January 31, 2007
by Jesse Woods
2006-2007 Blackburn Fellow
A Sophomore from Harvest majoring in Chemical and Biological Sciences
To see photos from the trip, please click here.
On January 19, 2007, 30 student and alumni fellows of the Blackburn Institute journeyed to Huntsville as part of the Burt Jones Travel Experiences, and what an experience it was! The trip was intended to expose second/third year fellows to the particular challenges facing urban communities in Alabama. We were pleased to be joined by several first-year fellows and alumni fellows from the area as well. When not busy being engaged by panels of many of The Rocket City’s emerging leaders, the fellows had an opportunity to take note of what Huntsville was doing right and how they were setting an example for Alabama.
Photo from the Huntsville Travel ExperienceThe first activity in Huntsville was lunch at the National Space Science and Technology Center with a presentation by Ed Buckbee, author of The Real Space Cowboys. Mr. Buckbee spoke about his work with the men of America’s first space programs. He also explained how the fates of NASA and the city were intertwined during the early years of the space race. Following Mr. Buckbee’s presentation, our first panel was held on The Future of Space with distinguished panelists from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center as well as Redstone Arsenal’s Army Aviation and Missile Command. The future of space flight was highlighted by a presentation on the Ares program- NASA’s vision to go back to the moon and beyond. The next panel, Huntsville’s Role in Advancing the Future of Space was again populated with some of Huntsville’s most distinguished leaders, including U.A. trustee, Joe Ritch. A major topic was American’s lack of engineering graduates and the need for more as our society becomes more technologically dependent. Fellows also heard mention of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process through which the US Army has chosen Huntsville to locate five-thousand white-collar jobs in the Army Acquisition Command. The panelists expressed their concerns of how Huntsville was going to cope with the massive influx of population; a theme mentioned many more times thought the trip.
The fellows’ next panel was on Economic Development in Huntsville Outside of Space, Defense, & Government Contracts. A theme all the panelists were passionate about was the city’s hospitality due to its relatively young age. The panelists also discussed the great diversification of businesses within Huntsville which had occurred in recent years as the city grew. The next panel was one of personal interest to many fellows, Life for Young Professionals in Huntsville: Career & Personal Opportunities. They discussed civic, professional, and personal opportunities from groups that mentor at-risk children to lively music venues in the downtown area. Later at the hotel, an invigorating late-night discussion ensued concerning how the panels seemed unwilling to discuss any short-fallings of the city. The fellows hoped to hear another side in the morning with a panel from the North Alabama African-American Chamber of Commerce (NAAACC).
Our first two panels on Saturday began with the NAAACC. The most pressing question was, “Why is a separate chamber of commerce needed for African-Americans?” The idea that there was a rivalry between the two chambers was quickly dismissed by the panel as one panelist was a member of both chambers of commerce. The NAAACC stated clearly that their mission was not to compete with the Madison County Chamber, but rather to provide additional support to black businesses in the area. Following that panel, we heard from Huntsville’s education community with the panel Challenges and Issues in Education: A Look into the Huntsville City and Madison County School Systems. Representatives from the Huntsville City school system discussed their attempts at better integrating their schools though bussing programs while leaders in the Madison County system presented their ‘growing pains’ and the difficulty of having such rapidly increasing enrollment with a lower tax-base.
For lunch, the Institute headed to the Alabama Constitution Hall Village where the first constitutional convention in Alabama was held in 1819. Following lunch was the final panel for the weekend, Managing the Speed of Change: Huntsville Community Strategic Planning. The Institute was joined by two state representatives and two officials from the city who specialize in planning. They expressed a want to see more collaboration on strategic planning while the officials from the city felt the competitiveness of landing new businesses made this noble pursuit impossible.
Clearly, Huntsville is on the right tract, but it remains to be seen whether it will be a city of great unity or one of disparity. Huntsville’s history is compelling, and its future bright, for as Dr. Werner Von Braun said “There was dancing here in the streets of Huntsville when our first satellite orbited the Earth. And, there was dancing again when the first Americans landed on the Moon. I’d like to ask you-don’t hang up your dancing slippers.”
January 30, 2007
by Meghan A. Stringer
2004-2005 Blackburn Fellow
A senior from Montgomery majoring in Political Science and minoring in English and Blount Undergraduate Initiative Liberal Arts
To see photos from the trip, please click here.
