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2018 NUSA Conference: What city officials, residents are telling visitors about Birmingham

By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times

From left: City of Birmingham staffers, Valerie Williams, Sybil Scarbough, Felicia Mitchell and Arron Jackson. This week, Birmingham is hosting the 43rd Annual Neighborhoods USA (NUSA) Conference. (Ariel Worthy, The Birmingham Times)

This week, Birmingham—a city of 99 neighborhoods and 23 communities—is hosting the 43rd Annual Neighborhoods USA (NUSA) Conference. The four-day event, which ends May 26, will feature a series of panels, workshops, and collaborative events that encourage networking, camaraderie, and idea-sharing.

The theme for 2018 is “Building Tomorrow’s Community Today,” and the event is expected to draw more than 850 to the downtown Birmingham Sheraton Hotel, said conference co-coordinator Felicia Mitchell.

This is Birmingham’s third time hosting the NUSA Conference, which was held in the city in 1982, 1995, and 2018.

“Several cities have hosted twice, but no one has done three times,” said Mitchell. “We’re very excited.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said, “NUSA’s commitment to growing neighborhoods perfectly aligns with Birmingham’s current mission to build an inclusive city. This is an opportunity for all our 99 neighborhoods to collaborate, absorb new ideas, and have their voices heard.”

Showcasing the City

Several neighborhood presidents look forward to showcasing the Magic City.

Adrienne Reynolds, president of the Enon Ridge Neighborhood Association in West Birmingham, said she is proud of the rich history of the neighborhood—home to Sardis Baptist Church, which will turn 133 years old in the fall—as well as the rebuilding of Tuggle Elementary School, which opened in the 2009–2010 school year.

Adrienne Reynolds, president of the Enon Ridge Neighborhood Association. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr., for The Birmingham Times)

“We’re building new houses. We’re dealing with nonprofits to improve the neighborhood, to make it better and more attractive,” she said.

Reynolds encourages residents to get involved with their neighborhood associations and attend regular meetings.

“What happens in those meetings really determines the way the neighborhood goes,” she said. “You have access to city services and public works, reports from fire and police departments. [Representatives from these groups] come to the meetings, where you can express to them what you like and don’t like, and they will do their best to handle your request.”

Thomasine Jackson, president of the East Thomas Neighborhood Association. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr., for The Birmingham Times)

Thomasine Jackson, president of the East Thomas Neighborhood Association, has seen her neighbors become more involved.

“I see them doing more cleanup and volunteer work at the schools,” she said. “I have more young people coming to meetings now because I started a Facebook page. We’ve started donating to schools, too.”

Back Home

In North Birmingham, Vivian Starks, 78, said she likes her neighborhood because she knows everyone. She returned to Birmingham 22 years ago, after living in Los Angeles, Calif., for 40 years.

“The same people were here when I left. Now, just about the same families [are] in the same houses, so you feel at home,” said Starks, president of the Collegeville Neighborhood Association. “In California, you don’t know your next-door neighbors. Here, I can sit out on the porch and wave and talk.”

As far as the neighborhood itself, not much has changed. The people, however, have.

“When I say people have changed, I mean they have left here and gone someplace else, and few new families are here,” she said.

Asked how what word she would use to describe the Collegeville community, Starks said, “Friendly.”

“I know everybody, and I feel at home,” she said. “It’s just a neighborhood that I’m happy in.”

Starks also likes that neighbors look out for each other.

“We know who’s going to the store. If someone is going to a certain place and sees someone outside, they may say, ‘I’m going to the store. Do you need anything?’ You have communication with your neighbors,” she said. “Thank God, I can still drive. Other than that, I would have to wait until somebody takes me.”

Youth Conference

During this week’s event, neighborhood tours will be offered and there also will be a focus on youth. Arron Jackson, program manager for Birmingham’s Division of Youth Services, said the goal is to show children how to make an impact in their community on a local level.

For the youth conference, he said, “We’ve created some mock causes that are actually real-life: things about littering, cyberbullying, and social media etiquette—real-life day-to-day local issues that they see along the line. We want to get them engaged so they see how local elected officials address local issues and how they communicate those issues to the community.”

Jackson added, “Kids will learn the setup of municipal government, how it connects to public servants and elected officials. They will learn components of campaigning.”

The youth conference will include diversity training and provide the opportunity to meet and interact with city officials from across the nation.

“Students with a desire to have an impact on neighborhoods, communities, and city government tomorrow, can start learning how to do that today by attending the youth conference,” said Jackson. “This is a great opportunity.”

For more information on the NUSA Conference, visit www.birminghamal.gov/NUSA2018.

To read about Birmingham’s Highland Park neighborhood, click here.

To read about the Brownville Heights community, click here.

To read about the Woodlawn neighborhood, click here.