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Barbara Merchant takes pride in holiday decorations, her community

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Barbara Merchant's patio at Harris Homes decked out with lights and also wreaths that she makes by hand. (Reginald Allen, For The Birmingham Times)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

Barbara Merchant, a resident of Harris Homes Apartments in Woodlawn for the past 46 years, is a firm believer that you should maintain the community where you live—and it shows.

Since the late 1990s, Merchant has placed holiday decorations throughout her community.

“It ain’t where you live, and you don’t have to have a whole lot of money. Just take pride in where you live and show concern for your community,” she said. “I love my community, and I love the neighborhood. I just enjoy doing stuff, making it look nice, [taking] pride in where I live.”

During Christmastime, Merchant decorates her 600 block of Brussels Circle with ornaments and wreaths; she also decorates for other holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, Independence Day, Halloween, and even Thanksgiving.

“I do it to show people to take pride in their community and because the kids enjoy it,” she said. “I just enjoy decorating, [and] I do it to show love to my neighbors and my community. Sometimes, when … they see me [fixing things up], it might [inspire] somebody else to take pride in what they’re doing.”

So far this holiday season, Merchant has crafted 15 wreaths, including two for the Birmingham Police Department East Precinct, as well as some for her personal decorations, neighbors, church, school, and local community center. It takes her about an hour to make each wreath.

Merchant started decorating for her five children when they were small, and she kept the tradition going as they got older.

“[When I started decorating], everybody stopped and told me how pretty it was,” she said. “I had a lot of people come up to me and stop me on the street. Some people still come up here now to look at the decorations, some ride through [to look at them]. Soon everybody will have [their homes] decorated, but I always start mine early, before Thanksgiving.”

Merchant moved to Harris Homes in the early ‘70s with her two small boys. Before that, she lived in Central City (now Park Place) downtown Birmingham.

Merchant, 66, raised all five of her children, two of whom are deceased, in Harris Homes; she continues to raise one of her grandchildren there, as well.

More Than Decorations

Maintaining her community means more than just holiday decorations for Merchant. She served as president of Harris Homes for more than 25 years and vice president for the Oak Ridge Neighborhood Association, which named her Neighbor of the Year during this year’s Christmas dinner. She visited Washington, D.C., to lobby for renovations for the complex, a trip that resulted in residents getting new air-conditioning units, cabinets, and closets. She also volunteers every day in the lunchroom at Oliver Elementary School in Woodlawn.

“All of my children and grandchildren went to Oliver, so it’s more of a family thing because the school, [New Community Baptist Church], and the community all work together,” Merchant said. “We do a lot of things in this community, like family days and a Thanksgiving dinner for our seniors, which I have spearheaded. We just did a fall festival at the [Harris Homes Recreation Center], and 150 children came. We do a support group at our community center every Thursday night for men and women, and we [did] a Christmas dinner at the center on [December 14].”

Though she decorates for every holiday, Christmas is her favorite: “I just get in the spirit, and I love to be a blessing to somebody else.”

Even though Merchant has been under the weather, that has not stopped her from decorating.

“I’ve had colon cancer twice, and I had eye surgery in July, so I’m just grateful to be here,” she said. “Decorating is my passion. It gives me a spirit to keep my health and strength … and to keep going and still do what I love.”

Click here to read more stories about Birmingham residents decorating for Christmas.