Home ♃ Recent Stories ☄ #StrongHER 2023: Meet 25 Birmingham Women Who Inspire and Empower

#StrongHER 2023: Meet 25 Birmingham Women Who Inspire and Empower

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Compiled by Chanda Temple
birminghamal.gov

Honorees selected for the City of Birmingham’s StrongHer initiative are true examples that strength is more than physical; it’s mental, too. Their strength is brave as they fight cancer, homelessness, inequality and other challenges. Their strength is fierce as they implement bold ideas that spark change. Their strength is resilient as they climb from the pits of pain to the peaks of promises.

The City launched StrongHer, a Women’s History Month campaign, in 2019 to celebrate unsung “sheroes” working to make a difference in the Magic City. Through the years, the achievements and contributions of teachers, students, neighborhood leaders, health care professionals, entrepreneurs and more have reflected the strength of women in Birmingham.

“These women are making an impact, and they deserve to be uplifted, loved on and appreciated,” said Mayor Randall L. Woodfin. “I think it is important for the City of Birmingham to expose and acknowledge women doing pretty cool things every single day.”

The 2023 theme for StrongHer is “Born to Make a Difference: Then and Now” and includes a celebration of women’s journeys from childhood to adulthood with headshots of current day, and one from their childhood.

Below are honorees for 2023. For a full listing for this year and past years, visit www.birminghamal.gov/strongher.

JAMEKIA BIES

As the executive director of the Help 2 Others (H2O) Foundation, Jamekia Bies is on a mission to help financially struggling senior customers maintain their access to water.

The non-profit organization, which was founded in 2004, does that by helping pay water and wastewater bills or do minor plumbing repairs for senior customers who meet income and situational requirements. In 2022, her office served nearly 550 households.

Bies also works to educate people on how they can help customers in need by letting the public know they can donate an extra $1 on their own bill, for example, simply by marking the H2O Foundation box on their monthly water bill or online. The money goes right back into the community to help residents. They also host an annual golf tournament to raise funding for residents, she said.

“A lot of times people look at H2O (on the bill) and think, ‘Oh, it’s a utility bill. Everybody has a utility bill. They should just be able to pay it,’” said Bies. “But we don’t think about our seniors not being able to pay it when they are on a fixed income.”

“So getting people to open their (minds) that maintaining access to water isn’t just a luxury that everyone should be able to provide for themselves. It’s the luxury that the seniors in our community sometimes have to make a choice between their medicine and their water bill or their food and their water bill.”

Most of the clients are seen at the Salvation Army Birmingham office because H2O partners with them to implement services. But one day, a 92-year-old resident in a wheelchair showed up at the H2O headquarters, seeking assistance on her bill. Immediately, Bies noticed that the wheelchair did not have footrests, forcing the resident to hold up her feet every time her caregiver pushed her in the chair.

Bies took steps to not only see if they could help the resident with her bill, but she also investigated what could be done to find a better wheelchair for her.

Bies said that helping residents is about more than having access to water. It’s also about making sure people have a healthy lifestyle. “The caregiver’s response was, ‘Although you couldn’t get us the wheelchair today, I appreciate the fact that you followed up with a phone call,’” said Bies.

Bies, a mother of one son, carries her interest in providing stability for families beyond her daily job. In her spare time, she serves on boards for the Jefferson County Family Resource Center and the TC Transformation Center. She’s also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

“My goal is to not only focus on the individual, but the whole family concept,” she said.

For more information about H2O, visit www.H2OBham.org or call 205-778-1900. To make an appointment to receive financial support, call 205-244-4390.

Dr. Brandi Rudolph Bolling

Every Friday, Birmingham psychiatrist and pediatrician Dr. Brandi Rudolph Bolling hosts “Focus on It Friday” on her Facebook page, Dr. Brandi B., to educate people about ADHD.

She does the live chat to clear up myths and remove stigmas around a condition that many are unaware impacts people of all ages, is easily treatable and can be overcome so people with it can have success in the classroom and in life.

“I have found that people with ADHD tend to dismiss themselves,” said Dr. Bolling. “Too often, I have seen adults who were getting treatment for the first time in their 50s say, ‘I just always thought I was dumb. I never knew why I couldn’t perform to the level I thought I should be able to.’”

She said the most important step of understanding ADHD begins with education, which is why, for almost three years, she’s devoted her Fridays to spreading the word about ADHD on her Facebook page.

“If you educate people through examples and real-life scenarios about what ADHD is, they will see themselves and their children in those examples, and they will seek help,” said Dr. Bolling, who is also the best-selling author of “SHINE: Understanding ADHD So Your Child Can Be a Star!”

When she’s not discussing mental health via social media, webinars, panel discussions or speaking engagements, she’s helping clients during one-on-one sessions. She’s proud of the wins she’s seen in her patients.

“It reassures me that I am walking in my purpose to restore hope and to see children and adults shine,” said Dr. Bolling, who is licensed in 16 states and deals with a variety of conditions that are related to academics, emotions, behaviors and even sleep. “When people come to see me, it’s no-holds-barred. We get down to the raw. The honest. The real. And I get them results.”

The West End native said she is determined to increase public conversations and understanding about ADHD and treatment, and educate people about the symptoms of inattention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity.

“I experience joy every time the tears of a patient or their family member change from sorrow to happiness,” Dr. Bolling said. “ADHD can be a dream killer, and it can rob families of hope. But when we work together to move toward a treatment and it’s successful, we all win in the end.”

In her spare time, Dr. Bolling supports the Titusville Youth Sports Association through the Titusville Thundering Herd football and cheerleading program. This program promotes the development through a structured athletic initiative. She’s also a member of the Magic City (AL) Chapter of The Links and the Birmingham Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

MARTHA BOUYER

On a recent Saturday afternoon during a life skills training session for children in foster care, a student stood up and prayed.

He blessed the food, and he thanked God for sending somebody who cared.

The prayer moved Dr. Martha Bouyer, executive director of My Father’s House Foundation, which hosted the training and luncheon. “When that little boy prayed,… it just blessed me,” Dr. Bouyer said. “I’m encouraged that what we are doing is a great work.”

