The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cast Iron Plant

Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) is the brown thumb gardener's dream, apparently.

It has been in and out of popularity since Victorian times, when it was often found in fanciful parlors. Now that I know this, I'll be potting some and bringing it inside.

It is said to thrive under almost any condition or even neglect. That it lived in the often dark Victorian homes is a testament to its hardiness.

It's a slow grower, so patience is necessary to have a spread like this.

I think one of its interesting aspects is its flower, which appears in early Spring (now) and is at ground level or just under the soil.

I have several plantings of cast iron plant and each year I have to remove the ones that are trying to grow out over the sidewalk.

Cast iron plant is a member of the Lily family, but it obviously lacks the showy flowers of most of its relatives. Still, it makes a showy green ground cover or filler in shady areas.

For more information visit Cast Iron Plant. Then add this beauty to your garden.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Making things right - Ash Wednesday

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. On Ash Wednesday we focus on repentance and reconciliation.

Ninety years ago a tragedy took place in Birmingham; the murder of Father James Edwin Coyle by a Methodist preacher.  The Catholic priest had married the preacher's daughter to a Puerto Rican man. The crime was about race, religion, and hatred. The trial that ensued was about ignoring justice, the Ku Klux Klan, and scandal. The Methodist Church was about silence.

 Father James E. Coyle

The United Methodist Church has finally made things right.

At Highlands United Methodist Church last night Bishop William Willimon delivered a message of repentance for a crime committed so long ago.  In prayer, he offered:

"We ask forgiveness for the indifference of our beloved Methodist Church in the unjust death of Father James Coyle, a servant of God among us, whose ministry was tragically ended. Heal us, we pray, of dissension and hatred for brothers and sisters of other faiths. Reconcile us to those whom we have wronged or who have wronged us. Embolden us to witness to the love of Jesus Christ by loving others as he loved us."
The Methodist clergyman, E. R. Stephenson, had ties to the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK at the time was very anti-Catholic, and in Birmingham there existed a secret anti-catholic political society called the True Americans. Father Coyle defended the Catholic Church and promoted racial harmony amid public persecution of the Church.

Father Coyle had married Stephenson's daughter to a Puerto Rican man, Pedro Gussman. Stephenson's acquittal was a nationwide scandal; a black eye for the city of Birmingham, which has seen so many black eyes.

There is no record of the Methodist Church or any other group ever disciplining Stephenson for this crime.

Now that has been corrected. Through this service the grace and forgiveness of God has been unveiled in a most profound way.

The service included the Rev. Alex Steinmiller, C.P., president of Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School, who said (and I'm paraphrasing), "There is no statute of limitations on forgiveness and reconciliation."

James Pinto, the director of The Father James E. Coyle Memorial Project, spoke as well. He had earlier in the day spoken to a 100 year old woman who had been a parishioner of  Father Coyle and who remembered being ministered to by the priest. This provided a connection to the event, and to a time very different from our own in so many ways, but not unlike ours in others.

Mr. Pinto also read some letters from Catholic officials. One of these mentioned that all of the "disenfranchised" now stand in "solidarity with Father Coyle."

During this Lenten season let the Church (Catholic, Methodists and others) consider the disenfranchisment of the LGBT community. We stand in solidarity with Father Coyle, and with a Jesus who brought his love and extends grace to all.

I look forward to the day when the church extends an apology to the LGBT community and seeks reconciliation with those who it has estranged from its ranks. As was said, there is no statute of limitations for reconciliation. If ninety years of silence can be erased, two thousand years of wrongdoing can be also.

In the meantime, read John Shore's Open Letter From Christians to Gay People.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System in Bessemer

The newly revealed Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System includes Bessemer in the best ways. That means they included my suggestion for a trail using the old trestle and the overpasses along 14th Street. (I've been promoting that since 2009). But it also includes several other trails, which I will detail here. Click on the map for a larger image.

Here is closer detail of the trail.

Here is the link where you can see the entire map and explore the system. These trails were developed with input from the public, including a stop in Bessemer.

The lower "S" in the picture is sort of on top of the Trestle. See how the trail curves and heads down Alabama Avenue toward the Hall of History. Not included on their trail, but this could easily link Alex Bradford Park, Boateng's Cajun Restaurant, and the Hall of History to the system.

