Trading Places: From Hong Kong to Samford

Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) student Yip Ting Yan “Lancy” and Samford student Whitney Anderson traded places: Lancy went to study at Samford for the year, and Whitney spent the spring semester at HKBU. Both students quickly found new meaning to their “college experience,” realizing that it is most enhanced by studying abroad and experiencing new cultures. Lancy decided to study at Samford after hearing that it was a good Christian school with an exchange program.

“I prayed about schools on a list that I made, and I ended up choosing Samford,” Lancy said.
Yip Ting Yan "Lancy"

Meanwhile, Whitney, a junior communication studies major, headed to HKBU for the semester, anticipating an exciting change.

“I wanted to so something outside of Samford, and my friends Kley Sippel and Craig Thiessen had studied in Hong Kong before,” Whitney said.

Lancy loved studying at Samford because of the community and the people. However, she experienced a lot of culture shock. She said Americans and people from Hong Kong are different in lifestyle, mindset and habits.

“It’s easy to make friends, and people teach me the culture, local slang and English,” she said. “American culture is welcoming and friendly. People always ask how you are, and they are laid back. And, I got to know the culture from the other exchange students. It is really interesting to see the similarities and differences among different cultures. On top of it, all of us like traveling.”

Whitney said she wanted to study abroad and get out of her comfort zone. She was the only Samford student in Hong Kong in the spring, but she saw the program as a good opportunity for her to meet new people from all over the world.

“I have met people from all over the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia,” she said. “All the different cultures come together even though we’re all from different places. We all came here with the same mindset.”

Lancy said she missed her friends and classmates from Hong Kong but that people at Samford were very nice and welcoming.  Another big change for her was with the work environment at Samford, which was a lot different than at HKBU.

“In Hong Kong, the employers can be very hard on you when you work,” she said. “I worried about doing things wrong and wanted to do a good job.”

At HKBU, Lancy did random work as a private tutor for secondary school students and as a tour guide for students travelling overseas. She also worked in the Food Court at Samford, and she said it was difficult in the beginning, but it got easier and was helpful to her.

“My job in the Food Court helps me with nutrition and with improving English,” she said. “I also meet a lot of people when I work.”

Lancy was not a big fan of the food at Samford, especially since she was not used to having a meal plan and eating in the cafeteria.

“I like to eat out a lot more,” she said. “We don’t have a meal plan at Hong Kong Baptist. And, there are three canteens, a Chinese restaurant and two convenience stores.”

Whitney said that the food was cheaper in Hong Kong. Since HKBU did not have meal plans, she sometimes ate in the dining hall, but she said it was hard to find foods that she liked.

Lancy is double majoring in Chinese medicine and biomedical science, which is a five-year program. She will go back to HKBU for the fall semester to finish her final year. She dreams of starting a clinic in Kenya one day.

The United States was not the first of Lancy’s travels. She has been to Kenya, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Australia, Taiwan and China. Additionally, she traveled around the United States, Canada and Costa Rica just this year. Whitney traveled to the Philippines, Thailand, Bali, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and mainland China over the course of the semester.
The language barrier made it a little difficult to talk to students and hangout with them, and said she missed the familiarity of Samford.

“Doing simple things like ordering food and asking for directions has been difficult,” she said. “Even though they speak English, you still have to listen to their accents.” But she really enjoyed hanging out with the other international exchange students.

If someone from HKBU were to ask her about Samford, Lancy would tell them that her experience at Samford was good and she learned a lot being in the United States.

“They are not crazy Americans,” she said. “But don’t be late for class.” Apparently, in Hong Kong, it is alright to be a little late for class because traveling is more difficult, as they rely much more on public transportation.

People talk more about Jesus at Samford than at HKBU, Lancy said. “It’s not as common in Hong Kong to talk about it as much. But still, we do have Christian choirs, Christian student unions and Christian bands.”

Whitney also said that Christianity is a lot more obvious at Samford. “It was not a big culture shock coming to Hong Kong,” Whitney said, “but I really do use chopsticks at every meal.”

Lancy also mentioned that in Hong Kong, people did not speak up in class as much, and there are more lectures.

“Here, students speak in class more, and there are more discussions and group projects,” she said.