My Father’s House Foundation works with older children in foster care who are in group homes for emotional issues or other reasons. Once a child graduates from high school in Alabama and “ages out” of foster care, that child will have to leave their group home. Depending on the circumstances, 21 years old is the maximum age to “age out” of foster care in Alabama. But many of the students that My Father’s House works with, “age out” at 18.

My Father’s House starts training foster care children around age 13 in the group homes to prepare them to maneuver life in the real world after foster care.

On the day the student said the prayer, My Father’s House volunteers were teaching students how to budget, how to understand the cost of living, etc. In April 2023, they will teach students how to catch the bus, read a bus schedule and read a map, so they will know how to get to appointments, go to work, etc.

“Group homes are doing a great job,” Dr. Bouyer said. “But what we do is also critical in helping them to move on. We know that according to state and national guidelines, these are things that every child in (foster) care should know before they graduate.”

The Birmingham-based, non-profit organization was founded in 1997 after Dr. Bouyer and her former pastor, the late Bishop Don E. Bush at the Body of Christ Deliverance Ministry, saw a need for the service. Fellow church members pitched in to help.

Dr. Bouyer said a future goal of the organization is to build a transitional life skills campus for the students they serve, so the students can move into campus housing and then into a campus apartment before eventually moving out on their own.

“The name of the organization reflects what I want all youth to feel when things aren’t going well, and that they can come home and find what they need at The Father’s House,” Dr. Bouyer said.

My Father’s House stresses the importance of securing a high school education and exposes students to what’s possible after graduation, whether that’s college, trade/vocational school or work. They take students on tours to the University of Alabama, which has a program for students in foster care. (If a child in foster care attends a state college or community college in Alabama, the state will provide up to $5,000 a year per student for four years, according to the Alabama DHR website.)

My Father’s House also provides college book scholarships, attends a student’s graduation, and hosts a prom for the juniors and seniors in the group homes they serve. “I often say that My Father’s House is like my rent for being on the planet,” said Dr. Bouyer. “I’m trying to help somebody make a difference, and I think God is pleased when we reach out beyond our comfort zone.”

At this time, My Father’s House has six board members, and they are all female. The girl power is not lost on Dr. Bouyer.

“When we first started, we only served girls. When boys in care heard about the program, they wanted to join,” Dr. Bouyer said. “We serve, on average, 30 to 42 young people each month. All of the women serving on the board or as volunteers see these teens as ours. We are doing all that we can to help them thrive and survive after an extended stay in foster care.”

Other public service efforts that Dr. Bouyer handles include serving as the executive director of the Historic Bethel Baptist Church Community Restoration Fund, which raises money to restore the church that the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth led during the civil rights movement. She appeared in a Birmingham-produced documentary about Shuttlesworth in December 2022.

For more information on My Father’s House Foundation, visit myfathershousefoundation.org.

KIMBERLY CARR

During a 2022 high school graduation party in Birmingham, almost every young person in the room knew Dr. Kimberly Carr.

They had either been a pediatric dental patient of hers or knew her from church.

Matthew Dale was one of her former patients in the room. And just by watching the interaction Dr. Carr had with her former patients, Dale saw the potential of what he could become one day.

“It gave me inspiration of how I could be more than just a dentist. I could be someone who affects lives outside the office,” said Dale, 21, who wants to study dentistry after graduating from college. “I was a junior in high school, and (Dr. Carr) was the first dentist I ever shadowed. I would like to do for others, what she did for me.”

Dale is not alone. In Dr. Carr’s career, she’s influenced 25 people to go into some form of dentistry. When her patients were young, she taught them how to take care of their teeth in order to keep them for a lifetime.

“I think it says to me that, hopefully, I was doing something right,” she said.

Her patients found comfort with her, citing that whenever they visited her, they found a space where they could explore and ask questions, which encouraged them to strive to have better oral health.

Dr. Carr, a Birmingham native who grew up in Titusville, worked in private practice from 1998 to 2021 in metro Birmingham and Birmingham. She was also a part-time faculty member at UAB. Today, she is a full-time faculty member at UAB, working with residents and dental students.

She is co-director of the UAB Sparks Dental Clinic, which provides dental care for individuals with special health needs and disabilities. Services include routine preventative care, fillings and simple extractions.

Dr. Carr received her undergraduate degree from UAB in 1991 and her D.M.D. from the UAB School of Dentistry in 1994. She received a certification in pediatric dentistry and an M.S. degree in 1997.

“When I work with minority dental students and residents today, I encourage them to understand the possibilities for their own journey,” Dr. Carr said. “My hope is that when students see me, they know what can be accomplished and do even more with their own careers.”

TALIESHA CASH

Every day, Taliesha Cash wakes to fight another day for not only herself and her family but for fellow female cancer patients and survivors.

She’s been diagnosed with breast cancer three times since 2016. The third diagnosis came in 2020 when she learned she had metastatic breast cancer. Doctors told her she had eight months to live.

But Cash told doctors she refused to accept that diagnosis.

“I realized then that I had too much more of life to live. I could sit down, give in and take what they stated, or I could choose to live,” she said. “Since then, I have been inspiring other women to live.”

Cash, 48, encourages women through Sisters CANcervive, a non-profit support group for female cancer survivors and patients. The group, which was founded in 2018 and consists of patients and survivors of breast, ovarian, uterine, cervical and endometrial cancers, provides meals, gas and co-payments for chemotherapy treatments to women fighting cancer in Birmingham and surrounding areas.

Cash started with four members. Today, there are more than 170 members. They have a private Facebook group that provides a 24-hour chat room to allow members to talk about anything.

“You can’t talk to your husband about the challenges you have with the female cancers like you can a ‘sister.’ We are there,” she said. “Sometimes, you just want to cry, but you can’t because you have to be strong for family. But you take that off when you come into the room.”

Cash tells members to be encouraged and that miracles can still happen.

“I have five kids, and I have to show them that giving up is not an option,” said Cash. “Every day, you get up and you keep going. I choose to live on purpose for my kids and for others.”

She added: “Live your life every day like it’s your last. What you can’t change, you keep moving. If you keep moving, change will come. That has been my motivation every day.”

For more information, visit www.sisterscancervive.org.

