A Project for Students and Citizens

Linden

7Road Trip Turns Into Treasure Hunt

By Kaleb Kirkpatrick

Before embarking on this journey, I never would have imagined visiting a place like Linden or Marengo County. After having been here for five weeks, I have more than fully adjusted to rural life. Last week I was given the opportunity to discover more of what West Alabama has to offer.  My community partners, Mrs. Friday and Mrs. Brenda Tuck, had wanted me to get a full experience while I lived and worked in Linden. They both wanted me to see more of what the county and the area offer so we took a road trip to Gees Bend and Camden, Ala.

Mrs. Friday was eager for me to visit Black Belt Treasures http://www.blackbelttreasures.com in Camden and take the ferry ride to Gees Bend. Since my main project is an art walk in Linden, she felt it was necessary that I visit Black Belt Treasures because it features art from across the Black Belt region of Alabama, an area so named for its dark rich soil. The art offered for sale here is actually judged and voted on before it is accepted by the organization. This is why many of the pieces are considered “treasures” but I’ll get to that in a bit.

9As we set out for this adventure, Mrs. Friday shared the history and politics that related to both Camden and Gees Bend. First, in order to get to Camden you have to cross the river. For this you take the ferry from Gees Bend. Gees Bend is also known as Boykin by all official titles. Now the first thing that struck me about Gees Bend is how small the community is. Mrs. Friday told me that the entire community is 300 or so people. That’s much smaller than Linden. The ferry, which runs across the Alabama River eight times a day, is an important connection for the isolated residents of Gees Bend. This connection, threatened at times, has to do with a community asset that, for a long time, no one recognized.

Gees Bend is now famous because of quilting. Yes, I said quilting. Apparently a group of quilters got “discovered” and popularized back in the 70s. Because the community was so cut off from the rest of the world, the patterns in the quilts are one hundred percent unique and nothing like anything that can seen anywhere else. After finding this “jewel” demand for the unique patterns of Gees Bend quilts soared. Eventually, the quilts made their way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, other museums around the United Sates and even Europe. Collectors still treasure the quilts made by the group of women who continue to create beautiful work. They meet at the Boykin Nutrition Center Monday through Thursday to work until after lunch.

The fame of Gees Bend quilts helped get the ferry reopened after it had been shut down. The ferry port is today a major contrast to the more natural landscape that surrounds it. The ferryboat ride I was on was absolutely beautiful and peaceful. The river winds and runs every which way with all sorts of wildlife around. After about 20 minutes or so we arrived at the other port area just outside of Camden.

We toured some riverfront homes in Camden and visited the downtown area. Camden is almost the same size of Linden and has antebellum homes scattered through10 the community near the 19th Century courthouse.

Of course, Black Belt Treasures, with art in almost every different medium you can think of, draws visitors to the community. There are paintings and sculptures and other small pieces of art everywhere. After walking around to see the entire place, I began to recall the three hours I spent in the Met in New York City. Even though Black Belt Treasures in much smaller, you definitely need a good amount of time to view all the different pieces.

This road trip turned out to be great adventure of treasure hunting in West Alabama that I truly enjoyed.

Week Three in Linden

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 civicphoto-48 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.

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.

photo-49After 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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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.

Week Two in Linden

My First City Council Visit

By Kaleb Kirkpatrick

 I’ve never been to a city council meeting in my life. Being from Mobile, it’s never really been one of the “things to do before I die”. However, here in Linden it’s very different. City council meetings are much more intimate and are held the first and third Tuesday of each month. Here Mayor Charles Moore could actually shake all 2,100 citizens’ hands if he wanted to. In Mobile, that personal connection is lost to a population of more than 195,000.

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Council meetings take place at City Hall. (Photo by Kaleb Kirkpatrick)

Having never been to a council meeting, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I have seen the Mobile City Council meet on television, but that hardly prepared me for my first visit to a Linden City Council meeting. I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea…a bomb didn’t go off or anything. However, the meeting did seem to get a little heated. From my understanding this was an unusual meeting for two reasons. First, the “average” council meeting lasts 30 minutes. This meeting went on much longer. The second reason is the subject matter that was up for discussion.

This story requires a bit of background in order to fully understand what happened. First of all, one of the local restaurants, Screamers, changed ownership. The new owner decided he wanted to expand the restaurant to include a bar and lounge area. Within the first week of opening, there was an incident between two citizens at the bar. Shortly after, the police were called. When the police arrived they proceeded to shut down the bar, noting issues with the establishment’s liquor license.

Fast-forward to the city council meeting I attended. The new owner of Screamers showed up to see what would happen to his business. The only problem seemingly to be resolved was the issuing of a new liquor license. In order to do that, the council had to issue him a new one. After only a few minutes of open discussion the council went into executive session, meaning that they talked privately with the individual in question (the owner of Screamers), away from public ears.

The local newspaper reported that the issue of approving the license and guidelines are expected to be discussed and voted on in the next meeting. The real issue came when it was time to decide whether or not to give the owner an updated liquor license. Remember, without a valid license the bar can’t operate. If the business isn’t operating, then the owner is losing money in revenue and the city is losing money from sales taxes.

Although it might seem like this issue has been fully explored, it hasn’t. There is an underlying set of values here, namely the issue of public consumption of alcohol and maintaining a quiet town. Some citizens see the benefits offered from having a place like this open. It lets more business actually be conducted in the Linden city limits, which in turn becomes sales tax for the city government. On the other side of the issue are citizens who want a small, quiet town that doesn’t resemble a loud city like Auburn on the weekends. Linden doesn’t want to be New York City.  It wants to be Linden. Both sides make valid points and have different views.

