Archive for March, 2009

>Tonight’s Dinner and Another Bessemer Farm

March 30, 2009

>Eat at McAllisters in Homewood tonight.

Tuesday evening, March 31, from 5 to 8 PM, students from UAB School of Engineering will be serving you dinner at McAllister’s Deli in Homewood (State Farm Parkway, Suite 104 that’s near Lowe’s).

Working to wait and bus tables, engineering students will raise money for their May 2009 and 2010 Engineers Without Borders (EWB) trips to Zambia in south central Africa. Students from the UAB School of Public Health will participate in the fundraiser too. The half-dozen student restaurant workers, who are scheduled for a three-hour shift, will keep 10 percent of McAlister’s revenues for the night as well as any tips. Simply put: more diners at McAlister’s that night means more money for UAB’s EWB trips.

Proceeds will help cover travel costs as well as expenses related to the infrastructure project the students will complete in Zambia for EWB. The student project will contribute to the construction of a facility that will serve as the African headquarters for the Alabama based non-profit organization SIFAT, which teaches skills that help sustain communities like water purification, malnutrition diagnosis and HIV prevention. A three-person UAB survey team travels to Zambia this May to lay the groundwork for the larger UAB team trip in 2010.

SIFAT is Servants in Faith and Technology, and is based in Lineville, AL. See what they do, and where, at

Be sure to check Bessemer Science and Nature if you are interested in the Birds and the Bees. Really. Bees. Some of the best pictures I have ever taken.

People Helping People Urban Farm is located just off of I-20/59 near exit 113. Just look for this guy. He was near the farm.

Or look for their totem pole.

Or look for this plot, being prepared to plant.

Their vision: The Urban Farm will be a productive garden that allows community members to help each other and feed the underserved.

Their mission: PHP Urban Farm strives to meet the needs of people by increasing their access to fresher, more nutritious food supplies, increasing the self-reliance of communities in providing for their own food needs, and promoting comprehensive responses to local food, farm, and nutrition issues.

Virginia Ward, the contact person for the farm, told me of the success the farm has had in helping provide for the community as well as educating youth in entrepreneurial skills and sustainable agricultural skills.

They have teamed with an impressive list of stakeholders to meet the challenges they face. Visit the web site and see.

Here some of last year’s produce is being harvested.

Photo used with permission of PHP Urban Farm

Here is Virginia Ward with some of the children. Look at that produce behind them.

Photo used with permission of PHP Urban Farm

I will be writing more about this farm, as well as Fig Leaf Farm, during the year.

>Gardens and Farms

March 30, 2009

>Be sure to check Bessemer Science and Nature where yesterday I began to document the saga of a family of Robins, and today we travel to Mars.

There is a new sign in the Jonesboro Community Garden.

In case the photo is difficult to read, the Garden is giving thanks to Vulcan Materials, Bessemer City Schools, Bessemer Historical Homeowners Association, Bessemer Rotary Club, Trey Tarrant and the Horticulture Students of Lawson State Community College, Building Science Department of Lawson State Community College, New Light Baptist Church, American Community Garden Association, and Alabama Cooperative Extension.

All of these groups have contributed in various ways to the Garden. The Garden is there for you to enjoy. If you want to bring a lawnmower…

There are also new directional signs as you approach on Owen Avenue.

Near Bessemer near McCalla is Fig Leaf Farm.

At Fig Leaf Farm, Joe and Sara use sustainable methods to grow fresh produce and flowers, some of which will be sold this year at Pepper Place Market .

Here they are preparing the soil for planting.

Click on the “Methods” tab in the site and see how they improve the soil, what amendments they use and how they manage insects and pests. There are many things those of us with gardens can do to improve our yields without harming the earth. Here’s a quote from their site, “We firmly believe in the message behind the oft-quoted command Don’t Treat Your Soil Like Dirt.”

One neat thing is a link to this Web Soil survey where you can learn what type of soil you have using the USDA’s Geospatial Data. For instance, Fig Leaf Farm’s upland is primarily Tupelo silt loam and the bottoms are Sullivan-Ketona complex, a “loamy alluvium derived from sedimentary rock.”