Hong Kong used to be British-owned, so everyone knows English, but they still speak Cantonese, though the classes are taught in English. Classes in Hong Kong include more lectures and then smaller sessions later in the week called tutorials.

“Classes are a lot bigger and therefore not as personal,” Whitney said. “But the classwork is about the same.”

Lancy said that even though they take classes in English in Hong Kong, the English spoken in Hong Kong is a lot simpler, so there was a lot to learn by being in classes at Samford and speaking English with Americans.Whitney Anderson

The community at HKBU was similar to at Samford, Whitney said.

“In a lot of ways it’s the same. College students here are still the same as American college students even though they speak a different language and they live in a different part of the world,” she said. “They still have the same goals.”

Whitney loved going out and exploring and seeing different parts of Hong Kong, as well as hiking up Lion’s Head Rock, a mountain right behind the city.

“It’s a different setting than Samford,”she said. You have this huge massive city, but then right outside of it, it suddenly turns into nature, just about 15 minutes from campus.”

Whitney also got to experience the Chinese New Year fireworks show in Hong Kong, while Lancy experienced trick-or-treating on Halloween, dressed up for Christmas, learned several new dances.

Lancy said going back to Hong Kong will be bittersweet. “I feel so strange because it feels like I just adapted to it here, and I have some really good friends here that I can share the life with,” she said.

Like Lancy’s experience at Samford, for Whitney, studying in Hong Kong has been Whitney’s favorite college experience.

“Everyone should go out of their comfort zone, go somewhere really different, study abroad, and meet different kinds of people,” she said. “It’s a really cool experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

From España To Alabama

When most people see a police officer, they make sure they aren’t doing anything illegal. When Maya Louhibi Rubio sees one, she chuckles.

“The police in the United States look like they are from the movies and so do their cars,” Louhibi said.

Maya Louhibi RubioLouhibi is from Alicante, Spain, which is roughly 4,500 miles and six time zones away.

“Every day is like a movie here,” she said, “the way people look, the blondes, the way they dress and walk. I knew a lot about the United States because it’s such an influential culture.”

Louhibi flew to Birmingham in the spring of 2011 and 24 hours later students were giving her blank stares as she taught Spanish, in Spanish of course. She accepted a position to teach intermediate level Spanish through the World Languages and Cultures department at Samford University. Though she’s taught Spanish to English-speakers in her own country for years, she now has a better idea of how students feel when they don’t understand what’s being said in a class where English is prohibited.

“After coming here I understand how the students feel because now I’m in their situation every day with English.”

Louhibi, 30, said that the English language has been the most difficult hurdle to overcome in her stay here.

“At first when someone asked me ‘how are you doing?’ I understood it as ‘what are you doing?” “I knew some English (before coming) but I had never practiced speaking it,” she said. “The English I knew was from England, and coming to Alabama in particular, it was difficult but after a year I understand more.”

Louhibi said she loves hearing Southern words such as ‘y’all,’ ‘ma’am,’ and ‘sir’ and has recently learned slang such as ‘fixing to,’ ‘chillaxing’ and ‘Roll Tide.’ The strange way of speaking isn’t the only thing she likes about the South.

“The Southern hospitality here is something real and it has helped me so much,” she said.

One way it has aided Louhibi is simply getting around Birmingham. Louhibi does not have a driver’s license in the United States nor in Spain. In her city in Southeast Spain that’s not a problem. Birmingham, on the other hand, was ranked the seventh worst city in the United States for public transportation in May of 2011 by Time Magazine.

If Louhibi needs groceries or wants to leave Samford’s campus, she has to ask a friend for a ride.

“It’s a handicap,” Louhibi said. “Alone I cannot go anywhere because there is no public transportation here. Thanks to the people here, I’ve never had any problems getting anywhere. My stay here overall has been so easy thanks to the friendliness of my coworkers and students.”

Sweet Home Alabama
In the weeks before her flight to the USA, Louhibi changed her ringtone to a familiar Lynyrd Skynyrd song. It was her way of preparing to leave her home and go to a country she’d never been to. Louhibi was singing songs about the Southland before she even stepped foot there.

While she, like many Europeans, was familiar with the iconic song, she didn’t know much else about the state, so she began to ask around.Carson Pyles, extra

“Basically what (my friends in Spain) said about Alabama was something negative, things like racism and closed-minded conservatives,” she said. “Now that I’ve come here, I see that it’s not true.
“I like to travel without prejudgments or preconceived thoughts,” she said.

