B-metro May 2019 Issue

Page 1

Metro Birmingham Living


Celebrating the

Model Karneshia Shantel Author Lauren K. Denton Social Group The Bevy Comedian Amanda Marks

The Second Dress Project

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MAY $4.99 US



MAY 2019 $4.99

What Comes After the Wedding


Author Lauren K. Denton

Lindsey LuTz

passionate Witty Fashion Blogger

Hair + Makeup

Team Forecast pHoTograpHy

Liesa Cole

pHoTo sTyLisT

Mindi shapiro


205.506.0500 1707 28TH ave souTH BirMingHaM, aL 35209





Joe O’Donnell Editor/Publisher joe@b-metro.com

Robin Colter Creative Director robin@b-metro.com

Rosalind Fournier Associate Editor


ADVERTISING/MARKETING Joni Ayers Marketing Specialist joni@b-metro.com

Amy Tucker Marketing Specialist amy@b-metro.com

Elizabeth O’Donnell Accounting elizabeth@b-metro.com

Contributing Writers Javacia Bowser, Lee Ann Brown, Micah Cargo, Tom Gordon, Angela Karen, Joey Kennedy, Brett Levine, Lindsey Osborne, Cody Owens, Phillip Ratliff, Luke Robinson, Max Rykov

Contributing Photographers Billy Brown, Edward Badham, Marc Bondarenko, Cameron Carnes, Liesa Cole, Eric Dejuan, Larry O. Gay, Beau Gustafson, Angela Karen, Nik Layman, Jaysen Michael, Alison Miksch, Karim Shamsi-Basha, Jerry Siegel, Chuck St. John

B–Metro is published monthly by Fergus Media LLC 1314 Cobb Lane South Birmingham, AL 35205 (205) 202-4182 Printed by American Printing Co., Birmingham, AL






Power OF


Karneshia Shantel doesn’t let spina bifida get in the way of her dreams. Page 34.


contents MAY 19 Volume 10 Number 7

28. For the Love of Color

The Liberty Park home of Jennifer and Clark Cross is a study in color and fun in an unexpected Hollywood Regency style. Written by Joe O’Donnell Photography by Edward Badham

34. Modeling Diversity

Model, athlete, and nail artist Karneshia Shantel has never let spina bifida get in the way of her dreams.

Written by oe O’Donnell

Author Lauren K. Denton. Photo by Beau Gustafosn. Design by Robin Colter.

46. The Second Dress Project Life after the wedding day.

Metro Birmingham Living

Photography by Charity Ponter

76. Diamond in the City

More than a decade of glistening jewelry and community involvement has earned Diamonds Direct a special place in the city.

38. One Character at a Time

80. Pepper Place

Written by Rosalind Fournier Photography by Beau Gustafson


Whether standing up on a stage or chatting about a whole lot of nothing on a podcast, Amanda Goldstein Marks loves to share.

Written by Rosalind Fournier Photography by Beau Gustafson

How Laura K. Denton learned to love writing.


42. Funny Girl

From food to design to everyday needs, Pepper Place has played a major role in revitalizing the city.


Celebrating the

Model Karneshia Shantel Author Lauren K. Denton Social Group The Bevy Comedian Amanda Marks

40. The L Word IRL


Proud Partner of the Auburn Tigers

Proud Partner of the Alabama Crimson Tide


What Comes After the Wedding


www.diamondsdirect.com MAY $4.99 US

52. The Power of Women Profiles in success.

(205) 201-7400

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SPECIAL SECTION 2800 Cahaba Village Plz, Birmingham, AL 35243


Written by Sydney Duncan Photography by Beau Gustafson

The Second Dress Project MAY 2019 $4.99


The Bevy offers a chance to belong for someone who may be struggling to find their community.


Author Lauren K. Denton

Medical expertise is important. Knowing how much we care is essential. A COMMUNITY BUILT ON CONNECTION We never forget that there’s more to care than medicine. There’s compassion. Attentiveness. And a healthy dose of kindness. Which is why when it comes to your care, all of us are here to treat you well. Find a physician at BrookwoodBaptistHealth.com Brookwood Baptist Medical Center | Citizens Baptist Medical Center | Princeton Baptist Medical Center | Shelby Baptist Medical Center | Walker Baptist Medical Center


departments may

12. Chronicle by Joe O’Donnell 14. Currents: Food, art, fun, parties you missed, things you should know 22. Personal Space: Melanie Bidgeforth, CEO of the Women’s Fund 24. Bleacher Seat by Luke Robinson 25. The Glamorous Life by Lee Ann Brown 26. B’ham to the Max by Max Rykov 27. B-Yourself by Angela Karen 88. B—Curious by Joey Kennedy

Featured home on page 28. Photos by Edward Badham


Chronicle T

he power of women is extraordinary, impacting all of our lives from home to work to government and the social fabric that hold us all together. Each May we put together a series of stories that capture the power of women to impact our lives, as well as their own. Beginning on page 34, you will find the story of Karenshia Shantel, who never let spina bifida get in the way of her pursuit of a modeling career. You will read about Laura K. Denton whose career as a novelist is in full bloom. Amanda Goldstein Marks also has a career that has taken her unexpected places from the stand-up stage to a podcast where she shares the microphone with her sister.


The Bevy is a support group for LGBTQ women who have found one another and the support they all need and share. We asked photographer Charity Ponter to share her Second Dress photography project with us. The series of photos captures the arc of life that happened to these women after their wedding day, by turns tragic, illuminating and empowering. The story begins on page 46. I hope you enjoy this month’s issue.


Sydney Duncan is an author and writer drawn to creating stories about identity set among our common human experiences. As a pro bono attorney for Birmingham AIDS Outreach, her practice of law focuses on issues affecting the LGBTQ community. She lives in the city with her two children. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @SLDuncanBooks.


Charity Ponter is a freelance and fine art photographer specializing in portrait and editorial photography. Refusing to be a prisoner of personal style, trends, or expectations, Charity empathetically allows the nature and reality of each project she undertakes to inform the vision and shooting style with which is it carried out. Her aim is to reveal intimate connection with her subjects and allow the viewer to gain fresh perspectives, forming new ideas about our world and our connection to each other. Photo by Jomathan Purvis




hether you were left scratching your head in confusion or had your brain completely rearranged about the intersection and nature of art and music, it was impossible to walk away from a Davey Williams gig without having your perspective on creativity permanently challenged or changed, and hopefully for the better. A world-renowned experimental guitar player and lifelong Surrealist, whose deep roots in the Southern blues tradition through his apprenticeship with the late Delta and Chicago blues master Johnny Shines (himself a peer and traveling partner of Robert Johnson) made him one of the most singular and influential figures in the worlds of both Alabama and avant-garde music, Williams cut a distinct path in his quest to redefine the possibilities of his chosen instrument that have reverberated well into the 21st century. Revered by everyone from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore to Wilco’s Nels Cline, his irreverent approach to music-making as a six string gunslinger and pioneer of “extended techniques” for guitar— all imbued with a unique sense of whimsy and humor—made him an underground hero for generations of musicians looking to stretch sonic boundaries to their breaking point and beyond. Having recently succumbed to a yearlong battle with spinal cancer at the age of 66, he left behind a towering legacy of music, writing, and visual art that is unparalleled in both Birmingham and the state at large for its remarkable breadth and highly idiosyncratic point of view. Born in the small town of York, AL in 1952, Williams first took up the guitar at the age of 12 and would soon find himself in the company of a career-spanning partner-in-crime in the form of high school friend Tim Reed whom he would play with in the band Wally du Goombah prior to joining and touring with Johnny Shines’ group, The Stars of Alabama, in 1971. The foundation of a lifelong musical partnership, the two would soon find themselves at the center of a highly progressive arts and music scene in Tuscaloosa at the University of Alabama through a group of like-minded mutual friends in the Raudelunas: a Dada-inspired art collective that would birth Reed’s alter-ego—satir-




ical “stripmine crooner” Rev. Fred Lane, whom Williams would record three riotously funny albums with—as well as the humble beginnings of the American free improv movement. It was also during this time, and through the collective, that he would meet his greatest creative partner through his introduction to violinist and multi-instrumentalist LaDonna Smith, whom he would record and tour the world with as part of Transcendprovisation (later Trans Duo), which would ultimately lead to the founding of the revolutionary Trans Museq record label and The Improvisor music journal, both of which would find a home base in Birmingham after the couple moved here in 1978. Considered among the world’s leading practitioners of “spontaneous composition”—musical explorations created live-and-in-the-moment, completely unmoored from traditional structural components beyond the musicians’ own instantaneous creative impulses and well-attuned ears— together Williams and Smith would help shine both a national and international spotlight on our hometown in ways few musicians have either before or since. Having also left his mark on the “Downtown music” scene of New York’s Lower East Side through his work with the band Curlew, whom he would tour and record with from 1986 to 2002, he would also collaboDavey Williams rate with some of the most respected Photo by Janice Hathaway improvising musicians from around the globe, including everyone from John Zorn and Eugene Chadbourne, to Derek Bailey and Günter Christmann—as well as fellow “outsider” Southern artists like Col. Bruce Hampton and the Shaking Ray Levis—relentlessly pursuing a life of experimentation whose only Alabama antecedent would be the great Sun Ra. A major presence on the local music scene as well over the years through his work with Improvisor festivals and bands like Trains In Trouble, Fuzzy Suns, and Bojang Whyhigh— among countless others—Davey would take his place as one of the most enduring and inspirational figures to ever come from the Magic City. And with him gone, there’ll be just a little less magic for us to pass around. Having recorded one last album with Rev. Fred Lane due out later this year on Feeding Tube Records, luckily for Birmingham, we’ll all have one last chance to catch it again and let Davey have the last laugh. And that’s just the way he’d want it.

