“I grew up an only child in the Bessemer housing project in Prichard. I was fortunate to grow up there because my cousins and family lived on my block and parents wanted the best for their kids there, too. I saw so much of life happening in real time and it taught me how to deal with people. I lived next to the frontage road going to the interstate and watched the cars drive by and wondered where they were going and did they have money and did they think of me the way I was thinking of them? I knew I wasn’t going to make it playing sports and I didn’t have it in me to sell drugs and my mama would never allow that, so my thing became each homework assignment getting me one step closer to who I wanted to be.
My mom was a single mom and she went to nursing school while she was raising me. After she started working at the hospital and made some money, she bought a house behind Vigor High School and we moved out of our apartment, but I still spent all of my time in Bessemer with my family who kept me while my mother worked. When the neighborhood took a turn and out of concern for me she bought another house in West Mobile. She kept moving up and during my college years, she built her dream home in Semmes with marble counter tops.
I was bused to middle school in Saraland and that was where I learned to get along with people who didn’t look like me. I went back to Vigor for high school but going to those two schools taught me to just be who I am and adapt on the fly. There was a bit of code-switching at times and I had to learn about it the hard way, but I was able to move through college easily. I knew my mom helped people and I wanted to make a living helping people, too, but I needed to learn what that meant. I earned degrees in anthropology, sociology and communications and a masters degree in instructional design at South Alabama. I learned about people, cultures, how people age, how families unite and how groups of people operate. My mom finally told me it was time to get out of school.
When I was 31, my mom passed from pancreatic cancer. She went fast once she was diagnosed but it provided me with five straight weeks of uninterrupted time with her as I watched my hero and best friend dwindle away. She told the nurse that she wouldn’t die in front of me so I had to leave for few hours while she passed away. It was painful and devastating and I have never felt so alone. During that time I was in Leadership Mobile and organized community conversations about race. My mom watched my interviews from TV and that was the last thing she saw me accomplish. I was recognized as one of Mobile Bays’ 40 under Forty while losing her. That was a time of extreme highs and extreme lows.
I learned from my mom that we are going to fail in life but she always encouraged me to try. If I failed she talked to me about how to adjust so I am not afraid to take on challenges. If I don’t, who is going to do it? I live a life of expectancy. If I do my best work and connect with people, then great things will happen.
People still tell me I should leave Mobile to be somebody. I don’t know what they mean because I am somebody right here, right now. People want comfortable and easy in a place that is already made up where they get a great job and sit in traffic for hours. My life is great right here. I seek challenges every day and go home every night knowing that I accomplished something. It takes stepping out and doing things that scare you. I like being behind the scenes, it feeds my need to learn and to get things done.
We have racial issues, but we all need each other. There is not one group of people who can survive just using their own resources. I am willing to go out on a limb and get judged and do things that other people don’t think is popular. Some people misunderstand when I work with everyone, but the people who don’t understand are the ones I want to reach. I want to be an example that things can get done if we put ourselves on the limb together. I want the kids coming behind me to see what can be accomplished, but sometimes it gets rough on that limb.
For “Celebrate the City,” we got a lot of people to the table and created an event everyone could come to. People said it wouldn’t work and we couldn’t pull it off in three weeks, but we had committed people who made it work. We mashed up the music and celebrated the kids and succeeded in bringing all walks of life together. It takes all individuals to do things that will help move us forward. We can’t sit back and wait for someone else to do it. We have six flags over Mobile, we don’t do anything traditionally.
Maybe that event will inspire other people to do their own thing. This is your city, get out and do what you want to do. People are starting to take ownership of Mobile and everyone has to be an ambassador. How do we embrace transplants and make sure they have a place here? If you want to be connected today, we should be able to make it happen.
We are much stronger together than we are isolated and divided. People say, ‘yeah but there is so much division.’ When you recognize the division, what are you doing to stop it and bring people together? Why aren’t you a part of making it better? Some people have never been asked. Let’s ask them. How do we support each other and make dreams happen and bring more people into the fold? Good things are happening but we have a long way to go and can’t ignore the problems. People are still leery about changes and some are working against it. Support is based on actions, not words. If my actions aren’t enough, my words will never be.
I live in Mobile but drive to Semmes and go to a white church. That is a group of people I want to connect with and this is how I can help bring Mobile to them. When I first went there, they looked at me as ‘what is he doing here?’ It was weird but I knew that was where I was supposed to be. Now they expect me to be there. I may be the only black guy they know but they see that I am alright and people aren’t so bad.
This past Thanksgiving, we had Friendsgiving at my house and invited people from different walks of life who we met during the year. We had dishes from all of the cultures of people so everyone had something they could identify with and share. That group of people became close.
Sometimes it is good to get away. Every year my wife and I take a vacation to a place we haven’t been and have gone to Belize, Honduras, and Mexico. We always go further that we should go but we like to get out there and meet locals and eat food that is cooked on a porch.
My next project is working with kids who are aging out of the foster system care. They usually aren’t prepared for life on their own and it breaks your heart when you see them end up homeless. They have to pick from bad choices and then they are ridiculed for it. I want to help them transition into life on their own and to learn financial literacy.
One of my goals is to meet one new person a week and grow that into a relationship. I have been doing this for three years and it averages about 67 relationships a year. I am working on those relationships because I don’t want them to just be people I see in passing and keep going. I keep notes in my cell phone and schedule a lunch every day with someone because I want to connect with people directly. It is the only way to get to the bottom of things and understand each other.
Maybe it is from being an only child, but I want to be around as many people as I can. I want to help bring all of us together in Mobile so we can all be a part of the change.”