JOYCE CHRISTIAN

When Joyce Christian turns 46 later this month, she’s inviting her Ensley Highlands neighbors to a block party.

The March 25 party won’t be for her turning a year older; it will be to highlight residents and the neighborhood.

“I have so many things to celebrate, and I just want to share the things that are going on in my life,” said Christian. “I’m hoping that this will get everyone out and talking.”

There will be old school games, food trucks, hopscotch, balloons, book giveaways, residents promoting their businesses, music and more.

“On the corner in our neighborhood, we have a DJ living. Two houses down, we have a photographer living. In another house, a man cuts yards,” she said. “So, I’m asking them to come out and talk about what they do.”

“I want people to know there are resources out there to help them. I was just amazed to know how much talent we have in our neighborhood.”

She’s working with Renew Birmingham, a non-profit organization that helps empower neighborhoods, to help present the block party.

Community involvement has always been the norm for Christian. She’s a former neighborhood president of Ensley Highlands, a former PTA president at two Birmingham schools and a former Girl Scouts troop leader. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, she led a neighborhood clean-up project.

Her next major project is the block party as she works to build a stronger neighborhood. “If people care about you, you will want to invest in where you are,” she said.

Christian’s love for building connections can also be seen in her career path. Twenty-two years ago, she started working in housekeeping at Southern Research in Birmingham. While there, she completed her associate’s degree and planned to one day pursue a bachelor’s degree in business. Currently, she’s an archivist at Southern Research, where her positive force for good resonates with everyone she encounters.

“I love to do for people. That’s what makes me happy,” she said.

LESLIE CLAYBROOK

As the general manager of the Birmingham Squadron, the NBA G League affiliate of the New Orleans Pelicans, Leslie Claybrook gets to combine two of her passions – basketball and the City of Birmingham.

“I have the opportunity to impact the Birmingham community by expanding the court to the city,” Claybrook said. “We do this by getting the players out into the community to share their story, participate in community service, conduct youth clinics, and visit schools and hospitals to give back in a meaningful way to the people of Birmingham.”

Their community outreach has included work with Children’s Hospital, the Birmingham VA Clinic, Grace Klein Community, Firehouse Ministries and more.

The team also has theme nights for their games at Legacy Arena, highlighting different organizations, groups, events and even superheroes. “One of the things when I interviewed for the position was I wanted us to be more than 24 basketball games at Legacy Arena. I wanted us to be engaged in the community and give back in a meaningful way, not only in the arena but also in the community,” she said. “I was fortunate enough that our head coach had the same philosophy. And so it became easy for us to identify places of interest for him and … for our players.”

The theme nights are not unusual to professional sports. In Birmingham, the efforts have allowed the team to engage fans through its video boards, giveaways and more.

On March 9, the team will host a Women’s Empowerment Night to celebrate and recognize achievements of women in the community.

“This is something that is near and dear to my heart, given the professional women’s organizations that I am part of. And it’s something that other organizations are doing and have success in,” she said.

Claybrook grew up in Luverne, AL., where her love for basketball started by playing on a patch of dirt underneath a rim that was 12 feet high, attached to a utility pole and partially blocked by a pecan tree. Never did she imagine that one day she would be over operations for a team like the Birmingham Squadron, handling tickets, sponsorships, marketing, promotions and working with the Legacy Arena for set up for game days.

Prior to working for the Birmingham Squadron, Claybrook’s career included work with college athletics, the SEC and running her own consulting firm. Today, she’s honored and humbled if other women look up to her and see themselves in her.

“I have a 13-year-old daughter that I’m trying to raise to be a strong woman, to make good decisions and provide an opportunity for her to be successful in whatever she does,” she said. “And the biggest thing is being confident, being engaged and seating yourself at the table so you have a spot to provide your opinion and then when you are called on to do so.”

DEBBY CULLUM

In 2019, Debby Cullum moved from Mobile to Birmingham after her husband landed a job in the Magic City. She sadly left behind being a part of the Rising Tide Society, a network for small business owners and creatives to gather in the spirit of community over competition.

With more than 200 chapters across America and beyond, Cullum hoped Birmingham had a Rising Tide Society chapter. It did.

Shortly after moving, Cullum, a wedding and portrait photographer, attended her first meeting. With all of the transitions that took place during covid, the former leaders stepped down. In 2021, Cullum volunteered to keep the Birmingham group going.

“I knew how important having this community of support was for me as a small business owner, and I did not want that to go away for us here in Birmingham,” Cullum said. “I wanted to see our group grow and become stronger, together.”

The group meets once a month at different locations in Birmingham to discuss small business issues, learn emerging social media trends, share ideas, set goals and hear speakers. Topics have been educational and transformational.

“As business owners, a lot of times, it’s just one of us in the business. We don’t have a staff to bounce ideas off of, so, it’s cool to have that support group,” said Cullum, 32. “And if you have something big coming up, we can all share it and get the word out.”

On April 23, members will host the Rising Tide Birmingham Community Market from 1 to 4 p.m. at Cahaba Brewing Co., 4500 Fifth Ave. South. Members include artists, authors, photographers, calligraphers and other entrepreneurs such as a gym owner who is hosting a women’s-only self-defense series in March.

Cullum said she’s met gifted and innovative people she would have never known had it not been for Birmingham’s Rising Tide chapter.

“Birmingham has a lot of great creative and small business owners who are making a big difference,” she said. “It’s been really fun to be a part of that.”

SHANIKA GIBSON

In 2022, Shanika Gibson was invited to be part of a new initiative to mentor rising high school female students in Birmingham.

But once Gibson got a look at the mentor list comprised of doctors, lawyers and philanthropic leaders, she thought organizers had contacted the wrong Shanika Gibson.

The person who nominated her reassured her that she belonged in the room, telling Gibson she has to recognize her own talents.

And when it comes to helping others, Gibson’s talents definitely qualify her.

Since the pandemic, Gibson has been calling five senior citizens every week to check on them as part of the United Way Crisis Center Senior Talkline in Birmingham. She also volunteers with the Junior League of Birmingham and Junior Achievement.

And then there are times that she does her own outreach.

