By Cody Owens
“This is a huge opportunity, not for me personally, but for this community to see real transformative change,” Birmingham City Councilor Wardine Alexander said, flashing a high-wattage smile.
Council President Pro Tem Alexander was referring to her being awarded a $75,000 fellowship through E Pluribus Unum (EPU) to address racial inequalities in District 7. She is part of the inaugural class of fellows and is the only elected leader selected from Central Alabama.
Founded by former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in 2018, the goal of EPU is aimed directly addressing the issue of racial disparity in America by strengthening partnerships between elected officials and community leaders.
The inaugural class of 13 Fellowship Cohorts was announced in September and includes a diverse set of Southern elected leaders, from rural mayors to suburban school board members to city councilors and big city mayors. This select group will embark on a year-long journey to address inequitable and discriminatory policies and practices within their communities and utilize their funding to tackle these issues through projects and community-led programs.
“I’ve been in touch with neighbors and residents about how this funding could be utilized even before I began the application process,” Alexander explained. “An issue that keeps being brought up and one I’ve sought to address in my time on the Council is community revitalization. That is a big part of what people are wanting to see. We’re still plagued with blight in the district — abandoned homes and properties. So focusing on programs that can help alleviate this for residents is something we’re currently looking into.”
Another major issue that Alexander is focusing on with this fellowship is increasing opportunities for workforce development throughout the district.
“We have a new FedEx center that is coming to the district. This presents us with a major opportunity to bring jobs into the district but we have to make sure people who live here can qualify for those positions. I want us to focus on a workforce development program, one that ensures that our residents are ready to fill those jobs, be it through a certified training program or logistics training for these positions,” Alexander said. “This is something can bring about equity and empower our community.”
Evanne Gibson has lived in District 7 for 50 years and has served as a neighborhood officer for Germania Park for the last 15.
“With [Councilor Alexander] coming in and getting us involved, it just showed me how much she valued inclusiveness and fostering partnerships,” Gibson said of Alexander. “It just makes us feel like we’re part of something…having the ability to work with our city leaders and determine how this money can be used to improve the quality of life in our community is really empowering.”
Gibson said she would like to see projects that increase the economic outlook for young people in the district, be that through workforce development, educational services or programs for the arts.
“Our kids don’t have the access that a lot of other place do when it comes to art programs and learning,” Gibson said. “Our kids are talented but they haven’t been exposed to these kinds of programs. Funding something like that could have such a huge impact and I look forward to working with the councilor on identifying these needs in our district.”
The fellowship will conclude on December 31, 2021. Alexander said she will continue working with neighborhood leaders to identify potential projects in the months to come. The funding must be utilized before the fellowship expires next year.