The 2007 Burt Jones Travel Experience took the 2006-2007 Blackburn Institute new fellows to Alexander City. The trip was intended to educate the Institute’s new fellows about the challenges facing rural communities in Alabama. Alexander City was selected because it is a location currently in the process of forging a new identity following the dwindling of its textile industry and downsizing of its major economic provider, Russell Mills. Our hosts in Alex City helped show us how new initiatives have brought new business to the area and that the community is now focusing on taking advantage of expansive growth occurring by the nearby Lake Martin. While we examined the growth occurring in Alex City, we also toured the area, including the dilapidated Camp Hill, and learned that there are still communities struggling to provide a high quality of life for their residents.
Photo from Alexander City Travel ExperienceOur group of over 30 student fellows, alumni fellows, advisory board members and University administrators began our experience at Haven Memorial United Methodist Church, where we listened to the Reverend Kanunu Busambwa’ s message concerning the role of the African American church in rural communities. After a wonderful lunch at the church, we listened to a panel on the same topic. We learned the importance that the church has as an educator, an economic entity, and also as a hub of social advocacy within Alabama’s rural African American communities.
That evening, city leaders met with us at the Willow Point Country Club for a panel discussion on Strategic planning and growth. Mayor Barbara Young informed us of the city’s efforts to aid the aging population and also discussed her plan for economic growth within the city. Our conversation with Don McClellan, the director of the Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance, showcased the area’s debate on the advantages of controlled versus unbridled growth. We next heard from a panel of young professionals who discussed the stagnant population growth of young people in Alex City. Their stories showed many problems that the city is facing—a lack of middle-income housing, sparse entertainment options, and few other young people. They also shared with us some of the positive aspects of life in Alex City, such as great schools, activities on Lake Martin, proximity to other Alabama cities, and the construction of new restaurants. We concluded Sunday with a discussion at the hotel focusing on what we learned and what we needed to examine the following day.
The next morning, we traveled to the Betty Carol Graham Technology Center at Central Alabama Community College. Our first panel discussed education in the area. We met with Representative Graham, Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Ginger East, and Alexander City Schools superintendent Tommy Bice. Our conversation with these area leaders showed us the success that the area schools, though underfunded, have had and helped highlight many important lessons for education success that could be replicated in other Alabama communities.
Our next panel examined the history and future of Alex City’s major economic entities. Listening to representatives from Russell Lands, Russell Corporation, the Russell Medical Center and Robinson Iron, we are amazed to see the proliferation of industries with a national and international focus located here in this small community and all have some roots in the vision of the town’s most noted citizen, the late Benjamin Russell. Lunch on Monday was held at the Aliant Bank headquarters and sponsored by UA trustee, John Russell Thomas. Our final panel examined the administration of justice in non-metropolitan communities; in this panel, noted local trial attorney, Larry W. Morris, several local judges, and advisory board member Don Siegal spoke about the legal environment and challenges within the state’s rural communities.
As our experience came to an end, we evaluated what we had seen, learned, and discussed. We met with an array of community members and had studied multiple aspects of life in a rural town. Though Alex City’s changes have altered the face of the area, citizens and leaders are working together to ensure stability and progress in the future.
January 26, 2007
Deidra Perry, a 1996-1997 Blackburn fellow, was recently named to EBONY magazine’s list of 30 Young Leaders Under 30 for 2007. Ms. Perry is the only person from Alabama named to the list and says she is “absolutely ready to accept the torch of leadership being passed from Dr. Blackburn.” Perry works as a recruitment account executive for the Birmingham News and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in communication management. She was nominated for this prestigious award by Rep. Artur Davis, The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and The University of Alabama.
Perry says that her experiences at the University of Alabama equipped her with the leadership skills necessary to change the future of our state, asserting “The level of leadership preparation at Alabama allowed me to perform well.” She also credits the Blackburn Institute with much of her passion and audacity about Alabama, stating “The Blackburn Institute allowed me unparalleled access to the leaders of the state and also showed me what our role was going to be for the future of Alabama.” Ms. Perry is very passionate about carrying out Dean Blackburn’s vision to change state and feels we need to begin with education. “The gap between the haves and have-nots is only growing larger in Alabama” Perry says.
Perry advises current fellows to “connect with those in your class and take advantage of all the opportunities you are presented as fellows. Blackburn was allowed me to connect with the leaders of Alabama while I was still a student…don’t miss that chance.”
Click here to download a PDF version of the EBONY feature.
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