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Posts Tagged ‘Alabama’

Living Democracy in Marion: Week Six

In Marion on July 31, 2013 at 2:25 pm
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Health care professional checks blood pressure at weekly hypertension clinic in Marion.

Living Democracy Collaboration Award

By Catherine Tabor

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

Community is the focus of Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts’ Living Democracy program. What makes a community? How can a community be either good or bad? How can communities improve? These are just some of the many questions seven Auburn University students have been asking themselves over the last few months. From Collinsville to Selma to Bayou La Batre, these students have learned valuable lessons about how communities work in Alabama.

During my time as a Living Democracy Fellow in Marion, I have learned that community is not defined by how many buildings hold thriving businesses on the courthouse square or by the city limits. For Marion, community is the people. The people in the churches, schools and workplaces are all the foundations of community.

A few local organizations recognize that Marion needs healthy citizens to have a healthy community. This is where Sowing Seeds of Hope, the Perry County Health Department, and Samford University’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy come in.

Samford University, the Perry County Health Department and Sowing Seeds of Hope all possess missions to help. Samford helps its students cultivateMarion 5 their talents by connecting them with professors and faculty who can pass along grains of wisdom gathered from years of experience in a demanding and often challenging world. The Perry County Health Department “offers clinical and environmental services to the public.” And Sowing Seeds of Hope provides many services to the community, ranging from housing to healthcare.

These three distinct entities unite to help the citizens of Marion and Perry County in a free hypertension clinic offered every Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m. Dr. Charles Sands of Samford University and Sowing Seeds of Hope’s Executive Director Frances Ford started the cardiovascular risk reduction clinic, which is known locally as the hypertension clinic. However, blood pressure checks are not the only things going on every Wednesday afternoon at the Perry County Health Department. The clinic also checks blood sugar, weight, cholesterol and educates patients on use of medications and a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Pilar Murphy, an assistant professor at Samford University who originally hails from Arkansas, states that she has seen the positive effects the clinic is having in the community. For example, the Friendship Baptist Church now has a partnership with Samford’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy. The pharmacy students come to Marion once a month to host a health fair and a healthy dinner.

Dr. Sands, who recently retired, told everyone at his his tear-filled retirement party attended by family, friends and beloved patients, that this was not the last time Perry County would see him. After taking a year off to serve as a missionary, Dr. Sands said he plans to be back in Marion helping in any way he can. Explaining the partnership between Samford and Sewing Seeds of Hope, Dr. Sands said, “Samford originally started in Marion as Howard University and this is our way of saying thanks and paying tribute to our home.”

Samford sends two pharmacy students who intern in Marion for one month as part of their Senior Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience. Dr. Murphy said the interns from Samford benefit by working at the clinic in Marion because  they live in the community five days a week. The experience also gives them a new perspective on rural health. The interns are able to see the conditions that impoverished citizens face. Murphy said, “A lot of our students haven’t actually had to deal with people who are dealing with a lot of the things our patients are dealing with.”

Marion 4The hypertension clinic is widely publicized so that Marion residents are aware of the free services offered. Along with a newspaper ad that runs every week in The Marion Times Standard, the clinic also contacts various local churches and hosts a radio program called “Body Love” that airs on WJUS 1310 AM and 94.3 FM every Wednesday morning. Each week’s volume of patients varies, which is usual, especially for a small town. This summer, the clinic has averaged about 10 to 12 patients but some days up to 24 people were in the waiting room ready to be seen.

Epictetus once said, “It takes more than just a good looking body. You’ve got to have the heart and soul to go with it.” Maybe Marion doesn’t have the prettiest body in Alabama. But despite every hardship, Marion always gets up and tries again. The Samford students and I, through the Living Democracy experience, are learning that it does have a big heart and bright soul.

Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week Eight

In Bayou La Batre on July 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm
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Students wade into Gulf waters to learn about oyster farming techniques from Auburn University’s Dr. Bill Walton.

Experience with oysters holds pearls of wisdom

By Laney Payne

If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.

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A handful of baby oysters.

As a 23-year-old psychology major at Auburn University, never in my life did I think I’d be in “Bayou Reeboks” oyster farming alongside the field’s best.  But, as a Living Democracy Fellow working in Bayou La Batre this summer, I’ve learned firsthand about the heart and soul of this coastal community.

Two months ago, I thought oysters were the slimy goodness that came on the half shell smothered in cocktail sauce. Never once did I think I’d be chest-deep in the waters that grow the delicacy. Under the instruction of Dr. Bill Walton, Auburn University’s aquaculture extension specialist, and Scott Rikard, Auburn University’s aquaculture nursery manager, I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn the walk and talk of the oyster business.

