By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
The night was filled with laughter, sustained applause, and even some tears at the Vulcan Park Foundation’s 2019 presentation of The Vulcans Community Awards, held at The Club last week in Homewood.
For its sixth-annual event, the group honored 13 citizens who exemplify civic pride, leadership and progress in the Birmingham metro area. Award categories included Lifetime Achievement, Newcomer, Hero, Game Changer, and Servant Leadership.
“Tonight’s honorees all deserve this moment, appreciation, and admiration,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who was recipient of the 2014 Game Changer Award. “For the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as mayor, and I get a chance to run into everyday people who are making a difference in their neighborhoods and communities, but the folks honored tonight … do it at such a grand level and should be commended for that.”
Honorees were presented with two different awards: The Vulcans and The Spears.
The Vulcans winners were Cathy Sloss Jones of Sloss Real Estate Co., who received the Lifetime Achievement Award; Loretta Herring of The Cancer Awareness Network of Children Inc., who was given the Hero Award; Mark W.C. Martin of Build UP-Ensley, presented with the Newcomer Award; Buddy Palmer of Create Birmingham, recipient of the Game Changer Award; and Uma Srivastava of KultureCity, who earned the Servant Leadership Award.
The Spears winners were Mary White and Shuanta Woods of Deja King Foundation, honored as Heroes; Charity Moore of Chocolate Milk Mommies and Mary Helmer of Main Street Alabama, named Newcomers; Kristina Scott of Alabama Possible and Adrienne Starks of STREAM Innovations, the Game Changers; and Joan-Witherspoon-Norris of YWCA Central Alabama and LaTonya Smith of Aunt Ethel’s Helping Hands, recognized as Servant Leadership.
Jones said she was honored to be the Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and grateful to a city that “sometimes challenges and confuses, but most importantly always inspires and dazzles me.”
Jones, the great-great-granddaughter of Sloss Furnaces founder James Withers Sloss, has been active in the community since the 1980s, when she began working with her father and grandfather.
“I think I’m sort of a daughter of Birmingham,” she said. “I’m very connected to this place, and my family has been here a long time. Growing up, I was always taught about the wonder of Birmingham and how everybody has the opportunity to give back and get involved.”
As president and CEO of Sloss Real Estate Co., Jones is credited with spurring the city’s growth and enrichment through her building-preservation efforts. She’s been instrumental in transforming a former public-housing complex into the city’s first HOPE VI project and renovating the century-old Young and Vann Building in downtown. One of her most notable projects is spearheading the nationally recognized Market at Pepper Place, which has 10,000 weekly visitors.
Srivastava, who has been a Birmingham resident for 11 years, said she got involved with KultureCity while working and living downtown.
“From a very early age, my parents instilled the value of giving back and helping others,” she said. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve seen them helping family, community, and strangers time and time again. I knew I wanted to embody that same spirit.”
KultureCity, which has created more than 350 sensory-inclusive venues in four countries, was named one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2019 by Fast Company, a media brand that focuses on innovation in technology, leadership, and design. On being honored with the Servant Leadership Award Srivastava challenged everyone to “find your inner servant leader. … Be that person who stands tall and proud like Vulcan, who provides strength, love, and support to our wonderful Birmingham.”
Woods has supported high school seniors with the essentials to jump-start their college careers since 2015 through her nonprofit the Deja King Foundation. She was inspired to start the organization by her daughter, Deja King, who was diagnosed with several disabilities at 6 months old and died in July 2019 at age 21.
In honor of her daughter, Woods founded the Deja King Trunk Party, an event that helps recent high school graduates with some of their needs through gifts, such as decorations for their dorm rooms or supplies to help prepare for their freshman year of college. Because Deja didn’t go to college due to several disabilities, Woods wanted to do something for other students going to college.
Woods credited her late daughter for making her a better person: “Having Deja has taught me so much. She taught me unconditional love. She taught me that it’s not always about me; it’s about other people. She was one that always cared about everybody else. Her smile is what made the day go better and let you know, ‘It’s not about me today.’ She made me not be selfish.”
Moore is the co-founder of Chocolate Milk Mommies, which promotes the health benefits of breastfeeding to more than 200 families in the Birmingham area through her organization. Each year, Chocolate Milk Mommies hosts a community baby shower and provides diapers, wipes, clothing, toys, strollers, and educational support for hundreds of low-income families.
“When I heard I was receiving this award, I was excited. I felt honored because I felt like my work was actually being recognized. I think it’s important for people to get involved in their communities because we have to be the change we want to see. We can sit around and complain, … but if we’re not making the moves to get it done, what are we really doing?” said Moore, who also serves as a birth and postpartum doula in underserved communities and is studying to become Alabama’s first Black Certified Professional Midwife.
The Vulcan Park Foundation received more than 100 nominations from the Birmingham metropolitan area—Bibb, Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby, and Walker counties—to recognize people who work to effect change, serve, lead, or make a difference in the lives of the people, places, and organizations in the city.
Recipients are chosen by an independent panel, and more than 65 people have been recognized since 2014, when the awards began. Honorees have ranged from those who are known locally to those who have been on the national stage, said Vulcan Park and Museum President and CEO Darlene Negrotto.
“Over the years we’ve been able to recognize people from all over the spectrum,” she said, citing two honorees: Noah Galloway, a military vet and amputee who was a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars” and helped people around the U.S. overcome disabilities; and a young man who saved a school bus full of grade-school students after the driver passed out due to a medical emergency.
The Vulcan Park Foundation will begin taking nominations for next year’s awards starting in January. For more information, visit www.visitvulcan.com.