While she doesn’t like to judge, she has a knack for noticing cultural differences between her home in Alicante and her temporary home at Samford University.

“I love observing and seeing how the cafeteria is divided (by social groups),” she said of the dining hall at Samford. “There are the fraternities and sororities that we don’t have in Spain. There’s the table for the sports players and the football team. There is no football in Spain.”

Another difference between Alabama and Spain is that strangers are more likely to spark a conversation here.

“In the grocery store in Spain they say ‘hola’ and you keep walking,” she said. “Here it’s happened to me they say ‘how are you doing?’ I answer ‘fine,’ they say ‘It’s a nice day,’ I say ‘Yes, beautiful day,’ and I am thinking ‘I only came here to buy groceries.’”

Louhibi plans to return to Spain in May. While she’ll bring back some American customs, others she’ll happily leave others for good. In Spain Louhibi eats dinner at 10 like the rest of the population.

“I will definitely not be eating dinner at six when I go back,” she said. “I still think it’s strange to eat at 5:30 or six. It’s unthinkable.”

Family Trials

Ronnie Gilley of Enterprise, Ala., has worn many hats over the years−contractor, manager, real-estate developer and even country-music singer. Perhaps the most important one he has worn has been his role of father to his 22 year-old-son Dexter.

“My dad is my best friend,” Dexter said. “He is also the only person I trust.”

From laying brick to reading blue-prints to sitting in the front row watching his dad perform, Dexter can always be found at his father’s side, supporting him in each of his endeavors.Ronnie Gilley

“I admire his will to win, his drive and his work ethic,” Dexter said.

Dexter recalls many fond memories with his dad, his favorite occurring when he was just five years old.

“I was five or six and he was building his first spec house,” Dexter recalls. “It was a Saturday and we had come to clean up the job site.”

Dexter said that not long after he and his dad began picking up, a family drove up to the house, inquiring whether or not the home was for sale. Less than 30 minutes later, the house was sold. As the family drove away Ronnie turned to Dexter and told him something that resonated deeply with him.

“He said that’s what hard work will get you.”

Ronnie Gilley hoped hard work would pay off yet again in 2009 when he took on another business venture—an $87 million casino and country music facility outside of Houston County Alabama. The entertainment complex, dubbed “Country Crossing,” featured a 10 thousand-seat amphitheater, a RV park, three restaurants, a western-style saloon, and a bed and breakfast named for Country Crossing investor and country music legend George Jones. Alongside these entertainment venues Country Crossing featured an electronic bingo parlor. Dexter was proud of his dad and excited to see the impact that Country Crossing would make, however, the 1,700 machine bingo hall launched a whirlwind of debate and controversy.

Electronic bingo casinos had operated in Alabama for several years until Governor Bob Riley labeled them illegal and organized multiple task forces to raid and close down electronic bingo establishments like Country Crossing.

Following the development of Country Crossing, Ronnie Gilley and other casino developers like him became vocal opponents of Gov. Riley’s anti-gambling legislation. These bingo supporters advocated for revision to Alabama law supporting Senate Bill 380, a bill that would legalize electronic bingo in Alabama. The bill was passed in the Alabama Senate in March 2009 but died in the House. Soon after, federal officials began an investigation into what they deemed a “corruption scheme” among those in support of the bill.

On October 4, 2010 two casino owners, four state senators and several lobbyists were indicted on federal charges accusing them of vote buying in an effort to legalize electronic bingo in the state of Alabama.

Included in the indictment were Ronnie Gilley, VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor, as well as Alabama senators Harri Anne Smith, James Prueitt, Larry Means and Quinton Ross Jr. The six arrests made local, state, and national headlines, yet a large part of their impact was not seen plastered across the front pages of Alabama newspapers, scrolling across the screens of news stations, or filling up the twitter feeds.

Ronnie Gilley’s arrest on October 4, 2010 forever impacted his relationship with his family, particularly his son.

“My dad has already tried to guide me down the right path even if he wasn’t on it,” Dexter said. “A mans true character only shines in the bad times. Anyone can tell the truth when everyone loves them, but when you can tell the truth when it’s hard to tell it, that’s character.”