I have learned about everything from triploids to Shellfish Aquaculture Review Boards to plot acreages to screening silos. After hearing about the amazing anatomy of oysters and how special upweller tubs can serve as temporary growing stations, I can now add a piece of oyster experience to my resume. In this process of discovery, I have grown to respect the individuals who live their life at the mercy of the tides.

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Laney Payne puts screens in silos for upweller site.

Unlike the wooden desks of my usual Auburn classroom, the classroom here is held more than a mile offshore in the cool coastal waters underneath the beaming sun. With my back against the aluminum railing tucked inside a bright orange life vest, I took in the beautiful Alabama waters that support the families who shared the boat as we headed out to the “farm”.

Without a John Deere tractor in sight, the oyster farm Dr. Walton is helping to develop nourishes a variety of oysters of all shapes in sizes. From Australian long lines to off-bottom cages, the oysters develop organically in their natural habitat with the help of people invested in seeing their “crop” flourish.

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Worker assembles oyster cages.

The oysters we see on our plates atop saltines are just the final stage in a long line of work known by the oyster farming crew. At the Auburn nursery, the oyster farming business begins even before the babies exist. They spawn each oyster on site and create their own oyster “seed”. From there, the babies take a trip from tub to tub to soak in the freshly pumped and filtered seawater for nutrients and oxygen. As each oyster develops, they are moved to a larger mesh screen and eventually taken out to the true “farm” stage in the wild. There they will stay until it is harvest time.

Oystering is much more than just a way of life for many of the people along Alabama’s coast. It’s a family tradition, and it’s in their blood. Whether it be through Auburn’s nursery or from the local wild waters of the Gulf, the oystermen are here to stay in the bayou in spite of the many troubles that have given them every reason to leave.

Through my oyster adventure, I have found myself drawing connections between this sea creature and restaurant delicacy to the people I have come to connect with and love. When just a microscopic animal, oysters swim in search of the “taste” of other oyster shells to attach to and make their “home”. The way they see it, if someone (an oyster in this case) has survived and flourished there, they can too. This process is called “spat-on-shell” to the people who know the industry. To the rest of us, it is simple safety in numbers.

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Participants in class grade oysters for aging.

The people of the bayou are much like the “spat-on-shell” oysters themselves. With every odd against them — Hurricane Ivan, Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill — they have survived. By sticking together, close to family roots and tradition, the people here will thrive.

As a 23-year-old psychology student, I never knew my journey would lead me to the realm of “oyster farming”, but I am blessed that it did. By doing something I have never done, I am receiving things that I have never known. This Auburn-turned-bayou woman is watching her harvest flourish and blessed to be on the journey that is Living Democracy.

Living Democracy in Linden: Week 10

In Linden on July 23, 2013 at 3:53 pm

2013 Living Democracy Fellow Kaleb Kirkpatrick, center, worked with community partners Marengo County Extension Coordinator Kathryn Friday, left, and Brenda Tuck, executive director of the Marengo County Economic Development Authority.

My Summer in Linden

By Kaleb Kirkpatrick

Living in rural southwest Alabama has been an extremely beneficial and rewarding experience during my ten weeks of Living Democracy in Linden. This time in Linden taught me more about how the “real world” operates than I ever could have imagined, helping open my eyes to rural life in America and especially in the Black Belt. I discovered both the benefits and disadvantages of living in a small town.

Marengo County is certainly a different atmosphere than what I am used to in my hometown of Mobile. For example, I learned about having to drive almost 30 minutes to go to Wal-Mart.  The people of Linden recognize the problems associated with small town rural life and yet they would never trade it for anything in the world. To be honest, I have grown quite fond of the quiet, rural life. It is really quiet on the weekends and at night especially. But, during the day in the local stores, it’s anything but silent. I think what I’ll miss the most about living in Linden is the simple fact that everyone knew my name. Whenever I walked into a store there was someone who would stop and say “Hey Kaleb. How are you today?”

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Local artists displayed their work in downtown businesses during the summer art walk. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Coming from Mobile and as a student at Auburn University, I’m used to not seeing anyone I know when I go to the store.  The only conversation that occurs is the usual “Hi …how are you?” But in Linden, it’s totally different. The people actually want to know how you are. They care if you’re okay or not, and they want to know how your life is going. It’s almost a sense that they would rather spend all day talking with you about life than actually “get down to business”.

Over the entire summer in Linden, I’ve learned so much about the Black Belt region and the problems that the entire area faces. I’ve also grown to understand what solutions are being implemented in order to alleviate those problems. Much of my understanding comes from the work my community partners are doing for the area. Brenda Tuck, executive director of the Marengo County Economic Development Authority, pushes efforts vital to the entire region and to Alabama as a whole. Without industry and jobs, small towns like Linden may totally dry up.

