By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
The World Games 2021 is much-anticipated by many Birmingham-area residents but none more than Kathy Boswell, who was appointed in November as vice president of community engagement for the international multisport event.
In her role, Boswell, a native of Birmingham’s Mason City, will provide communication and outreach in the community, cultivate tourism and cultural initiatives, and oversee the Live Healthy, Play Global educational program and the World of Opportunity supplier-diversity program.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime to have this much energy around bringing [together] people from the various communities they may represent, … allowing and watching people create new friendships and relationships,” Boswell said, adding that she looks forward to creating memories that will last a lifetime.
She believes her role for The World Games (TWG 2021) is important because it enables her to “… engage in building and planning for those memories, … deliberately looking and thinking about the experiences [we] want people to have.”
Building Her Community
Boswell understands the value of experiences.
Her family didn’t have much when she was growing up. When she was in fifth grade at West Center Street Elementary School, a fellow student came home with her to spend the night, and the girl told everybody at school that Boswell lived in a shack.
“That was probably the most devastating thing that happened to me because I didn’t really know we were poor until that experience,” Boswell recalled. “It also left an imprint on my mind. I can remember sitting down as a little girl … really wondering, ‘Will I ever have more than this?’”
Boswell knew then that she wanted to give back—to her siblings, to her parents, and to others.
“My parents had worked so hard,” she said. “My mom at one point had been a maid, and my dad had been a janitor. My mom went on to become a medical assistant and did well. My dad retired from Alabama Power Co. as a meter tester, … but he still had two and three jobs to always provide for us. I always wanted to give back.”
Boswell’s dad, Robert Parker, passed away in 2018: “[He was] the very best friend I had,” she said. “He was the person who, no matter what, always smiled through [everything]. My joy, … I get that from him.”
Her mother, Mary Parker, is “… the voice in my head that always tells me, ‘You can do anything, and God has great things for you,’” said Boswell, who says those same words to herself every day.
Always a Student
Boswell attended Homewood High School, which exposed her to a different view of the world.
“It was transformational because some of the things I experienced there—just being in high school, going through that type of change—have lasted a lifetime,” she said.
Boswell fondly remembers two teachers who became her mentors: Rosemary Parnell and Carolyn Rayford.
“Even after I went to college, that is one of the things I treasured. They were both such … phenomenal and successful women, and … they left an imprint on me,” said Boswell.
Additionally, being part of the school’s marching band color guard gave her the chance to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
“Being in the band taught me about … excellence and precision. … It taught [me the importance of] being committed, sticking with it, and believing you can accomplish something,” Boswell said.
There were sacrifices to get to school at Homewood, which she attended from 9th until 12th grade. The family didn’t have a new car, so “it was about the gas,” she said. “I always needed money for gas to get to school.”
After graduating from high school in 1982, Boswell enrolled at the University of North Alabama in Florence, Ala., which she attended until 1986. She then transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where she majored in criminal justice with a minor in communications.
She worked three jobs to pay her way through college, which meant “working from 2:30 in the morning until about 9 at night, … but by the grace of God I did it,” said Boswell, who graduated from UAB in 1990.
For Boswell, who is no stranger to challenges, 2009 was a pivotal year. Her husband, Alexander “Chip” Boswell was diagnosed with cancer, her dad had a stroke, and she got laid off from a job.
“That [year] changed my world,” she said.
Later in 2009, Boswell took a position with the United Way of Central Alabama, a job that was also instrumental in her oldest brother turning his life around. He was her “biggest fan.”
“He was drug free for over 20 plus years…he died of an aneurysm [in 2010] after a chemo treatment,” she said. He had prostate cancer.
Reflecting on that pivotal time 10 years later, Boswell, who sadly lost another brother in 2017, said, “Certain situations in your life change you and cause you to stop and think and realize how valuable every moment of your life is. I just take every day to be who I am, the authentic me. … It’s so important to me that people get the real me all the time because time is limited, and one conversation can absolutely change your life.”
Boswell and her husband, who have two children, will celebrate 30 years of marriage in 2020. And how’s her husband today?
“If he had to tell you, … his answer would be, ‘I’m blessed, and God has just been good,’” she said. “That’s all he’s going to say. … He’s amazing. … I love that man.”
Boswell, who is in her 50s, said her experiences have prepared her for her role with TWG 2021.
She’s a seasoned community relations professional who has served as director of employee engagement at the Birmingham Education Foundation (commonly called Ed), director of patient experience at Brookwood Baptist Health, a community relations specialist at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, and director of community relations at Princeton Baptist Medical Center.
“If there’s any place that my age serves me well, it is because I take my past lessons with me, I gain from them. I choose to be a better person. I choose to really see joy and happiness through this lens of possibility every single day. … When I leave people, it matters to me what I leave behind,” said Boswell, who is using this same mindset to help build the TWG 2021 team.
In addition, she plans to use an assessment tool called Strength Scope, which will allow her to “leverage people more efficiently and effectively.”
“I want people [who work with our team] to leave with something that can be beneficial to them personally because they contribute [their time]. … This isn’t a paid role; it’s done on a volunteer basis. Still, the insight they get can help them be more effective in their workplaces … and their personal lives.”
Boswell believes TWG 2021 will place Birmingham in the history books because it will be the first time in 40 years that the games will be in the United States.
“We are about to become a part of a new story,” she said. “After this is over and [people] see the success, it will open the doors of opportunity for [Birmingham to host] other larger events on a larger scale. [Another] thing that’s really exciting to me is that kids who will be graduating in 2021 will literally have a historic moment in their lifetimes. I think that’s incredible.”
Walking in Freedom
Boswell enjoys working out, as well as focusing on her faith and listening to music. She has written a walking journal called “Passage Walk,” a 33-day devotional study that is centered around the steps a person takes and correlates with daily Bible reading. In addition, she has an exercise program, “U Are God’s Original” (UAGO), which fuses together a biblical message with movement and music.
During her childhood, she was a member of and sang with the choir at First Baptist Church of Mason City. Now, she is now a member of the Church of the Highlands in Hoover.
Though Boswell has been through a lot, she said, “[I don’t want to go through life with] the same mindset I had at 30. I’m trying to take in all of my wins, my wows, and my whoopses, so I have fewer whoopses and more wins in my now.”
“I’m really free,” she added. “I’m walking in a freedom. … I’m embracing who I am, my gifts, my strengths; I’m embracing what I’m not great at; and I am embracing that … God has called me into this. … I’m in my purpose when it comes to God, and I am willingly walking in that type of freedom.”
As for her new position, Boswell said it’s not about the title.
“This is about who I am. This is about where I came from. This is about me being blessed to be part of this city that raised me. I’m grateful to God for that,” she said.
Looking back on the challenges, Boswell said, “I believe my journey reflects God’s goodness in my life—the sacrifices made by my parents, as well as going to Homewood High School, having mentors, being exposed to different experiences very early on, understanding the importance of acceptance and respecting peoples’ differences, and knowing that … I can be successful wherever I am. While I’m in this role, I want people to see me, my heart, and that I am grateful.”