We are fortunate to have growers nearby who care about the land and are willing to share and promote sustainable use of the land.

>An American Hero

March 27, 2009

>Here’s something new. I’ve created a new blog, Bessemer Science and Nature.

Bessemer Science is where I will be posting articles, information and pictures related to science and nature. This could be anything from reports on embryonic stem cell research or my thoughts about the solar system to my own pictures of Nature. Science encompasses a lot. You might be surprised what you see there.

Today, there are just some pictures I took yesterday and comments. A lizard, a bee and a flower.
Sometimes science will still make it onto Bessemer Opinions.

Yesterday Over the Mountain Democrats hosted American Hero Lilly Ledbetter and Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb at Samford University. While there, I couldn’t help but notice the impressive pipes from which music flows in Reid Chapel.

Bobby commented that it could possibly have been the most democrats on campus in history, and I did notice that the program had a disclaimer on the back, “This event is not sponsored by Samford University.”

Chief Justice Cobb spoke mainly about indigent representation and how Alabama is lacking in certain important aspects of that, and what she and others are doing to correct it

The highlight of the evening was, of course, meeting and hearing Lilly Ledbetter, who was the main player in the fight that led to the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. She got nothing out of this 10 year battle, but the country got a great deal. Fairness and equality of pay is just right. Plain and simple. That the executives at Goodyear could not see that makes me never want to purchase a Goodyear Tire again. That the Supreme Court could not see that makes me wonder about the quality of our judiciary (actually I have wondered about that since Al Gore got shafted).

She has become quite a hero and she said that at the signing of the bill that she had three people approach her and say they would write her a check that day if she would run against Mike Rogers (her republican representative who voted against the bill). She didn’t say anything more about it, so who knows. Somebody certainly needs to run against him and beat him.

In addition there was a reception prior to the event where I got to talk to Terri Sewell who is running to replace Artur Davis in our district (Congressional District 7). Visit Terri Sewell for Congress and read her biography. You will be hearing a lot about her in the next few months.

Here is Terri talking with Lilly.

She received the Afro-American Studies Thesis Prize for her senior thesis entitled, “Black Women in Politics: Our Time Has Come.” Terri, I think you are right.

Upon graduation from college, Terri was featured on NBC’s Today Show as one of the “Top Collegian Women” and was chosen as one of the “Top Ten College Women in America,” by Glamour Magazine.

She has extensive background in public service including work in the under served areas of the Black Belt. She was born in Selma, but lives in Birmingham now.

>Last Night and Tonight

March 26, 2009

>You are invited to a great event tonight. Details below.

Yesterday the power kept going out in the late afternoon so I was not going to try to cook. It was a good excuse to go out to eat. Never mind that the stove is gas.

We were going out anyway, to participate in TAP Project. This week several restaurants in the area are collecting “$1, or more, for the tap water you usually enjoy for free to help UNICEF provide clean drinking water to children around the world.”

900 million people (that’s almost a billion, for those, mostly republicans, who struggle with big numbers) in the world lack access to safe drinking water, and 4,200 children die every day due to lack of clean water.

$1 provides safe clean drinking water for 40 days (and 40 nights).

World Water Week is this week. Here is a list of participating restaurants in Alabama. We chose Rojo. Oh, if we only had a restaurant like Rojo in Bessemer.

Or you can donate online.

Watch this site for a way to help those without water here in Alabama soon. Yes, here in Alabama there are people without safe, clean water.

Then we thought we might visit a charity BINGO hall near Bessemer. A recent article in the paper said all the bingo halls used paper bingo now, awaiting the city or state or somebody to give them the OK to use machines. But these sure looked like machines to me, with little leprechauns and four leaf clovers spinning around and lining up to return credits. And, they sucked your money in just like any machine. But I don’t think they are slot machines.


Over the Mountain Democrats is proud to present an American Hero, Lilly Ledbetter, and an Alabama hero, Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. This event is free and open to the public.

