By Nathan Turner Jr.
For the Birmingham Times
Frank E. Adams Jr. was a painfully shy child growing up in the Bush Hills neighborhood in West Birmingham, but he got a dose of confidence when he joined the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club Inc. (AGGBGC) in 1983 and met the organization’s renowned namesake.
Prominent businessman Arthur George “A.G” Gaston would often emerge from his office in the club, then located on Seventh Avenue North, and offer words of encouragement to the young people gathered there. This interaction helped the then-11-year-old Adams embark on a journey that would lead him to take the reins of the organization in 2012.
“I learned to swim, worked with arts and crafts, got help with homework, and socialized. I also learned that football was not for me,” said Adams, 45, AGGBGC’s CEO.
On August 10, the AGGBGC will celebrate 50 years of service to the metro area during an event at the Birmingham Museum of Art. The club tutors, mentors, and helps more than 1,400 young people from Birmingham and Bessemer, helping them to become productive, successful adults who support their communities. The organization has three locations: the flagship Kirkwood R. Balton Clubhouse in West End, the Center for a New Generation at Hayes Middle School, and the Southside Homes site.
The ‘Brightest’ Moment
Despite his bashfulness, Adams learned to look Gaston in the eye and tell him what he had learned at the club on any particular day.
“We respected and appreciated his mentoring and strong presence,” he said, adding that Gaston lacked a formal education but loved learning.
Adams said that Gaston, who opened doors to the youth organization in 1967, stated in his later years that the club was the ‘brightest’ moment in his long, illustrious career. Gaston, a Demopolis, Ala., native, died on Jan. 19, 1994, at the age of 103.
When he was first tapped to lead the AGGBGC, Adams crafted various 30-day, 60-day and 90-day plans for the organization’s future. Those plans were scrapped, however, after the children greeted him with hugs daily, he said.
“I want to see the community rally around our young people at a much higher level than before and continue to invest in our kids spiritually, emotionally and financially,” Adams said.
The organization’s mandate must include offering meaningful experiences for the more than 1,400 youths served at the club’s three locations annually, Adams said. As part of his strategy, the AGGBGC encourages feedback from the children on their expectations and needs.
Adams calls the club an ‘oasis’ for young people who are often in dire need of stability and nurturing. This is true, he says, especially since the main club unit is situated in Southwest Birmingham, an area that has had its challenges.
“We are even more needed as a place of refuge,” said Adams, who is married to Patrice, a Wells Fargo bank executive. They have an 11-year-old son, Frank William.
Adams is not satisfied with just providing a safe, nurturing environment. He also wants young people to gain a sense of worth and responsibility.
“Our mission must not be too wide and too shallow as we execute our focus,” he said. “… We are working with 6-year-olds to 18-year-olds, helping them through caring adults, both volunteers and employees. These young people must learn to dream big, understand that dream, and be able to reach that dream.”
Various stories underline the importance of the AGGBGC. In one instance, a young man named Michael gave Adams a letter revealing that his mother had been jailed after becoming involved in a bad check case. In the same note, Adams recalled, the young man acknowledged that his mother had fallen victim to poor choices in life.
Adams hails from a family of talent and achievers.
His father, the late Frank E. Adams Sr., was a well-known musician and teacher in Birmingham. The Smithfield native, who played clarinet and saxophone with jazz greats Duke Ellington and Sun Ra, was inducted into the inaugural class of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
His mother, Doris, a native of Rosedale in Homewood, was the first African-American teacher at Crumley Chapel Elementary School, located in an unincorporated town northwest of Birmingham. At one point she was a featured vocalist in her husband’s band.
And his uncle, Oscar Adams Jr., was a prominent civil rights lawyer who went on to an appointment on the Alabama Supreme Court in 1980. He later won the seat outright and became the first African-American to win statewide constitutional public office in Alabama.
Frank Jr. attended Woodrow Wilson Elementary School and the Alabama School of Fine Arts. After graduating in 1990, he studied clarinet at Boston University, and completed an undergraduate degree in business administration and art performance. He later earned a master’s degree in fine arts management at the school.
The AGGBGC CEO credits his father and uncle with persuading him to return to Birmingham after graduating from Boston University. Like many other young people, he wanted out of Birmingham, perhaps to live in a bigger city.
“I am glad I came back home,” said Adams, who began his career as a strategic planner for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Health System and later served as manager of business development at Brookwood Medical Center.
In 1999, Adams was appointed to fill the Birmingham City Council District 8 seat left vacant when Bernard Kincaid was elected mayor. He sought to keep the seat in the 2000 Birmingham City Council special election but lost to Lee Loder.
Now, Adams has apparently found his niche, shepherding young people toward self-confidence and self-worth. And, he still speaks with pride about A.G. Gaston as a man who invested in the community and diversified and integrated his multiple companies as a pioneer African-American businessman.
“[The AGGBGC is] pursuing a higher level of customer service in responding to the needs of the children,” said Adams. “We want to be a stabilizing force and add to the overall vibrancy of the community.”