Last year, a woman posted in a Birmingham mothers’ Facebook group that she was in dire need of breast milk for her child with medical issues. The couple lived in a very remote area a few counties away from Gibson. The couple did not have transportation. Gibson, 43, coordinated with the mothers in the group for her to collect the breast milk so she and her husband could deliver it to the mother. Gibson arranged for her husband to make a second delivery trip.

Gibson did not know the woman but knew she couldn’t ignore her plea.

“It was a God thing, and it was truly just worth the risk,” said Gibson, a mother of three. “I feel that in that moment, I was called to make a difference. The husband was crying and said, ‘You don’t know how much this means.’”

So far as that self-imposed doubt Gibson had last year when she was asked to join the mentor group, that feeling is long gone. She never wants her fear to be a boundary to helping people.

“If we are not believing in ourselves, how can we inspire others?” she said. “I say go for it. Why not?”

LINDSAY GRAY

In 2014, a group of women was planning a baby shower for a single mother when they started discussing what mothers really need. Diapers became a popular topic.

This led to one of the women asking if there was a diaper bank in Birmingham. They did some research and discovered there was not one. In 2015, Bundles of Hope Diaper Bank was born. Lindsay Gray was one of its founding members.

“It’s one of those things parents don’t feel comfortable talking about. They don’t want people to know they don’t have enough diapers for their babies,” Gray said. “They are embarrassed because, often times, they fear being judged.”

But Gray, 38, said there’s nothing to be embarrassed about when needing diapers. They are expensive and a necessity. Her organization works to remove any stigma. They also work to provide period products to those in need.

“With each care package we distribute to support families, we just want them to know their families’ needs matter,” she said.

When Bundles of Hope started, Gray was a labor delivery nurse at a Birmingham hospital. In 2018, she saw a bigger opportunity to serve women in this community setting. She left her nursing job of 10 years to run Bundles of Hope full time. The nonprofit distributes about 20,000 diapers a month from its downtown Birmingham office they call The Changing Station, which is located at 1430 Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd. Through its 65 community partners, it distributes another 100,000 diapers a month.

Not only do people pick up diapers from Bundles of Hope, but the organization donates diapers to drives. When the City of Birmingham hosted a drive for Selma storm victims in January 2023, Bundles of Hope donated diapers and hand-written blessings.

“We do hand-written cards every month to over 2,500 households. It’s a different saying to encourage families in their care-giving journey,” Gray said.

There are several ways people can get diapers. They can visit the diaper bank’s Birmingham office for Walk-In Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., check out Bundles of Hope’s community partner distribution sites or get them from the group’s mobile unit that delivers to some families who are unable to make it to pick-up locations.

Recently, Bundles of Hope established a three-month door delivery program with DoorDash for first-time mothers to receive diapers, wipes and period products as well as information on infant safety, early childhood education and postpartum depression screening in three kits. That program is in partnership with the Women Infants and Children (WIC) office and the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA), who both help identify clients who could benefit from a home delivery service.

“My nursing background keeps me super focused on the client. The families come first,” Gray said. “You have to think about what their needs are and meet them right where they are.”

For more information on Bundles of Hope Diaper Bank and their partners, visit bundlesdiaperbank.org or follow them on social media @bundlesdiapers.

DEE GREEN

Shortly after Dee Green started a non-profit organization in 2005 to inspire women to take charge of their health, she learned that a family friend had an aggressive form of breast cancer.

The friend had delayed care and treatment due to fear and a desire to wait. A short time later, the woman lost her battle, leaving behind a husband and children.

She was in her 30s.

The woman’s passing was a jolt to Green, who was even more determined in her fight against breast cancer so that the next woman’s story would be different.

“Get your exams. Know your body. Know your numbers,” said Green, a nurse. “We cannot say that enough … so that we can see behavior change for the next person.”

The organization that Green started is V.I.R.T.U.E. Inc., which raises money to provide uninsured women with mammograms and makeover sessions for survivors. In 2019, Green started hosting Run With V.I.R.T.U.E. (RWV), a virtual 5K that recognizes Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, increases education, and raises funding for breast cancer treatments and awareness.

Still, Green, who is also the first lady of More Than Conquerors Faith Church in Birmingham and director of the church’s women’s ministries, hopes more can be done.

“If we are able to get a man to the moon, we should be able to find a cure for breast cancer,” she said.

Inspired by President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moon Shots program to accelerate cancer prevention, Green expanded the disbursement of funds from RWV to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in support of patient programs, innovative research and preventative initiatives.

V.I.R.T.U.E. Inc. also has an awareness program known as the “Because Campaign,” which is a 12-pack of cards women can send once a month to another woman as a reminder about self-breast examinations.

“It could say, ‘Hey, because I love you, remember to do your exam this month’ Or, ‘Because you are my sister, remember to do your self-exam this month,’ Or ‘Because I need you, remember to do your self-exam,’” Green said of the cards. “They are friendly reminders to take charge of your health, which is so important.”

The cards can go to any woman, breast cancer survivor or not. The goal, Green said, is to establish a buddy system and raise awareness.

Even though people have gotten away from mailing cards, Green said she’s received positive responses about the personalized cards because they provide that special touch anyone can appreciate.

For more information on V.I.R.T.U.E. Inc. or its breast cancer reminder cards, email info@virtueinc.org. To learn more about the virtual V.I.R.T.U.E. run, visit runwithvirtue.com.

KELLY HARDEN GREENE

Love comes in many forms. For Kelly Harden Greene, that form is delivering food to the hungry in Birmingham.

She does it through Food for Our Journey, a non-profit, faith-based organization she founded in 2018 to get nutritious meals to people, mainly homeless community members unable to make it to fixed meal distribution locations. Greene collects unused, prepared meals from restaurants, hotels, churches and other locations. Then, she and volunteers drive a food van to drop off the meals.

A majority of the food she collects goes out the same day to people in need. Any frozen food or food that must be cooked is donated to area shelters.

Her organization serves about 400 meals a day to about 225 to 250 people.

But her group’s services go beyond food. They also work with agencies to assist those they encounter with securing IDs, building a resume, acquiring clothing and educating people on how to pay bills, etc.

“If someone is in need of medication, we can work with the VA, if they are a veteran,” Greene said. “Or we can partner with the different agencies to help them get the documents they need. Our ultimate goal is to walk with them.”