But notice how it curves southeast and runs along 14th Street (Highway 150). It's called the Old Bessemer Railroad Greenway Trail. This will require use of the overpasses that you must travel beneath to enter our neighborhood. This will connect with a major trail called the Bessemer CSX Trail, and also with the Shades Creek Greenway South and the Lakeshore Parkway Trail.

Notice the red trail headed northeast near Roosevelt Park?  That rail runs along Dartmouth Avenue and is called the Dartmouth Avenue Trail. It connects to the Harmony Drive Greenway in Lipscomb, which connects to the US Highway 11 trail (Bessemer Super Highway) and the Valley Creek Greenway.

There are other trails in Bessemer, including the Halls Creek Greenway and the DeBardeleben Park Connector, and the Alabama Adventure Connector.

Click on the link and use the map tools to zoom in to see the details of these trails.

Now for the reality. The trail system could take 30 years and $200 million to build.

But I know a lot of people in Bessemer and Lipscomb that would like to see these trails developed. And I know we can be creative in seeking funding to get started!  In fact, some of this was discussed at the Bessemer Historical Homeowners Association meeting last night.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Birds, birds, birds

On Friday, February 17, the annual Great Backyard Bird Count begins.

This will be my 6th year to participate. Over the years, I have counted a high of 12 species on one day, and a total of  231 birds. Last year, at my location purple finches and northern cardinals were the most common.

The year before, cedar waxwings came through, and I counted 11 at one time, and they were the most common.

In 2008, a red-tailed hawk spent time in the backyard on one of the days.

But my best sighting has been a Eurasian Collared Dove, a pair actually. But it wasn't during the Great Backyard Bird Count. I wrote about it here, on March 31, 2008.

Last year there were 13 lists submitted from Bessemer. An additional 8 were submitted from McCalla. I think we can do better than that.

Get your binoculars out. It only takes 15 minutes or so each day, and you just sit on your porch or elsewhere and look at the birds. There are resources here to help you identify, if you don't have a bird book (doesn't everyone?)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Big Ideas, Little People

Yesterday the Bessemer City Council met in the cramped conference room at City Hall for their planning meeting. Out of that three hours and then some meeting some great ideas arose that have the potential to affect the city in grand ways.

But in the bleachers 10 or 12 seats surrounding the conference table were citizens, some of whom had wanted to address the council on various issues. That doesn’t happen at a planning meeting.

First the big ideas

I  am sharing probabilities of these things actually happening. The probabilities are based on nothing more than my gut feeling.
Amsted Rail is going to be annexed into the City of Bessemer. (Note to City - learn to spell the name of big companies you are recruiting - see Council agenda). Many people already think the plant is in the city limits, but it is not. It’s on county land. Months of tough negotiations took place between the mayor and Amsted officials.

Amsted, which has operations world wide, announced in 2010 that they were going to reopen the plant in Bessemer. Yesterday their representative said the Bessemer plant will be their show case facility.

Amsted in Bessemer will have a $6,000,000 payroll. That means money in the bank for Bessemer.

The annexation into Bessemer will bring approximately $300, 000 in taxes and fees into the city, including over $100,000 that will go to the Bessemer School System.

There was some grumbling about tax abatements and incentives which were the focus of the negotiations.

Note to dissenters – incentives are always a part of business recruitment and it looks like Bessemer did well in this case.

Amsted gets city services such as fire and police protection.

Probability of annexation taking place – 95%

The potential Bessemer Animal Shelter was discussed. A coalition of nonprofits and individuals (me included) have been working toward this since 2001 or before. Animal control is linked to dog fighting and public safety and if this works out, Bessemer will have a showcase facility and our city will become safer and more attractive

Here is an architect (Lance Black) rendering of what a possible transformation of an unused building on Bessemer’s south side could look like.
Here is the empty building today.

This project could see Bessemer partnering with The Foundry and could see Bessemer Animal Control employees receiving valuable training in animal handling and safety through the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

That the proposal was even presented represents a transformation in the city, if you remember just a few years ago, under a different administration, the subject of animal control was considered taboo, and we were not allowed to discuss the issue in front of the council.

This project, in spite of having groundwork laid for years, is in its infancy.

Probability of this animal control project coming to be – 70%

Bessemer needs a new City Hall, and in fact, the current facility is totally unacceptable for a city trying to enhance its image and attract new business and people.

