Birmingham Housing Authority recognizes its own, including one of nation’s top track stars

Joseph D. Bryant
Housing Authority of the Birmingham District

The Housing Authority of the Birmingham District recently celebrated the accomplishments of dozens from the class of 2017 with a reception where scholarships were granted to seven incoming college freshmen. Jayla Kirkland right, a graduate of Woodlawn School, was awarded a scholarship from the housing authority during the event. From left: Cardell Davis, president of the HABD Scholarship Foundation and Chairman of the HABD Board of Commissioners; Adrian Peterson-Fields, HABD senior vice president/COO; Michael Lundy, HABD president/CEO and Kirkland. (Photo by Armon Matthews/HABD)

Jayla Kirkland, a graduate of Woodlawn High School, is regarded as Alabama’s fastest runner and among the top track stars in the nation and will attend Florida State University on a full athletic scholarship. 

Paris Stevens, a graduate of Carver High School, graduated with honors after taking several Advancement Placement courses where she will attend Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University after earning more than $14,000 in scholarships. She will major in environmental science.

Darrell Cook, of Carver High School, played varsity football for three years while also holding a part time job his senior year and earned a football scholarship to Lincoln University in Missouri.

The Housing Authority of the Birmingham District recently honored those students and many others from the Class of 2017 with a banquet at the Smithfield Court Community Center.

The event recognized dozens of the graduates who live in public housing and Section 8, many of whom have earned scholarships to attend colleges both in state and nationwide. Achievers include rising electricians, engineers, nurses, military service members and master athletes.  

Seven graduates received additional scholarships from the housing authority totaling up to $15,000.

“Looking at this list of graduates and reviewing their plans as young professionals, I breathe a little easier knowing that our future is secure with this next generation of leaders,” said HABD President/CEO Michael Lundy. “These students inspire us as they move from one stage of development to the next. It is with great pride that the housing authority takes a moment to recognize the best and brightest of our youngest residents.”

Kirkland was heavily recruited and had her choice of several universities. In 2015, Kirkland won a bronze medal during the World Youth Championship in Cali, Colombia. In all, she has earned 16 state track titles.

Even with an enormous collection of medals and trophies and talk about participation in 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Kirkland remains modest.

“I want to be successful. I want to go far, and that keeps me level-headed,” said Kirkland. “I’m really focused on my job. I see it clearly.”

The resident of Tom Brown Village said her address mattered much less than her plan for the future. Kirkland’s grandmother, Beverly Forbes told her granddaughter that her future was not predetermined by where she lived.

Kirkland got the message, saying challenges of the past have served as training, strengthening her for the future. Kirkland will major in sports management and head to FSU this summer.

“This is just the beginning, I know,” she said. “This is just a stepping stone to things that are greater.”

‘Feelin’ The Love’

Stevens’ eyes widened as her name was called and she headed to the podium to receive her oversized scholarship check from the housing authority. A resident of North Birmingham Homes, Stevens worked a part-time job and participated in several community service activities while excelling at Carver.

“I’m feeling the love,” she said later, surrounded by dozens of other graduates. “I’m happy that the youth are here together.”

Her mother, Mailin Murray, was close to tears near the end of the reception as she reflected on her daughter’s graduation and upcoming college years.

“I’m excited and blessed,” Murray said “I’m a proud mother at this moment, and I know she has so much in front of her. She’s broken every barrier that came her way.”

Darrell Cook, a resident of Collegeville Center missed attending the reception by one day. He left Birmingham soon after graduation to enroll in college early and begin football practice at Lincoln University in Missouri. The university was founded in 1854 and is credited as the nation’s first degree-granting historically black college.

Mary Phillips expressed the same sentiment of joy as other parents after her grandsons, D’Kota and Dylan Peterson were honored. The young men, twins, graduates of P. D. Jackson-Olin High School, who reside in Elyton Village will separate in the fall as one D’Kota attends Miles College and Dylan heads to Alabama A&M University.   

“They’re just good Christian boys. They were raised in the church and they’ve never given any trouble,” Phillips said as the pair took pictures in the lobby. “It just feels good.”

Cardell Davis, chairman of the HABD Board of Commissioners and president of the scholarship foundation, said the graduates set strong examples for their peers to follow.

“For the housing authority and the scholarship foundation, this is why we put this together, to make sure that any student in public and subsidized housing can be all they can through education,” Davis said. “This is the ultimate goal and ultimate mission of our scholarship foundation. They are not only leaders of the future, these young and men and women are leaders today as they blaze a path of success.”