Food for Our Journey also connects those they serve with support systems or counseling to help them heal, move forward and look at securing housing. They work to build up people, break down barriers and grow friendships.

“The fact that people trust us with their most important life dreams and needs, it’s an honor and a responsibility that we do not take lightly,” Greene said.

After having served the homeless through church efforts, Greene said that Food for Our Journey was born from a prayer her husband, Joe Greene, prayed. She said this was God’s call for them to do more.

Their efforts have not only been felt by the people they serve and work with but also the community. In 2022, Food For Our Journey received the Vulcan Spear Community Award.

“This is a team effort. This isn’t something that one person can do,” said Greene, 57, who shares seven children with her husband. “There are so many people who believe in helping one another, and they do it so well, from making meals and hosting water drives to putting up a SignUpGenius. There are so many people who help make Food for Our Journey operate.”

For more information, visit www.foodforourjouney.org.

TERRI HARVILL

Terri Harvill cannot wait for the day the Northeast YMCA property in Roebuck will get a facelift. And thanks to her and a team of volunteers and staff working to raise nearly $3.6 million during the pandemic, that day will be here before she knows it.

She said it’s possible that ground will be broken for new infrastructure for the Y property sometime in fall 2023. Once the infrastructure is in place, then will come plans for new homes, a health clinic, a crisis center, a splash pad, a playground, expanded programs for senior citizens and more on eight acres.

In Harvill’s words, the changes will be transformative.

“The YMCA is about to do something that we have never done here in Birmingham: bringing in other partners to address community solutions,” said Harvill, the executive director at the Northeast YMCA and also the chief social impact officer for the YMCA of Greater Birmingham.

The Y will partner with Habitat for Humanity to build 19 or 20 homes on the property. There will be a clinic to address pediatrics and family wellness. A counseling center and a crisis center will offer wraparound services. And the existing Y building, which was constructed in the 1960s, will be improved to benefit all ages.

“The Y has always been a place where you can find resources, but never in this manner,” Harvill, 49, said of the new project.

Suggestions for the new space developed after people shared the gaps that existed in the community. They included homeownership of new development properties, health inequities and health disparities.

“This project is personal for me because this is where I grew up professionally, and this is the community that has rallied around me and has supported me,” Harvill said. “This is absolutely a dream come true for me.”

Harvill has been with the Y for more than 30 years. She started working at the Y in 1991 at the Fourth Avenue Y after graduating from high school. She went on to study at Talladega College, and when she came home during breaks, she worked at the Y. In 1993, she became the assistant day care camp director at the Northeast Y. She graduated from college in 1995, and became the childcare director at the Northeast Y. Harvill has served in different capacities at the Northeast Y and other Y locations throughout her career.

In addition to a career at the Y, Harvill is a published author, a motivational speaker, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and an ordained minister. She said the Y has been a big part of her ministry to the community.

“The Y has always allowed me to show up as me, and I’ve never had to be anybody else. That is what has made the difference,” Harvill said. “I have been able to be Black. I have been able to be a woman. I have been able to be a Christian where I work.”

GENA HYATT

Workshops Empowerment Inc. in Avondale is cooking up creative ways to help train and hire adults with disabilities and those experiencing barriers to employment.

In June 2021, the nonprofit started selling cornbread, pound cake, hummingbird cake and biscuit baking mixes through WE Made, a program of Workshops Empowerment Inc. The WE Made mixes, which are packaged at the Avondale facility, are sold in more than 100 stores in 24 states. They can also be found in several locations across Jefferson County, including four Piggly Wiggly stores.

With 100 percent of the proceeds going back into the community, the mixes are doing just what the organization’s former executive, Susan Crow, wanted, and that was to find something that would help fund the organization’s service-based initiatives.

In 2022, Workshops Empowerment Inc. and its programs served nearly 1,000, said Gena Hyatt, director of development and marketing for Workshops Empowerment.

“It’s a big deal,” Hyatt said. “Thanks to the WE Made mixes, employees will continue to gain hands-on work experience in packaging the mixes and several other products, earn a steady income and receive job readiness training.”

On the back of each bag is the nutritional value for the mix, the organization’s mission statement and a photo of some of those the organization serves. At the top of each bag is the first name of the employee who packaged the mix.

Such special touches only reinforce the product’s tagline: Southern Staples with a Purpose.

“For even people who are not in the South, purposeful products mean something,” Hyatt said. “Everybody wants to have purpose. Everybody wants to celebrate people who have a purpose. And that’s why it has quickly grown.”

They hope to add a new flavor or two in the future.

In 2022, Workshops Empowerment Inc. hosted its first baking contest, and teams had to use one of the mixes in an entry. This year, they will host their second Great Birmingham Bake Off on March 18 at Cahaba Brewing from 2-4 p.m. Judges will select winners, and the public will have a say on a favorite team, too.

The contest is just another opportunity to raise funding and awareness of what Hyatt and her co-workers are doing to help others through Workshops Empowerment Inc., which is 123 years old.

“It gives me chills to be able to do this within our community,” said Hyatt, 45 and a Birmingham native. “I will stand on the rooftops or stand on the hillside to advocate for the people that we serve.”

“I take great pride in being able to do this work within our community.”

For more information on the nonprofit, visit www.weincal.org. To see contest recipes and where to buy the mixes, visit www.shopwemade.org. For information on the bake off, visit www.bakeoff.swell.gives.

AMANDA KELLER

Amanda Keller lost her father to HIV-related complications during her senior year in high school in 2003. He was 57.

In the last six months of his life, she learned things about him that had never been discussed, including his sexuality.

Keller’s father never spoke openly about his sexual identity, nor did he feel supported in accessing LGBTQ+-affirming resources such as testing or healthcare for HIV. Because of this, his HIV diagnosis went untreated, and his opportunity to live a long, healthy life was cut short.

Keller felt deeply committed to reducing HIV stigma in communities and first connected with Birmingham AIDS Outreach as a volunteer. A few months later on Dec. 1, 2009, which happened to be World AIDS Day, Keller joined the staff of BAO, which works to enhance the quality of life for people living with HIV and AIDS. In 2014, she became the founding director of the Magic City Acceptance Center, which was a new LGBTQ+ youth program of BAO to provide a brave and radically inclusive space for the LGBTQ+ community in Alabama.

