By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
As a retired Birmingham firefighter, Bernard Buggs Jr. knows what it means to be a public servant. And that comes in handy now that he’s owner of Cornerstone Funeral Services and Cremations near Jefferson State Community College.
Buggs is a retired 24-year veteran fire lieutenant for Birmingham Fire & Rescue “which was a public servant job and I’m still doing that now” at my business, he said. “I’m trying to serve the public when they need that person or that company and firm in their life to help them out. I want to help families do a peaceful goodbye, or celebration of life and do it the way that they want to . . .”
The nearly $2 million, 4,275-square-foot facility is located at 2416 Carson Road.
“Cornerstone is a state-of-the-art facility and [we] look forward to building relationships with other funeral homes that do not have a crematory on site to do third party cremations,” he said.
The firm offers a Sea Scattering service which is performed in the Gulf Shores area. This service includes up to 10 family members transported via Sprinter, the memorial service, scattering of remains, and transportation back to the Birmingham area, he explained.
In preparation for a service, Buggs wants to become a part of the family beginning with a conversation with the family “where I’m trying to get to know your love one like you knew them. I want to know everything about them,” he said.
About four years ago, while working at a corporate funeral service environment Buggs researched ways he could start his own business, the cost of a new building, and how to draft a business plan.
Asked about the name of his business, he said, “if you stand in my parking lot, you can look down the hill, it’s like a slope to where you see all the other businesses. So when I got the corner lot, my pledge was to be the cornerstone of the community and be an inspiration for other entrepreneurs to take a chance and put their money somewhere and make something happen.”
Cornerstone had a ribbon cutting in January. Funeral Services & Cremations has only been in business for a few weeks, in addition to billboards Buggs has already built a strong social media presence using aggressive creative marketing strategies. For example, he created business pages that allowed him to post content about the funeral home as well as the services he offered. In addition, Buggs paid for sponsor ads and friends and family members post and share his posts.
Currently he has two full time employees and the part time who are available 24 hours.
“Good thing is, I have some of my firefighter buddies that I’ve built relationships with over the years and they work with me. They know how to drive a hearse or limousine…so it just makes sense.”
He added, “There’s a difference in driving a hearse or a limousine compared to driving a regular car and they are equipped to do that.”
Buggs said his goal is “to bring quality businesses back to the Black community. And also, just to leave something for my family.
Buggs has a wife and three daughters. Besides running his business and spending time with his family he participates in the neighborhood association meetings that include Echo Highland Neighborhood, Sun Valley Neigborhoods.
Becoming a Man
Buggs, 52, was born in Newark, New Jersey but raised in Birmingham. He grew up in the Hooper City community on the north side of Birmingham and attended Phillips High School where he marched in the band and played trumpet.
During his junior year he went from playing an instrument to being a drum major. “It was five of us. I was the co-head drum major and my cousin Tony was head drum major. It was a family friendly competition that we had and enjoyed that whole year.”
Prior to graduating in 1988, Buggs was offered scholarships to Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Tennessee State and FAMU Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University. He chose Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University.
In the middle of the camp Buggs left the campus and two months later joined the Army.
“I needed to establish who I was as a man. I told myself I need to start doing it now. I was 18. … I left the house and I went to Fort Drum, New York, which is upstate New York about 75 miles north of Syracuse. And I figured it out.”
And after several stops he became a Birmingham fire fighter.
“I’ve worked at multiple stations. I started out at station 10 and that used to be over by Avondale Brewery. I did 10 years at station one at headquarters downtown. Then I worked over station 27 and Roebuck for a few years and worked over at station 28, which is across the street from my funeral home.”
Buggs said he was inspired to work as a fireman because his father was a retired firefighter from Newark, New Jersey. Now Buggs has found a way to continue to serve.
“Presently there is not a funeral establishment in the district and the property has been vacant since 1992,” he said in a previous interview. “We will have the capabilities to cremate large cases up to 1,000 pounds. That would be great for other funeral homes in the state, that don’t have the capabilities on-site to get those services done.”
For more on Cornerstone Funeral Services & Cremations: Website cfs-c.com; Address 2416 Carson Road, Birmingham, AL 35215
Updated at 11:11 a.m. on 2/16/2023 with edits