GET HEALTHY ON THE RAILROAD We love Railroad Park. We even got engaged there, and the love affair continues—between us, of course, but also with our favorite outdoor urban escape. When we find free time, one of our favorite things to do is to walk around the track for exercise. Now there are even more ways to stay fit while enjoying Birmingham’s front lawn! Get Healthy on the Railroad is a series of daily exercise classes happening now through the end of October: Enjoy Hip-Hop Cardio Mondays, Bootcamp Tuesdays, Zumba Wednesdays, Yoga Thursdays, and Family Fun Fridays. All are free to the public and a lot of fun! Get more info at railroadpark.org.

Russell & Amber

SliceFest 2019

in the ‘Ham

An epic Birmingham block party in Lakeview, SliceFest 2019—held this year on Saturday, June 1—will feature great live music, fun vendors, drinks, and yes, a lot of pizza! The activities begin at 1 p.m., including a family-friendly kid zone, and the energy turns up a notch as the sun goes down with a musical lineup that includes Yacht Rock Revue, CBDB, Magic City Hippies, The Stooges Brass Band, Bailey Ingle, and more. We recommend the VIP upgrade so you can enjoy food and drinks (included) indoors where it’s nice and cool. This is a pizza party you don’t want to miss.

Baba Java Roaster & Cafe Two words: Yemen coffee! We met the owners of Baba Java at this year’s Alabama Coffee Fest. Since then, they have opened a permanent location in the Riverchase area, and it is already one of our favorite spots. They roast beans in house and have a Yemen coffee that is one of the best cups of joe we have ever had. Be sure to try the traditional Turkish coffee as well. The cafe has both tables that are perfect for your laptop as well as comfy seating where you can lounge with friends. Baba Java also serves up local treats from Customs Cafe, Forest Bear Bakery, Big Bee Pastries, Highland Gourmet Scones, and Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes. What’s not to love? 4730 Chace Cir, Ste 124, Hoover, AL 35244


LOCAL 2019

For the past five years, our friends at the Alys Stephens Center have hosted LOCAL, a festival celebrating all things Alabama! June 15th marks the 6th year for you to head to Alys at 5 p.m. and enjoy local food, local vendors, local artists, and local bands! Bring a blanket and some bag chairs and get ready for a relaxing evening for the whole family. The bands this year are Ingrid Marie, Evan Pezant, and Act of Congress. We hope to bump into you as we shop, eat, and relax on the lawn! B-METRO.COM






Automatic Seafood and Oysters brings a healthy respect for the fish to the city’s newest seafood restaurant. Written by Joe O’Donnell • Photography by Beau Gustafson


dam Evans is back home, in his own kitchen, in one of the city’s newest restaurants and it’s an amazing feeling, a homecoming yes but also the realization of a dream. Automatic, named for the Automatic Sprinkler Company that once occupied this 1940s-era warehouse, will showcase fish sourced primarily from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as oysters from the waters along the Southern and Eastern coastlines. The variety and bounty of the Gulf is what intrigues Evans and informs his menu selection. Evans and his wife, interior designer Suzanne Humphries Evans, found the building (which once housed the dance club, Aqua) shortly after moving back to their home state of Alabama with a plan to open their own place. Evans had worked in top-tier kitchens such as Craft in New York City, La Petite Grocery in

New Orleans, and Brezza Cucina and The Optimist in Atlanta. Adam was born in Muscle Shoals, Suzanne (who has also opened her own design business in Birmingham) is from Arab. Together they have brought to Birmingham their own vision of what a great restaurant should be. “I always thought, ‘I’m going to come back to Birmingham one day and open our restaurant,’” says Evans. What Adam and Suzanne have opened is a stellar new addition to the Birmingham dining scene. Located on the border of two of the hottest locations in town, Pepper Place and Lakeview, the restaurant has brought new life to a neglected corner. Starkly white, with large windows, Automatic Seafood makes a statement and patrons have responded with a lineup of cars outside and a very active bar inside. B-METRO.COM


Chef/owner Adam Evans

The restaurant features an open kitchen opposite the building-length bar. In between are tables and banquettes that have an air of casual elegance. The lighting plays nicely off the broad windows, creating just the right atmosphere for a night out. The menu is heavily seafood-oriented, yet full of variety as well and it changes frequently. Oysters from the Gulf to Nova Scotia lead off the menu, along with chilled items such as peel and eat shrimp 18


and marinated crab claws. Three salads are offered, simple green, spinach Caesar and arugula. For starters you can order a plate of yeast rolls with cultured honey butter, or perhaps an octopus a la plancha with yogurt, pickled peppers and herb salad. The fin fish this evening ranged from Alaskan Halibut to wok-roasted crispy New England cod to blackened Gulf cobia. Non-seafood entrees included a large pork

chop, hangar steak or roasted chicken with braised greens and salsa verde. Among the dessert offerings were a plate of cookies that featured everything from a salted chocolate chip to Automatic’s take on a fortune cookie. There were no words of good fortune hidden inside the cookie, but from the Sunday night crowd and the buzz about the place Automatic looks to have a bright future in Birmingham.



the PARTY you missed The 8th Annual Airwave Block Party benefitting the Black Warrior, Cahaba, and Coosa Riverkeepers was held this spring at Good People Brewing. Good food, good music and good people all came together to fight for clean water. Photos by Jaysen Michael.






elanie Bridgeforth is president and CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, which works to accelerate economic opportunity for women and their families through philanthropy, research and advocacy. A fifth-generation Alabamian and descendent of a former slave who established a farm in Limestone County before Reconstruction, which

still operates today, Bridgeforth has long made a name for herself in the simple business of changing the world—through non-profits, public policy development, advocacy, and now at The Women’s Fund. Bridgeforth recently took a moment to tell us about what drives her.

B-Metro: You’ve been executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children and Alabama’s governmental relations director for the American Heart Association, among other impactful positions in the community. Was there anything that felt like a different kind of challenge or responsibility when you took the helm at The Women’s Fund? Bridgeforth: The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham represented an opportunity to leverage my years of experience in non-profit executive management, expertise in public policy development, legislative advocacy, and strategic communications as well as my statewide platform and relationships as a catalyst for elevating a credible philanthropic organization with a sound mission to that of an influencer and powerful voice for women. Moving into the world of philanthropy was a significant shift for me professionally and a new level of responsibility—one that I welcomed because philanthropy is one of the greatest tools for social change.

my parents especially, who rejected labels like “bossy” and “opinionated” used to describe me and replaced them with words like “confident” and “bold.” They taught me that my voice absolutely matters and that it should be used in service to others.

B-Metro: Politics—and by extension, policy—have become so divisive in recent years. Is there any issue the Women’s Fund touches where you and your staff have to be careful in how you frame your agenda? Bridgeforth: It is vitally important to clearly and accurately articulate our mission and vision for change. Our aspiration to change systems to accelerate economic opportunity for women—and by extension entire communities—aligns with the compassionate and kindhearted people of Alabama. We promote common sense solutions that promote the common good. What can be more unifying than that? B-Metro: What were you like as a kid or teenager? Have you always had strong opinions about righting wrongs in the community? Bridgeforth: For as long as I can remember I’ve been consumed with the social ills of the world and what I now know to be concepts of fairness and equity. Speaking out against wrongdoings came as natural then as it does now. In hindsight this had a great deal to do with my upbringing and the messages sent to me by 22


B-Metro: Who is your greatest mentor? Bridgeforth: I think often of how lucky I am to have my best friend, role model, and mentor wrapped into one human being— which happens to be my mom. She is as compassionate as she is strong. While my father instilled important values of being fearless and tough, my mom taught me to be kind and self-aware. When society sent me messages that were destructive to my sense of self-worth, my mom was always there waiting in the wings to counter those messages with a constant reminder of my inherent greatness. B-Metro: Other than the fabulous position you have—can you name one dream job that sounds crazily exciting to you? Astronaut, ballet dancer, Oprah? Bridgeforth: I get to wake up every day and do what I love. It’s actually quite hard to imagine myself doing anything else. Although not my chosen career paths, I very much enjoy fashion and interior design—both of which I dabble in. Being an interior designer by day and an image consultant by night would be quite the combination! B-Metro: What is the most important thing you want people to know about The Women’s Fund? Bridgeforth: Modern-day women are at the forefront of philanthropic engagement and impact, which is to be applauded. Yet, those same giving patterns demonstrate that less than seven percent of U.S. philanthropy targets benefiting the lives of women and girls. Gender-impact investing has immense potential for positive social change, not only for women, but for their families and communities. It lifts everyone. Everywhere I go, I encourage people to give and target your gift in a way that lifts all ships. Investing in women produces that outcome.