WHO: Lilly Ledbetter, pioneer for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb
WHAT: Telling their stories and taking questions from the audience
WHEN: 6:15 pm Thursday, March 26th
WHERE: Reid Chapel, Samford University
HOW: FREE and open to the public

We also expect (probable candidate for governor) Jim Folsom, Terry Sewell (candidate to replace Artur Davis), Priscilla Dunn (candidate to replace E. B. McClain) and others to be there.

You’ve probably heard this song by Chris Isaak, “We Let Her Down.” I know that a video has been released, but I can’t find it. Here’s a live video, though, filmed at a concert in San Fran. Like most Chris Isaak songs, this is a good one to turn up pretty loud and sing along, even if your voice isn’t smooth like his.

>Arlington School Saved

March 25, 2009

>Be sure to read my Western Tribune column, which follows this post. It’s about Public Health history and the current economic situation.

At the Bessemer School Board meeting last night the Board voted to pass the following item: “Approval of the sale of the Arlington School Property located at 1901 Arlington Avenue, Bessemer, AL to ‘Housing for Birmingham, Inc.’ in the amount of $75,000. Mr. W. David Nichols is president.”

Of course, this is not a contract and although it seems from the conversation that the details have been worked out, they still have to be put in contract form and the transaction take place.

For those who are interested in details, board member Sam Morris made the motion and Hattie Aikerson seconded it. All the members with the exception of Christine Knight voted for the sale. Knight said that her no vote was because of her “passion for Arlington School” and that she knew the property would sell, and must sell. She indicated that the reason was because the board could not afford to restore the building. To me, “passion” for the building would mean making an effort to save it. But that’s just me. She seemed happy with the sale and the knowledge the building would be saved.

Would you go in this building? Well now you don’t have to. Take a tour here. A description of the building in the South Bessemer Inventory being updated for our Historic District project says “the entry-bay decorated Flemish-style parapet has been destroyed.” That’s not all, apparently.

This is the “jewel box theatre with a raked floor, proscenium stage, and horseshoe balcony” that was described as one of the treasured features of the building.

The balcony reminds me of the one in the church next door.

Of course the building, inside and out, is a reminder of what’s bad in our society.

KKK members (or wanna-be’s) were not happy so they vandalized the gymnasium about 18 years ago.

I wonder what these girls, identified as members of the Tutwiler Literary Society at the original Bessemer High School on Arlington Avenue would think if they saw the school today.

David Nichols plans to restore the building as a senior housing development. He told me this morning that he expects the project to take less than a year, once the sale is completed.

This is tremendous news, albeit belated, for the South Bessemer neighborhood. David and I spoke about renewing the effort for historical recognition. It’s going to happen. Do you want to help?

In a day or two I will be posting some information about another historic building nearby, and what the plans are.

>Western Tribune column March 25 2009

March 25, 2009

>This is not really the column I had hoped to print this week, but **** happens. You will just have to wonder what that implies.


As the economic recovery continues we have to be mindful that hardship continues for some. As the stimulus creates jobs by helping some industries to thrive, others will be slower to respond and people may still lose their jobs.

Some will find other means of work although this often occurs at a lower rate of pay than they are accustomed to, so changes in their lifestyle may be in order.

But we hope that our government sponsored safety nets and charitable enterprises will keep those who are experiencing any degree of hardship from really suffering.

Some who read this experienced the difficult times of the Great Depression, and the rest of us probably heard about it from our parents. But even those tough times did not reflect true misery.

The type of misery I am referring to is what Johann Peter Frank described in his address to the medical graduates of the University of Pavia in Italy in 1790. The situation in the Austrian Empire that year was somewhat like the situation here in the United States today. Great social reforms had been promised including impartial justice and equitable taxation along with freedom of thought and religious tolerance. The nobility and clergy felt threatened and the reforms were revoked by the leader who had proposed them.

Today the Republican nobility certainly feels threatened and many in the clergy disapprove of the religious tolerance that seems to be advancing.

