By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Advocacy has been a part of every job Bacarra Mauldin has worked—and it’s an important part of her role as executive director of ClasTran.
“My mother was a coordinator at North Birmingham Community School, and she didn’t believe in babysitters, so she would take me to community meetings all the time,” said Mauldin. “I think that helped define who I am today. … That’s why I’m comfortable going to community meetings and being community oriented. … [My mom] … planted those seeds at a very young age.”
In March, Mauldin, 47, was named executive director of ClasTran, a nonprofit corporation that coordinates specialized transportation services in the Jefferson, Shelby, and Walker county areas. She had served as interim director since October 2018.
Approximately 175,000 unique individuals depend on ClasTran to provide public transportation—that includes 740 trips per day.
“A Big Deal”
Mauldin, the first African American woman to become permanent executive director of ClasTran, wasted no time bringing changes to the agency, which transports clients to dialysis, chemotherapy, physical therapy, doctor appointments, adult day care, senior centers, and other various locations. She’s already re-established a working relationship with the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT); successfully secured an additional $1.5 million in funding from the Surface Transportation Fund, which provides support to preserve and improve infrastructure and transit capital projects; added a call center phone system that better manages volume and provides data to support operations, which has led to a 30 percent increase in calls since January; and helped pass a tax exemption bill in the Alabama legislature that resulted in an annual savings of $500,000.
“It’s no small feat for the legislature to say, ‘We know the people you serve, and we support what you’re doing.’ That is a big deal,” said Mauldin. “One representative talked about how ClasTran’s funding was in jeopardy, and how [several of] his constituents called and told him they needed this service and that it makes a difference in their lives.”
Making a difference in the lives of others is something Mauldin has always been about.
“Advocacy is in my blood,” she said. “From my early days as a community worker and community leader, to my days at the city, to my days on the national scene, both through the Urban League and for transit, I am an advocate. Advocacy is who I am.”
Mauldin, who is married with three children and has one grandchild, grew up in Birmingham’s Enon Ridge neighborhood and attended Holy Family Elementary School and Ramsay High School.
“I was always a creative spirit as a child,” recalled Mauldin. “Red Mountain Museum [now the McWane Science Center] had a crafting contest, and I created a mask in the shape of an elephant; I got an award for doing that. … Other than that, I played clarinet and saxophone in the band. When I was 14, I started working; during high school, I worked at Rich’s department store [downtown Birmingham, which was bought by Macy’s].”
After graduating from Ramsay in 1990, Mauldin attended Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas.
“I graduated [from high school] on a Monday, and by that Friday I was on my way to Jarvis for the Early Summer Start Program [ESSP], an advanced summer enrichment session to jump–start my college career,” she said.
Mauldin attended Jarvis Christian College for one semester, but her college journey was put on hold when she became pregnant, at 19, with her first child.
“That’s what brought me back to Alabama,” she said. “Life happens, but you keep going. When I came back, I went to [Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University] for a time, but I wanted to figure some things out, work, and take care of my daughter. So, that’s what I did.”
After leaving college and returning to Birmingham, Mauldin worked for a while and eventually decided she needed a change of scenery and moved to Hawaii for about two years.
Working with Giants
When she returned to Alabama in the early 1990s, Mauldin got a chance to work for some notable legal minds.
“I worked in the law firm that was started by Arthur Shores, [the legendary Civil Rights attorney who was considered Alabama’s “drum major for justice.”] At the time I worked for him, his daughter, the late Judge Helen Shores Lee, and [current Birmingham Municipal Court Presiding Judge] Andra Sparks were at the firm, as well,” Mauldin said. “So, I had the unique pleasure of discovering and learning about the law from those master attorneys.”
Mauldin said Shores would come into the office at least once a week almost until the time he passed away in 1996.
“Having the chance to see him and experience that meant a lot. Having the time to be under Lee really planted my feet when I came back to the city,” Mauldin said. “It was exciting, as well. They gave me the skills I needed—and what they really gave me was a chance.”
While working for the Shores firm, Mauldin attended Faulkner University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in management.
Mauldin went on to accumulate additional work experience as a claims adjustor and political experience on the campaign of former Birmingham Mayor William Bell.
“That was on a part–time basis after work, and I got really interested in politics and being part of campaigns,” Mauldin said. “I got involved in the campaign of Mayor Bell and went to work for him as part of his administrative team shortly after he was elected in 2009.”
She worked in the Mayor’s Office for Americans with Disabilities, and from there went to writing grants in excess of $20 million during her time with the city. She also was a special projects coordinator, helped create the Office on Civic Engagement, and started the first AmeriCorps program (a national service effort designed to encourage civic engagement and address community needs) at Birmingham City Hall.
Even though she was working at City Hall, Mauldin said she felt she wasn’t doing enough, so she sought a position on the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) board of directors.
“At one point, I was the secretary treasurer and vice chair of the board,” she said.
Mauldin also got involved in the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), which is where her advocacy background came in handy. She was elected to the APTA board and appointed to lead a national initiative on workforce development.
“The APTA is a big advocacy organization, and we advocate for more funding and resources for the public transportation industry,” she said. “By serving on that committee, I had the opportunity to participate in putting together the APTA’s funding position that goes up to Congress to talk about why they should fund public transportation. So, I had the opportunity to have an impact on public transportation not only here but also on the national stage. For the last two years, I’ve been on the APTA’s executive committee, which is its ultimate governing body.”
Mauldin is also on the boards of the Birmingham Urban League; Still Magic, an African-American theater group; and the Titusville Youth Athletic Association, where her son plays football. She’s part of this year’s provisional class of the Junior League of Birmingham and a member of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials. And she serves as vice chair for the Birmingham chapter of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Jefferson County Alumnae Chapter.