain products in the community that people couldn’t get other places. That realization eventually led her to open Persnickety, right next to Papas Foods. Her store offers decorating, custom sewing and other home accessories. Echols says her main motivation for opening the store was her desire to “use the skills I learned and offer the community products and goods they couldn’t find other places.” One of the biggest struggles in Echol’s life currently is the work her and her husband are doing to adopt a child from Honduras. “It’s a whole other issue dealing with all the paper work and what not.” She says once everything is completed she and her husband plan to adopt more children. According to Echols, some of the benefits she enjoys about living in a rural community are the simplicity of life, safety, and family atmosphere. “Everyone pretty much knows everyone around here. There’s just not a lot of crime and safety issues.” In regards to citizenship, Echols says she and her husband are always trying “to help with projects we think will help bring people in, things like Chilly Fest and church activities.” She is also a member of the Quest Club, a local civic group in Linden.

“The greatest thing needed in Linden is a better school system and industry to help promote attracting young people to come to Linden.” She says one of the thoughts behind the community’s annual Chilly Fest was, “How do we get people to come here and be a part of the community?” Echols says that if more young people come to the city then “new businesses and industries will come.” Echols says there is a need for more cultural and entertainment outlets for the local citizens to enjoy and would like to work on improvements in that area. “We aren’t Wal-Mart. You know we can’t be all things to all people.” is the way Echols feels about shopping locally. “People have to understand, when you support businesses in your community, the money goes right back to you through taxes to schools and other city functions.” The 3/50 Project is one effort started in Linden to encourage and educate citizens about the benefits of shopping locally rather than going to surrounding areas. “To me it seems like a simple thing to shop locally but not everyone gets it. I understand that if I shop locally it’s going not just to the city and me but also to other families to help pay their bills and educate their children.” Echols says, “My whole goal is to not be like Wal-mart. I try to have a niche and do my own thing.” Echols also believes that if there was more community promotion for businesses then local shopping could increase. Overall, Echols says she tries to be an active member of her community. 83

Brad Sturgis By Catherine Tabor Registered pharmacist Brad Sturgis, 58, took a rather unique road to his job at College City Drugs in Marion, Ala. Born in Atlanta, Ga., Sturgis always had Southern roots, but his father worked as a sales representative for Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and his family moved around a lot. He graduated high school in Akron, Ohio. Nestled in the Black Belt of Alabama, Marion is a far cry from Ohio. So how did Brad Sturgis end up working as a pharmacist in the College City? It was during his college years that Sturgis embarked on the path that would lead him to his future career. As an Alabama resident who wanted a degree in pharmacy, Sturgis only had two in-state options in 1976: Samford University or Auburn University. He chose Auburn University. During his freshman year at Auburn, his father bought a business in Marion. As Brad Sturgis says, “I came along later and decided that I liked it here too and decided to stay.” Sturgis graduated from Auburn University in 1979 with a BS in pharmacy. Today, Sturgis says, “Auburn doesn’t even offer that degree. What they have now is a Pharm-D degree, so it’s a little different than when I was there.” Sturgis says he is glad he ended up at Auburn University during his college days. His favorite memories of Auburn, he says were “the atmosphere at Auburn and the friendships.” Sturgis returns to Auburn nearly once every year. As a current resident of Marion, but also as someone who did not grow up in the small, rural town, Sturgis provides valuable insight to the struggles and achievements of the community. He says his favorite part about Marion is that “It has all of the characteristics of a small town. Every-

body knows everybody. But at the same time, we have two colleges here, which kind of gives it an educational atmosphere.” However, Sturgis is not blind to the needs of Marion. As a small business owner himself, Sturgis can clearly see that Marion’s economy is hurting. When asked to describe what it would take to improve Marion, Sturgis answers it would take “things that would help to stimulate the economy and get things going. We just had a foundry close that employed a lot of people and that’s gonna hurt. It’ll add to the unemployed.” Even though Marion has seen some tough times in today’s economy, Sturgis says he still likes to go around town. Particularly, he appreciates being able to go out to eat at some of Marion’s local restaurants, spending time on the Marion Military Institute’s campus, and participating in some of Judson College’s events. Sturgis recognizes the beauty in Marion, a place he calls home, but he also realizes that Marion faces tough challenges. “I think there are some business opportunities in Marion, but it’s hard to attract people to an economically depressed area.” Doing his part to stimulate Marion’s economy, Sturgis operates College City Drugs five days a week. Carrying a variety of other products, the store doubles as a gift shop.


Sarah Cook By Taryn Wilson Growing up in a small town in Bucks County, Penn., Sarah Cook is not your average Southern Belle. Relocated to the Birmingham area in the middle of her sophomore year of high school by her dad’s job, Cook, 23, is a transplant, but she has grown to know and love the South as her “home.” After attending and graduating from Hoover High School, the state of Alabama’s largest school by both population and square footage, Cook decided to mix the idea of her southern high school alma mater with her Northern upbringing by attending Auburn University, an institution she describes as a large school with a “small town feel.” Cook, who started at Auburn in the fall of 2008, characterized her time there as wonderful, adding that “waking up early every Saturday in the fall and wearing orange and blue” is one of her fondest memories. Auburn became a place Cook describes as a “home that I can always return to,” adding that she met life-long friends and received a valuable education. A member of the Tiger Splashers, Golf Gals, a campus liaison for The Layman Group, a member of a social sorority and a writer for the student run newspaper, The Plainsman, Cook was able to find her “niche” quickly at Auburn. “Auburn offered so many opportunities that it wasn’t difficult to find,” she said. Just prior to graduating with a bachelor of the arts in journalism, Cook received a job offer to be a reporter for the Selma Times Journal, which would require her third move south, this time to a

city with a history of controversy and a reputation for conflict. But this didn’t daunt Cook, who pegs her time at Auburn as having given her the abilities and tools she needs to succeed in the real world. “Yes, there are a few things I would like to change about Selma,” she continued, “but every town/city has its underbelly. It’s all about seeing the positives.” “I could go on for days about how much I’ve loved moving here and starting my career,” Cook gushed. “I love being able to walk in to any restaurant and see a familiar place. I love that I get to meet amazing people that I would otherwise never know if it weren’t for my job.” When asked to describe Selma in one word, Cook responded definitively, “a ladder.” Explaining, she continued, “Selma is a ladder for me because it’s given me the ability to reach new heights not only in my career, but as a person, too.” “At a glance, Selma may not seem like the most riveting place,” Cook said, and, as only an Auburn graduate could finish the phrase, “but it’s filled with hard-working people who truly believe in Selma and love it.”



THE PROJECTS Living Democracy projects, from art shows to zombie runs, are as varied as the students who created them. But one thread that runs through all is that they were built on what local people value and want most for their community. From the start, Living Democracy projects were intended to connect partner communities with the individual talents and interests of our students in meaningful ways. Project planning started in January workshops. We asked each community to develop ideas for a project based on past conversations, visits to the community, and interests of both the students and citizens. Some teams had a general direction or theme for a project. Others had more specific details in mind. While the original project ideas discussed were important, we cautioned against projects that did 86

not involve citizens working together to solve problems. A project could only be a Living Democracy project, we suggested, if teams worked through and incorporated five different aspects: hopes; a table; conversations and crossroads; actions; public celebration and reflection. Participants discovered these by exploring the following questions at our workshops. Hopes: Every community has dreams, goals, and aspirations. What are citizens seeking to do to fulfill the community’s potential? How will your project connect to citizen concerns and what people in the community consider valuable? A Table: Every community project has a table where thoughts are shared and plans are made. Are people in the community already at a table working on the problem? Who, specifically, needs to be at the table for what you are hoping to organize citizens to do? Why will they want to be at the table? What might prevent them from being at the table? Conversations and Crossroads: Communication is key to productive human relationships and the work citizens seek to do together. And the communication we are talking about is different from publicity and advertising. How will you communicate re: the project? How often? Where? Some of these conversations will result in decision-making. What decisions do you think will need to be made re: the project? What decisions will be difficult but necessary? What will you do to make your conversations creative and productive? Actions: What actions will need to take place to execute the project? When? Make a timeline for what needs to take place immediately, as well as over the next few months as you prepare to live in the community. Public Celebration/Reflection: We measure the success of our projects in terms of what we’ve learned and experienced. There is no such thing as failure, only failure to learn. And there’s nothing more fun than a culminating event that documents, makes public, and celebrates the work of citizens. How will you document, celebrate, and lead a public reflection on your project? 87

Throughout the spring semester, students further developed plans and continued conversations with community partners. Students documented progress on the project and the connections they made in the community as it progressed. Students also researched practical details and models for similar projects. They knew they would, by the end of their Living Democracy summer, celebrate “the work you are doing together” with local citizens at a public event. Despite careful planning, students reported that one of their greatest learning outcomes turned out to be their sometimes painful discovery that a Living Democracy project cannot be mapped out in complete detail. The project’s success was dependent on a process that thrives on unpredictability and always required flexibility and communication. It was a rare case when what was carefully plotted on paper in the spring worked out exactly as planned. This usually resulted in frustration that typically created a crucial turning point as students were forced to explore new alternatives and build better connections with citizens. Students were discouraged when their plans ran into obstacles. But they adapted the plan to the real world challenges with help from their community partners. In the process, they learned putting together community events did

pull people in the community together and pulled them in new directions of personal growth and learning. We didn’t fully expect the depth of learning about civic action that resulted as students tried, failed, succeeded, and eventually celebrated with their new friends in our communities. Another positive outcome, we believe, is the fact that project work helped create connections with local citizens that continued well past the 10-week summer experience. Additionally, as was our hope, several initiatives started by our students continue to have an impact in our partner communities. We did assume that projects would deeply engage students as they worked out the nuts and bolts of creating connections worthy of celebration. And our Living Democracy students and partners did indeed create reasons to celebrate. Here is a summary of Living Democracy projects from 2012 and 2013.