After failing to make the cheer squad in middle school, Bridgeforth, determined, doubled down until she made the cut in high school.

Melanie Bridgeforth Photo by Beau Gustafson




Sleep Talking

Sweet dreams are made of this? By Luke Robinson


ou guys mind if I talk about sleep in this column? (No, you couldn’t stop me if you wanted to and, yes, I see the irony in a column that induces drowsiness being one that covers the topic of sleep.) Anyhoo, despite 46 years of practice, I am the world’s worst sleeper. I mean, I am just terrible at it. It seems so darn easy and intuitive though, right?! How can I keep screwing this up? I have tried everything to sleep better short of taking a high kick to the chin from Chuck Norris. For instance, I have tried sleeping with and without the TV on. With the tube

on, there are obvious distractions from the light and picture movements. Then there is the volume issue. If the volume is high enough to hear clearly, it may keep me up even more; if it is too low, my ears naturally try harder to hear what is being said thus creating the same insomniac-like effect. Without the TV on, though, my mind constantly races like Usain Bolt in a hamster wheel. My cranium is a cacophony questions no one needs answered. “Did I switch over the laundry?”, “Could a hover board support a man of my carriage?”, “What the heck was Peter Piper going to do with all of those pickled peppers anyway?” Besides, when the TV is on the news stations, I am AT LEAST absorbing some pertinent information via osmosis. Sometimes, the next morning I am all like, ‘….Hey guys… Did you hear that the ambassador to Ecuador’s son was caught in a bank fraud investigation? Also, James Spann expect a blustery wind to strike Cullman county from the north around 6 PM tomorrow.” The other problem with my rest is that I am a mover and shaker. Not in the business or social sense; in a literal, physical way. My legs are like fleshy Red Bull Energy Drinks. I shake like a frightened maraca 98% of the day whether I am awake or asleep. I move so much that I am a threat to wake

myself up from a slumber at any given time of the night. I DEFINITELY wake my wife up that way. She does not take it well. Nor should she. There was nothing in our vows about her having to deal with a “human San Andreas Fault Line.” Melatonin has been a slight help on occasion. It’s over-the-counter stuff and natural (or so the internet tells me). I have also been prescribed more powerful medication and it does work, but not without consequences. The first pill I was prescribed worked great, but dang near wiped my memory cleaner than Hillary Clinton’s email. Every morning was a total re-boot. (Hmmmm… Now that I think about my history of embarrassing myself, maybe that was a good thing!?!) On that medicine I slept hard. Real hard. Slept harder than a frozen Cialis diamond after a long day at boot camp. But it got to the point that I couldn’t remember my cousin even if he was named “Ginko Biloba.” I was literally forgetting to put pants on before I went to Walmart (at least, that was my story to the judge in court). The funny thing is I am generally not TOTALLY awake at bedtime. I go to bed early and drift into some “not-alert/ not-comatose” purgatory. My wife will tell you quickly I wouldn’t be able to stay up for “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” even if Kate Upton were guaranteed to have a wardrobe malfunction. The problem is I wake up about every hour or two checking the clock. There’s usually no reason; I just do it. It’s pretty frustrating. So, in conclusion to this rambling, if you have some country, old-fashioned sleep remedy out there, I am all ears. Daddy is tired.

Luke is a host for the University of Alabama’s Coaches Cabana webcast, an AHSAA Radio Network team member, and a Sportzblitz TV/radio personality and blogger for Crimson Country Club.


Problem Solved

How do you solve a problem like your mother? By Lee Ann “Sunny” Brown


nce again I am ignoring my mother’s text messages and phone calls. Oh, I read the texts and listen to her voicemails. I just don’t respond. Not right away, anyway. I wait. I’m waiting until I have all the right answers before I call her back. Because, you see, my mom is calling to tell me that she has all the answers and is a genius. She is taunting me. Since my mom lives in Florida I thought it would be fun for us to do the word puzzles in the Sunday New York Times Magazine together. I take a picture of the puzzle and text it to her and then whenever we have each finished working it and have it all figured out we call each other and compare our answers. However, it quickly became a competition. My mom started texting me within minutes of me sending it that she had figured out the 3-point word, the one that uses all seven letters. I would text back that I had, literally, just found my pencil to start working on it. I would end up spending all my time searching for the 3-point word and she had already moved on to the next level. Excitedly, I would text her the next day, (or the next) that I had found it, too, only for her to reply that she was almost finished with the whole thing. I should have known better. I should have known that she has all the answers. She has always been a problem solver, which is why I have always called her for advice on all matters whether large or small. My mom has always had great deductive reasoning skills. She would make a great detective. She has been able to solve any crime, or mystery and figure out the answers to all of the little mysterious unexplained questions in life with little to no evidence that suggested, for instance, that I was the one who hid all those peas in the garbage can. Somehow she was always able to figure out who left the milk out, who forgot to

close the door and let the cat out, who forgot to turn out the lights, who broke the vase, who broke the other vase, who spilled the Kool-Aid and stained the carpet, who played “Ding-Dong Ditch” on the neighbors, who left the stove on all night, and the list goes on and on. I, unfortunately, never seemed to get away with anything. And I did everything I could think of to cover my tracks of bad behavior and genuine accidents. I guess by treating both of those incidents the same I always presented myself as guilty whenever the inevitable questions would come. And, my mom was genius at this. It felt like the inquisition. She asked all the right questions. And, even though there were three of us kids, somehow, she was always able to identify the guilty party– mostly yours truly–to the correct crime. Her super powers of deduction were always my nemesis. And they remain so to this day, which is why I ignore her messages. Because, as I said, she is taunting me. That it was what all her messages are about—she’s letting me know what level of the puzzle she is on—whether she is “expert” or has reached “genius.” Lately she has begun sending messages like “you better hurry if you want to catch up with me” and, “catch me if you can.” They have taken on a gloating, teasing tone. I can hear it even in her texts. Whenever my phone alerts me that I have received a message and I see that it is from my mom, I immediately begin to feel anxious. I know that she is letting me know how close she is to finishing the puzzle and checking to see how far behind her I am. I have to wait until I am in a state of calm before I read them and then I spend the rest of the day trying to think of different excuses I can tell her for why I haven’t been able to spend much time working on it, or why I have only reached the level “good” even though I’ve had all week to

work on it. I have even started making anyone that comes over to my house, my daughter or my nieces, friends or neighbors who drop in— everyone must help work the puzzle so I can let my mom know that “I” am finally a “genius.” I start to feel like I did when I was trying to wriggle out of admitting guilt that I was, in fact, the one that put a dent in the car bumper. I’m trying to plan out my answers but, as always, she is one step ahead of the game. In fact, it is taking me so long to finish the puzzles that I think my mom is starting to feel like she is just working them by herself instead of something we do together and I am afraid that she is going to lose interest if I don’t come up with a way to stay caught up with her. So, for Mother’s Day I have decided to up my game and I have come up with a plan. From now on I am going to have all the answers worked out before I send her the puzzle. And then, whenever she sends me a smugly superior text message about how she is a genius, I will just text her back, “Same! I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”

Lee Ann is a humor writer, actress, and singer, chronicling her glamorous life on stage and in print. She can be contacted at leeanndbrown@gmail.com.