On April 22, 2011 Gilley pleaded guilty to 11 counts of conspiracy, money laundering and bribery involving a program that uses federal funds. He spent more than three months in jail pending his April trial date.

“I was very depressed while my dad was in jail,” Dexter said.  “There’s a lot that goes through your mind when someone you love is there. It was the most depressing time of my life.”
Logan Heim, extra

On Monday April 25, a judge ruled that Gilley could be released from jail, allowing him Gilley to spend his remaining months with his family before he is required to report to federal prison to serve his sentence, which could exceed 20 years.

As for the others indicted, after six days of deliberations the jury failed to reach “unanimous decisions” and the cases against the remaining defendants were declared a mistrial. A retrial began in late February and Gilley’s plea bargain required that he testify against the six remaining defendants. Though they were not on the witness stand with him, the trial profoundly affected Gilley’s family.

“The trial has made everybody be a family,” says Dexter. “We learned that you can’t take a family member for granted because they may not always be there.”

Though Ronnie Gilley’s future remains uncertain, Dexter is proud of the changes his dad has made in this life and appreciates the ways that the trial has brought his family closer together.

“Since jail I have seen numerous changes in my dad, but the one that brought on all the others and that deserves the credit is that he truly found God.”

Dexter too has learned a lot from his father’s involvement in the bingo trail.

“I have learned no matter how bad things seem to always keep fighting and don’t worry about things you can’t control.”

Peacemakers: Amnesty International

Jess Dunn joined Amnesty International to make a difference both on and off Samford’s campus. Dunn and her fellow members are dedicated and passionate about the organization.

“Amnesty writes letters. That’s what its known for. That’s the big way it lobbies,” Dunn said. “It was just prisoners of consciousness until the 1980s, and at that point they decided to cover all rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Tully Taylor, extra

Dunn has been vital in organizing various Amnesty events on campus. The past two Decembers, the small but impassioned organization hosted write-a-thons. For one such occasion, students could write petitions on behalf of women who had been raped by police in Mexico. Another write-a-thon offered students the chance to write letters to government officials on behalf of prisoners. Students could also write letters of encouragement to various prisoners around the world. Last spring, Amnesty coupled with Oxfam, an international relief and development organization, to open students’ eyes through the Tunnel of Oppression.

Dunn and her fellow members have worked for the past year and a half to resurrect an organization that had died on Samford’s campus. Rachael Sarrett, an Amnesty member, joined the group to make a difference within the organization’s widespread impact.

“I decided to join Amnesty International because it is truly a global movement, active in over 150 countries, that is dedicated to upholding human rights,” Sarrett said emphatically.

Both women appreciate Amnesty’s choice to steer clear of causes that involve violence. Dunn used Nelson Mandela as an example of a cause that Amnesty did not support because of violence used regarding the problem. Then, Dunn showed her enthusiasm for the causes they support by pointing out that the group was tabling for Death Penalty Awareness Week and that Alabama has the most individuals on death row per capita.

While Dunn, a senior psychology major, is passionate about the death penalty, that doesn’t mean her chapter lacks diversity. She said something that makes Amnesty unique is that any issue involving human rights can be covered. This is one scenario where Samford’s chapter could cater to its members while working for the greater good as well.

“If you were really passionate about one specific issue and maybe there wasn’t a group for that on campus, you could come join Amnesty’s umbrella of concerns, and we could do an event around that,” Dunn elaborated, “which makes it a really unique club.“

Sarrett added that what has made a big impact on her philanthropic outlook is that Amnesty is dedicated to being proactive instead of simply raising awareness.

“It’s not only informing the public, but actively campaigning to stop these abuses,” Sarrett said.

She was also on hand to actively talk with students in Ben Brown Plaza about the death penalty and hand out various pamphlets, magnets and buttons.

Samford’s five Amnesty members have a big proponent in Dr. Fred Shepherd, chair and professor in Samford’s department of political science. Shepherd is the organization’s adviser. He feels passionately about Amnesty’s work and is “intensively” involved. He is now lending his talents and zeal as an Alabama legislative coordinator for Amnesty.Tully Taylor, extra

Dunn explained that Shepherd has a better perspective on certain causes because of his position. He is able to bring ideas and information near and dear to his heart back to Samford and relay it to her. For example, Shepherd recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby for various human rights issues along with fellow legislative coordinators in a workshop. He also met with Alabama’s congressional delegation to discuss a variety of issues, including U.S. policy regarding Egypt and Bahrain, immigration issues and the Violence Against Women Act, among others.