The type of misery that Frank was referring to was a direct result of the extreme poverty that the laboring masses lived under, and which resulted in increased levels of crime and disease.

“The misery of the people” was described as “the most fertile mother of diseases” in his address. Certainly, live birth rates were markedly different from what we know today, and early childhood death was common. This resulted in part from forced servitude with little or no compensation and starvation was not unusual.

Frank proposed reforms in his address that would do away with servitude and allow for farmers to own the land that they tilled. Better nutrition and health would result, and misery would be expelled from the provinces.

The standards under which we live today would not let us even consider returning to such conditions. The safety nets will prevent such. But just as important, the compassion and caring attitudes of friends and neighbors will see us through. Let’s be sure our neighbors are taken care of during the upcoming months.

>Amazing Race

March 24, 2009

>I have never watched reality shows. Well, I take that back. Sometimes I get hooked on The
Real World, mainly to see how the cast responds to the gay (and now transgender…Katelynn Cusanelli in the current season) members, beginning with AIDS activist Pedro Zamora back in 1994, the third season.

Pedro, a film about his life, is being screened in various locations…not here…yet.

(Can you believe there have been 22 seasons of The Real World? It’s the longest running series on MTV.)

Anyway, the promotions for The Amazing Race episode Sunday sucked me in. That plus we wanted to watch Cold Case, which due to the basketball games, which delayed Sixty Minutes and everything thereafter, would not start until 8:48. If we watched anything other than The Amazing Race our timing would be off, and we would either miss the end of a show or the beginning of Cold Case. And its not as if we could do something other than watch TV, like read, during that hour. No.

But The Amazing Race had its contestants in India, and so they drew on the interest generated by Slumdog Millionaire (again, if you haven’t seen the movie, you should). I recalled that a few weeks ago I had learned that Mel White and his son would be on the show, and sure enough, they are still competing. Mel is the 68 year old gay rights activist/clergyman/author and his son Mike is a writer/actor.

Mel also wrote What the Bible Says – and doesn’t Say – About Homosexuality . You can read it for free at that link. There are several readers of this blog who could learn from it. Then they could comment on a post that actually is about homosexuality rather than promoting their uneducated and ill-informed comments on posts that don’t even concern sexuality (that refers to comments on the recent post about Arlington School and my family). I will ask, but don’t expect compliance, for them to read the link before they post.

Anyway, Mel and Mike came in second on Sunday’s show. Now I’m hooked, I will have to keep up, either by watching or checking online.

>Spring Time in Bessemer

March 23, 2009

>The dwarf double flowering almond is one of the first things to bloom in our yard each spring, and it never disappoints. Except the flowers don’t last long enough. But isn’t that true of most flowers (and most other good things)?

In our little Zen Garden the maple tree is putting out blooms and leaves at the same time. People often comment that the leaves of these ornamental maples look like marijuana leaves. Speaking of (medical) marijuana, Loretta Nall had a great letter printed in the Montgomery Advertiser (although I can’t link to it) about HB434, the Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act. Here is a link to the letter at her site.

I’m hoping my cousin or someone else can tell me what’s going on with this leaf. I found it a couple of week’s ago in the back yard while preparing to plant a grape vine. I searched around and did not see any others that looked the same. Plant virus? I don’t know.

The first Jonesboro Community Garden workday of 2009 was held Saturday, and several members of the Bessemer Historical Homeowners Association showed up to dig and plant and gossip about those who were not there. Not really, you know we wouldn’t gossip.

We planted a dogwood tree, a magnolia, four fruit trees and several vines and other plants. But gardening is not just planting. Here the old growth is being trimmed from some ornamental grasses, and crepe myrtles were trimmed as well.

Five camellias were planted. Notice a couple of things about this picture. Near the center, behind the camellias, is a redbud tree. There are several redbuds and pecan trees and nandinas along the fence that we are going to save to be part of the garden. But the fence will be cleaned up as well, and this has begun to the left. The old chain link fence is there because this was a school yard and it kept the kids in. Or the creeps out. We still want to keep the creeps out.