The Other Awards

The Unsung Heroes of the ’Ham By Max Rykov //Illustration by Hannah Adamson


here are only 14 people in Birmingham who constantly get recognized for their professional accomplishments. I won’t list their names here, because they’re already seared into our Birmingbrains, but if you’re reading this, and you’re one of those people— thank you for your dedication to making our city better. Now please step aside and let someone else get the limelight for a

change. The people who truly make Birmingham thrive, who add character, charm, and life to the city, aren’t the ones who are prone to be featured in any Top _____ under ______ lists, or receive plaques for their philanthropic contributions to large

institutions. Those folks are also extremely important, of course, but (with the exception vehemently rooting for Alabama football and Tiger Woods), I prefer to cheer on the little guy. And, after a conversation along these lines last year with my friends Al Elliott and Rebekah Fox, The Other Awards was devised. The Other Awards is a Community Awards show honoring unsung heroes in Birmingham. At the beginning of March of this year Mr. Elliott, Ms. Fox, and I put out a call for nominations in a variety of “Other” categories, like “Best Activist,” “Biggest Cultural Supporter,” “Most Passionate Neighborhood Association Attendee,” “Funniest Person, ” “Best Service Industry Worker,” and allowed room for a few crowd-sourced categories. We received hundreds of nominations, and narrowed the field down to those in each category whose names were most often submitted. And who are those people that never ask for awards of praise, but who absolutely deserve it? Well, it’s folks like Doug and Charlotte Daughhetee, the married couple who attend at least 3 or 4 live shows per week, and could double-handedly support Birmingham’s local music scene. Or folks like Daniel Farris and Aaron Greene, the brilliant sound engineers who’ve been working behind the scenes for years making your favorite band sound incredible, or your least favorite band sound tolerable. It’s guys like Orlando Carrucini at Crestwood Coffee, who always greet their customers with pleasant conversation and even more pleasant service. It’s women like Sherri Ross, who exude positivity for miles, or Dee Reed and Julia Juarez, who give the most heartfelt and powerful hugs you could possibly imagine. It’s Birmingham City School teachers like Mr. Clinton Anderson at

Carver High School, who takes time to invite community leaders and elected officials to talk to his US Government class, and who has challenging conversation with his students, beyond the scope of what textbooks can offer. It’s local mainstays like “Most Inspiring Entrepreneur” nominee, Donnie Goodin (AKA the Candyman), who’s been selling candy from the confines of his wheelchair for decades all around the city, in order to help pay for his medical expenses. It’s parking lot attendants like Mr. Russell, who make darn sure that the parking lot by Golden Temple in Five Points is filled exclusively with the cars of paying customers. It’s Neighborhood Officers from Birmingham’s network of 99 Neighborhood Associations like Susan Palmer of Central Park, or Hope Cooper from Glen Iris, whose presence at monthly Neighborhood Associations meetings can bring a developer trying to rezone property to their knees. It’s activists like Carlos Chaverst, Jr. who speak their truths publicly, without fear of retribution or ridicule. It is an award show, and the format calls for someone to win each category. And what will the winners receive? Well, that’s actually my favorite part. With the permission of his estate, local maker, Katie Elkins, has created miniature versions of Frank Fleming’s “Storyteller” from the iconic fountain in Five Points South. Truly, I can think of no better figure that represents Birmingham’s wonderful quirkiness than that beloved statue. Personally, I’m excited to see such a broad spectrum of Birmininghamians assembled at the same time, at the same place, for one special night. If all goes according to plan, we’ll all be celebrating each other, making new friends, and presenting some amazing statuettes.

Writer, emcee, producer, nonprofit event organizer, and freelance quarterback Max Rykov is a tireless advocate for the creative community in Birmingham. 26




The Other Awards will be held at Saturn Birmingham on May 14th at 8:00pm. Bring your other friends!

My strengths are self discipline and a servant’s heart. My weaknesses are my family’s chocolate jar and being grouchy in the morning. Allie Claire Meeks Graduating senior, Homewood High School TO READ FULL INTERVIEW GO TO B-METRO.COM





The Liberty Park home of Jennifer and Clark Cross is a study in color and fun in an unexpected Hollywood Regency style. 28





The love of color is obvious throughout the Liberty Park home of Jennifer and Clark Cross. Designed in a Modern Hollywood Regency style, the open-floor plan of the main floor is a particularly welcoming space. Interior designer Mandi Smith T loves the expanse of an open-floor plan and the fact that no space is wasted in unused rooms. The main floor features family room, 30


dining room and kitchen, along with the master bedroom and their daughter’s room. Additional bedrooms are upstairs. “These clients are young and fun and their design style certainly reflects this,” Smith says. “I have had clients in the past say they love color, but these clients truly love color and lots of it. There are pops of unexpected color in every single room which makes it feel modern, while including pieces with an old fashioned Hollywood Regency design. Together it reads as fun and vibrant as these clients’ personality.” Smith has been helping the Cross family for several years and has been building a design aesthetic with the couple. They started working with the family room

and have since moved to all the rooms on the main floor. Throughout the house there is a boldness in the layering of patterns and colors together. “The layers spark visual interest. I also love the use of pink throughout the home as the common unifying thread. It’s very rare a designer gets to use pink as the common unifying color in a home,” Smith says. “I think color can evoke a feeling much like our other senses. Like when you hear a song from your childhood and it takes you back to that time. So, by surrounding ourselves with colors we love, we can evoke a certain feeling while we are in our home. I have some clients who want their homes to be calm, soothing and serene. While



Sources: Barnett Furniture DSR Fabrics Billy Brown Flooring Stark Carpet Chairish Bernhardt Restoration Hardware Mandi Smith T Interiors

others want their homes to be fresh, cozy and vibrant. For this particular client, both husband and wife are in the medical field and their surroundings during the day are very neutral. So, when they come home, they are craving some color.” While color helps define the aesthetics of the home, the furnishings are also important. “Many of the casement pieces are in a Hollywood Regency style, which is a throwback to that very glamorous era in Hollywood. But the use of color punches it up for a more current take on this style,” Smith says. The foyer is done in a metallic patterned grasscloth. The metallic is very subtle in this pattern but does a nice job of picking up the light from the front 32


door. The pattern is also a fun design. “We selected a tone on tone color because we really wanted the rug and the chairs to be the first thing you noticed when you entered the room. The rug is an overdyed Oushak. They take an Oushak rug and then redye it with a solid dye, in this case pink.” From there the unifying thread of pink throughout the house begins. The chairs were re-upholstered in this custom fabric and they too have a metallic gold quality to them, as does the chest, mirror and table lamp. The mudroom is the informal entrance the family uses every day to enter the home so it has to also have durable finishes. The bench is done in a sequined

pattern vinyl, welted in hot pink for again that unexpected pop. “We also added the glam of Hollywood regency with an ornate ceiling medallion and chandelier, but painted the medallion hot pink and contrasted it with the purple on the ceiling for the modern element. The wall hanging is a hot pink JuJu hat which is worn by royal dancers during Bamileke tribal ceremonies and symbolizes prosperity,” says Smith. The hallway is designed with another stretch of grasscloth, but without any pattern other than a hint of metallic thread. Hung in the hallway are favorite photos of the Cross family. The pillows on the church pew bench are repeated from the foyer, with added color in complementary patterns. The space is finished off with

two metallic cowhide rugs layered and an antelope carpet (a Hollywood Regency element) on the stairwell. The dining room is open to the kitchen and family for excellent flow. The family entertains a lot and hosts holiday celebrations. “When we designed this space, Jennifer told me she loved her china and really wanted to show it off. When I saw the pattern (it’s called Imperial Leaf) and realized that it had the fun colors (and of course pink) that we had already incorporated into other areas of her home, I knew we had to show it off. So, I found this vintage china hutch (in a rich teal color) and everything fell into place from there,” Smith says. The kitchen is a hard-working area of

the home. Light-toned faux leather covers the seats and backs of the counter stools which also feature a fun, cut velvet pattern. Island pendants add the glam. The family room is full of personality. Layers and layers of pattern and color are what makes this room special. “Notice when you are adding lots of color and pattern, it’s important to give your eye something to rest on and we accomplished this by upholstering the larger pieces in the room in neutral fabrics (both neutral color and patterns). This creates a clean palette so you can then add pop with pillows, artwork, the rug and other smaller pieces like the ottomans. And, of course, lots of accessories in the bookshelves,” says Smith. Smith calls the master bedroom the

most fun bedroom she has ever designed. The drapery fabric that is an unusual swirl/watercolor pattern of hot pink, pale pink, black and turquoise, soft velvets and a black and white geometric embroidery form a secondary layer. “Once we had the fabrics established, we selected a bed with that old Hollywood style. The mirrored bedside tables are super practical with lots of storage but glamorous. The dresser in this room is done in a shagreen leather. It’s a soft tone but adds lots of texture.” The layered look came into play by adding an accent wall of black and white wallpaper, and plenty of pillows on the bed. The chandelier and mirrored side tables added that all-important Hollywood glam.






arneshia Shantel has described her wheelchair as both her best friend and worst enemy. But it’s also something more basic—a means to get her where she wants to go. And Shantel is nothing if not a woman on the go. Shantel was born with spinal bifida, a congenital defect of the spine that can, as in Shantel’s case, cause paralysis from the waist down. But growing up as one of three children in Senatobia, Mississippi, she took her cue from a family who “didn’t treat me any differently,” she says. “I feel like they did their best to make sure 34


I felt like everybody else.” Shantel adds that she didn’t give them much choice, anyway. “Everyone in my family, they know that I’m a little rebel. I do what I want.” While she was still at home, Shantel’s mother signed her up for a basketball league designed for people with disabilities, which gave her a way to stay active and competitive, a chance to travel, and an introduction to others with disabilities who, like her, wanted to live healthy, positive lives. After high school, Shantel attended the University of Mississippi and got a degree in nutrition science before moving to Birmingham and trying nurs-

ing school for a semester. “I quickly figured out it wasn’t for me,” she remembers. Instead, she went to school to become a certified nail tech and also earned an MBA in marketing. Working magic on women’s nails came naturally, and she has an Instagram, @shantelznailz, to prove it, with literally hundreds of pictures of her custom nail art. “You’d be amazed by the people who contact you and want very specific things done,” Shantel says. It also provides her with a regular income while she also pursues other adventures, which grow more ambitious by the day—beginning with her bold foray into modeling.