Dunn and Shepherd spoke candidly about the need for Amnesty on Samford’s campus. Shepherd said that while Amnesty is officially secular, students should realize Samford’s mission applies to the organization as well.

“Many of the groups and people Amnesty supports are driven by faith,” he said.  Shepherd challenged students to live up to Samford’s mission statement through outlets like Amnesty International. Since Dunn is a senior, she is also looking for someone to step up and fill her fervent shoes.

Dunn emphasized that overall, students have a big heart and genuinely care. However, there are better ways to go about helping and serving.

“I think the problem is there is a group that really cares and they are involved in all the human rights organizations on campus. What ends up happening is no one can be really involved in one because they are involved in all of them,” Dunn said, choosing her words carefully. “Sometimes that leads to nothing really being accomplished.”

Amnesty is a good way to combat becoming spread too thin because a number of causes are available and there are plenty of collaborations with other Samford groups, Dunn said.

Dunn and Samford’s Amnesty chapter is an infectious bunch dedicated to making the world a better place by passionately advocating for numerous individuals, groups and causes. Dunn wants her Amnesty chapter and Samford students in general to realize the important role they all possess in raising awareness and being active crusaders for human rights.

Politics 4 Dummies

Do politics confuse you? Do you think that the Electoral College is a place where you can get your bachelor’s degree? Do you exercise your right to vote only when it comes American Idol? Fear not, elections can be a scary thing to understand, (Dick Cheney is a part of them). In the whirlwind of the election year, confusion runs rampant, and it is not easy to understand what is happening. But fear no more, here is a guide that can help you navigate this tricky political season. In this guide, you find an explanation as to what primaries are, what the Electoral College does, and how to find the perfect candidate to vote for. These helpful hints should answer some questions about the presidential elections and help you feel more confident when you step into the voting booth this fall.

1. Primaries are there to make things fair

I hope you know at this point that we live in a democracy, which means we believe that the people decide how the government is run. However, to make things muddy from the start, America is a representative democracy. Would you want to vote on every single issue that America has to deal with? No! Where would we find time to watch Glee and Modern Family? We don’t have the time or the patience to vote on every single issue that America faces, so instead we elect men and women to make decisions for us.

Since the public doesn’t make the laws, they want to make sure that their interests are represented. Think about it, you want the person you like best to be making the decisions, right? Well, this is why we have things call primaries before elections. Primaries are kind of like elections before the official election. During primaries, you have a whole list of candidates in both the Democratic and Republican parties, and people vote which candidate they want to be on the ballot during the official election. They aren’t voting for the person right now, they’re just saying that they want to have the opportunity to vote for that person when the election comes. This is done to narrow the candidate field and to give people an easier choice on who to vote for.

Primary elections for the presidential election are what have just happened. The Republican Party was not sure who they want to run for president, so different states were voting for whom they wanted as the candidate. Then, at the Republican convention, the candidate who gathered the most votes will receive the nomination. However, this can often weaken a party because Republicans were debating each other for the spot. The Democrats don’t have to worry about primaries this year because President Obama can run for re-election, so why waste time with other candidates when the party can stay united and build funds for Obama’s election?

2. You don’t actually vote for the President

This is the real confusing part:  the public doesn’t vote for the president. When you vote, you aren’t voting for the president. You are voting for electorates, who will then vote for the president. It’s part of the Electoral College system. When this country was founded, our fathers wanted to be able to give the president legitimacy. In other words, they wanted to make sure that the president could claim he or she won with a majority. This led to the Electoral College. Each state has a certain number of electors, and when you vote, you are actually voting for the electors who have promised to vote for the president. Whichever electors get the most votes win the state, and then those electors get to vote for the president. This gives the president all the points in the state, even if he or she only won by 51%. This was how President Bush won the 2000 election. Even though Al Gore had more of the popular vote, Bush won more points in the Electoral College. So you see, you never get to vote for the president, you just vote for people who have agreed to vote for the president.