The organization has served more than 1,830 LGBTQ+ youth since opening nearly nine years ago. MCAC first worked with those 13 to 24 years old. Today, MCAC serves the community as a fully-fledged LGBTQ+ center through multiple programs available to all ages.

“It was really important to me that people have access to a space where they can have conversations without stigma or shame,” said Keller, 38, of Birmingham.

She said that her work at MCAC has allowed her to honor her father’s memory by providing an inclusive space for individuals to receive affirmation and support as well as access to LGBTQ+-inclusive resources and services.

For more information about the Magic City Acceptance Center, visit magiccityacceptancecenter.org.

JACQUELINE MCKINNEY

For weeks, Jacqueline McKinney complained to an organization about her Woodlawn apartment complex’s dumpster being too small to hold all of the tenants’ garbage.

When the dumpster is full, the excess trash falls onto the ground and just sits there. And even when the dumpster is emptied by a private company, the trash still sits on the ground. The trash is supposed to be collected three times a week, but it just gets collected about once a week.

Tired of seeing no progress, McKinney took matters into her own hands and started picking up the excess trash and putting it into her own garbage bags. Then, she puts the bags into the dumpster after it is emptied. After picking up around the complex, she picks up litter on First Avenue South.

She does all of this work despite dealing with a rare blood disease that can impact her immune system.

“Some days are bad. I cannot move, but still you have to get up and move,” said McKinney, 69, a retired dressmaker, housekeeper and caterer. “What I tell my mind is: ‘Rest if you must, but just don’t quit. You’ve lost the game if you quit.’”

She made T-shirts to launch a clean-up initiative that she hopes will inspire others. The front of the shirt says, “Making A Difference.” The back says, “Cleaning our city. Our community. And our neighborhood. One street at a time.”

She said she’s doing all of this because she loves Birmingham, and she knows its neighborhoods can look just as good as those in other cities.

“It doesn’t matter where you stay. It’s a matter of getting out there and fixing up what you’ve got,” she said. “Your neighborhood should always be kept up and nice.”

COCO MOORE

Shecovia “Coco” Moore was never professionally trained to be a makeup artist, but her friends liked the way she worked.

Early in the morning before she reported to her part-time job at a real estate company, she saw clients in her home. Then, when she got off work, she saw more clients.

The owner of the real estate company saw something in Moore that she didn’t see in herself at the time: She should make her side gig her full-time gig.

After she had worked at the real estate company for 11 months, he helped Moore see her destiny in November 2017.

“He called me in for a (job) review and said I was working harder at his dream than I was at my own,” said Moore, 32. “He said, ‘You don’t need this job.’ And I said, ‘I do.’”

“He really kind of gave me a push. He said he didn’t fire me, but he pushed me to my purpose.”

In February 2018, Moore opened the doors to her business, Coco Moore Makeup. Opening weekend, she made enough money to cover her first month’s rent.

“It was mind-blowing,” said Coco, a 2008 Huffman High School graduate. “How in the world did I go from being unsure to feeling like this is definitely attainable, and I can actually do this?”

Since opening, Moore has become a go-to makeup artist. She’s hosted beauty summer camps for girls at her studio, taught classes to Birmingham teenagers and adults, participated in a community service day at a shelter, created a beginner makeup guide and launched a makeup line.

Her makeup line has grown from lashes and lip colors to a summer 2023 release of new foundations, powders, concealers and even more lip colors.

In 2022, Young Entrepioneers named her the top makeup artist in Birmingham. In 2023, Young Entrepioneers released its list of nominees in various categories, and Moore has been nominated again as Top Makeup Artist in Birmingham. She also has nominations for Entrepioneer of the Year and Top Beauty Expert in Birmingham. (Voting was under way at the time this story was released.)

“I have a saying: ‘Do it scared,’” Moore said. “Everything may not look like what you want it to look like, but you have to do something while you are not in that place to get to the place you want to be.”

“Your faith has to be big, too. You cannot move without it.”

For more information Moore’s company, visit cocomooremakeup.com.

CHRISTINA RAY NORMAN

Over the years, Christina Ray Norman has helped raise awareness about Down syndrome through fundraisers.

This year, the 15-year-old is putting a unique spin on her efforts. She is collecting socks in honor of World Down Syndrome Day, which is March 21, 2023. She will donate the socks to Community Kitchens in Woodlawn and other homeless shelters in Birmingham.

Down syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome. The significance of Christina donating on March 21 is that the date represents an extra chromosome on the 21st chromosome. Three strands of Chromosome 21 just happen to look like socks, which is why people have been using a sock campaign of wearing colorful or mismatched socks to get people talking about Down syndrome.

“I’m a big advocate for Down syndrome and for my brother, Landon, who has Down syndrome,” said Christina, a 10th grader at Alabama School of Fine Arts. “I just thought having unique, different socks and giving them to homeless shelters will help.”

Christina is also using her sock project to correct misconceptions and highlight the importance of inclusion concerning Down syndrome.

“I think people assume that all people with Down syndrome are low functioning and don’t have high functioning abilities,” she said. “My little brother has high functioning abilities. He’s able to walk and talk and do anything he puts his mind to.”

“He wants to own his own restaurant. And he is also a person who likes to speak in public,” she said. “He’s not shy. And he loves to play sports.”

Since the age of 9, Christina has been volunteering with Community Kitchens, which made them an ideal recipient for her sock collection. “I’ve just always been taught, my whole life, to be kind to others and give back,” she said.

She’s also a Girl Scout and a ballerina. In April, she will dance in “Ballet in the Park” at Railroad Park. In May, she will dance in “Sleeping Beauty” at the Lyric Theater. Both events are through Magic City Performing Arts.

For her public engagements, Landon is there, cheering her on and inspiring her.

“He is a bright person, and he has a good future ahead of him,” Christina said. “He has so many ambitions, and I think that people should take that into account instead of saying, ‘Oh he cannot do this or that because he has Down syndrome.’”