Photo by Beau Gustafson


“I’m a big media person, and when I was looking at different shows, different magazines, or my social media, I just didn’t see a lot of representation of people with disabilities,” Shantel says. “And I thought, ‘I’m going to try modeling. I love the camera, and I want to see more diversity. So I’m just going to go at it full force and see where it gets me.’” She started with a few photo shoots, then began to show up for modeling casting calls locally. In 2016, she was selected for her first fashion show. It was what she’d been working for, but she remembers being terrified anyway. “It was very nerve wracking, and my hands were sweating,” Shantel remembers. “But once you get out there, you’re out there, so you just gotta do it.” Then came the thrill of watching the audience react: “The first time feels like, ‘Oh, wow. They like me!’ “You can see them thinking, ‘Hey, she’s really serious about this. This isn’t a game for her,’” she continues. “So seeing people’s faces when I model is very rewarding for me.” She’s gone on to do Magic City Fashion Week twice, among other local shows, and begun going on casting calls in other cities as well. Shantel doesn’t recall ever having discussed her disability with the people who hire her for photo shoots or fashion shows, though she feels sure that people get it—the idea that making the fashion world more inclusive is both exciting and overdue. “Nobody’s actually said that, but I’m pretty sure that’s how people feel,” she says. “The designers embrace it. They’ll tell me, ‘I have to have you in my clothes!’ That’s amazing to me. They just get your measurements like they get everybody else’s, and I remember one who actually made my dress and fitted me the day of the show. It was amazing to watch.” But one of Shantel’s biggest, most unexpected breaks so far came after she began modeling and was contacted by Bancroft Media, a U.K.-based company that produces “content celebrating a diverse range of incredible true stories.” They found Shantel on Instagram and wanted to shoot a video telling her story. “It was really a surprise,” she says. “But I thought it was a good platform. I looked them up and said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.” The video, 36



part of a series called “Shake My Beauty,” topped 1 million views in eight days. “I did not expect it to reach people the way it did, honestly,” Shantel says. “I’m still floored by it today, to see how many views and how far it’s gone. Even if I go out of the state, somebody will stop me and say, ‘Hey, you look familiar—I think I saw your video!’ This happened most recently in New Orleans. That blows my mind.”

Along with her modeling, the video features other aspects of Shantel’s life, including her love of basketball. She plays on a team at Lakeshore Foundation, which enables and encourages people with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses to engage in an active lifestyle, including playing sports. (Lakeshore is designated as an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site and has produced a number of Paralympic athletes.) She practices with the team twice a week and tries to work out there three additional times per week, keeping her in such excellent shape she’s able to do pull-ups with her bright-purple sports wheelchair still strapped on. Along with modeling, basketball gives Shantel another opportunity to travel, too. “Two years ago we went to New York City for a tournament, and last year we went to Orlando,” she says. “It’s pretty cool to experience different places, meeting new people who play basketball and are into the same things that you’re into in similar situations. There’s a whole community out there that people are unaware of.” But it won’t remain that way if Shantel has any say. She’s eager to expand her marketing skills to any and all media, including a web-based show called “Klaw Talk” she expects to launch in the coming weeks. “I’ll have people come and basically sit and talk to me while we’re having a nail appointment,” she says. “They’ll be my real clients telling real stories—people who are making an impact and want to spread whatever they’re doing for the community and the world. I’m excited about it.” Shantel is also a weekly blogger for the site Cur8able.com, which was started by a disability fashion stylist based in L.A. and tells stories from the perspectives of people with disabilities about different aspects of their lives. She plans to visit L.A. to spend time soon with its founder, Stephanie Thomas, whom she considers a mentor. “I know the path I’m on is going to take me places that I’ve probably never seen,” Shantel says. “Never even dreamed of seeing. Wherever I can see more inclusion in the media, that’s what I’m going for.”



Figuring Out the World,



ike a lot of would-be writers, Lauren K. Denton once had a crowded cemetery of abandoned novel beginnings typed out on her computer and scribbled in notebooks. “I’d write those 20, 30, 40 pages, and then I’d quit,” says Denton, today the published author of three books, with more on the way. “I would just get a new, bright, shiny idea 38


that sounded better and move to that.” Then in 2011, Denton, who lives in Homewood with her husband and two elementary-school-aged daughters, had a breakthrough. “I had an idea, and it felt like the first one that I thought had legs, and I could write the whole story. It wasn’t just a beginning portion or an idea of one character; I knew where I was going. That’s what helped me get to the end

of the manuscript.” It did not turn out to be her first published book—if it even has a name, she does not share it. Instead she refers to it as simply “this bad book that I wrote.” “I realized it wasn’t very good and I still needed more practice,” she says. “I think I just threw in all the things I ever wanted to write in a story, and it didn’t work, but it was a complete novel. I also

Photo by Beau Gustafson



really loved the process of writing and crafting those characters, even though it was very stereotypical, and it was good practice for when I got excited about another idea. I knew I could do it again.” That next idea became The Hideaway, a USA Today bestseller that transformed the onetime consumer marketing writer (“the nice way to say it is I wrote junk mail,” she demurs, speaking of four years in her early career) into a bona fide novelist. Of course, it took time. Once Denton had finished writing The Hideaway and spent another six months editing it—with the help of a writers’ group she had joined as part of Samford University’s Samford After Sunset program (“that was like therapy,” she says)—she made a spreadsheet of agents she thought could be good prospects for her book. Then Denton sent 40


out query letters over a series of months… purposefully parsing them out to avoid what she feared could be an avalanche of “no thank you” responses. But as time went on with no bites, she started seeking out fellow writers who might have advice. One of these was Patti Callahan Henry, a New York Times bestseller (Becoming Mrs. Lewis and The Favorite Daughter) who lives in Mountain Brook. “She had an editor friend whom she thought might be interested, and one thing led to another.” That editor passed it along to another one, who was in fact very interested, leaving Denton scrambling again to find an agent—which proved much easier now that she had already caught the attention of a publisher, who eventually made an offer not only to publish The Hideaway but also the next manuscript Denton was

working on, Hurricane Season. The Hideaway spans generations and tells the story of a young woman, Sara, who unexpectedly inherits an old bed and breakfast—the Hideaway—that belonged to her grandmother in Sweet Bay, Ala. Charged with refurbishing the old place, Sara reluctantly leaves her home in New Orleans to take on the project, in the process discovering things about the past that upend everything she thought she knew about her grandmother. Interestingly to Denton—and to many of her readers—the publisher that picked up The Hideaway was Thomas Nelson, a division of HarperCollins which specializes in Christian content. Denton does not consider her books to be Christian themed—certainly not in any conspicuous way. “That always trips people up,” Den-

ton says. “Most of Thomas Nelson’s titles are traditional Christian fiction, and there’s nothing wrong with that—I just don’t read it and I don’t write it. “People drink wine in my stories, and there’s a sort of flamboyant character in my first novel,” she continues. “Yet I feel like I write ‘safe’ books that you can hand to whomever and not have to say, ‘I’m sorry about what’s on page 50.’ There aren’t adult situations, and there’s not bad language. I just am not hitting anybody over the head with a faith message, and sometimes that causes confusion.” She remembers after the release of The Hideaway, some readers even sent angry emails. “I heard a lot from readers who said, ‘Your characters would have been so much happier if they had found Jesus by the end of the book.’ That’s just not the book I’m writing, y’all. There are so many authors where all of the characters are going to find Jesus, and their lives are going to be perfect for it. That’s just not my story. I like to think there are hints of redemption and hope and forgiveness and reconciliation in my books without being overt and without being heavy handed or saccharine.” Denton’s third book, Glory Road, came out in March. She tries to limit her author appearances and book signings to places within day-trip range, though she’ll also meet with book clubs further out via Skype. (She also has a book signing for Glory Road coming up at Little Professor in Homewood on May 9.) Denton loves these interactions. “It’s fun to meet people and hear them tell me things they get out of the books that I didn’t know I was putting in,” she says. “Or they read the book through the filter of their own life, so they’ll say, ‘This reminded me of my grandparents, or my childhood,’ and it’s totally different from

my experience. But it helped trigger memories or made them feel nostalgic about good things, and that’s a big honor.” She says groups sometimes ask what led her to writing, and she’s quick to point out that although she’s an avid reader and has always written in journals, she didn’t grow up with a grand ambition of becoming a novelist. “My first experience with writing was just writing my own stories down—it became a way of kind of figuring out the world and what I thought. It continued to where I now do that in my books. I’m still trying to figure out the world through the characters.” The hardest thing Denton has had to

figure out—though she says she’s getting better—is how to survive the anxiety that often sets in if she reaches a sticking point in a novel. “I always get to some point where I feel like I have no idea where I’m going,” she says. “I panic and say, ‘I don’t think I know how to do this anymore. I can’t write another story.’ And then things settle down and I feel better and continue on my way. “It’s slow and steady and remembering that at this point I know how to do it, and it’s still hard, but I know where I’m going.” B-METRO.COM




Word IRL



he L Word is one of those guilty pleasure television shows from the late 2000s that is regarded as both culturally groundbreaking and one we might cringe to admit we watched because of the way it framed certain issues. Look, it was a product of its time. Our love for it is complicated. But what The L Word undoubtedly got right was its portrayal of the large, tapestry community of queer women professionally and socially supporting each other in the show’s Los Angeles setting. Something that a viewer from Birmingham might have never dreamed of having for herself. That is until two women from Mobile and Orange Beach thought, Why not?