Bayou La Batre 2012 ANGELA CLEARY Angela Cleary, interdisciplinary studies major with a keen interest in environmental issues, found Bayou La Batre an ideal place to spend living democracy. On Mobile Bay in southwest Alabama, Bayou La Batre continues to face challenges created by disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill. Cleary partnered with the local Boat People SOS office, an organization involved in recovery efforts that works closely with the community’s significant Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian population in Alabama’s seafood capital. Working with BPSOS’s youth empowerment program, Bayou HOPE, was her most rewarding experience. Cleary helped the youth organize beautification projects, community dinners, and other events as they followed a “work hard, play hard” mantra. Cleary said, “These projects paved the way for the youth to become active citizens who take ownership and pride in their community.” Her end of summer celebration achieved another unexpected goal when a huge crowd gathered at a park on Mobile Bay for an event organized by Bayou HOPE students. While the group raised funds with carnival games, they also brought together citizens from two communities, Bayou La Batre and Coden, who rarely interact. Today, Cleary stays in touch with BPSOS staff members and the Bayou HOPE teens. 2013 LANEY PAYNE Laney Payne’s summer projects in Bayou La Batre were perhaps the most diverse. She worked closely with the Hemley Road Church of Christ’s Daphne German and Billy Spaulding assisting with the food pantry and youth programs. Payne developed her own efforts to reach out to the local youth, such as a sleepover and athletic events. When she was not working at the church, Payne worked closely with Dr. Bill Walton, assistant professor and marine fisheries extension specialist at Auburn. Walton and his associates are working to develop oyster farms in the Gulf of Mexico. Payne joined Rosa Zirlott, co-founder and employee of the Organized Seafood Association, and others in oyster farming classes.


One highlight of the summer for Payne, known by the locals as “that girl from Auburn”, was learning about and sharing the stories from the Bayou that she wrote for publication on the Living Democracy blog and on, the state’s largest news outlet. She wrote, “As a 23-year-old psychology major at Auburn University, never in my life did I think I’d be in “Bayou Reeboks” oyster farming alongside the field’s best. But, as a Living Democracy Fellow working in Bayou La Batre this summer, I’ve learned firsthand about the heart and soul of this coastal community.”

Collinsville 2013 MARY BETH SNOW From restoring trashcans in 90plus degree heat to hugging and reading to Hispanic children under an oak tree to teaching Spanish classes, Mary Beth Snow spent her summer living democracy in Collinsville. One of projects was a downtown beautification project that her partner, library director Jennifer Wilkins, said has left a lasting visual impact in the North Alabama community. When she arrived, Snow found empty planters and a Main Street that needed attention. She rolled up her sleeves. Part of her process was asking the City Council for matching funds to support the effort and getting involvement from local merchants. The Council gave her more than she requested and local business owners jumped on board. Today new flower-filled planters, refurbished trash cans and colorful banners hang from street lamps along Main Street. Wilkins said Snow helped connect merchants, the library, and the town government to “allow us to do a lot that had never been done before.”


Another connection Snow, a prolific Spanish speaker, made possible was outreach to young Hispanic children who rarely have the opportunity to visit the library. Snow, working with local teenagers, hosted a summer reading program held under an oak tree in a trailer park for the children on a weekly basis. Her end of summer celebration provided an opportunity to transport the children to the library for a reading and art workshop complete with homemade ice cream and pizza. Wilkins said, “We never would’ve reached those 25 kids if she had not been here. Now we might try to go back into that area.”

ELBA 2012 ALEXIS SANKEY Alexis Sankey, a psychology major, spent her summer living democracy in Elba. Her main community partner was Mart Gray, pastor of the Convenant Community Church. To meet the community’s need for more opportunities in arts education, Alexis’ created JumpstART, offering art classes to local children at the Just Folk Coffeehouse and Arts Center. Alexis said her greatest reward came from seeing the children’s smiles of pride at the concluding art exhibition. After getting JumpstART in motion, Alexis interviewed citizens committed to moving Elba forward and worked closely with the staff of Elba’s Senior Citizen Center, delivering hot meals and helping out in the office. While the children gained new avenues of expression through JumpstART, Alexis found a new sense of confidence. “I have definitely gained more self assurance. I realize that progress is not easy, especially when working with and depending on lots of different people. However, it’s always possible.” 90

2013 SIERRA LEHNHOFF One hope is that Living Democracy projects will result in relationships that continue beyond the summer. That hope became reality for Sierra Lehnhoff as she worked alongside Farris English, a junior at Elba High School. English, who volunteered with Alexis Sankey’s art classes in 2012, jumped right in again to help Lehnhoff as both a local guide and project assistant. English became the youngest community partner to attend planning workshops when she joined Lehnhoff and Mart Gray, the Elba community partner, to map out plans for 2013. Through their discussions, one thread continued as a community need: more activities for children and teens. This expressed community desire lead to what was perhaps the most unique Living Democracy community event so far, a Zombie-themed 5K run. The Zombie Run in 2013 that Lehnhoff and English pulled together was such a hit that locals hope to continue the event. Lehnhoff also continued the JumpstART summer art classes started by Sankey. Figuring out the details and challenges of organizing events to bring people together to celebrate and enjoy community was a challenge for Lehnhoff with its own rewards. She noted, “I’ve never been a very forward person when it comes to asking for items or help from another. Although I am driven and will work hard on any task given to me, I will put off any task that requires me to ask for someone’s help, permission or collaboration. I don’t think there is anything more nerve-wracking to me. Surprise, surprise- this is a lot of what Living Democracy is.”

Hobson City 2012 MARIAN ROYSTON Marian Royston, now pursuing a master’s degree in leadership for sustainable rural development at Queens University in Northern Ireland as Auburn’s first recipient of the Mitchell Scholarship, lived democracy in one of the most historic communities in Alabama, Hobson City. Founded in 1899, Hobson City was the first all African-American municipality in Alabama. In part, Royston was initially on a mission to bring together a snapshot of Hobson City’s present through her work on a community needs assessment. However, by the end of the summer, her focus turned to one of the community’s greatest assets: history. She eventually celebrated her findings at the annual gala hosted by her partners, the Hobson City Community and Economic Development Corporation (HCCEDC). While disappointed that her original objective of the survey did not work out, Royston viewed the gift of her findings about the community’s history, which she also used in completing her senior thesis, was a positive outcome.


2013 AUDREY ROSS Audrey Ross, in her second summer as Living Democracy student, followed up in Hobson City where Royston started. Her projects focused on developing a youth program with the Hobson City Library and volunteering with the Sable Learning Center. By the end of the summer, Ross had connected library resources to the Sable Learning Center. Bringing these two local groups together in a way that had never existed before, Ross believes, could have lasting impacts on the young children she helped mentor throughout the summer. One of Ross’ community celebrations, planned and hosted by her youth group, involved a scavenger hunt consisting of riddles related to Hobson City’s history and assets. Ross wrote of this event: “Activities like the scavenger hunt adventure are an amazing way to get kids, along with their siblings and parents, more active in the community. But it’s much more than just having a good time and enjoying each other’s company. Kids are also learning new things about the community and developing a better understanding of what makes their home so special.” One hope for a Living Democracy project’s success is that is an effort that can be sustained. In the case of Hobson City, the club started by Ross is being continued and organized as a 4-H group by the library staff.

Valley 2012 AUDREY ROSS Ross, who found her niche working with youth and children in Hopson City, was the only Living Democracy student to have two summers in the program so far. She joined the group in 2012 living and working in Valley, a town in east Alabama with a rich textile mill heritage. In her first summer with Living Democracy, Ross started the Youth Leaders of Valley, a group of that grew into a team under her guidance as they helped with a police academy for youth, planned and staged a successful Community Day basketball tournament, spruced up the local Girl Scout hut, and attended city council meetings. Ross also helped out at the community farmers’ market, tutored students of all ages, and learned more about mill restoration projects and local history. Ross said she also learned an important lesson she carried into her second summer of Living Democracy. “Rather than tell the kids what to do, we came together and discussed what we COULD do. As the kids became more comfortable in having a say in their community, the ideas came rolling in.”


