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Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Living Democracy in Linden: Week Three

In Linden on May 30, 2013 at 4:39 pm

photo-48Linden Senior Center Offers More Than Meals

By Kaleb Kirkpatrick

Third spaces are places where citizens gather to discuss issues or the events of life in a casual atmosphere. These spaces are a vital part of a community’s overall civic health. Third spaces are typically unofficial places outside of city halls or formal civic meetings where citizens can gather informally such as a grocery store or coffee shop. I decided to investigate where the citizens of Linden like to gather for fun, fellowship, and discussions. One of my community partners in Linden, Kathryn Friday, suggested a list of three different places to choose between. The first was a drug store where men have coffee every morning. The second was a Subway restaurant where another set of men gathers. The last was the Linden Senior Center on Main Street.

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The Linden Senior Center is on Main Street. (Photo By Kaleb Kirkpatrick)

I decided to visit the senior center because of the diversity of the group that attends.  Mrs. Friday explained a little of the history of the center. She told me that when she was serving as mayor and the town faced financial problems she was forced to look for places to cut in the town’s budget. Running the Senior Center Monday through Friday certainly had a cost. Fortunately for the town and the senior citizens, Friday was approached by an elderly woman in her 90s who told the then major, “I know the city is in trouble but don’t you dare think about cutting my lunch. It’s the only reason I have to wake up in the morning and get dressed.” After hearing that comment, Mrs. Friday was moved not to touch the center’s budget, allowing it continue to be a vital place in the community.

Today, it’s not about the money or the free lunch for the regular patrons at the senior center. It’s about the social activity. Everyone comes in at about 11 a.m. and immediately starts socializing with longtime friends. Mrs. Vice, who runs the center, said, “We usually have a consistent group of regulars. They all like to come here because it gives them something to do.” Everyone sits down and chats about all sorts of things. Before lunch is served around 11:30 a.m., the seniors enjoy exercise that gets everyone moving and using their muscles.

After that is all done, lunch is served. Everyone gets a portioned meal that consists of a protein, two vegetables, and a carbohydrate. Some who can’t walk as well as others ask for help from staff or from friends. Lunchtime is a great social time. I was invited to present on Living Democracy projects in Linden during my visit.  After I spoke everyone gave great feedback and showed interest. I encouraged all of them to come out for the upcoming art walk and to notify their grandkids about the art workshop. I even met one woman, Mrs. Jane, whose husband is a local artist who does woodcarvings.

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Large room provides space for games, exercise, and meals. (Photo by Kaleb Kirkpatrick)

She also told me a bit about Linden. She said, “It’s a very small town where everyone knows where everyone lives and what not. To be honest with you I don’t lock my doors because I just don’t feel the need to.” I think it’s great that in the world we live in people are still able to say something like that. Often we get so caught up in all the crime statistics and bad news that we feel we need security systems and cameras. Yet here in Linden people feel so confident in their fellow man that they are certain nothing will go wrong.

After lunch, most people start to head home. Some drive and others are picked up. Others stay longer to talk and play some of the games the center offers. They like to play dominos and do puzzles with each other.  These types of places all across the country are important for the elderly in communities and for the civic health of a community. Third spaces to meet are an absolute must in small towns like Linden.

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Living Democracy in Elba: Week Two

In Elba on May 29, 2013 at 2:23 pm

8640975898_b0ee7e8b5aThird Spaces: The Pea River

By Sierra Lehnhoff

People gather in a variety of settings. Each setting gives off its own feeling: official, casual, familial, creative…the list can go on and on.  A third space is a place where people can casually gather and interact with each other. It’s more public than a home, but it is not a structured gathering like a board meeting. Before this weekend, I did not realize that one of Elba’s biggest assets was also one of its biggest civic spaces as well. I would define the Pea River as a third space. A third space has been defined as an area where people casually meet and interact to share ideas, hobbies, and time together.

The Pea River is 154 miles of beautiful third space. As I waited for my kayak from Pea River Outdoors to be delivered down at the boating dock for me, I interacted with many folks. We had conversations about what I was doing on the river, their boats, and just small talk about random subjects in general. Everyone from couples to grandfathers and grandsons were coming down to relax on the river and spend time with each other. When I wasn’t talking, I watched old friends reunite and strangers form bonds through casual conversation about their boats. Even a boat ramp on the Pea River was a simple third place abundant with community interaction.

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This bridge passes over the Pea River near the boating dock. (Photo by Sierra Lehnhoff)

My kayak arrived, and I hopped in the water with my boyfriend to paddle down the river. We admired the natural beauty of the river and the trees, taking in a great summer day. Soon, we started to pass groups of kayakers, all chatting and laughing. They said hi and asked how our day was going as they floated by. Music started to drift from a waterproof radio, and it suddenly hit me as to how important outdoor spaces are. I believe often we think of community spaces as man-made parks or places where we dine, but we often do not view the naturally occurring places as important civic spaces in communities.

Laughing and talking continued between my boyfriend and I until we came across some kayakers and a few kids canoeing. Not one but two sets of people asked where the dock was and how far away it was. Finally, we started our way back towards the boating dock and arrived to find two older gentlemen fishing on the shore. As we watched a pontoon boat unload about 10 people we decided to paddle around and wait for it to be towed out of the water. Once it was done, we immediately began to race towards the boat dock. The two men fishing asked us how we were and how our kayaking trip was. The conversation continued on as we asked them how their fishing was going. They had just started but said they were hoping to get a good catch that day.