Brit Blalock and Carmen Chambers met in 2010 in New York City and quickly became friends. Brit was attending NYU for her postgraduate degree and Carmen was finishing up at Yale and spending weekends in New York. Life would set them off in different directions across the country, but they stayed in touch. By 2015, Brit was back in the city of her undergraduate alma mater, Samford University, and finding success in her career. Carmen also made her way to Birmingham while in law school at Georgetown, interning for and eventually accepting a position at a prestigious law firm. As Carmen was making the decision to move to Birmingham permanently, she couldn’t help but have concerns over the lack of spaces for queer women in the

city. Certainly, there were gay bars, and the queer men seemed to have a robust community, but what she’d experienced in New York and D.C. just didn’t exist locally. So, in June of 2016, she called Brit about throwing a social for the queer women they did know in Birmingham. A handful of texts and emails later, and around 20 women met at Carrigan’s Public House. They named their group The Bevy. “It means a large group of a particular kind, but it’s also a happy hour pun,” explains Carmen. Following that first meeting, a fuse was lit, and the group expanded to a Facebook page and then Instagram. They initially kept The Bevy’s online presence discreet and privately opened it to women who identified on the LGBTQ+ spec-

trum. At the time, Birmingham lacked a non-discrimination ordinance, so women risked losing their careers for simply being out. Today, The Bevy has grown to over five hundred and fifty members. There is a monthly happy hour every third Thursday, L-Word trivia parties, and holiday gatherings for those unable to go home for one reason or another. While The Bevy is at its core a social experience, it also serves as an embassy to queer professionals considering Birmingham as a place to pursue their career. “For me, one of the most important aspects of The Bevy is keeping it a professional environment,” says Brit. “Having a space where everyone feels welcome is vital to its growth. There’s no clique type of thing happening.” Many members have found career paths and job opportunities because of the connections they’ve made. And, as Brit says, that’s by design. Photos by Beau Gustafson

“Part of creating The Bevy has been to address the wage gap, which is very wide for women in the south. And then when you add queer women, it gets wider, and when you add queer women of color it gets even wider. The end goal has always been to combat that by finding strength in the community.” The Bevy offers a chance to belong for someone who may be struggling to find their community. It can be a lifeline. As Carmen puts it, “You come into yourself, I think, when you’re around other queer people because you’re not the token queer at the dinner table. Your sexuality isn’t necessarily what is defining you.” She’s seen new members find deeper confidence and delight in their own authentic identities, sometimes for the first time. “It’s something special.” In the queer community, The Bevy is garnering regional attention. Expan-

sion chapters are in the works for New Orleans, Nashville, Mobile, Memphis, and Durham. “The dream is to one day bring these groups together, perhaps at a conference, and to inspire these women to build up and support their local queer communities,” Brit says. When asked if, after three years, The Bevy has given Birmingham a community comparable to larger cities, like what we saw on The L Word, the answer it seems is, yes and no. Carmen and Brit agree that Birmingham’s queer scene will never be New York City’s. But what has grown and flourished in the Magic City is, they say, better. What is so distinctly Birmingham, so welcoming and Southern about The Bevy is, as Carmen says, “A unique and radical hospitality.” Something special, indeed. You can find The Bevy on Instagram @thebhambevy.







manda Marks jokes that she started doing standup comedy when she got famous DJs Mark and Brian to hand her the microphone as they were emceeing her brother’s bar mitzvah. She was eight-years-old. “I kind of took over. I’ve always been extremely at home on stage and have just always loved having a microphone in my hand.” Always a performer at heart, she remembers auditioning for school plays and taking acting classes, and later auditioning for the improv troupe at college. “They didn’t want me and I ended up majoring in television. I started off on doing production work and realized pretty quickly that I loved being on set, but I wanted to be on the other side of the camera,” Marks says. “I didn’t really pursue it because I always wanted to live in the Southeast near family, and I just didn’t even think that was an option.”



But Atlanta (where Marks has lived since 2003) grew into an option. She worked at Cartoon Network and saw Atlanta blossom as a movie and television production hub. “The film and TV industry in Georgia and specifically Atlanta has just gotten immense. It’s very emotional for me to realize that this dream I always had of being in front of the camera could happen and I don’t have to leave Atlanta. I don’t have to compromise being close to my family.” Birmingham factors deeply in her comedy, blog and podcast content. “I talk about growing up in Birmingham a lot, and I just, I loved my childhood, and Birmingham’s a big part of that. We come home every Thanksgiving. We have a big family reunion there.” About six years ago, she took some acting classes, even a standup class. “It wasn’t the idea of getting up on stage that intimidated me. It was the idea of writing my own material and being the only one responsible up there.” She soon got over that though. “Writ-

ing my own material is what helped create my love for performing stand-up comedy. It’s the fact that I didn’t have to rely on anyone and it was all about how hard I worked and how much time I put into writing and evolving my material.” What she creates is anecdotal and entertaining, evolving into comedic material from the life of this mom of three children including twins soon to be 10 and a boy 13. “My favorite thing in the world is making people laugh and making people happy and making myself laugh. “I realized after talking to people and then working at Cartoon Network and meeting show creators that the people who got their shows created were the people who did everything, everything on their own. So they weren’t just coming up with the concept, they were writing the script. They’re doing character illustrations, they’re doing storyboards, they were doing the voice over work. They also weren’t waiting for someone to hire them. They had already created all these animated shorts and entered festivals.

So I’ve kind of taken that approach to performance and entertainment, creating content and putting it out there. It gives me a lot of joy and happiness,” Marks says. She has taken that approach with another main aspect of her work, a podcast she created with her sister Alison Goldstein Lebovitz. “About two years ago, my sister and I were talking on the phone as we do several times a week and we jokingly said this would make a great podcast. And because we’re both proactive, about a week later we had a website, a brand, a logo and the podcast. It’s called Sis and Tell.” Marks coined the tagline: “A whole lot of talk about a whole lot of nothing.” “It’s as if you are listening in on a conversation that Alison and I are having. We tell a lot of anecdotes about growing up in Birmingham, growing up in a Jewish community in the South. Just funny, weird stuff that’s happened

to us. We’ve gone on rants about emotional support animals on airplanes,” Marks says. “The essence of the podcast is about our relationship with each other and interacting with each other. More so about that ten whatever subject we happen to be talking about.” The podcast is just a part of her multimedia portfolio. There is also her web series, Mom Cam in the Minivan, where she can be found rapping the Beastie Boys or imagining a seven-course meal from the snack items she finds on the van’s floorboards. Her website is mallofamanda.com. She is one busy woman, and says she has a good sense of what she is producing and where she wants to develop an audience. “I feel lucky that I didn’t start until now for so many reasons. Number one, I have much thicker skin now than I did when I was 22. I’m okay with rejection if the audience isn’t laughing at me. I’m like, what can I do to improve that joke? It doesn’t get to

me. “I have a professional background that I’ve utilized to help project my comedy career forward. I have a background in marketing and branding, and I’ve used that to brand our podcast and market it. It’s okay to have a niche. I mean if you look at the way we consume media now, it’s all just hyper niche.” “It’s self fulfilling. When it comes down to it, it’s what makes me happy. It’s happiness.” But she keeps her perspective, as well. If she were to get a request to perform stand-up on a Wednesday night at some pizza place 90 minutes away, unlike many comedians struggling for success, she says she’d likely not make the gig. “I have a look at that and say, would this opportunity make me happy? And it wouldn’t, having to drive 90 minutes, leave my family, put my husband in a situation where he had to leave work early to go do x, y and z. It wasn’t going to make me happy.” B-METRO.COM


Second Dress the

Photography By


Charity Ponter


he idea behind her Second Dress photo series came to photographer Charity Ponter when she was standing in the closet and looking at her own wedding dress. “I had that moment when you see the dress and wonder what on earth are you going to do with it,” Ponter says. What she did with it became "Second Dress," an ongoing photo series featuring portraits of women who are no longer married, wearing their original wedding dresses within a setting or location that represents the life they have now vs. the life they had when they wore their dress for the first time. “In American culture (especially in the South), there exists an inordinate amount of focus and celebratory visual representation surrounding a wedding day, with



Introduction by Joe O’Donnell little to no documentation or celebration of the life and changes that follow. For some, what follows their wedding day is longevity of relationship. For others, what follows are enormous changes of expectations, painful growth, and empowering rebirth,” says Ponter. “I wanted to find the story behind the feeling of having a dress and not knowing what to do with it. What would be the opposite of wedding photography? What is the other side that no one is really seeing?” “These dresses are a symbol of the arc of the rest of your life. It is something the person chose for themselves. I wanted to play on that. Not everything turned out as I expected. But I am still me,” Ponter says. Second Dress is an ongoing project for Ponter. “I have a running list of people who want to do portraits. I feel I am just at the beginning of this.”