Mari0n 2012 MARY AFTON DAY Mary Afton Day, a public administration major, lived democracy in Marion, working with citizens through the non-profit organization Sowing Seeds of Hope alongside director Frances Ford. From sorting green beans at a local church, performing blood pressure checks at a rural community center, and mentoring local teens, Day went in dozens of different directions to gain an understanding and appreciation of how local people meet challenges on a daily basis. Throughout the summer, she asked citizens to share images of the places in town that make Marion unique and important, and the project culminated in a public exhibition and companion blog featuring the work of citizens. 2013 CATHERINE TABOR Wanting to follow up on Day’s work with local teens in Marion, Catherine Tabor crafted detailed plans and objectives for her 2013 summer. She hoped to organize a chess club and other activities working with her community partner, Katrina Easley, Extension Service Coordinator for Perry County. She believed a “mock trial” team would also be a good idea. But that’s when she encountered challenges that made her plans on paper disintegrate. Through the course of the summer, Tabor had to go in totally different directions. Ultimately, she ended up working with senior citizens rather than teens and traded in her plan for a mock trial team for an end-of-summer reading celebration held in partnership with the local library. Her final celebration was held at the Marion-Perry County Library where she was able to distribute books that were delivered from across the state from the Jean Dean Reading is Fundamental, a community partner with Auburn University on other projects. Tabor worked to get other donations as well. Library staff said the event gave them ideas and incentives to create future outreach projects. Tabor ended up creating other celebrations with a crowd far from what she originally planned to work with at two senior citizen homes in Marion. She planned and coordinated two art shows showcasing the work of elderly residents at receptions attended by family and friends. Reflecting on why how her original plans changed, Tabor noted, “Eventually, I was able to learn about Marion’s citizens and what they wanted or what they needed instead of trying to implement a project because it was what I knew, was familiar with, and wanted to do. I slowed down, and I was able to win my race.”


Selma/Old Cahawba 2012 ANDREW ODOM From living in a “haunted” antebellum home in downtown Selma to involving teens at Alabama’s most famous ghost town, Old Cahawba, Andrew Odom discovered how to connect the past to the future. Odom, an Auburn University graduate now in law school, recruited a team of teens who helped launch a public-use bike program at the Old Cahawba. Youth wearing Living Democracy shirts coordinated the launch event attended by local politicians, media, and civic leaders. Other summer events connected youth to local officials, civic leaders, educators, and artists. Andrew’s main community partners were Old Cahawba site director Linda Derry and Selma/Dallas County Chamber of Commerce executive director Sheryl Smedley. According to Derry, the bike launch, perhaps the most well publicized Living Democracy celebration thus far, helped bring new energy and visitors to the historic site. 2013 TARYN WILSON The following summer, Taryn Wilson, working with the Derry and others, wanted to take that energy to an even higher level by helping launch a canoe trail based at Old Cahawba as her primary project. Throughout the summer, she sought donations of canoes and learned the ins-and-outs of organizing such a venture. By the end of the summer, canoes were donated, and Old Cahawba is looking to officially launch a new segment of the canoe trail in 2014. “This new canoe trail is great because I feel like we’re plugging into whatever’s happening up and down the river,” said Old Cahawba’s Derry. “All our contributions and efforts of others have finally reach critical mass.” Another example of how a Living Democracy experience can lead to a sustainable impact was Wilson’s work with a group from Selma’s Concordia College. Wilson coordinated a group of young student volunteers as they cleaned up Cahawba’s Negro Burial Ground and learned about African American history in the area. Concordia has now expressed an interest in involving entrepreneurship students with a canoe shuttle service at Cahawba. During her summer, Wilson, an entrepreneurship major at Auburn, also lead sessions at the fifth annual Selma Youth Conference and coordinated a field trip bringing a group of youngsters from Tuskegee to visit Old Cahawba. Both Wilson and Odom’s main contributions, Derry said, could be their impact on introducing younger generations and outdoor enthusiasts to the historic site where the Cahaba and Alabama rivers merge. 94

Linden 2013 KALEB KIRKPATRICK Kaleb Kirkpatrick, who lived democracy in the west Alabama town of Linden in 2013, wanted to help paint a new image on a canvas of empty downtown buildings. Working with community partners, Kathryn Friday, county extension coordinator with the Marengo County Extension office, and Brenda Tuck, with the Marengo County Economic Development Authority. Kirkpatrick helped organize a two-day art workshop that connected local artists with youth who produced a variety of pieces. Their creations were among those featured in a later event Kirkpatrick organized, Linden’s first Downtown Art Walk. According to Friday, Kirkpatrick’s project was successful for both the participants and the downtown merchants. “He did a good job of reaching out to artists from across the county, involving people from throughout the region.” The best sign that the art walk was a success is that plans are now being made to continue the event.


2012 BLAKE EVANS Blake Evans, now pursuing his master’s degree in public administration, spent his 2012 summer in Linden with a front row seat on local government and municipal services from his office in city hall and his living space above the fire station. His experience in Linden has been well documented, including an article published in summer edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education. During his time in Linden, Blake worked diverse projects, including the production of a DVD focused on the economic assets of the town. He also worked with local teens on a photography project. Evans distributed single-use cameras to students and asked them to take two pictures: one of something they believe illustrates why “Life is good in Linden,” and another that identifies an aspect of Linden that needs improvement. The photographs and DVD were featured at Evans’ summer celebration. Mayor Gates and Blake were astounded when the Chronicle of Higher Education sent a photographer to spend an entire day following Blake from meeting to meeting and place to place for photographs that would illustrate an article on the program. A positive article in the Chronicle is high praise for those in higher education, but it is not necessarily an indication of success. During the same week in Linden, a more accurate milestone of success was achieved when City Clerk Cheryl Hall and Mayor Gates invited Blake to be the Grand Marshall of the 2012 winter Chilly Fest parade in December and presented him with a key to the city. The parade in Linden was not covered nationally, of course, but it is evidence that his presence and collaborative work had lasting value and meaning. 96

Helping the bayou starts at its roots

Aside from specific duties like assisting with handing out food via the church’s pantry or teaching Bible school on Sundays, Payne has reached out to the local youth population to host sleepovers and plan athletic events. One such event was a sleepover for high school aged girls, held at the church the weekend of June 14. Payne said she and the girls had a fun night tie-dying t-shirts (all of which said “Bayou Blessed”) and playing while also discussing tough issues such as teen pregnancy, continuing education beyond high school and how they could use their talents to improve Bayou La Batre. In her time away from Hemley Street, Payne has been involved in helping an oyster farming class proceed along with the instruction of Dr. Bill Walton, assistant professor and marine fisheries extension specialist at Auburn University. The classes alternate between being held on Dauphin Island and at Delta Port Marina in Coden.

By Nathan Simone COMMUNITY REPORTER It may not be sufficient to say that the bayou has received another angel. With the arrival of Laney Payne May 30, Bayou La Batre welcomed a new helper to the Hemley Church of Christ, a collaborator in trying to find sustainable innovations for Gulf seafood and a friend to neighbors and younger adults in the surrounding region. Payne has been living and working at Hemley Street side-by-side with Church of Christ cofounder Daphne German and Billy Spaulding, who opened the church in 2003. According to German, Payne has meshed right in with the church’s mission and sought to help wherever and whenever she is needed. “Laney is a godsend,” German said. “What are we going to do when she’s gone?”


Walton’s focus has been working with “farming” oysters in the rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico by transplanting juvenile oysters to wire baskets that stay suspended in the water column. The unique device, called an upweller, also allows the oysters to be removed from the water and sun-dried once a week, killing barnacles and seaweed that can impede growth. One of the class’s members is Rosa Zirlott, cofounder and employee of the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama. Zirlott said that the classes so far have been intriguing. “I’m one of those types that if I’m going to tell someone to do something, I have to do it first,” Zirlott said. “So far, it’s been interesting and challenging.” One of the most important lessons Payne said she has learned is the value of investing in people. She realizes that money will always be an issue for starting and stopping projects, but that to really build community and empower others doesn’t cost a thing. “To invest in someone and take a personal interest in them is free,” Payne said. “But the benefits to all involved can be tremendous.” From simply talking to people and discussing their daily lives, Payne said she’s gained more of an insight as to how life works down in the bayou. “It’s a world away from Auburn, but I can identify with almost everybody,” Payne said. “They


have down-home values just like I was raised with, and want the same things out of life.” In a relatively short amount of time, Payne

has gone from being known as “that girl from Auburn” to being known by name and good works. As long as Payne continues her forward path helping others and learning about life in coastal Alabama, the bayou will continue to be blessed with another angel.

Cool celebration brings crowd to library By Nathan Simone COMMUNITY REPORTER Living Democracy fellow Mary Beth Snow celebrated the end of her 10 working weeks in Collinsville with a “cool” celebration that included the Collinsville Public Library as a place to eat homemade ice cream, create art and share a love of reading with more than 29 kids. Snow invited children from all over Collinsville to come to the public library to eat pizza before having fun with a local artist. Guntersville artist Kelly Jackson provided projects for the children to complete, which included bookmarks to put in the new books they would soon be receiving. Jackson’s daughter Cadley and Guntersville High senior Mason Holcomb assisted her in passing out bookmarks to color and helping direct them when it was their turn to assist in one of two larger paintings that will hang in the front of the library. After eating and painting, homemade ice cream was made and excited children had their pick of vanilla, chocolate or Grapico. At the end of the event, each child received their own bag filled with four books, donated by Jean Dean Reading is Fundamental in Opelika, and ample school supplies to assist them in the upcoming academic year. Head librarian Jennifer Wilkins said that Snow’s time in Collinsville working with the library has been a tremendous boost to the city and the larger community. “We’ve just had the best time with her,” said Wilkins. “We hope she comes back next summer.”

Snow said not only did she have a tremendous amount of fun hosting the event, but received a deep sense of personal fulfillment as well. “I loved having a last chance to visit with all the kids,” said Snow. “I had the opportunity to read and hug and love children, and to me that’s the most important thing I can do in life,” Snow said. For however little things like ice cream and books may seem to adults, Snow said that seeing children excited by the simple things in life also made the event a success. “To see those kids asking me if they could read a book to me or being amazing by seeing homemade ice cream made the event a success in my mind,” Snow said. “Because even though those things may seem small to us, nothing is small to children.” With the look of smiles on everyone’s face as the children started to leave the library, this just may be a “Snow day” that Collinsville will never forget.