TERESA ZUNIGA ODOM

Fiesta Bham started in 2003 as a way to help fund college scholarships for Latino students in Alabama.

Since then, the event has not only raised more than $100,000 in scholarship money, but it has become a premier cultural festival that offers Hispanic art, music, food and dance to thousands each September in Birmingham. One of the many people working behind the scenes to help make the festival happen is Teresa Zuniga Odom.

Odom started with Fiesta as a founding board member. At the end of 2022, she rolled off the board for an even bigger volunteer role: to chair the new Fiesta Bham Advisory Council. She said the council will focus on raising scholarship money throughout the year.

“For me, the biggest and best part of (Fiesta) was watching students receive their scholarship money,” Odom said. “It’s such a wonderful feeling that we can do a little bit to help them with their education. I just get very emotional about it.”

Another group Odom volunteers with is the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) in Birmingham. Every year, she serves as a tamale captain for the annual HICA Tamale Sale, which happens after Thanksgiving and has existed for 20 years. Proceeds help support HICA programs.

She takes orders and assists with deliveries.

“Anybody can be a tamale captain. This is one of those things I don’t think I will ever stop doing,” she said. “It’s kind of like Fiesta.”

Odom, 64, shares her love for Fiesta, the tamale sale, her Mexican-American background and Hispanic lifestyle on her blog, www.southernsenora.com.

“There is a definite need in the community for people to have access to these types of cultural opportunities and have some place where they can express themselves,” said Odom. “I’m just glad I can provide them.”

In 2023, Fiesta Bham will be in Linn Park on Sept. 30 from 12 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit fiestabham.com.

ANDREA PARKER

Andrea Parker has big dreams for Ensley.

In 2022, she purchased five acres near 22nd Street and Avenue E in Ensley, which is where she plans to break ground on a multi-use facility by 2024. It will be known as Ensley Social.

“We want to do some condo spaces, some food spaces and some outdoor spaces,” said Parker, 37. “We will have an incubator space where small businesses like myself can grow.”

The incubator space will have market stalls so that entrepreneurs can test their brands or ideas on consumers to decide the next steps in business. There will also be an area for a farmers market.

“We have always owned property and remodeled homes,” said Parker, who is the president and CEO of Parker and Associations Investment Co. “This new project is the first step into commercial property. Our goal is to develop underserved communities, and we are starting with Ensley.”

Parker grew up in Ensley and graduated from West End High School and later Faulkner University. The area that she plans to transform sits on a street where she played as a child.

“I live and breathe Ensley, and that’s why it is important to me to see it come back to life,” she said.

Also within her development is the shop still run by her grandfather, a master electrician. He joins Parker in her passion to see more for Ensley.

“When I think of the person who inspires me the most I always go back to my grandfather. I have witnessed him achieve greatness alongside my grandmother my entire life,” Parker said. “I’m blessed to have him alive and well to witness all the many things I plan to do in Ensley. My grandfather is always proud of me not because of anything I have achieved, but because I’m his granddaughter, and for that, I am eternally grateful.”

For more information about Ensley Social, visit www.ensleysocial.com.

AIJA PENIX

Award-winning producer and director Aija Penix knows Birmingham has talent, and she’s working on projects for the world to know, too.

In 2022, she received a 2022 Sidewalk Film Festival Black Lens grant, which she will put toward a three-day development workshop in Birmingham for Black filmmakers this fall.

It will work like this: writers and local talent will gather in one room to work on Penix’s pilot. Actors will be the voice for the characters. They will work through scenes and ideas to get to a finished product.

Once the project is complete, Penix will pitch it as far as she can go. Her dream networks are Netflix and HBO.

“Birmingham has a ton of screenwriters and playwrights who don’t have opportunities to write on a series or a pilot, so I want to use the talent here,” said, Penix, 34, who lives in Five Points South. “Birmingham is full of talent.”

Producing, acting and directing are not new to Penix.

In 2012, she starred on the ABC show, “Nashville,” as a background singer for actress Connie Britton’s character. Penix was on the show for five years, traveling back and forth to Birmingham.

In 2017, she produced her first film project.

In 2019, she co-founded the Birmingham Black Repertory Theatre Collective. Today, she is the group’s chief artistic partner.

Also in 2019, BBRTC presented the play, “Choir Boy,” which featured Birmingham talent. It swept awards, including winning “Best Musical and Play of the Decade” in 2020 from Broadway Regional Awards.

But Penix and BBRTC are not done. In 2023, BBRTC will develop a play series for online radio. The first production will be “A Raisin in the Sun,” starring Penix as the wife of the main male character. Penix is also developing a new production for young audiences called “Afro Tales,” with Carlton V. Bell II.

“Birmingham has been good to me, and I try to be of service to Birmingham,” said Penix, who is also an artist in residence with Birmingham Children’s Theatre, and has worked with Motown Records/Capital Records, Amazon Prime, Red Mountain Theatre and others as a producer and director.

“I’m inspired by the little people around me in my life: my nephews, my god children and our students,” said Penix. “Watching them explore their talents and put on their own productions, from start to finish, is what keeps me going.”

“I say it all the time: Nashville raised me, but Birmingham made me.”

To apply to be considered for the writers’ room workshop Penix will host in August 2023, send emails to aijapenix@gmail.com. For more information on the BBRTC’s Afro Tales, visit thebbrtc.com/legacyseason.

Photo credit: Grace Smith

DAPHNEY PORTIS

On a clear, crisp October night in downtown Birmingham, the lights underneath the interstate bathed City Walk in a warm yellow hue.

People huddled and chatted, waiting to support a candlelight vigil for victims and survivors of gender-based violence.

There were a handful of speakers. Daphney Portis was one of them.

She stepped on stage, took a deep breath and said, “My name is Daphney Portis, and I’m a survivor.”

It was the first time Portis, 28, had publicly shared that she had been a victim of sexual assault, a crime that happened at the hands of someone she knew in college. She never called police. Instead, she suffered in silence.

“I was wearing a mask saying, ‘I’m OK, and it didn’t affect me,’” said Portis, who works for a Birmingham-based nonprofit that focuses on social justice and female victims of domestic violence. “But it did.”

The assault happened in 2016. She sought counseling in 2019. She told her family in 2022.