The Bessemer School Board will meet Tuesday, September 24, 2009 at 6:00 PM in the board room at their office at 1621 5th Ave N. The fate of Arlington School is on the agenda. Let’s hope they save it, and let’s be there in support. If they choose to destroy it, in a few decades will progressive neighbors be working to create a garden on the site, like in Jonesboro? We have enough vacant lots crying out to be tended as it is, and we think we can have both significant historic buildings and beautiful gardens.

>Arlington School and The Past

March 20, 2009

>Update: The Bessemer School Board will meet Tuesday, September 24, 2009 at 6:00 PM in the board room at their office at 1621 5th Ave N.

This is Arlington School. It was built in 1908 and was Bessemer’s first high school. It sits at the corner of Arlington Avenue and 19th Street in Bessemer. It has been empty for years. Well, empty of students. Drug dealers and vagrants and rats have occupied the building from time to time. This picture was taken two years ago, the building looks worse now.

The School Board will decide next week what to do with the building. They have had offers from developers but have refused the offers. In the meantime, the building deteriorates. The city wants to get their wrecking ball out.

I wrote about the school here and here (and several other places) and Alabama Heritage magazine described the property in this way: “A fine example of classical revival school building from the turn of the last century, the Arlington School, built in 1908, was Bessemer’s first high school. Its most distinguishing features are the decorative brick and stone facade, interior sky-lighted basketball courts, and an auditorium in the form of a jewel box theatre with a raked floor, proscenium stage, and horseshoe balcony. Once a part of a thriving middle class neighborhood, the Arlington School was abandoned in the early 1980s. Now dilapidated and out of use, the school’s state of disrepair is indicative of the decline in the surrounding neighborhood…”

The next picture was taken yesterday of West End High School in Birmingham. The school is being demolished. Just to the right of the frame was written West End High School 1930, I assume that was the year it was built. Don’t let this happen to Arlington.

This is my dad. He was born in 1916. He went to Woodlawn High School.

In 1930 my dad would have been around fourteen years old, so he may not have been at Woodlawn yet, where he became a football star. But he had football in him long before he entered high school. He probably played against West End while at Woodlawn. Maybe they even played against Arlington.

Later he married his sweetheart. Weren’t my parents a good looking couple?

They later ended up with us four boys. Guess which one is me?

See, I feel connected to my parent’s past, even though I wasn’t around. And the people of Bessemer feel connected to Arlington School. When I was campaigning for City Council the subject of the school came up with many residents that I spoke with, and they all wanted the building saved. Many of the people who attended that school are no longer with us, but their children and grandchildren are. Hopefully they will let the school board know that the building needs to be saved. The Board of Education meets Tuesday night. When I find out where and what time the Board meets, I will post it on this blog.

>Bessemer Politics…too early, and Kevin Richardson

March 19, 2009

>Be sure to read my Western Tribune column from yesterday’s paper. It’s about our AG, Troy King, and you can find it just below this post.

At least twice a week someone asks me if I am running for City Council next year.

There is no doubt that I believe Bessemer is lacking the kind of leadership it needs in critical areas. This includes elected positions like mayor, city council and school board.

But instead of focusing on City Council district 7, let’s think about mayor.

No!!! Not me, even though…well I won’t go there.

But how about Anthony Underwood? It’s just a thought, not an endorsement. I am just interested in getting business minded new blood into these positions.

Here’s an article about Anthony that was in today’s B’ham News. He owns West Lake Mall, where Food World is closing. The article describes various possibilities for development, including a flea market (yawn!) or a discount outlet mall (?).

Ok, enough of boring local politics (it will get juicier next year…or next week if you count Louise Alexander’s trial).

In the news…have you seen this guy, Kevin Richardson, aka Lion Whisperer? Does he not watch other news stories about humans interacting with wild…that’s WILD…animals?

“Every job has its risks,” he says. OK.
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Now don’t confuse him with former Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson. He probably has more sense.