LESSONS LEARNED Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, ligula suspendisse nulla pretium, rhoncus tempor placerat fermentum, enim integer ad vestibulum volutpat. Nisl rhoncus turpis est, vel elit, congue wisi enim nunc ultricies sit, magna tincidunt. Maecenas aliquam maecenas ligula nostra, accumsan taciti. Sociis mauris in integer, a dolor netus non dui aliquet, sagittis felis sodales, dolor sociis mauris, vel eu libero cras. Interdum at. Eget habitasse elementum est, ipsum purus pede porttitor class, ut adipiscing, aliquet sed auctor, imperdiet arcu per diam dapibus libero duis. Enim eros in vel, volutpat nec eros. Dignissim cras urna, ante convallis turpis duis lectus sed aliquet, at tempus et ultricies. Eros sociis cursus nec hamenaeos dignissimos imperdiet, luctus ac eros sed massa vestibulum, lobortis adipiscing praesent. Nec eros eu ridiculus libero felis. Donec arcu risus diam amet sit. Congue tortor cursus risus vestibulum commodo nisl, luctus augue 101

amet quis aenean maecenas sit, donec velit iusto, morbi felis elit et nibh. Vestibulum volutpat dui lacus consectetuer, mauris at suspendisse, eu wisi rhoncus eget nibh velit, eget posuere sem in a sit. Sociosqu netus semper aenean suspendisse dictum, arcu enim conubia leo nulla ac nibh, purus hendrerit ut mattis nec maecenas, quo ac, vivamus praesent metus eget viverra ante. Natoque placerat sed sit hendrerit, dapibus velit molestiae leo a, ut lorem sit et lacus aliquam. Sodales nulla ante auctor excepturi wisi, dolor lacinia dignissim eros condimentum dis pellentesque, sodales lacus nunc, feugiat at. In orci ligula suscipit luctus, sed dolor eleifend aliquam dui, ut diam mauris, sollicitudin sed nisl lacus tempus. Ut facilisis ante in dui ac suscipit, turpis voluptatum donec, fusce suspendisse, quasi luctus amet urna tempor amet sit. Cras volutpat mattis hasellus justo massa sed, feugiat nunc praesent. Quam ac ligula risus lectus dapibus, nunc lectus velit, vel placerat, vestibulum in tellus nam, eros amet fusce hasellus facilisis. Vehicula sed, class dignissim ullamcorper eros, mauris consequat ut lacinia. Aliquam amet est, quam leo maecenas mauris turpis leo pharetra, vulputate lacus. Ad ornare donec, fringilla feugiat augue imperdiet laoreet, ipsum enim sit lectus felis at, aliquam blandit donec pede, luctus platea etiam mauris ut. Dui vel diam, vitae et scelerisque erat volutpat viverra velit, risus pellentesque tellus nullam nibh, morbi posuere. Curabitur labore. Ac augue donec, sed a dolor luctus, congue arcu id diam praesent, pretium ac, ullamcorper non hac in quisque hac. Magna amet libero maecenas justo. Nam at wisi donec amet nam, quis nulla euismod neque in enim, libero curabitur libero, tempus arcu egestas molestie pede lorem eu. Posuere tempus porttitor urna et, hasellus sed sit sodales laoreet integer, in at, leo nam in. Vitae et, nunc hasellus hasellus, donec dolor, id elit donec hasellus ac pede, quam amet.

Eget nibh maecenas ac, nullam duis elit, ligula eget pellentesque viverra morbi tellus molestie, mi. Sodales nunc suscipit sit pretium aliquet integer, interdum consectetuer pede, et risus hac diam at eget, commodo in. Scelerisque sodales, mauris lorem non consectetuer. Felis maecenas sit adipiscing elit ullamcorper non, amet pede consectetuer quis rutrum sit, nec vestibulum sem, integer non felis a vel. Vel proin, sapien sit, mauris amet in semper dolor. Lacus non pariatur et dolor. Risus mattis. Eu tristique erat a, morbi vel. Tempor quis elit ac maxime et. Amet mauris nec voluptatum, habitant tellus dignissim sed eros, justo fames.



Experience with oysters holds pearls of wisdom By Laney Payne Living Democracy 2013 If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done. As a 23-year-old psychology major at Auburn University, never in my life did I think I’d be in “Bayou Reeboks” oyster farming alongside the field’s best. But, as a Living Democracy Fellow working in Bayou La Batre this summer, I’ve learned firsthand about the heart and soul of this coastal community. Two months ago, I thought oysters were the slimy goodness that came on the half shell smothered in cocktail sauce. Never once did I think I’d be chest-deep in the waters that grow the delicacy. Under the instruction of Dr. Bill Walton, Auburn University’s aquaculture extension specialist, and Scott Rikard, Auburn University’s aquaculture nursery manager, I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn the walk and talk of the oyster business. I have learned about everything from triploids to Shellfish Aquaculture Review Boards to plot acreages to screening silos. After hearing about the amazing anatomy of oysters and how special upweller tubs can serve as temporary growing stations, I can now add a piece of oyster experience to my resume. In this process of discovery, I have grown to respect the individuals who live their life at the mercy of the tides. Unlike the wooden desks of my usual Auburn classroom, the classroom here is held more than a mile offshore in the cool coastal waters underneath the beaming sun. With my back against the aluminum railing tucked inside a bright orange life vest, I took in the beautiful Alabama waters that support the families who shared the boat as we headed out to the “farm”. Without a John Deere tractor in sight, the oyster farm Dr. Walton is helping to develop nour-

ishes a variety of oysters of all shapes in sizes. From Australian long lines to off-bottom cages, the oysters develop organically in their natural habitat with the help of people invested in seeing their “crop” flourish. The oysters we see on our plates atop saltines are just the final stage in a long line of work known by the oyster farming crew. At the Auburn nursery, the oyster farming business begins even before the babies exist. They spawn each oyster on site and create their own oyster “seed”. From there, the babies take a trip from tub to tub to soak in the freshly pumped and filtered seawater for nutrients and oxygen. As each oyster develops, they are moved to a larger mesh screen and eventually taken out to the true “farm” stage in the wild. There they will stay until it is harvest time. Oystering is much more than just a way of life for many of the people along Alabama’s coast.


It’s a family tradition, and it’s in their blood. Whether it be through Auburn’s nursery or from the local wild waters of the Gulf, the oystermen are here to stay in the bayou in spite of the many troubles that have given them every reason to leave. Through my oyster adventure, I have found myself drawing connections between this sea creature and restaurant delicacy to the people I have come to connect with and love. When just a microscopic animal, oysters swim in search of the “taste” of other oyster shells to attach to and make their “home”. The way they see it, if someone (an oyster in this case) has survived and flourished there, they can too. This process is called “spat-on-shell” to the people who know the

industry. To the rest of us, it is simple safety in numbers. The people of the bayou are much like the “spat-on-shell” oysters themselves. With every odd against them — Hurricane Ivan, Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill — they have survived. By sticking together, close to family roots and tradition, the people here will thrive. As a 23-year-old psychology student, I never knew my journey would lead me to the realm of “oyster farming”, but I am blessed that it did. By doing something I have never done, I am receiving things that I have never known. This Auburn-turned-bayou woman is watching her harvest flourish and blessed to be on the journey that is Living Democracy.



Treasures discovered beneath tough exterior shell By Angela Cleary Living Democracy 2012 The things, people, and places of Bayou La Batre have molded me into a more understanding individual, student and leader. There have been moments where I question what I’m seeing, and there have been moments where I question my perspective. The impressions that I have made and that have been made on me are so unique to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In the 10 weeks I’ve spent living democracy in the Bayou, the citizens taught me lessons about their hopes, dreams, and challenges, and also lessons about my own. I am under the impression that the hopes and dreams of Bayou La Batre’s citizens are something similar to those of any other community: the American dream. But what is the American dream? It could mean a number of things to different people, in different walks of life. In my opinion, locals want to provide a way for their families to be happy and healthy. They want to live in safe neighborhoods. They want to spend time together. They want to be able to afford some luxuries. And most importantly, they want their children to live better lives than they did. My impressions of Bayou La Batre’s hopes and dreams didn’t change much from the beginning of the projects until now. However, I have learned more about the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. Challenges can be seen as things that hold you back or something to overcome. Bayou La Batre has been challenged by disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill. The hits to the area’s seafood industry created ripple effects across the job market, affecting the morale of the community. These roadblocks stand as an obstacle to a higher quality of life for many citizens. The question I couldn’t answer before now is: “Will these challenges defeat the citizens of Bayou La Batre, or will they persevere?”

