By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Being an entrepreneur began for Selena Rodgers Dickerson when as a child she would collect empty aluminum cans people dropped on the ground during football games. She picked up the cans and tossed them in the back of her dad’s pickup truck.
“My parents would take me to recycle those cans, so I could get the money. I would take that money, buy candy from the store, and sell it to kids in the neighborhood,” said Dickerson, 41, founder and owner of SARCOR LLC, a Birmingham-based engineering firm that specializes in civil engineering and management services.
The journey from selling candy in her southwest Birmingham neighborhood to opening her firm, Selena A. Rodgers Corp. (SARCOR), in 2008 has been challenging.
With her unshakeable faith and support system, Dickerson is proof that perseverance works.
“My parents were no strangers to church and having a relationship with God,” she said. “So, growing up I learned [the Bible verse] Philippians 4:13—‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’—and [said to myself], ‘OK, I really can do anything I want or be anything I want.’”
Dickerson’s company, which now has seven full-time employees, three year-round interns, and three independent contractors, is currently working on several projects for the city of Birmingham, including sidewalks, bike lanes, and a transportation and bus-transit plan to be implemented ahead of the 2021 World Games.
“If we are responsible for doing a streetscape that is going to provide a safe mode of transportation for someone to ride their bike or walk to the grocery store or school or work, that means a lot because I am adding value to the lives of people I may never meet,” she said.
Dickerson grew up in Birmingham’s Riley neighborhood with her parents, Faye and Alfred Rodgers Jr., and her two younger brothers, Alfred III and Chris. She attended Saint Mary’s School and is a 1995 graduate of Ramsay High School. Growing up in the Riley area gives her a perspective that informs her work, she said, recalling how residents struggled because the neighborhood had few sidewalks.
“We liked to ride our bikes, but if someone chose to drive 50 miles per hour on a residential street, your life could have been in jeopardy,” she said. “If I can do something through my company to make it safe for a kid to play or ride his or her bike to school or walk on the sidewalk versus having to walk on the road, that means a lot.”
Dickerson attended Tennessee State University (TSU) in Nashville, Tenn., where she studied civil engineering. While there, she worked a co-op position off-campus and became involved with a guy she thought she could trust.
“It was December 1999. I was getting ready to leave my co-op position, go on winter break, and return to school—and he attacked me,” she said. “Being in a situation where I literally thought I was going to die as he was beating me, I started to pray and ask God to forgive me of my sins and let my parents and my family know that I love them because I really thought I was going to die. He told me, ‘You better pray because only God can save you tonight.’”
Dickerson survived the assault but suffered a partially detached retina and had to go on bed rest for a month. She returned to school the following January and continued with her classes, taking a full course load, and went to domestic violence counseling.
“I felt like I was back among friends, even family to a certain extent, because some of my classmates knew what was going on,” she said. “I felt like I was back where I needed to be, with people who I felt cared about me outside of my family back in Birmingham.”
Shortly after that semester, Dickerson attended school part time because of financial problems. She ended up working several jobs, sometimes three at a time, to pay for school.
While Dickerson was working and attending school, her youngest brother, Chris, suffered a massive heart attack, from which he has since recovered. During that time, she spent a lot of time traveling between Nashville to Birmingham to be with family, which resulted in additional challenges.
“I had a professor at that time who told me he didn’t care what was going on with my family and he wouldn’t work with me,” she said. “Also, I was working at a call center, and they told me they weren’t going to allow me to be off and that I had to choose between my job and my family. I chose my family and quit.”
Dickerson said she learned a valuable lesson: “I never wanted to be in a position when I had kids that I would have to choose between my job and my family. That’s a principle I carry here now, even at my own company.”
She graduated from TSU at age 27 with a degree in civil engineering and went to work for the Alabama Department of Transportation and then Metals and Materials Engineers. Soon thereafter, she was laid off.
“It was during a recession, . . . and I noticed the company moving in another direction, she said. “I said to myself, “OK, you need to think of a plan and what you’re going to do next.’ I always knew I wanted to own my own business, so I already knew what was next for me.”
Dickerson founded SARCOR 10 years ago with the mission to provide honesty, optimism, persistence, and enthusiasm—HOPE—to Birmingham one project at a time.
“I believe we are giving hope to our clients,” she said. “Some people are called to minister and to sing, but I think I’m called to help people and provide resources within my company.”
In addition to her undergraduate degree from TSU, Dickerson has a Master of Business Administration degree from Capella University. She is a member of the Upsilon Eta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and the American Business Women Association. She attends Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Fairfield and will be a graduate of Leadership Birmingham next month. She has been married to her husband, Juwan, for five years, and they have a 3-year-old daughter, Allison.
For more information, visit www.sarcorllc.com.