Charity Ponter (self portrait)

Charity experienced the pain of the death of her marriage simultaneously with new exciting growth. Holding the camera remote control in her right hand is symbolic of taking charge and regaining her power after leaving her religious community who were shocked and shamed by her decision to leave her marriage.

See the full stories on B-Metro.com



Amy Soverow Amy hiked up the mountain ridge to the tree where she scattered her late husband’s ashes with their dog Luna. For her, this symbolized her movement into a new phase of life with the soul-deep understanding that life occurs a moment at a time, and that every single moment is precious. And, that there will always, always, always be mountains to climb.



Martha Lee Anne Baugh Martha Lee Anne married her best friend when she was twenty six. A year later, he was someone she didn’t recognize. The year their son was born was the same year she packed the car and left. The year after that was when her spouse passed away. Now, at age thirty one, she is living the year he never finished, and describes life with her son Henry as “crazy and beautiful.” After her husband passed away, she began and continues to buy herself flowers every Friday as a ritual of self-love amidst grief.



Kirsten Winkle

My name is Kirsten Winkle. I unexpectedly lost my husband at 25. He was 28. We were married for two years. Now I am 27 and I have almost lived as long as he did. This is a letter to him. I am drowning. You drowned. I was screaming and reaching and you drowned anyways. I knew you were gone but I screamed and prayed until they pulled your body from the water. I prayed and pleaded with God the whole way to the hospital. And while they made me wait. And when they took me into the room with the nice furniture and calm voices. That room had no oxygen and I was sure I was in a nightmare, and everyone was lying to me. There was no way you were dead. You were just here. When they finally let me see you, your body was still warm. You looked so alive, like you should just sit up at any moment. Like you were just sleeping, your mouth open slightly, like you were letting a typical baby snore out. Why didn’t you just wake up? Every day since you've been gone I have been drowning. Some days in the deep end, completely submerged with no air and the crushing feeling of never feeling oxygen in my lungs again. Some days I’m waist deep in the shallow end. Some days my head comes up only for a breath and back down again. I can feel like weight of the water pushing me down, but I keep fighting. Like you would tell me to do. That feeling is never going to go away. A piece of me will always be in the water, struggling to get back out. No matter matter how far I move forward, a piece of me lives under the water with you, searching for your hand to pull me back out.



Kirsten became a widow at age 27 when her husband drowned in a kayaking accident. Married for two years, she and her husband had just bought their first home and were trying to start a family. Continuing her life without him has meant overcoming the trauma of his death, which includes being underwater.





of Women

B-Metro celebrates women and the positive energy that they create for their businesses, their families and the world around them. On the following pages we are proud to introduce you to some of these hard–working women.

We gratefully acknowledge the talented people who helped us create these profiles. PHOTOGRAPHY:

Beau Gustafson

(Pepper Place and Birmingham Botanical Garden Location Shoots) Gretchen B Photography (Martha Gorham Photo) Rob Ingram (Handley Beaux Photo) HAIR AND MAKE-UP HAIRFOLK: Whitney Warner Angela Barrett: THE COLLECTIVE: Jamie Loyd Jhane Shephard-Howard LOCATIONS: Pepper Place Birmingham Botanical Gardens





Mary Beth Young Regional Administration, BB&T Alabama BB&T fulfills its vision of creating the best financial institution possible by developing the Best and Brightest. Mary Beth is front and center on all things BB&T Alabama. With a strong journalism and communication studies background, she is redefining the landscape of corporate communication branding and strategy. Mary Beth chairs BB&T Alabama’s Lighthouse Campaign which provides donation and service hours to local non-profit agencies. She also manages Charitable Contributions and Advertising and Public Relations efforts throughout the state. Mary Beth serves as the state liaison for BB&T’s Financial Literacy Campaign, EverFi. A Huntingdon College alum and University of Alabama Graduate Student, Mary Beth credits her continued success to a strong support system within BB&T. As a full-time basketball mom, student and professional, Mary Beth is proof that the Future is Female.


Diamond in the City More than a decade of glistening jewelry and community involvement has earned Diamonds Direct a special place in the city.



The classic four “C�s of diamond selection (cut, clarity, color, and carat) get a makeover at Diamonds Direct. While the well-known method of determining which diamond is the right one is always an important part of the process, Diamonds Direct added their own version: concept, choice, confidence, and community.

The company changed the concept of what a retail jewelry store looked like. Diamonds Direct began as a wholesale operation, based out of both Israel and the United States, that cut and sold diamonds to jewelry stores across the country. In 1995, they opened their first showroom, eliminating the middleman and selling diamonds directly to the customer for less than traditional jewelry stores. They also increased the choice facing consumers with over 50 designers carried and 3,000 mountings per store. B-METRO.COM


“We create real relationships. At the end of the day, we’re really there to just keep doing what we’re doing..." The company makes a commitment to customers long after the sale, creating a sense of confidence in a purchase. Diamonds Direct is dedicated to giving back to the communities they call home. The company has 17 stores with more than 200 diamond experts serving customers. In 2004 The Diamonds Direct Foundation was established to provide sup78


port to local nonprofit organizations, with special emphasis on women’s and children’s philanthropies. “One of the most important things to us, other than of course the sale, is that we share the profits with a lot of organizations that need it,” says Yoni Padan, VP of the Birmingham store. Birmingham was the second city that Diamonds Direct opened a retail loca-

tion in, the first store was in Charlotte. “We got here in 2008. We really wanted to bring a new concept to the city,” says Padan. “What made the difference was the people of Birmingham, really. We always call it the best kept hidden secret in the U.S. “As the president of our company always says is, we just keep it simple. Do the right thing for the customer. Create real relationships and everything will come after that. That’s what we’re all about. We just want to keep being part of the Birmingham community. We want to keep creating the relationships. I always say that the difference between us is when a customer walks in the door, we usually

we usually greet them with a big hug; not just with a handshake.” Yoni Padan joined Diamonds Direct in January of 2012.Since the beginning of his career at Diamonds Direct, he made

sure to always keep the special thing that makes Diamonds Direct what is, family. “The family spirit of Diamonds Direct penetrates from our staff to our customers and that is why the relationship between us and the customer is so special. I love what I do, and it’s great waking up every morning feeling that way. “We create real relationships. At the end of the day, we’re really there to

just keep doing what we’re doing. Keep it simple, do the right thing, be honest, enhance the selection and grow,” Padan says. “We are a part of people’s lives. They’re coming in here nervous, they’re coming in here excited, they’re coming in here scared. They’re coming in here with all these different emotions. The person on the counter knows this is not just a sale here. This is a person in a very exciting moment in their life and we know how to connect with the person and make sure that they know they have someone they can trust and someone they can have a great relationship with. The rest is pretty easy,” Padan says. B-METRO.COM





From food to design to everyday needs, Pepper Place


has played a major role in revitalizing the city. B-METRO.COM


It took a leap of faith and Sloss Real Estate took it. Thirty years ago the company acquired the Dr. Pepper Building on 2nd Avenue South and 29th Street. In those days, developers and real estate companies were focused on the suburbs, not the city. And the area around what is now Pepper Place was a pretty desolate streetscape of warehouses. Times have changed throughout the city center, and Pepper Place lead the way. The vision for the Dr. Pepper Building at that time—which remains constant today—was to create a creative urban community where local designers, businesses, restaurants and shops could co-exist and support one another’s efforts. Today, Sloss R e a l Estate and its 82


partners have assembled an array of buildings that stretch from roughly 28th to 31st Streets South between 2nd and 3rd Avenue South. That is more than 350,000 square feet of redeveloped, revitalized and innovative property, now home to some of Birmingham’s most fascinating, creative and home-grown businesses. Here you’ll find companies involved in design, both interior and architectural as well as graphic and marketing/advertising; dining, a collection of some of the city’s most awarded, unique and local concepts; shopping with unique, locally sourced and often locally made goods; services that include daily needs such as hair, health, and food to serve the community in and around Pepper Place; and offices, an eclectic mix of traditional business services such as law offices, real estate, insurance and non-profits intermixed with a national magazine’s (Country Living) editorial offices Pepper Place really began gaining

steam and becoming the place it is today when Sloss Real Estate was able to lure Richard Tubb Interiors here in 1989. His following and elegant Southern style became the catalyst for what would become Birmingham’s premier design and market district. Shortly after Richard’s arrival, others followed. Fergu-