From speaking with dozens of people this summer, I now believe the majority of citizens are ready to persevere in the face of adversity to achieve their hopes and dreams. They are no strangers to battening down the hatches when confronted with a challenge. However, I have learned that these challenges run far deeper than surface issues. From living here for 10 weeks, I have learned a little about what it takes to survive, to create change, and to function with group politics in this small community. I believe Bayou La Batre is like any other community in its lessons on how to survive. You have to be aware of your surroundings. It is better to make friends than enemies. You have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone.  Most importantly, you need some optimism. I believe optimism is how one makes changes. You have to believe you can do it and that everything will work out the way it is supposed to. Before arriving this summer, I was under the impression that most people were somewhat optimistic on achieving their hopes and dreams. I have learned that is not always the case. Maybe that was my optimism making assumptions about a place where I hadn’t lived yet. In reality, there are as many CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) people as there are hopeful ones. Hopelessness is a vicious problem in Bayou


La Batre, and communities everywhere. I believe hopelessness is something that takes time to create and time to get rid of. It is easy to slip into a doom and gloom attitude when it comes to politics and creating positive change for the future. I cannot say I have had any direct or indirect influence with my optimism, but I do believe a positive attitude is something that can spread from even one individual. I have tried to use uplifting language and actions to motivate citizens to inspire hope in Bayou La Batre. Through working with Boat People SOS, I have learned there are certain hierarchies that must be followed if things are going to be accomplished. This is true internally and externally. The process for gaining trust, approval, and respect comes from working tirelessly up the ladder. As an outsider, I learned that having an unbiased voice that’s not afraid to cross lines or ask for favors can be a good thing. I think my extroverted personality helped bridge a few gaps that existed between groups, organizations, and individuals in Bayou La Batre. There was a need to break down the barriers and tension to attempt to work together toward a common goal. I also learned through BPSOS’s youth empowerment program, that sometimes, all you need is a role model. There is a need for positive people who spend their time working to create motivation and change. I learned Bayou La Batre certainly doesn’t expect someone to be perfect in every way, but having someone who at least tries to set a good example is a great influence. It is healthy to make mistakes and learn from them.  It shows people you are working, you are approachable, and you are human. In Bayou La Batre, one third of the population of this small town of 2,400 is South Asian. 106

There were language limitations, but I learned not to let that get in the way of being respectful, friendly, and helpful. Communication can be largely body language, and the fact that I didn’t speak Vietnamese didn’t keep me from making friends with citizens who didn’t speak English. Something as simple as a smile, or offering a glass of water while a client waits creates a good feeling of mutual trust and respect. I have also learned that at least attempting to learn about Asian culture is widely respected. Trying to learn key words, asking questions about the culture, and trying new foods are all important to strengthening bonds between individuals of different backgrounds. After the time I’ve spent here, I would introduce Alabama’s Seafood Capital, Bayou La Batre, to the world using the metaphor of a clam. This town has grown a tough exterior shell to protect a soft inner core. Through the storms, oil spill, poverty, crime, and other community problems, the town and its citizens have adapted to protect themselves from the elements. They don’t open up very easily to strangers and cluster within their own comfort zones. But once you break past the shell, the inside is very soft, tender, and endearing. The town and its citizens care about one another and hold their values very close. Lastly, there is an amazing pearl of hope tucked away in Bayou La Batre. There is such potential for growth and positive opportunities for change. The uniqueness of this town is such a beautiful, prized possession, but also like clams, everyone’s taste is different. Some individuals enjoy seafood, others, not so much. For me personally, nothing will ever be able to change the appetite I’ve acquired for the town, customs, and people of Bayou La Batre, Alabama.


‘Good People’ make summer blessing to remember By Mary Beth Snow I’ve been out of Collinsville for a few weeks now, but I still miss it every day. Little things will get to me. I’ll drive past Jack’s (the eating establishment where I ate probably at least 25 percent of my meals this summer) in Decatur and wish I was at the Jack’s in Collinsville having breakfast with Mr. Myles, or I’ll see a group of kids playing and wish that I was with the beautiful children from our summer reading group. The 10 weeks I spent in Collinsville were incredible in a way that I’m not sure I’ll be able to describe, but this blog post will be my attempt. At the beginning of last school year, I thought I would be spending this summer doing a long-term mission trip in the Dominican Republic. Ann Faulk, who is the woman I babysit for at home and also my second mother, reminded me to pray a lot and make sure that I went where God wanted me, not just where I saw myself. I didn’t know at that point that he wanted me in Collinsville, or even that Collinsville existed. But as is always the case, God has better (albeit slightly random) plans for me than I have for myself. I met Dr. Mark Wilson, the head of the Living Democracy Program, outside on the concourse a few days before classes started. We talked briefly about Living Democracy, and I was interested, so we made plans to talk at the College of Liberal Arts scholarship reception that I would be attending with my parents. When Dr. Wilson explained the program to my father and listed off the involved communities, my dad made a com-

ment about the high Hispanic population in Collinsville. I was completely unaware of any attributes of any of the towns, but my dad, the principal of Austin High School in Decatur, was familiar with the ESL program there because we also have a strong one in Decatur. I have a passion for Hispanic people and culture, as my father already knew and Dr. Wilson would soon learn. I joined Living Democracy just because I wanted to go to Collinsville, and I spent a large part of fall semester praying that I would be placed there. The day that I finally knew for sure, I was ecstatic. We did a lot of research before going to our towns — I knew the demographics, the location, names of local officials, and important local businesses — but the knowledge and awareness I gained this summer is something I could have never learned on the internet. I am beyond grateful for all of the relationships I was able to form this summer and the people who gave their time and resources to make me feel at home. I want to thank Jennifer Wilkins, head librarian at the Collinsville Public Library, for being a better community partner than I could have imagined. From long discussions about flower


planters to small fiascos with homemade ice cream, we dealt with a million small decisions that made a big impact, and Jennifer always gave me the space and respect necessary for a healthy working situation. There were times we disagreed on plans of action, but we always came to a compromise, and all of our projects were so blessed. I also want to thank Miss Margaret, Linda, and Kayla, the superstar library crew, for the lunches and talks we shared, the help they gave and just for being there every day, keeping the library running. I want to thank Myles Smith for the dozens of meals we shared at Jack’s and Don Chico’s, and more importantly, the guidance and the stories shared over those meals. Myles drove me around and introduced me to half of Collinsville, often ending us up in situations where I had to translate a conversation between a citizen who didn’t speak English and Myles, who didn’t speak Spanish. He was always patient and incredibly kind to everyone. I think that it’s not that Myles ignores differences between people, but rather that he just doesn’t notice them, and his way of loving everyone he comes in contact gave me more hope in humanity and still reverberates in my mind daily. After talking to some of the other Living Democracy fellows, I realized how blessed I was to get to live with a family and not alone. Carlos, Maria and Abigail Perez were like a second family this summer, and I am so grateful that they welcomed me into not only their home but also their church, the Hispanic Church of Christ that Carlos pastors. A summer of speaking only Spanish at their home did wonders for my speaking skills, and the guidance they shared over meals was encouraging and insightful. I very much miss the whole family and the church congregation, especially Juanita and Elizabeth Morales, both of whom loved me like their own family member and brightened my days constantly. I was also blessed with the help of some pretty awesome high school students. Deanna McKinney, Tiffany Pruitt, Malik Mathis, Shaq Dupree, Deanna Morales, Naomi Cummings, and 108

Linda Pedro gave me so much assistance in planting flowers and herding little children. Without their help my summer would have been a lot more difficult and a lot less entertaining. Another special thanks goes out to Roger Dutton and the Collinsville Historical Society, for all of their cooperation on projects, and to Rebecca Clayton, Gail Moore and Martha Barksdale for sharing the history of Collinsville with myself and a group of my high school students by showing us the Collinsville History Museum and “Little Collinsville,” a collection of models of Collinsville buildings that depicts the town in days gone by. I would also like to thank Johnnie Mac and Patricia Edwards, Jackie and Joann Myers, Donnie and Margaret Myers, and Rebecca Clayton for welcoming me into their homes and sharing stories with me about Collinsville’s past and present. There may only be around 2,000 people in the town of Collinsville, and you do have to drive to another town to get to Wal-Mart, but I was so blessed by the opportunity to spend 10 weeks around some of the best people I’ve ever met. Whenever I try to describe people from Collinsville, I often end up saying “they’re just good people.” It sounds simple, but it really says it all. I was incredibly blessed beyond words by the time I spent in Collinsville and the people I was able to meet while there, and I can’t wait to go back. So on that note… I’ll see y’all at Turkey Trot!


Progress not always easy, but always possible By Alexis Sankey Living Democracy 2012 I finished my final week in Elba with a great celebration. As I leave to return to Auburn University this fall, it is with a much more bittersweet feeling than I ever anticipated. We ended the actual JumpstART classes on July 24 with our class field trip to Coffee County Lake. We had a blast there! The kids were excited to be outside doing art, but I think they were a little more excited about the pizza picnic that was provided! Some really great artwork came out of the trip, as well as some more fond memories for everyone.  The final event of our whole summer, the art show on Friday, July 27, was everything we had been working toward for the entire summer. We had a great turnout! The coffeehouse was full of the JumpstART students and their families and friends. Before the program began, we held a showing of all the art pieces the kids had been working on. The students were so excited to see their own masterpieces framed and put on the walls next to their peers. Seeing their faces light up from their own accomplishments was probably my favorite part of the night. We had some refreshments and an awards ceremony after the gallery viewing. When that part concluded, we had a special presentation, which consisted of a slideshow of our summer memories of JumpstART. It featured candid shots of all the students doing art and having fun throughout the program. It was a great event overall. The response and attendance was well above anything I expected. This Living Democracy experience in Elba has done a great deal to shape my views and understanding of community and civic life. In terms