The Pea River is a special place that winds through Elba and binds it. I have met many people who love to kayak, canoe, and go boating on the river regularly. If you drive by the main dock as you go over the bridge you will see at least one truck there at all times with their boat trailer. The Pea River is the home of many community events. The Chamber of Commerce is hosting a Pea River Day with a large pontoon boat tour, a color run, and fun activities in the park right on the river June 8. When I spent the day with Restoration 154’s Philip B. Box and Justin Maddox, they explained that Restoration 154 was for 154 projects and because there are 154 miles in the river where several of their projects are centered. They own Pea River Outdoors, which rents canoes and kayaks. Restoration 154 recently hosted a clean up day for the river, and they are planning to put up mile markers for the river enthusiasts as well. A business in Elba, My Happy Place, is also planning to soon feature a mural that will be highlighted by an abstract river, paying tribute to one of the community’s best assets.  When you talk to citizens, they all seem to love the Pea River. They take so much pride in it, and you really learn how important it is to the community.

So, if one day you find yourself in Elba, Alabama, I highly recommend that you rent a canoe or kayak and take a little trip down the river. Natural and beautiful, this third space will not fail to make you awe-struck, and if you like to chat or fish, you may make a few friends as well.

Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week One

In Bayou La Batre on May 28, 2013 at 9:22 pm

8845514790_048e5bab39Bayfront Park Offers Quiet Escape

By Laney C. Payne

Bayfront Park, much like the people of Bayou La Batre, offers a treasure of hope that one might miss in the blink of an eye. Adorned by towering pines and thick palmettos 8844901927_82f02e59d1swaying in the breeze, Bayfront Park offers an oasis of peace and reflection for anyone who enters through its rusted yellow gates.  “I’ve met people from all over the world here,” said Twin City Security Officer Laurel Gill. “From Australia to Germany, they all stop through. That’s the best part of the job.”  Set just off the highway, Bayfront Park offers a children’s play area, covered picnic tables, nature trails winding through the coastal habitat, and benches where visitors can enjoy a glowing orange sunset just over the Dauphin Island Bridge.

“It’s so quiet here,” said Gill, as she turned from reading her Bible in the small cinderblock office nestled behind collections of fading driftwood.   For many, the park offers a much-needed break from the demands of the bayou. From hard manual labor to financial worries to family troubles or illness, the park seems to possess the power to take it all away.

“During my battle with breast cancer, I would just go out there and sit, ”  said Bayou La Batre resident Daphne German. “As the waves came in and out, I’d imagine them8844910269_1746ed6939 taking all the sickness away.” Now free of breast cancer with no chemo treatments or painful radiation, German swears that healthy living and her reflection at Bayfront Park changed her life.  “You can solve a lot of problems on your feet,” said Bayou La Batre resident Cynthia Jackson. A frequent visitor of the park, Jackson brings her son Adam to walk twice a day every day. After waving to Officer Gill, Jackson explained how the park has helped her get away from it all and keep her head on straight. “People can’t find me here, and I want to keep it that way,” she said.

Bayfront Park offers just that: a hide-away from the hustle and bustle for a moment of peace and a reminder of the purity of the beautiful place the people of the bayou call home. Listed as number 46 on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail, the park provides a natural habitat to birds ranging from egrets to kingfishers.  Local and migratory species alike take advantage of the artificial nesting boxes located throughout the park. In addition to birding, Bayfront Park visitors come to enjoy windsurfing, crabbing, fishing, and swimming.   “We always have cyclists come through to enjoy the view, ” said Gill. “Whatever the reason, they all end up here.”

8844914103_789e76e764As barges move up and down the channel with sea-going boats, it is easy to sit and enjoy the soft heat of the sun on your face and get lost in the wonder of the beauty of the region. “Look around, how can you not like it here, “ Jackson asks. “It’s where I do all my thinking and figure everything out. After this, I’ll finally get a good night of sleep.” As you cross through the yellow gates and continue down the rocky road, one can quickly understand the meaning of “island time.” Gill reflected, “Sometime, I have to turn my head and not ask questions. We have all kinds of people, and some need the time here more than others.”

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 quite place.  And Bayfront Park offers just that: a place to get away and get within themselves again, a sacred experience. “It offers a healin’ type of spirit,” explained Jackson. Lacking a fancy sign and elegant entrance, Bayfront Park, much like the people who frequent it, may not get much notice, but this sacred place in nature possesses the power to change those who venture down the dirt road.8844905557_1f0c125dca

Living Democracy in Selma/Old Cahawba: Week One

In Selma / Old Cahawba on May 28, 2013 at 8:22 pm

8794546269_451a1c7ffe_mSelma 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.

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The Edmund Pettus Bridge is symbol of movement. (Photo by Taryn Wilson)

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.

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Sign speaks of “The Beginning”. (Photo by Taryn Wilson)

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.

Marian Royston speaks at the first HCCEDC gala

In Hobson City, Videos on May 28, 2013 at 4:30 pm

The Hobson City Community and Economic Development Corporation (HCCEDC) held its first gala Friday, May 24 at 6:30 p.m.

Former Living Democracy student and AU alum Marion Royston presented her honors thesis, focusing on the history of Hobson City, to residents and friends. Royston donated her entire thesis, along with framed newspaper articles highlighting the city’s history, to the city.