3. You won’t agree with any Presidential Candidate

There are some people that are really conservative, who believe taxes should be lowered and abortion abolished. There are also some people who are liberal. They want a decrease in military spending and universal healthcare. Guess what, the president probably wants neither. A presidential candidate is hardly ever super-liberal or uber-conservaitve, (no matter what FoxNews or CNN want you to believe). The reason for this goes back to America being a democracy. The public wants a president who represents them best, and since the country has both liberals and conservatives, it makes sense that the president would be someone who falls in the middle politically. This means that, even if the president is from the political party you like, you might not agree with everything he or she believes. Guess what, that’s okay. When it comes to presidential elections, the best thing to do is vote for the candidate whom you agree with more. They won’t see eye to eye with you on everything, so pick the person whom you share most of your views with.

So there you go, a brief political guide into the presidential election. I hope this has helped you in understanding how America elects its leader. Remember, the best thing to do is be informed. Watch the news from time to time, research the candidates online. It’s your future your voting for, don’t be scared of it, embrace it, and take part in deciding something bigger than picking America’s next generic pop star.

Community Effort

“I love music and I want our label to have all the things that I grew up being inspired by: feeling magic, feeling taken out of your ordinary life to somewhere else. I think if you do that, you inspire other people to do the best at what they do.”

A look inside the Communicating Vessels office won’t show you much. There might be a record player spinning the quiet sound of a vinyl record in the background. You’d probably see the posters and albums of the budding record label’s bands lining the walls.

The small Woodlawn building may not boast much furniture, but the people inside display their love for Birmingham’s music and arts all throughout the community.Jeffrey Cain

Jeffrey Cain grew up knowing music. The Mobile, Ala. native and some of his friends from Birmingham started a band called Remy Zero and they were signed by a major record label. They hit it big when they moved to California. Aside from their three full-length albums, their song, “Save Me,” was chosen for the theme song to the hit TV show Smallville, and their song “Fair” was on the Garden State soundtrack. The band toured and made records for nearly 10 years until 2003, when they stopped touring and “decided to take a break from each other,” Cain said, with a smile on his face.“We had done it for so long that we needed a break to survive, to figure out who we were.”

Cain stayed in Los Angeles for several years, and he began doing music in film and television. He had the opportunity to write the theme song for the TV show Nip/Tuck. “I started doing that just to stay off the road, and to exercise a different way of not being in a band,” Cain explained.

He then began producing and collaborating with other artists and eventually moved back to Birmingham four years ago. “I wanted to experience the South again,” he said. “I knew I’d find great music here. I fell in love with bands like Wild Sweet Orange and the Great Book of John.”
Cain had been waiting for the right time to begin the process of creating a record label, and as he got involved with local bands he realized that his time had come. “I heard so much music that I loved. I thought, ‘Okay, I guess it’s my turn to do it now.’”

Cain produces and records a lot of the records, something that allows him to nurture the bands longer and work at getting them heard. “Of course, growing up in Alabama, I never saw that as a kid, and there were all these other scenes that did: Chicago, South Carolina, Georgia,” he said. “All of these places had local labels that helped get the music heard.”

The bands at Communicating Vessels aren’t all from Birmingham: there are artists from all over the world, from places like Australia and New York. He chooses people and sounds that really resonate with him. “We’re just music fans, so we find things we really love and believe in and think needs to be heard and championed.”

He had the name “Communicating Vessels” in his head for a while. The Great Book of John was the first full-length record to come from the label, still only a year old. Cain said the name came from a surrealist book by Andre Breton that he read years ago.

“It’s also a scientific experiment that consists of a set of tubes that were connected by a tube at the bottom,” he said. “If you filled it with water or fluid, that all the tubes, no matter what shape or size, would even out. One would influence the other. That was the basic  idea behind what I think as artists, we do with each other. It’s more of that community sense. We’re all kind of connected universally.”
Lauren Schneider, extra

The Communicating Vessels website is really the foundation for what they want to be. An umbrella for music, the website lists artists who are and aren’t on the label, as well as music from friends and other people that Cain and the Communicating Vessels team thinks needs to be heard. It helps people hear things that they might like. “We’re like an art gallery,” Cain said. “We curate music.”

This curation leads to new sounds and acts.