of community life, being here this summer taught me that it takes the vision of one with the support of many to get an idea off the ground and running. It is important to make connections and relationships with anybody you meet because you never know when you might need their support or insight on something. The connections that are made in a small town are a big part of community and civic life. In terms of civic life, I have learned that there is no issue too small to be decided upon by the local citizens. Citizens are actually given a lot of freedom to make choices about how their town is run and in what way they would like for things to happen. It takes a lot of decision making to run a town, but when the citizens and the local government work together and listen to one another, it is definitely not impossible.I have so many wonderful people to thank for making my summer experience everything I ever wanted and more. I’d like to first thank my community partner, Mart Gray, for realizing the need for visual arts in the city of Elba. I’d also like to thank Patti Johnson and Jerrice Davis for allowing me to hold the program and do whatever else I needed in Just Folk Coffeehouse. There were many days where I needed help planning something or printing out information, and they were always right there to lend a suggestion or a helping hand. I’d like to thank Mayor Mickey Murdock for making me feel welcome in Elba. He also welcomed me to the city council meeting where I introduced myself and the project to the citizens of Elba. I appreciate the


tour I was given of City Hall and all the other little tidbits of information Mayor Murdock offered. I really appreciate Laurie Chapman and Justin Maddox for allowing me to interview them and document their amazing businesses and stories. I gained so much insight on small businesses and how they can help small towns. I also would like to thank Brandy Cohen and everyone else working at the Senior Citizens Center. They allowed me to step in and volunteer my time to work with them. Because of their help in providing me that opportunity, I met so many people and heard stories that would not have been possible to know without working with them. I would also like to thank the regular people who attend the center for recreation. They were so nice and accepting of me being there and helping out. I know how hard it can be to accept new people, so I really appreciate their understanding. Other than the art program I was working on, I would say that working with the Senior Citizens Center was the most rewarding experience I had in Elba. I have made relationships that will hopefully last for a long time. Very special thanks go out to Farris English. She was the volunteer who helped me work with the children during the whole summer. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without her help. She was such a good sport about everything we had to do. Not only did she help me with the art program, but because she was from the area, she was able to provide me with vital information that I might not have known otherwise. She was a blessing to work with and a great person to get to know in general. It’s rare these days to get teenagers to want to work with children or do anything outside of what they already have planned. It is always great to see young people in a community

work hard for something in their community. I’ll never be able to thank her enough. Last, but not least, I’d like to thank Bob and Melanie Roberson for opening up their home to me while I was in Elba. They were such great people. I was really glad to have found them because they made me feel so comfortable. I didn’t feel like I was completely alone in the town after I moved in with them. They actually cared about the program and about how my time in Elba was progressing. Although we didn’t see each other much because we were usually on different schedules, the conversations we did have were priceless to me because they made me feel welcome and tried to keep me informed about their lives and everything that was happening in Elba. I’ve gained so much from being in Elba this summer. I have definitely gained more selfassurance. I know that I can do so much more than I ever knew possible. I realize that progress is not easy, especially when working with and depending on lots of different people. However, it’s always possible. In one way or another, you can get ahead and do good things. There were times this summer where I was just completely drained and a little discouraged. However, with the encouragement of everyone else in Living Democracy I realized that I wasn’t alone in facing roadblocks. Hearing how they overcame and pushed through situations helped me to do the same. I’m a different person because of this summer. I can’t wait to apply everything I’ve learned to my own life and to future community endeavors that I hope to be involved in, wherever I may be. I’m blessed to have been a part of such a unique and progressive program like Living Democracy, and I won’t hesitate to use the knowledge gained here to help other people.



True appreciation of place, people requires time By Marian Royston Living Democracy 2012 My time in Hobson City has come to an end, and I can honestly say that the experience has greatly shaped my outlook on community development. Although it was only was only a ten week engagement, I feel like I was there for much longer. In that time frame I was able to immerse myself in the community and understand how it works by becoming a citizen. I know that I will carry a part of Hobson City with me, and it is my hope that I left a little bit of me there. Living Democracy in Hobson City has taught me the true meaning of community and civic engagement and taught me a lot about my personal strengths and weaknesses along the way. Community development isn’t easy by any means. I think that’s the biggest lesson I took away from my summer experience. Working on the community needs assessment for the greatest part of my summer inadvertently threw me headfirst into community politics. I listened as people discussed issues that mattered to them and discovered that one issue could be framed several different ways. For that very reason, I understand the necessity of community dialogue. Citizens need to have face-to-face interactions in order to work through issues effectively. I’ve come to believe that in order for lasting change to occur in a community that citizens must be able to communicate with one another. I also learned a lot about myself. I expected a lot at the beginning of my summer but in depth personal discovery was not on my list. Instead, Living Democracy pushed me to do more than I thought myself capable of. I’ve learned the value of being proactive. Sometimes, we have to create our own opportunities, and I found myself doing that more than ever between the needs assessment and historical research.  I had the freedom to plan my days and make the most of my time.

Additionally, I stretched my creativity by first finding new ways to attract citizens to participate in the projects. I truly believe that my summer experience has changed me as a person for the better. As a result of working with the Hobson City Community and Economic Development Corporation as well as the citizens of Hobson City, I have a new appreciation of the work required to be a true change agent. I also better understand why community development is such a worthy cause. Although not everyone agrees on the means by which to improve Hobson City, they are all bound together by the love they have for their home. Hobson City is a special place, and it is like no other. The citizens of the community realize that and it drives them to work diligently towards saving it. After this summer I believe that every place big or small has something that makes it special and worthy of preservation. In order to discover what that is, it is necessary to spend time there and talk to those who know that place the best. Living Democracy afforded me that opportunity, and I am forever grateful for the program as well as the community that was generous to accommodate me all summer. I strongly believe in the value of community revitalization. Moreover, I believe that it can and should be done in a democratic fashion. There is a place for everyone in the process, and it is important for leaders to step up and make sure that everyone has a place at the table. This summer was life changing, and I don’t regret my decision to participate in the program.



Memories, friendships continue past summer By Blake Evans Living Democracy 2012 I know that my Living Democracy in Linden experience will be invaluable to me as I finish my college career and continue beyond graduation. I greatly appreciate the time I spent in Linden.  While there, I gained insight into the hard work that allows a city to be an effective municipality.  Also, the experience uniquely shaped my view of community and civic engagement.  There were many impactful moments in my ten weeks in Linden, but I think the seemingly little things are what I will remember most. I was very impressed with the many people who contribute to the success and improvement of Linden.  From each person in City Hall to every Department of Public Works employee and everyone in between, each individual has a unique role that molds Linden into a great community.  For example, Mayor Gates works as a high school English teacher, but she always takes time to assure that her duties as mayor of Linden are fulfilled.  Her

efforts serve as an example of true dedication to all the citizens of the city. Other examples of people who work for the betterment of Linden include Mr. Bruce Ward, Mrs. Ashley Drake, Mrs. Wendy Lewis, and Mrs. Cheryl Hall, who each serve in positions in City Hall where they are in constant interaction with the public.  Their positions come with unique challenges, but they persevere through each and every obstacle. The Department of Public Works employees dedicate their lives to maintaining Linden’s reputation as an excellent place to live.  They provide excellent utility services and work extremely hard to keep Linden looking beautiful by cutting the grass and picking up trash.  During my ten weeks in Linden, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to read water meters one day with Department of Public Works employee Wallace Walker.  This experience gave me a unique perspective of the efforts that are required from Linden Public Works employees to keep life good in Linden.


Also, my time in Linden shaped the way I now perceive community and civic engagement. I was fortunate enough to spend much time around people who are very active in Linden’s community life.  When I think of community and civic engagement, I think of Mr. James Creel sacrificing the upper room of Linden’s fire station for ten weeks so that I, a college student, could live in it.  I also think of the fact that Mr. Creel wants to contribute over one hundred years of combined service between him and his dad to the city of Linden.  Currently, they have contributed 97 years of service.   Furthermore, when I think of community and civic engagement, Mr. Mike Peppenhorst comes to mind.  He is remodeling an old antebellum house that sits just off Linden’s main street.  He is working hard to take something that has been an eye-sore in the city for numerous years and make it into something that can be a source of pride in Linden. Both Mr. Creel and Mr. Peppenhorst are models of community and civic engagement.  Before participating in the Living Democracy Initiative, I knew information about good citizenship,

but my time in Linden supplemented my knowledge with real life examples. I could have spent an excessive amount of time in a classroom, but this Living Democracy experience is the only way that that I could have truly seen and learned the positive effects of an active citizenry. From my time in Linden, I am walking away with many memories, but the small, unexpected ones are the ones that have been cemented in my brain forever.  For example, the day I spent reading water meters was unforgettable.  It gave me specific insight into the dedication that is required to make a place a home that is suitable for people to live in. Also, on the night of my final public celebration in Linden, Mr. Creel made a comment to me that was significant.   He told me that he wanted his friendship with me to continue beyond the summer.  His comment served as a great indication to me that my summer was successful.  Through only ten weeks in Linden, I engrained myself as a Linden citizen, and that could never happen by sitting in a classroom.  The experiences offered through the Living Democracy Initiative are unique and invaluable.