Kathryn Friday, also is providing valuable leadership for the community and region in her position as Marengo County Extension coordinator for the Alabamaart walk linden 2 Cooperative Extension System (ACES). The student career classes she is planning for the fall may help stop the “brain drain” occurring in Marengo County and other rural areas.  I can only hope the Linden Art Walk I helped organize with my community partners this summer had a small impact to help downtown development and unity.

Ten weeks of living in a rural community seems like a long time but it really isn’t. So much of it flies by in the small moments. Things like visiting the senior center or interviewing local citizens or attending the City Council meeting were extremely beneficial and enjoyable. It helped me to realize the people in Linden haven’t given up. They all want to fight and help Linden thrive. The people who run small businesses here help keep everything going. Of course, they need the support of local shoppers to continue on.

I’ve also learned some greater life lessons, especially that relationships count. I will never forget how many times Mrs. Friday told me how she was able to deal with this or that problem because she had a name at the ‘big’ office. And, of course, I know that one day when I’m working in Washington, D.C., or wherever and if  Mrs. Friday  calls me asking for a favor, I will be more than happy to oblige. I’ve also learned to never assume that things are done or have been done. This is especially true when working with the public as a whole. If you haven’t double-checked and gotten a 100 percent yes or no answer then do not assume anything. Just make sure that you are willing to do your own part, and everything will turn out all right. Overall, this experience was extremely enjoyable and fulfilling for me. It helped me to grow and develop as a young adult.

Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week Seven

In Bayou La Batre on July 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm

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Living Democracy Citizen Award: Craig Clary

By Laney C. Payne

There are people in this world who possess the power of changing the lives of anyone they come in contact with. If we are lucky enough, we each have the opportunity to meet such an individual. Bayou La Batre’s Craig Clary is one of those special souls.

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Clary holds great grandfather’s oyster knife. (Photo by Laney Payne)

Wearing a faded “Preventative Maintenance” shirt and scuffed brown leather boots, 47-year-old Clary is a humble man with a story to share and a heart of gold. As a product of the bayou, Clary’s roots lie deep in the thick mud that covers the oyster-clad bottom of the Alabama Gulf. “Those pictures in the Bayou La Batre museum, those are all my kin folk. This here is my great great granddaddy’s oyster shucking knife. It’s real special to me. This place, it’s in my blood,” said Clary as he grasps a weathered wooden knife with a family “H” for the name Hodges engraved in the bottom.

Today, with bayou pride in his soft blue eyes, Clary makes it his personal mission to serve the people of his community. After 20 years of safe truck driving and time in the seafood shacks, Clary drove his 18-wheeler back to the place he now calls home. As an employee of the city of Bayou La Batre, Clary works up and down his hometown streets.  “I came to work for the street department and saw the need. When you see a need, you find a way to fill it,” said Clary.

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Clary makes Friday food deliveries all over Bayou La Batre. (Photo by Laney Payne)

But Clary’s work doesn’t end at punch-out.  From a chance meeting with a now fellow volunteer after Hurricane Katrina, Clary saw the work that people were doing and found a way to get involved. “A blue van pulled up handing out TV dinners to folks. I saw the good work they were doing and wanted to do some myself,” said Clary. Each week on his day off, he does just that. Clary loads up his ’85 Chevy pickup with fresh produce to take out to the people of bayou. Whether it is Buddhist monks, Cambodian crabbers or Vietnamese grandmothers with children on their hips, Clary delivers food to whoever needs it.

“I created this route, and the people know me here. It’s the most rewarding thing, gaining someone’s trust,” said Clary as he tells of times passing tangerines through fences to local children.

With a strong respect for the people who live along the narrow streets on his route, Clary waves at each and every individual that passes by his beat-up work truck.  “They know my truck, and come on out. I tell ‘em don’t be shy, just take what you need,” said Clary. “I got this old thing when I traded my Mustang, now it’s loaded down with food and whoever wants to join me along for the ride.”

While handing out bananas, citrus fruits, radishes, and other produce items, Clary explains the story of each and every individual we meet.  “This man here is Neang Nou. He was hit by an AK-47 and now works hard crabbin’ and shrimpin’. If you look up there on the porch there’s ten sets of shoes, he takes care of ‘em all. If we leave food here, he’ll get it to whoever needs it. Plus, I don’t mind the Buddhist monks sayin’ a prayer for me,” said Clary with a laugh.

As his truck chugs along the back roads through family-owned crabbing shacks and gardens supporting the people who live in houses on the crowded lots, Clary is sure to let everyone he comes in contact with know how thankful he is to do what he does. With each delivery, Clary is met with offerings of smiles, coffee, or fresh rice. Instead of saying, “You’re welcome,” Clary replies with, “Hey ya’ll, I really appreciate it, I’ll see you next week.”

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Clary delivers fresh produce in ’85 Chevy pickup. (Photo by Laney Payne)

“What keeps me coming back is the feeling you get off of it. It’s not something you buy in a store,” said Clary. “I love the people I meet. I help take care of them, and they take care of me. If I’m out working and they see me, they stop and feed me or give me a drink. We help each other.”

