By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
Shadaria A. Allison is Married2TheMission. Literally.
Allison is an author, motivational speaker, actress, poet, and community organizer who has been on tour promoting her latest book, “Married2TheMission—Birmingham: A City Destined for Reform.” Proceeds from the book go toward an idea she has long conceptualized.
“It is our goal to see the [vacant Carraway Hospital] building revitalized into a state-of-the-art recreational facility tailored to meet the needs of women, and eventually men, who have suffered from the burden of homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction,” said Allison, once a homeless teen mom who lived in Birmingham public housing.
She founded the nonprofit Married2TheMission (M2M) to promote and celebrate the success of women by way of community service, outreach, and counsel. Her organization was originally geared toward women, “[but] so many of our children, youth, millennials, and men need the center [that M2M] is destined to be.”
“Our health disparities have [crossed] ethnicities and genders,” said Allison. “We want to provide shelter, rehabilitation, and recreation to those in need so that all may regroup, and be placed in society as functioning and stabilized citizens.”
The World Is Watching
Allison believes Birmingham is an ideal place to spark change.
“History has proven Birmingham as having a hard struggle in social-justice arenas, such as the Civil Rights Movement,” she said. “It is my belief that the giant issues of our country and state have been settled in the walls of this great city.”
Allison pointed to a slogan at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute that reads “Birmingham: The World Is Watching.”
“I believe that … we as a city have the key to vast change and improvements in national society,” she said, adding that “we have the power to change things, laws, and nations.”
Allison knows she has her work cut out for her. There have already been talks of using the Carraway site as a retail-housing complex.
“I see something bigger,” she said. “I want to create a place to serve the needs of the forgotten people.”
Allison, 31, is a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who moved to Birmingham in 2002 to be closer to her mom. She was the first black homecoming queen at Spain Park High School in Hoover.
“That was an incredible moment for me, as a full-figured black teenage girl,” she said.
Asked how Birmingham compares to New York City, she said, “I think of Birmingham as the New Brooklyn, same potential.”
“Birmingham has the potential to grow its mass-transit system and bring billions of dollars into the economy, which would set us apart economically from a lot of Southern cities,” she said.
She added that Birmingham is growing in diversity and becoming a cultural melting pot.
“Just as Brooklyn is known as a city with its own identity and cultural traditions—block parties, break dancing, Pepperoni Pies [pizza]—Birmingham is, too. We have the classic, Southern cuisine, and a growing creative arts scene that is becoming our cultural distinction.”
Allison got her first taste of politics last fall supporting Randall Woodfin in his successful bid to become Birmingham mayor.
“I served as a chair member for the ‘Women for Woodfin’ portion of his campaign, and I actually had the opportunity to speak at one his final rallies,” she said. “Everything I did with Woodfin’s campaign was a labor of love. [He] was the hope of my generation, and I was at the right place at the right time to echo that to my millennial peer group.”
The older Allison gets, the more she becomes aware that activism is a means to an end.
“While attending a meeting with Congresswoman Terri Sewell, I was completely inspired by something she said: ‘Activism is designed to get you a seat at the table—and when you get there you better have something to say.’”
Allison said she is partly motivated by her own past decisions, particularly her experiences as a 17-year-old mom.
“I feel inspired to help those in need in Birmingham’s inner, impoverished cities,” she said. “I moved here from New York at 16, and after acquiring two scholarships in voice and academics, I ended up becoming a homeless mom and living in Southtown projects.”
Allison is using her past to help others.
“Having lived in impoverished environments, which are breeding grounds for those circumstances, I can empathize on a personal level with the young mother who wakes up every day in survival mode, trying to numb the pain,” she says. “I can identify with the woman who has to … [wait] for the bus to carry her to a job that pays only $7.50 an hour. I’ve been her. I understand her.”
Allison said she wants young girls to understand that the decisions they make have a direct impact on the course of their lives.
“I am not ashamed of my past, as it has most definitely shaped me into the woman God created me to be,” she said. “My past is why I can empathize with the mentally ill and why I can be a voice of reason and correction for … active young girls.”
Allison, who has appeared as an extra in a dancing club scene next to Queen Latifah in the movie “Girls Trip,” has written six inspirational books that she hopes will help women and teens avoid some of her pitfalls.
“If we never get ourselves involved in some of these situations, we wouldn’t have to endure to survive,” she said.
He son Ca’ren Franklin is now 13, and he is involved in his mom’s work and political activism. How does Allison balance her busy schedule and her family?
“I bring my boy along,” she said. “He is servant-oriented and longs to be a role model for children growing up in adverse circumstances due to impoverished millennial displaced parents.”