Summer provides new understanding of rural life By Kaleb Kirkpatrick Living Democracy 2013 Living in rural southwest Alabama has been an extremely beneficial and rewarding experience during my ten weeks of Living Democracy in Linden. This time in Linden taught me more about how the “real world” operates than I ever could have imagined, helping open my eyes to rural life in America and especially in the Black Belt. I discovered both the benefits and disadvantages of living in a small town. Marengo County is certainly a different atmosphere than what I am used to in my hometown of Mobile. For example, I learned about having to drive almost 30 minutes to go to Wal-Mart. The people of Linden recognize the problems associated with small town rural life and yet they would never trade it for anything in the world. To be honest, I have grown quite fond of the quiet, rural life. It is really quiet on the weekends and at night especially. But, during the day in the local stores, it’s anything but silent. I think what I’ll miss the most about living in Linden is the simple fact that everyone knew my name. Whenever I walked into a store there was someone who would stop and say “Hey Kaleb. How are you today?” Coming from Mobile and as a student at Auburn University, I’m used to not seeing anyone I know when I go to the store.  The only conversation that occurs is the usual “Hi …how are you?” But in Linden, it’s totally different. The people actually want to know how you are. They care if you’re okay or not, and they want to know how your life is going. It’s almost a sense that they would rather spend all day talking with you about life than actually “get down to business”. Over the entire summer in Linden, I’ve learned so much about the Black Belt region and the problems that the entire area faces. I’ve also grown to understand what solutions are being implemented in order to alleviate those problems. Much of my understanding comes from the work my community partners are doing for the area.

Brenda Tuck, executive director of the Marengo County Economic Development Authority, pushes efforts vital to the entire region and to Alabama as a whole. Without industry and jobs, small towns like Linden may totally dry up. Kathryn Friday, also is providing valuable leadership for the community and region in her position as Marengo County Extension coordinator for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). The student career classes she is planning for the fall may help stop the “brain drain” occurring in Marengo County and other rural areas. I can only hope the Linden Art Walk I helped organize with my community partners this summer had a small impact to help downtown development and unity. Ten weeks of living in a rural community seems like a long time but it really isn’t. So much of it flies by in the small moments. Things like visiting the senior center or interviewing local citizens or attending the City Council meeting were extremely beneficial and enjoyable. It helped me to realize the people in Linden haven’t given up. They all want to fight and help Linden thrive. The people who run small businesses here help keep everything going. I’ve also learned some greater life lessons, especially that relationships count. I know that one day when I’m working in Washington, D.C., or wherever and if  Mrs. Friday  calls me asking for a favor, I will be more than happy to oblige.  Overall, this experience was extremely enjoyable and fulfilling for me. It helped me to grow and develop as a young adult.



Citizens stitch hope, history together By Mary Afton Day Living Democracy 2012 Marion has widened my eyes, in various and amazing ways. As hard as I tried, I did start the summer with preconceived notions and some bias. The first day at Sowing Seeds of Hope eased all my fears as Ms. Anne and Ms. Faye immediately welcomed me. Everything was going to work out all right and excitement began to replace the anxiety. Though I was readily welcomed into the SSOH family, the community still remained distant. It was and is, a challenge I willingly accepted. Marion is a town unlike any other. Earlier in the year we heard the expression, “if you’ve seen one Alabama town, you’ve still only seen one Alabama town.” Marion embodies this expression tenfold.  This is a community with a rich history of war heroes, Civil Rights activists and once-booming agriculture now struggling with the stagnant economy.  I have learned that the citizens of Marion, who some label as uncaring and nonchalant, are in their own unique ways bettering their future and their town.  Despite a divide between some citizens and officials, change has occurred and is occurring and will occur. The dreams of the elder citizens are to involve the youth, to keep them home. The most common description when I ask Marion citizens to describe their town is “home.”  Marion is Marion because of one simple truth: it’s home.  The empowerment of youth is a growing movement in Marion and Perry County as a whole. Parents, grandparents, elders can see that some youth are racing from the comforts of their home to find opportunities and build a life elsewhere. What I’ve witnessed up close this summer is the older generation’s efforts to involve 115

the youth, whether it is a sports camp, trips to prominent Civil Rights monuments in the surrounding areas, or creating a leadership class in the schools. These activities are based on the knowledge that the youth are the future of Marion. Working with Sowing Seeds of Hope has been an amazing opportunity outlet for myself and for Erica, the teen who I worked most closely with this summer. The director, Ms. Frances, opened so many doors for networking and projects. Marion is complex in its own unique way. There is a hierarchy of officials, but the existence of programs and organizations like Sowing Seeds of Hope are proof of daily change in the town. I anticipated a divide between races.  Everyone knows it is an issue, but many are working to mend and reestablish relationships for the future of Marion’s citizenry.  As the end of my summer nears, I know that my own acceptance into the community is proof that the love of a human, an individual, outweighs any tensions. Educated and eccentric outsiders who have moved into the community are devoting themselves to the area.  Citizens like David Austin, Laurette Turner, Don Coley and Jim Blanchett are bringing in diversity not only in race but also in beliefs and views. Personally, Marion has found a special place in my heart. If I were to introduce the world to Marion, I would compare her to a quilt, a community quilt—like the ladies of the West Perry Arts & Crafts Club create. An individual with his or her own story makes each stitch. The Marion community is made of varied individuals sewn together to create a beautiful work of art that is a home. Simply put Marion is a quilt, handmade, beautiful and based on the values and traditions of her history.

Selma/Old Cahawba

Experience provides adventure, life lessons By Taryn Wilson Living Democracy 2013 You can read every book in the world about swimming, be able to identify every stroke, even know the physics that make it possible, but that knowledge isn’t what keeps you afloat in the water. It’s your instinct that keeps you from drowning. This summer, I’ve found that Living Democracy isn’t all that different from swimming. Before I arrived in Selma I thought I had it all figured out. I knew what my plan was and what I needed to do to complete it in 10 weeks. I’d read just about all there is to read on the internet about Selma and its history. I printed off every name, phone number, and email that I thought might be useful at some point. I prepared myself like I would for a big test, reading over things repeatedly, cramming information into word documents and writing down things to remember. I felt pretty prepared, like I was ready for the final exam on in my “Selma 1000” class. But all of the reading and studying and note taking in the world can’t prepare you for reality. Words can’t communicate everything there is to experience in life. I read about the Edmund Pettus Bridge on multiple occasions, but nothing that I read talked about how the sounds it made when cars drive over it or the how you can barely see the stoplight on the other side when you’re driving into town. The web sites I read didn’t tell me how many times I would introduce myself, and

in some cases repeatedly introduce myself, to people. The books I scanned didn’t tell me about the awesome conversations I’d have in Wal-Mart about the benefits of gluten free diets and how to properly tie off stiches when crocheting a multicolored afghan (still haven’t mastered that one). All of the things that truly make a place what it is are things that you can’t read about or study for. The only way to prepare yourself is to experience it, and that’s what has made living in Selma such an adventure. Living Democracy in Selma has taught me a lot about how communities work and sometimes don’t work. Like any other community in the country, Selma has its positive points and its negative points, but it’s how the citizens work to empower the positive things and improve the negative things that really shed light on what community is. It’s not always going to be a smooth process. People are going to disagree, mistakes are going to be made, and someone is always going to have a “better” way to do something. But when it’s all said and done, the fact that there are disagreements and mistakes means that people care and are trying to make their community better. That empathy alone is something that some communities can’t cultivate in their citizens. Coming from a hometown in a totally different region with totally different concerns, it’s amazing to see that Selma has people who care and work


just as hard, if not harder, under different and more difficult circumstances. I don’t know that I could truly have understood these things before coming to Selma. I could have read about them, I could have had a discussion in a class about them, but nothing compared to seeing them first hand. And that is what makes Living Democracy here, and in any other community, so important. Some things can be taught, other things have to be discovered. They have to be experienced. And giving students the opportunity to get out and experience these things is what makes good, engaged citizens in the future. Having been here for most of the summer, I feel like I have just now gotten the hang of things.

I don’t turn down the wrong streets anymore, and I can maybe even recommend a restaurant or two for you to try, but I definitely wouldn’t go so far as to say I know Selma. I think in my 10 weeks here, I have probably only scratched the surface of all that Selma has to offer. And that’s the way it should be. To truly understand a community, you shouldn’t be able to gain the necessary knowledge in 10 weeks. It takes years of ups and downs, crises and celebrations to really know and be a part of a community. So, I suppose, if Living Democracy is like swimming, and Selma is like a pool, I’ve managed to tread water, doggy paddle at the most. I’m no Michael Phelps, but if we are measuring who learned the most from their experience this summer, I bet I’d win the gold. 117


Driven to discover democracy in Alabama By Nathan Simone Living Democracy Community Reporter I thought I knew Alabama. Far from being a native, I can see now that my residence for four years in “The Loveliest Village on the Plains” had tricked me into thinking that I could ever know enough about such a diverse state to be able to honestly say to people “Alabama, yeah I’ve lived there. Let me tell you about it.” Football, farmers and fisheries constituted my “vast” knowledge of what comprised the majority of Alabama resident’s time and, to be completely honest, I never saw a reason to step out of these boundaries because most people I met could associate excitedly with one of the three. For almost my entire four years of college I also didn’t own a car, so beside walking and effectively using Tiger Transit as Auburn’s own version of mass transportation (a great way to see the city), my actual scope of the state was limited to a few trips to Birmingham, a passing through Montgomery and a much-remembered trip to a friend’s house in Little River where I was introduced to “mud ridin’.”

Fast forward to spring semester of 2013, where I was blessed with finally owning a car (the suave and often-quoted Kia Soul) and given the opportunity to work with a program that had a more-than-interesting name: Living Democracy. My job? Travel around the state to the seven communities where Living Democracy students were residing and document their unique experiences with words and images. Furthermore, I would have conversations with members in the community to discuss its assets, problems, hopes and possible solutions, simply hoping to create an engaging dialogue. In this respect I was able to meet a wide variety of Alabama citizens on a personal level, if only for a short time. My stays in some of the communities such as Collinsville and Bayou La Batre were both exciting and eye opening. On one hand the students usually had plans that I would tag along with, offering me glimpses of their new everyday lives, relationships formed, hardships overcome and a truer sense of what it meant to be a local. On the other was simple observation of my surroundings, things that cannot and will never be described accurately by a textbook, report, photographs or even video.