I’m hoping that agreements can be made that work out for everyone so that the business can be open and the undisturbed jewel that is Linden can be maintained. Communication is extremely important in this circumstance. As long as the lines of communication stay open between the city and the owner then I am very confident that everything will be resolved quickly.

Week One in Linden:  Rotary Club Discoveries

By Kaleb Kirkpatrick

When I first heard about Rotary Club I had no idea what it actually did and what it was. After a short Google search I found that Rotary is a group of citizens united by a common goal of community involvement.  These clubs, which can be found around the world, attempt to create service projects for their members in order to give back to the community. I attended both the Linden Rotary Club and the Demopolis Rotary Club meeting. Both were very different and interesting meetings.

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The Rotary Club holds its meetings at local restaurant, Screamers. (Photo by Kaleb Kirkpatrick)

Goodloe Sutton, the editor of The Democrat Reporter, heads the Linden Rotary Club. The civic meeting occurs at one of the popular restaurants in town, Screamers. Everyone sits down for lunch before the meeting actually begins. During this time everyone munches on fried chicken, green beans and rolls. Everyone greets one another in a manner that only longtime close friends can. After lunch, everyone stands for the prayer and pledge. This is another example of how citizens are united by common roots such as religion and patriotism. I think that is one of the reasons this group of citizens wants to participate in Rotary Club. They are all looking for a chance to give back to their communities and help make small but real changes in the lives of Lindenites.

Next, the club has a few announcements on what’s going on in town and what events are coming up that they need to participate in. The winter Chilly Festival was mentioned as was the carnival scheduled for the end of June. Then the president called for any other announcements or ideas from the members. After this, the meeting concluded. Many people stayed around to talk and catch up on what is going on with each other. I think these meetings, where citizens and friends communicate, are how things can begin to change in communities.    Living here in Linden is very different from anything I’ve experienced before. The unity and camaraderie exhibited by so many in the city is admirable and is something we should all try to emulate.

The Demopolis meeting is similar but different, as is the entire city of Demopolis from Linden. Demopolis is much larger than Linden. The city has more than 7,000 residents. This might cause someone to think that the citizens of Demopolis aren’t as engaged and friendly as the people of Linden or other much smaller communities. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Demopolis meeting is held in the hospital basement. Citizens eat just like at the Linden Rotary meeting. Next they also do the pledge and prayer.  Then a few announcements, including news on a scholarship being raised for students who want to attend Auburn University but may not be able to afford it, were made. They also mentioned an excellent past service project they had at the country club. In addition the club has a donation bucket. Members or really anyone can buy a ticket and if their ticket number is called they have a chance to draw a card and win how much money is in the pot. If someone does win they have to split a portion of the money with the Rotary Club. The pot carries over and currently it’s getting quite large. The man who was called didn’t draw the right card to win, so everything is left for next meeting.

Finally, a guest speaker, manager Butch Larkin who works for an oil company that recently located in Demopolis, took to the podium. His speech emphasized the important point that “although we might be owned by nonlocals, the people who work for us are local family and friends from Marengo County.”  He wanted everyone to know that the company wants to be a major part of the community and all events that citizens participate in. Larkin made a few other points such as schools are a major reason for why Demopolis is thriving. “You have to support your schools because that’s what companies and businesses are looking for. It’s one of the reasons they choose Demopolis over other areas.” He also made a call to action for everyone to get involved in local government. “If there’s something you don’t like about what’s going on, then get involved and help change it and make it better.”

Linden Citizens Build on Rich Past

By Kaleb Kirkpatrick

Linden, in the western part of Alabama, is the county seat of Marengo County. Originally, Linden was The Town of Marengo, thenblake2Hohenlinden. Later on it was known as “Screamersville,” adopting Linden as its name in 1823. Hohenlinden derived from the county’s earliest European settlers, French Bonapartist refugees to the Vine and Olive Colony. Linden was a city before Alabama was even a state.

Today, 2,123 citizens call Linden home. Fifty-two percent of the citizens are white, 46 are black, and the rest consist of Native American, Asian, and Hispanic residents. Most people who live in Linden live there because they enjoy the simple, quiet life that a rural community has to offer.  According to Kathryn Friday, a long-time citizen in Linden, “We rejoice together and we grieve together. I guess that’s what makes us a community.” Indeed, that is what a community is all about, especially a small town place like Linden.

Unfortunately, Linden is an aging community, with less and less youth involvement. For example, Friday said, “There are fewer and fewer children on bicycles and more people on scooters.”

The downtown of Linden is a place with multiple possibilities. However, it is difficult for all to realize this because of some empty window fronts and vacant buildings.

Friday said, “Linden is a very caring community, but people here mind their own business unless there is a need, but then they respond in spades.  I know this from personal experience.”

Citizens are working on creating local celebrations. For example, the city has annual Easter celebrations at the gazebo area, and the chili festival during Christmas time. These are especially important gatherings for citizens to come and relax and enjoy one another’s company.    Other recreation outlets include a skating rink known as the Linden Fun Factory, with skating is open to all of the young people in the community.

The school system in Linden is another great place for activities. Unfortunately, the schools are racially segregated, with white students in the private school, and black students in the public school.

However, many of the newly instituted celebrations are helping to mend the bonds between the separated students. In the words of Friday, “It is still a very racially divided community, but that is changing as the people come together for things such as Chili Fest and Easter activities at the park.  By divided I do not indicate any hostility.  It is just that there are two distinct communities.  Friendships bridge the gap, but it still exists.”

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