Releasing the secret made Portis feel like she had gotten her voice back not only to empower herself but also others. On the night of the vigil in 2022, she read a poem she had written in dedication to domestic violence survivors.

Part of her poem reads, “Yes – I wear an R on my chest because resilience is my superpower.”

Portis knows there’s power in words and writing, which is why she uses her talent for writing poetry to teach survivors how to put their pain to paper. In her spare time, she wants to create a project where she can talk more about being a survivor and help women recognize the early signs of abuse.

“It’s wild how quiet people are about domestic violence and sexual assault,” she said. “But it is time to speak up in order to disrupt this cycle of violence and change the narrative.”

*If you or someone you know has been affected by intimate partner violence or gender-based violence, contact the YWCA Central Alabama’s Crisis Line at 205-322-4878 or the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence Statewide Hotline at 1-800-650-6522.

LONNIE PRESSLEY

For 30 years, Lonnie Pressley worked for the Jefferson County Department of Health, sharing information about lead testing, tobacco prevention and vaccine-preventable diseases. She even inspected tattoo parlors, boarding homes and restaurants.

Her push to protect left an impact. Well after she retired from the county health department in 2021, people continued to contact her for advice.

“Someone texted me yesterday, saying this person has a mold and mildew problem. What can they do?” said Pressley, 56.

The Birmingham native doesn’t mind the calls because coming to the aid of others is something she loves to do. For 20 years, she volunteered with a Birmingham cancer center, promoting the importance of early cancer detection. Between 2020 and 2021, she investigated covid cases and infectious outbreaks at nursing homes and correctional facilities for the Alabama Department of Public Health. And in 2022, she started working at O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center as a clinical research data coordinator II to work with blood cancer patients undergoing clinical trials.

“The best part of my job is knowing that I’m a part of helping someone to overcome a diagnosis of cancer,” she said.

Outside of work, Pressley has served as a PTA president, Girl Scout leader and president of the Alabama Environmental Health Association. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., has worked with the homeless and volunteers at her church, Faith Chapel Christian Center. She is co-chair of the City of Birmingham’s Women’s Initiative, which supports various programs, including domestic violence initiatives and distributes sanitary products to students and women unable to afford them.

She has received awards for her community work, including being named Environmentalist of the Year from the State of Alabama Environmental Health Association. She has also earned a Childcare Resources Child Advocate Award for her lead paint prevention work with families.

When Pressley was in her 40s, she went back to school to earn a master’s degree in public health from UAB and a master’s degree in environmental management from Samford University because she wanted better for herself.

“People may ask me, ‘Why do it? Why go back to college?’ And I tell them that you are never too old to want better in life,” said Pressley, a Smithfield Estates single mother of two college graduates.

ALLISON SANDERS

As long as Allison Sanders can remember, all she has ever wanted to do is sing.

She started singing in her mother’s church in Ensley. And then, at the age of 6, she took the stage at the Alabama Theatre in a production of “The Sound of Music.”

She was known as the little girl with the big voice.

At the age of 15, a voice coach in Memphis encouraged her to try something a little different: opera.

“I remember looking at her and saying, ‘Huh?’ Because at 15, I said I wanted to be Beyoncé or Whitney Houston. But honestly, opera fit me like a glove,” said Sanders, a teacher at a private elementary school in Birmingham.

After being exposed to opera, she sang a French opera solo from “Samson and Delilah,” and started winning competitions. She attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, which trains exceptionally gifted young performers. While there, she earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in music.

People have told Sanders, a soprano who can sing in three octaves, that she sounds like the late Grammy winner and opera singer Jessye Norman. Norman performed in countless operas and during the second inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1997.

Sanders, 35, has performed with various groups, including the Opera Company of Philadelphia, the New York City Opera, Opera Memphis, the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. She’s also toured in Japan and Germany with the Glory Gospel Singers. And like Norman, Sanders performed for President Clinton during a 2003 awards ceremony in Memphis.

In 2015, Sanders returned to Birmingham to be closer to her mother, and it was as if Sanders had never left. She’s appeared in several productions here, including being a soloist during the closing ceremony of the World Games in Birmingham in 2022. In January 2023, she performed in three sold out shows of Opera Birmingham’s production of dwb (driving while black) at Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theatre.

She said that being back in Birmingham has made her into a better artist.

“I love Birmingham, and I’m so grateful the way the city has embraced me and shaped me in the last eight years that I have been here,” said Sanders.

She hopes that her life’s journey will inspire others.

KARITA SMITH SULLEN

KaRita Smith Sullen worked in banking after receiving an undergraduate degree in business management from the University of Alabama. She worked as a construction loan associate and had an office that overlooked a lake. But in doing her job, she was unfulfilled.

She felt that she could do more to give back and wanted to make an impact in her community. After learning that the middle school in her community needed math teachers, she decided to become a teacher.

She quit her banking job, signed on with Birmingham City Schools to teach middle school math and pursued her master’s degree in elementary education along with certification to teach middle school mathematics. She’s been a teacher since 2006.

She taught middle school math for 10 years before moving to Oxmoor Valley Elementary to teach fourth and fifth grade math. She later became the technology teacher and education technology coach. She’s been at Oxmoor Valley since 2017, growing students’ interest in seeing themselves working in STEM or technology.

“I want to expose them to different careers, such as computer programming and engineering,” Sullen said. “My students need to know there are many different professions that they can explore.”

Her school partners with Ed Farm, a non-profit organization that promotes innovation in tech education, to host an after school coding club for students. Professionals in the tech field visit the school and give Sullen’s students an even closer view of what’s possible when working in STEM.

“In order for our students to be successful, we all have to come together and pour into them as much as we can,” said Sullen, 44, a 1997 graduate of Wenonah High School. “I want to challenge them to be the best and go beyond what they can dream.”

It seems as though Sullen was born to be a teacher. Her father was a math teacher, who also taught at the same school where Sullen began her teaching career. And even when she was little, she and her three sisters played school on their front porch. She said the best advice that her father gave her was to learn something from every teacher, but to be herself.

“I feel as if becoming an educator was a passion that I just could not escape,” she said. “And even though some days are challenging, I take pride in being able to have a positive impact on our future.”

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