Much like the indescribable spirit of Yes, rural Alabama has its problems, but it also has untapped solutions that reside within the residents of these areas if only leaders within their own community can appropriately rally individuals to see the change working for the greater good can bring to everyone, including themselves. The events I witnessed and stories I wrote speak for themselves on our blog,, so I won’t get into details or mistakenly favor the experiences of one community over the other, but I ask that readers realize that to know and try to understand a place, you must visit. In thinking of what I learned in school versus what I learned on the road and in the various settlements across the state, I’m reminded of a quote by the late Steve Jobs: “I’m not dismissing the value of higher education; I’m simply saying it comes at the expense of experience.” It rings truer than ever to me now. While I loved Auburn’s journalism school, there’s only so much you can learn in a classroom before it’s time to hit the streets, no matter what your profession. To say the least, the idea of “community” has been forefront in my mind ever since I moved

back to Atlanta from Auburn. I can’t decide whether it’s living in a “big city” that makes people act a certain way or if the act of community is becoming a lost art, but business transactions seem awfully stiff unless I genuinely ask someone how their day is going or address them by name. Some respond warmly, others don’t. I’ve also tried asking people in grocery stores for recommendations on things, but the response has also been mixed. I haven’t given up hope that at their core people are decent and kind individuals, but before I participated in Living Democracy I was oblivious at how individualistic, busy and (sometimes) cold people in America have become. How hard is it to smile? Sometimes when I can’t get to sleep at night, I’ll lay awake and think to myself “What is community? How do you build it? What would happen if I knocked on all my neighbors’ doors and asked for help on a project?” The answers to these questions and more seem like they would be incredibly simple, but are far from it. I’m intensely grateful for participating in a one-of-a-kind program that jumpstarted my critical thinking to such a degree that I’m conscious of how friendly and engaged I am on any given day, realizing that parts of where I live are incredible assets and not just buildings or geographic formations. In a sense I feel like I’m finally living democracy, and that feels good. Maybe that’s all America needs to be reminded of these days. 119

Auburn Students Become Small-Town Citizens for the Summer

Students Home




July 9, 2012 Auburn Students Become Small-Town Citizens for the Summer By Libby Sander From his tiny apartment above the B.W. Creel Fire Station, Blake Evans is contemplating life in Linden, Alabama, population 2,123. Residents of a small town—Mr. Evans, a rising senior at Auburn

By Libby Sander The Chronicle of Higher Education From his tiny apartment above the B.W. Creel Fire Station, Blake Evans is contemplating life in Linden, Alabama, population 2,123. Residents of a small town—Mr. Evans, a rising senior at Auburn University, wrote in a recent paper—appreciate qualities that passing visitors often overlook. Although a visitor to this rural community, he is hardly passing through: He's one of seven Auburn students placed in towns across the state this summer as part of a civicengagement program called Living Democracy. Auburn and the Kettering Foundation, in Ohio, started Living Democracy in 2010 to help students develop a distinct sense of place as they take on projects their assigned communities choose. This summer's group is the first to take part in a yearlong curriculum, which began last fall. One woman, a sophomore, is connecting youth in Valley, Ala., to a business-development project. A recent graduate is in Selma, collaborating with civic groups to show young residents that there's more to their community than vestiges of the civil-rights-era incident known as Bloody Sunday. But expectations of students go far beyond completing those specific tasks. Dive in, the students are told. Immerse yourself in your community. Learn the personalities and politics that shape the place. Mr. Evans, a communications major, is writing a script for a professional video to attract new industry to the town, which took a hit several years ago when the local lumber mill laid off several hundred workers. He is also collaborating

University, wrote in a recent paper—appreciate qualities that passing visitors often overlook. Although a visitor to this rural community, he is hardly passing through: He's one of seven Auburn students placed in towns across the state this summer as part of a civic-engagement program called Living Democracy. Auburn and the Kettering Foundation, in Ohio, started Living Democracy in 2010 to help students develop a distinct sense of place as they take on projects their assigned communities choose. This summer's group is the first to take part in a yearlong curriculum, which began last fall. One woman, a sophomore, is connecting youth in Valley, Ala., to a business-development project. A recent graduate is in Selma, collaborating with civic groups to show young residents that there's more to their community than vestiges of the civil-rights-era incident known as Bloody Sunday. But expectations of students go far beyond completing those specific tasks. Dive in, the students are told. Immerse yourself in your community. Learn the personalities and politics that shape the place. Mr. Evans, a communications major, is writing a script for a professional video to attract new industry to the town, which took a hit several years ago when the local lumber mill laid off several hundred workers. He is also collaborating with students from the city's two high schools—mostly black Linden High School and mostly white Marengo Academy—on a photography project to identify features of the community worthy of praise and improvement. More than anything, Mr. Evans's job is to become, over the course of the summer, an engaged citizen of Linden.

with students from the city's two high schools— mostly black Linden High School and mostly white Marengo Academy—on a photography project to identify features of the community worthy of praise and improvement. More than anything, Mr. Evans's job is to become over the course of the summer, an engaged citizen of Linden. why he tagged along for a day with city employees as they read water meters and responded to, as he says discreetly, "a sewage issue." It's the reason he wanders about town taking pictures: an eatery called the J&K Whistle Stop; the grocery store, Papa's Foods; the county courthouse; the library; even the churches and banks. Once he spent a day with a gentleman who had bought a crumbling Victorian on Main Street just to restore it to its former grandeur. Mr. Evans "is just immersed in the community and understands what some of the challenges are and what some of the really positive aspects of Linden are that we might not even see," says Mitzi Gates, a city native who serves as mayor and teaches English at Linden High. For nearly three months, Mr. Evans will ponder Linden and its


people. "It's really interesting to me to figure out how a city runs from a technical aspect," he says. "But anytime you stay in a community for a time, you see the tough issues they're facing, and you see how they're combating them." A Different Classroom That kind of unstructured curiosity makes Living Democracy different from service-learning programs that have been popular among college students for years, says Mark Wilson, director of civic-learning initiatives at Auburn. "Usually it's about the students," he says. "It's about them doing something good for the world, which is great. But what happens is students who have episodic experiences leave without knowing much about the communities they've worked in, and leave having more pity than respect for the people." If students approach an experience with an attitude of discovery, he says—"Hey, what can I learn from local people?"—they are likely to gain more. For Angela Cleary, a senior at Auburn, Bayou La Batre was something of a surprise. In the small city on the Gulf of Mexico, known as Alabama's seafood capital, a sizable population of Southeast Asians works the shrimping boats. "I feel like I am in a completely different place," says Ms. Cleary, who is working with a local nonprofit group that provides social services to the Asian community. She has been thinking about what it means to be an American citizen, an exercise she never bothered with much until this past year. "A community is the smallest part of what can be considered a government," she says. "Until you live in a community and talk to people and listen to what they have to say, you'll never know what needs to be done," Ms. Cleary says. Young residents of Bayou La Batre, for instance, have told her they want to build a welcome sign with flowers. For the seven students now in the program, learning isn't a total free-for-all. Each day they file short dispatches to Mr. Wilson and Nan Fairley, an associate professor of journalism at Auburn. And every week the students write papers on what they've learned. Prompts guide them: After the first week, they had to explain what made their communities "unique and special." Another week they wrote about how citizens had approached a "wicked problem." As the summer progresses, students will delve into the dynamics of political life, citizen participation in crucial decisions, and how residents talk about issues that matter to them. By August, the students, who each get an $1,800 stipend and free housing, will have earned 12 credits toward a minor in community and civic engagement.


Connected to Place Living Democracy is part of a growing movement to use communities as classrooms, giving students more-dynamic learning environments, says Harry Boyte, director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, in Minneapolis, and a scholar of civic-engagement theory. Pedagogies for the 21st century will have to be more connected to place, he predicts, and will increasingly emphasize civic engagement. In that sense, says Mr. Boyte—whose research focuses on how people develop a sense of agency in shaping their communities—Living Democracy's is a pioneering approach. "Since lectures are going to go the way of the dodo bird," he says, "it's an enormously important example." Marian Royston, a history major, has found lessons in the tiny community of Hobson City, population about 800. Its claim to fame is its incorporation in 1899 as Alabama's first black municipality. In recent years, it has been plagued by poverty and a shrinking tax base. In collaboration with Hobson City Community & Economic Development Inc., Ms. Royston is interviewing residents on what services they think the community needs to get back on its feet. "I lived 45 minutes away from Hobson City my whole life," she says, "and never knew it existed till last year." The ties students create with their communities are ones that Mr. Wilson, the program's director, hopes to sustain. Some students say they plan to pursue careers in public service and build their lives in Alabama. Next year a new crop of students will fan out into the towns Auburn is working with—and possibly others. Ms. Royston, meantime, plans to write her senior thesis on Hobson City's unique history. Beyond that, she has her sights set on graduate school in community development or public service. For now she revels in the community's nascent reawakening. On the way out of town, she says, a road sign urges motorists to "Hurry back to the city of opportunity." A few years ago, she wrote in a recent paper, that would have been painfully ironic for residents of Hobson City. But now, she wrote, the message may again ring true.


Living Democracy  


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