Not naive to the struggles and differences of life in Bayou La Batre, Clary keeps his focus on the people of the community. “After Katrina, ‘catastrophe’ was a proper word. That winter, we all struggled through,” said Clary.

“Some people think we aren’t educated here, but they are wrong. This is their education. They are making it, and they are almost completely self sufficient,” Clary added as he pointed out crop lines and homemade trellises covered in budding vines.

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

Living Democracy in Hobson City: Week Four

In Hobson City on July 8, 2013 at 8:19 pm

King Pays Visit to Hobson City

By Audrey Ross


King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III

Hobson City was honored this weekend to have one of the few remaining west African dynastic kings come to town and speak on behalf of his people and his ancestors. Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III is the king of Porto-Novo, a province in the small country of Benin bordering Nigeria and Ghana. Among the reasons for his visit to Hobson City was the 75th anniversary of the Cunningham family with which Hakpon is distantly related.

Several minutes before the king’s arrival, a long line of motorcyclists and cars could be seen waiting upon entering town. A large banner featuring a photo of King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III on his throne was strung across the telephone poles to give the king a warm welcome to Hobson City.

The community-wide event was set to take place at Hobson City’s historic cemetery where relatives of the Cunningham family are buried. Due to the rain, however, the king’s visit was pushed into the city hall facilities at the last minute.

Waiting for the crowd and King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III was a musician playing traditional African instruments and singing welcoming songs. People young and old gathered around the entrance avoiding the drizzling rain to listen to the interesting cultural music. Just as the musician began to increase the intensity of his song and onlookers became more entranced with his playing, the single string on his instrument snapped. Disappointed only for a moment, the crowd pondered how to fix the instrument together. Librarian Donna Ross and her daughter Adria happened to bring with them an African drum that the musician was familiar with, and the music continued.

Suddenly over the music, loud police sirens could be heard. Everyone peeked out of the rain shelter to see what all the commotion was. As we looked to the streets, we could see two police cars with their sirens and lights on full blast followed by a pack of local motorcyclists revving their engines. As the motorcyclists passed, they were followed by a long line of cars. The crowd watched as, one-by-one, the cars slowly passed and the passengers waved.


A large crowd gathered to hear African king’s remarks.

The parking lot was filling up and guests started coming out of their cars, umbrellas in hand. The rain was now coming down quite hard, but that didn’t stop the friendly smiles and handshakes shared between friends, relatives, and neighbors. The guests started filing in city hall, many of them wearing matching blue and white shirts to commemorate the 75th Cunningham family reunion.

In front of all the guests came King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III. He was dressed in a leopard-patterned robe, leopard shoes and a five-pointed leopard hat. He had hanging on his left shoulder a golden staff with a small leopard at the top. He carried a golden cane in his right hand.


Mayor Alberta McCrory welcomes king to Hobson City.

It took several minutes for everyone to get into the small space used for city council meetings. All of the rows of seats were full, and there were people standing all around the room. At the front of the room sat King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III with two members of his council. The mayor and city board members sat to the right in front of the crowd.

Mayor Alberta McCrory began the event by welcoming and thanking everyone who came out on that rainy day. She then gave a sincere welcome to King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III and his party and continued with a brief history of Hobson City. After concluding this portion of the meeting, Joyce Hope Scott, a professor at Wheelock College in Boston, introduced herself as King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III’s translator and representative in the United States.

Scott shared with those in attendance information about the country of Benin and about the king’s place there. She also spoke about his previous visits to the United States and of his recent trip to Birmingham to see the Civil Rights Museum. Scott explained that King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III wished to apologize on behalf of his ancestors who participated in the slave trade for the suffering of African Americans. She also expressed his desire to establish a sister city relationship with Hobson City, the first incorporated all-black municipality in the state of Alabama.

When it was King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III’s turn to speak, Scott informed the audience that he would only speak in his native language in public. His councilman would translate his words into French, which Scott would then translate in English. This was done in respect for the king’s ancestors, who could only understand his native language.

The king began his speech by expressing the importance of women in his culture. He was very pleased to see a woman as mayor and women on the city’s board. He also spoke of the importance of knowing your history and remaining close with your ancestors. With each eloquently delivered line, the audience applauded in respect and admiration for King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III.

As the inspiring speech reached an end, King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III presented the mayor with a key to the city of Porto-Novo. The mayor then presented the king with a key to Hobson City and a special United States flag that was flown in honor of the city.

King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III ended the ceremony with a long prayer in his native language. He blessed all of those in attendance and all of those in Hobson City and surrounding areas. A glass of water was poured on the soil in remembrance of ancestors, and the crowd dispersed, inspired and touched by the king’s visit.