son, Interiors Market, King’s House Antiques, Architectural Heritage, Cantley & Co. and Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery came to Pepper Place because of the design energy and traffic generated by a conglomeration of similarly focused businesses. While Interiors Market and King’s House have recently closed as their owners retired, the home and garden de-



sign foundation that was laid by all these continues to this day: with Design Supply filling the old Interiors Market space in 2017, the opening of the FarmStand by Stone Hollow Farmstead—a longtime Farmers’ Market vendor—and the coming of Billy Reid with his lifestyle retail store that will integrate Southern food, art and music to the old King’s House Antiques space in the summer of 2019. All these retail businesses and design showrooms curate a local, unique experience that has cemented Pepper Place as a go–to destination for home and garden goods. At the same time, the food scene at Pepper Place has blossomed into a full-blown culinary experience. Early on, it was Cantina with fresh Mexican fare, Bettola with its award-winning Italian and the only true charcuterie in Birmingham. Perhaps most symbolic of the relationship between the Market at Pepper Place and the place itself is Red Cat— what has become a hub of commerce for the area began as a vendor at The Market. While these three early

eateries found great success at Pepper Place, it was the coming of OvenBird that really lit the fuse on Pepper Place becoming the foodie destination it has. The restaurant won awards before it even opened and drew the national media to both Pepper Place and The Market at Pepper Place. OvenBird’s space also signified a new architectural direction for Pepper Place with its highly customized dining space that seamlessly connects the indoors and out. Blueprint on 3rd followed with another innovative and architecturally cool space. Then came The Lumbar with its garage door opening front to expand the bar into the sidewalk space. Bettola has added doors opening the front of the Martin Biscuit Building to the dining patio. And, most recently the establishment of the Pepper Place Entertainment District and coming of the Hot and Hot Fish Club to Pepper Place promises to transform the area yet again.

The Market at Pepper Place The Market at Pepper Place was launched as a response to alarming trends Sloss Real Estate saw happening around the state and country. Alabama has long been been an agrarian state with excellent farmers, but with sprawl eating

up land and the development of what seemed like a grocery chain on every new suburban corner, state farmers had fewer and fewer places to sell their goods. The solution was simple—create a place in the state’s largest city where Alabama goods could be sold and celebrated. Now in its 20th season, what began with a few tents in a parking lot has turned into one of the most visited weekly attractions in the city. It’s grown to encompass almost two city blocks and is frequented by a diverse population of locals and visitors alike. The Market has been featured prominently in the media, bringing great visibility to Pepper Place. As the Market at Pepper Place kicks off its outdoor season, it continues to 86


grow and celebrate Alabama with everything from chef demos and guest speakers to live music that fills the streets of Pepper Place. As more than 10,000 people come to the Market to explore Alabama’s farmers and makers, this year the Market at Pepper Place welcomes: Farmers: Three new farmers will come to the Market during the “shoulder seasons,” of April-May and September-December. Using innovative methods of all season growing like high tunnels and hoop houses, these farmers will keep the selections of fruits and veggies robust and varied all year long.

Food Producers: Responding to the popularity of prepared foods that is sweeping the US, there are several new food producers attending the Market this year bringing ready-to-eat and take-home items, many of which are made with Alabama produce, seafood and meats: fresh prepared salads, crab cakes, flavored bacon, healthy snacks, queso, chicken salad, guacamole, Indian food, pork skins, gluten-free and paleo baked goods, and delicious sweet treats like macaroons, cookies and pound cake, cheesecake and gelato. Makers: New makers will be bringing

hand-made knives, leather goods, color books about the Birmingham area, candles, soaps and skin care. Activities & Special Events: The Market will host four Wellness Days during the year, a Senior Market Day in July, Women in Food Month with all female chefs in September, and special festivities in partnership with Dia de los Muertos on November 2nd. Also throughout the year, the Market will be holding free workshops for Market Vendors and other small businesses in the Birmingham area, in partnership with BBVA. Those are scheduled bi-monthly on Tuesday mornings and sometimes Tuesday evening, and held at The Lumbar.

A Reciprocal Relationship However, as visible as The Market is and how successful it has been, it couldn’t exist without Pepper Place. The Market at Pepper Place is a physical real-world manifestation of the vision Sloss Real Estate set forth by developing Pepper Place in 1988: to develop a creative community that celebrates local, unique and innovative business as only Birmingham can. Plus, many of the Pepper Place shops and restaurants participate in The Market each Saturday. Pepper Place chefs do demos for market attendees beginning in May each year, Ignite Cycle has outdoor sessions, the retail shops open their doors and find new products to carry and OvenBird even serves mimosas in its courtyard that can now be carried throughout Pepper Place as the area was designated as Birmingham’s newest Entertainment District back in February. “The Market” is the weekly event that all can see, attend and enjoy. “The Place” is an everyday experience for the businesses that call Pepper Place home and with the continued addition of special businesses, restaurants and shops it is increasingly becoming an everyday destination for all who want to experience the best Birmingham has to offer. So, Pepper Place and The Market at Pepper Place are inextricably linked. Both are focused on supporting and growing local business and curating a creative community. Both were established for much the same reason—to bring people back to the city center and provide them a place to sell, make, cook, dream—do whatever it is that they do. And, while each has its own identity, each supports and enhances the other. For example, many tenants of the offices at Pepper Place first learned of “the place” through their visits to the Market. And, many businesses that have first tried their concept at the market have sought space or launched their brick and mortar business at Pepper Place.






“D” is for Disaster

Grades were a serious business at our house. By Joey Kennedy


hen my teaching semesters at UAB end, I’m kind of sad. Sure, there’s a ton of grading to do during that final week—I teach in the English Department and everything is an essay —but it always gets done. I’m kind of sad, though, because I’m closing another little chapter on my teaching career. I meet and teach some amazing young adults, and they teach me, too. I occasionally have a class that I’m glad is over. Good riddance. Mostly, not. I love being in the classroom. Curiously, for me it wasn’t always that way. UAB’s spring semester ended late last month. Most Alabama public schools recess for summer later this month. When I was a public schoolkid, though, I couldn’t wait for the school year to end. I counted down those days. And on the last day of school in May or June, we were excited. When that final bell rang, we ran out, facing a long (to us, almost endless) summer of sleeping late, watching television, playing

in the nearby woods. Did I say sleeping late? Without classes. Without probation. My parents, but mostly my mother, expected a lot from me and my two sisters. If we made a “C” in any subject, we were grounded for the next six weeks, until we got another report card and, hopefully, brought our scores up. I thought it was a harsh punishment. After all, a “C” is average. What did mom expect? Our groundings could include anything from losing television or telephone rights for six weeks, to having to cut back on our extracurricular activities. I’m a voracious reader, and one six weeks, my mom banned me from reading for entertainment. I wasn’t allowed to read anything but schoolbooks. It was true. I simply spent more time at the library. “Studying.” Once I was telling a friend about our mother’s draconian groundings. He told me he had grounded his son just that week for making a “D” in one subject. I might understand a “D.” That’s below average. I saw his son not long after and asked him how he was doing in school. He informed me he had been grounded for making a “C.” “You were grounded for a ‘C’?” I asked, surprised. “It was a veerrry low ‘C’,” he said. Oh, I made my share of D’s, but fortunately, as far as my home life was concerned, after I started college. My first two years of college were fairly rough. I smoked a lot of weed, skipped a lot of classes, and my grades reflected that lack of responsibility. By the time I had finished my bachelor’s degree 14 years later, I’d sobered up and was making practically all “A’s.” It took me a while. But there was one “D” I brought home when I was an 8th-grader that scared me to death.


It was the end of the school year. Final report cards were issued. I had a D in some math class (for the six weeks, not the school year—for the year, I made a “C”). But a “D” is a “D.” I was frightened about what my mom would do. We’d never been to “D”-Town before in our house or, as my friend’s son called it: Veerry low “C”-Town. As the final bell rang, I felt no joy about the end of that school year. The summer ahead seemed infinitely long since I was going to be grounded for three months at least. Who knew what privileges I would lose? I’d never been grounded from breathing, but I thought it was a real possibility this time. A “D.” My mom bragged often that she made only “A’s” when she was in school. I knew that last school day of 8th grade I would be her greatest disappointment. (After she died, we found some of her old report cards; she did not make all “A’s”). On that last day of school, I got on the bus, certain of a horrible fate ahead. When the bus rolled up to our little house on Duet Street in Houma, Louisiana, my mom was out front, weeding her small flower garden. As I slowly walked down the bus steps and onto the street, she turned around and greeted me. She was smiling. No way to avoid or delay the news. I waved as I walked toward her, pulling the “D”eath-sentence report card from my back pocket. Just get it over with, I thought. Mom looked the report card over, raised her head (smiling no longer), and drilled me with her eyes. She looked at the report card again. Looked at me again. I could tell she was about to pronounce the sentence. Instead, she turned around and calmly strolled into the house, making certain, even, that the door didn’t slam. I finished weeding her garden, and she never said a word to me about that “D.”

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes the back-page column for B-Metro magazine every month. Email: joeykennedy@me.com. 88


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