There is a proposal that the city purchase First Presbyterian Church across the street and transform it into a new City Hall that would place the offices for other city services like revenue and licensing all under one roof. Architect Lance Black has suggested replacing the steeple with a clock tower and enclosing the existing courtyard by using architectural features that match that of the church to create a common lobby space for city service offices.

A deal is being brokered between the city, the Industrial Development Board, and the Church, where everyone is a winner and the city has no or few out of pocket costs.

Probability of Bessemer moving across the street into its new city hall – 80%

And it looks like Bessemer will be strengthening its anti-smoking law in an effort to protect employees and patrons of local businesses from second hand smoke. This will be considered on March 6.

Now the grumbling

Residents of Bessemer are tired of the gunfire (especially on New Years Eve), tired of the roaming packs of dogs, tired of the trashy alleyways and tired of dilapidated buildings. While some of these issues were addressed in a peripheral way at yesterday’s meeting, citizens do not feel that their council members or the mayor are listening to their concerns. 

It can be argued that the new animal control facility will help in solving the dog problem, and the annexation will bring in revenue to improve city services, the public does not necessarily see it that way. They want action now.

One possibility was mentioned by Beth Jerome of Habitat for Humanity who was asked to speak on the groups desire to do more work in our city. She said that they have an allotment for property purchase (I believe she said $10,000), and if the owner of a property with a blighted house would donate the property, they could use their allotment to clear the property. Win-win.

More community meetings involving city council members, and including appearances by the mayor, are the answer to some of the citizen unrest. We’ll see if this happens soon, or will they wait until election year?

Probability of City Officials responding to citizen's needs - ?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

We could still have slavery in Alabama

There is a big fuss taking place over same sex marriage. Yesterday, the Washington State House approved a marriage equality measure that had already been approved by the Senate. The Governor of Washington has said she will sign the measure, making Washington the seventh state (plus DC) to allow marriage equality.

And of course earlier this week Prop 8 was overturned in California.

But in state after state the right for gay men and women to marry the person they love has been put to a vote of the people.

Think Progress has posted some maps that show what the country would like like if various issues of equality had been put to a vote.

In Alabama, slavery would still exist.

Photo Credit: Think Progress

In Alabama, women would still be unable to vote.

Photo Credit: Think Progress

In Alabama, segregation would still be a way of life.

Photo Credit: Think Progress

In Alabama, a black person could not marry a white person.

Photo Credit: Think Progress

We live in a country where our founding document says we have inalienable rights endowed by our Creator. It also says that the Government is here to secure those rights. No where does it say that the citizens should vote on whether a right is recognized or not.

Let me state again that it says "Government," which includes the judicial branch, is here to help secure those rights.  In the Prop 8 case, the judiciary is being derided for "overturning the will of 14 million voters." That is the job of the courts.

Voters should not have the right to deny rights to people. Referenda are coming up this year in Maine and Minnesota and North Carolina that affect people's right to marry. It seems awful presumptuous that someone could stand at the voting booth and mark a box that would deny a person's right. But people have done it all across this country.

Until the Federal Government (any of the three branches) establishes that same sex couples have the same right to relationships as opposite sex couples, using the same words and terminology, we will have an ever changing multicolored map similar to those above that represents a nation where some people are more equal than others.

And until then, second class citizenry is assured.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Catholic Influence

Catholic ideology is really in the news this week, mostly as a result of the HHS policy that requires employers to provide birth control at no cost. As it stands now, Catholic and other churches are exempted, but Catholic owned hospitals and universities are not. The premise is that churches employ members of their own religion, but hospitals do not, and their employees (like everyone else) should have access to contraception.

Also in the news was the overturning of Prop 8 in California by a Federal Appeals Court. This is being framed by conservatives ( including Republican presidential candidate and Catholic Rick Santorum) as a split court decision overturning the will of 14 million voters in California.

What do Catholics think about these issues?

Several reports state that 98% of Catholics use or have used in the past some form of birth control.

Now we learn that most Catholics support the White House position on the issue.

Public Religion Research Institute released a poll yesterday which asked participants to respond to the following: 

All Employers should be Required to Provide their Employees with Health Care Plans that Cover Contraception or Birth Control at No Cost

Fifty eight percent of Catholics agree. That is higher than the percentage of “All Americans" (55%) that agree with the requirement.

At the same time 59% of all Catholics (and 57% of all Americans) agree with the exemption for Catholic churches and other places of worship.

