“I grew up in Mobile and went to St. Mary’s and McGill. Both of my parents worked so I was a latchkey kid and knew at a young age that I had to pull my weight. My parents believed in helping the community and I went with my mom to the nursing home every week. She also got her master’s at South and showed me what is possible. I understood the struggle early and was empathic to the needs of others.
I went to Xavier in New Orleans and came back to Mobile. I never left Mobile again but tried many times. I wanted to help people and went to a helpline training. I had to do remedial training because I was so shy. My first call was a schizophrenic man who said he was holding a gun to his head. We talked for hours and he called repeatedly after that. Crisis work and helping people through tough times connected with me.
I started at the Rape Crisis Center and later became executive director of Lifelines Counseling Services. Lifelines started in 1958, and the vision has always been to provide innovative solutions to community needs. We are much more than counseling services. The issues are all connected and we want to be a center where you can get the services you need in one place. A woman in a domestic violence situation needs a safe place to stay. She probably needs counseling and financial literacy training to help her get her on her feet.
My parents went through segregation in Mobile. Folks of that generation don’t talk about those tough times because they were so traumatic. My parents never imagined their daughter would be on the board at the University of South Alabama or the first African-American president of the Junior League of Mobile. I never imagined this either and I have to slow down and be grateful. I loved being president of Junior League and worked with some of the most brilliant women I have ever met as we planned for the future of the League. In the beginning, I downplayed being the first black president because I was scared of messing up. But I celebrated it at the end. We brought in more women of color and our volunteer rates increased. People go where they are wanted and it was important to me that women of color felt wanted in Junior League.
Mobile is at a reckoning point and we need to have tough conversations about race and reconciliation. We were the last site of the Clotilda and the last site of a recorded lynching in the United States. We need to talk about redlining and housing issues. We have to talk about what poverty looks like. How are we going to help the least of these succeed? More and more of our community members are falling into this group. Art is the space of healing in a community. It is the place that pushes back and lets us know what our community lacks and what our issues are in a medium that people accept and take in with their walls down. We can see, feel and experience problems in a different way. We need our artists helping us see and understand what is happening in our community.
I tried to fight Mobile for many years, but finally admitted to myself how much I love this city. Nowhere else is home. Every time I think of making Mobile better, it is making it better for my family. Everyone in this city is my family. The mission statement for my life is to be a positive catalyst for social change in our community. I hope there are many more who feel the same and rise up. Once you see a need, step in and do something. Mobile deserves keepers of the dream that we can live better and people who are willing to fight for it.”
(This is the third story in the series “The Souls of Mobile,” with people nominated because of the good they do for the city. Their faces will also be a part of the mural “The Souls of Mobile” that Ginger Woechan is now painting on Hayley’s Bar. This mural is a collaboration with the Mobile Arts Council.
An Unveiling: Celebrating the Souls of Mobile by Ginger Woechan and block party Is Sunday, December 8th from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. with music by the Excelsior Band and Harrison McInnis.)