The same polling group also reports that the majority of Catholics (52%) as well as mainline protestants (51%) now favor allowing same sex couples to marry. White evangelical Protestants and African American Protestants still oppose same sex marriage (76% and 60% respectively).

I don’t believe that the Catholic Church is in danger of losing its position as a worldwide power of religion.

But it does look like the Catholic church is losing its influence over Americans.

In the same poll, 69% of Millennials (18-29 year old) agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.

And Catholic women are ignoring Church teaching in their use of birth control. 

Here's the deal. Many religious leaders, including the Pope and other Catholic Bishops, ignore hard science and social science in their policy development. 

Science and sociology tell us that birth control is necessary and warranted in this country (and world wide) to help prevent unwanted and unplanned pregnancies as well as for population control in other overcrowded countries.

Science also tells us that gay people are here because of  natural reasons and not by choice and that acceptance of LGBT people contributes to better mental and physical health for the group.

Religion needs to catch up with its followers in living in the 21st Century. This can be done while still holding to the core values of their faith traditions. This applies not just to the Catholic Church, but to the United Methodist Church and other denominations as well. 

Religion by its very nature tries to adhere to the status quo. But all one has to do is look back at the early Christians or Christianity in the Middle Ages or Christianity in Early America or Christianity at the turn of the 20th Century to realize that the Church can, and does, and will, change.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Alabama Gives Day

Tomorrow is Alabama Gives Day. Thursday, February 2, 2012, is your opportunity to help nonprofits in Alabama raise money in a unique and collective way. Join others in the effort to promote charitable giving. There are hundreds of organizations participating and all are listed here at Alabama Gives Day.

You can search by zip code, by category, by keyword or other ways to find nonprofits with a mission that fits your favorite cause.

Just as examples, here are three nonprofits that I plan to support.

Clay House

The Clay House Children's Center in Bessemer provides a non-threatening child-friendly atmosphere designed for child abuse victims and the necessary mental health treatment. This is a typical story.
Imagine being afraid to sleep in your own bed at night. Afraid, because you know your father will come into your room later and “touch” you. Your step-mother knows what your father is doing to you and beats you every day because she hates you. You are forced to live as a slave in your own house and you are beaten if your chores are not done “correctly.” You are not allowed to have birthday parties, go on school trips, or have friends like other kids. You are completely cut off from the outside world.

Child abuse is a serious problem, and is more common than you might imagine. Please consider donating to the Clay House Children's Center.

First Teachers @ Home

First Teachers @ Home is a parent centered program that helps low income parents prepare their 3-4 year old children for success in school.

Alabama's pre-k attendance is only at 7%.  The programs can be expensive, and public programs like Head Start have long waiting lists.

Unlike other education achievement programs that focus on schools, First Teachers @ Home focuses on the primary educators of children: their parents.

We believe that by educating parents on how to communicate with their children, how to read and write with their children, and how to instill self-confidence and high self-esteem in their children before they enter kindergarten, children can enter school ready to succeed despite the fact that they lack a formal pre-k education.

First Teachers @ Home is planning to expand into Bessemer. Susan Swartz, the president of First Teachers @ Home, sent me this.
We are starting a new First Teachers @ Home program at one and probably two schools in the Bessemer School System – Abrams and Hardy Elementary Schools.  The families who attend this new site must necessarily be residents of Bessemer or their older children wouldn’t be able to go to that Bessemer School.  We are really excited about this, since we have had some Bessemer residents asking us about doing First Teachers @ Home in their community.  Our target start date is at the end of Feb./early March.

We need this in Bessemer. Please consider donating to First Teachers @ Home.

Magic City Choral Society

 The Magic City Choral Society is an inclusive community of singers and supporters united around the performance of choral music that entertains, educates, and inspires.

The MCCS understand that arts, and choral arts in particular, makes a positive contribution to people's quality of time/life. The choral arts bring people together creating new communities, which connect and strengthen the larger communities in which these individuals belong. However, this only happens when people have access to the choral arts either as participants and/or as audience members. Providing a men's and women's chorus for people without audition accomplishes one aspect of creating access, however, all to often, the performing arts have admission costs which create financial barriers for some. The MCCS accomplishes the other aspect of access by providing concerts at world class venues free of charge.

Please consider donating to Magic City Choral Society.

Remember, tomorrow, Thursday, February 2, is Alabama Gives Day. Some organizations have matching gifts tomorrow. Check it out today, and return tomorrow to give.