“I’m trying to grow it as organically and pure as I can. I won’t compromise. I need people to trust our integrity and our name that when they get it. It’s something that’s forward moving, thoughtful, and truthful. Something that we think is really pure, instead of manipulating somebody to buy something.”

Cain has grown up knowing Birmingham and the music scene here. He’s friends with the owners of Bottletree, a place that has nurtured the city’s music scene for years. For Cain, people are excited to have anybody else who is willing to give their time to help music be heard. “I can only do so much,” he said.

There are three other labels in Birmingham that are helping things get heard in the city as well. “We all need each other. It’s healthy competition for the musicians, labels and artists.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do: get everyone excited and be supportive,” Cain said. “I want people to see the amazing work that’s coming from Birmingham.”

An Audience of One

In Alabama, football is God. It affects nearly everything about people’s lives, from the way they talk to the color schemes of their homes. So, it stands to reason that those involved with football are perfectly positioned for a lifetime to reign in the limelight. But Barrett Jones wants no part of that kingdom.

“People around here know like, our third team — which is what makes it great, but I probably won’t follow it that closely after I’m gone,” Jones said.

Jones, a Memphis, Tenn., native, is a two-time national champion offensive lineman for the University of Alabama and the 2012 Outland Trophy winner, which is given to the nation’s best interior lineman. His accolades and awards are enough to make even the most humble of men green with envy, but he’d be the last person to tell you that.

“I never expected it to be this big. I’ve been really blessed, and it’s been a really cool experience. Hopefully it’s not over yet, but if it is, then that’s fine, too.”
Anna Cox, extra

Aside from his 6-foot-5 stature, his humility is the first thing you notice about him. He’s quick to safeguard his words with witty banter and over-the-top examples to ensure he doesn’t come off the slightest bit conceited.

“I’m pretty open. I think most people know what I stand for. The media has done a lot with that. I try to be open, and if anyone asks I’ll gladly tell them.”

Between completing his undergraduate accounting degree in three years with a 4.0 GPA, going on to grad school, studying for the CPA exam, and, of course, his blistering football schedule, Jones still manages to stay active in Campus Crusade and in the mission field.

“Last time I went home [to Memphis] I brought 40 people with me [for the Campus Crusade men’s retreat]. So, my mom says that doesn’t count,” Jones said with a laugh. He’s been to Haiti, helped with rebuilding Tuscaloosa after the tornadoes in 2011, and spent this year’s spring break in Nicaragua.

“Still, I honestly hate doing interviews about it [his mission work], but I think it’s good exposure for missions and opens doors. I don’t do it because people are looking at me. I really just have a heart for it, and I love missions. I just love going places and helping them and sharing the Gospel with them. It’s just such a cool thing. It’s rewarding for myself, too. Like for me it’s better than going to the beach. I love it. After you go once, it’s hard not to want to go back.”

Growing up in a distinctly Christian home also set the tone for how Jones goes about his daily activities.

“Always try to remember what you represent,” Jones said, “To whom much is given, much is required. I may not always feel like giving them an autograph and a picture, but that’s just who I stand for. Part of being a Christian is being nice to people, in plain terms. And it’s not like I’m always hounded by the paparazzi. Cause that’s not how it is. But it’s learning to deal with the fact that people are always watching you to see if you’re going to do the right thing. That’s not the reason you do it. But you have to be conscious of everything you do.”

Jones says the best piece of advice he’s ever received was, “Always make the most important thing the most important. It’s easier said than done, but if God is the most important thing in my life then I need to live it out.”

So, whether he’s in Alabama’s media room after practice or being interviewed by ESPN, he is always mindful to give credit where credit is due.

Jones plays an exciting game of football with children in Nicaragua.

This is part of the reason why Jones has decided to forego the NFL draft in lieu of his senior season for the Crimson Tide this fall. He wants to give back to the organization that has molded him into the award-winning player that he’s become.

“God’s really laid it on my heart this year,” Jones said. “It’s one of the main reasons why I stayed. To affect our team. Me and another guy have started a Bible study for the team this year. A lot of guys come, and it’s really awesome. I prayed about it a lot, and I knew that I’d have the opportunity to have an impact on people. One that I wouldn’t have on a pro team. I felt like there was a lot left to be done here, and I wanted to hang out with Harrison [his younger brother, and upcoming freshman tight end for Alabama] another year. I really just love it here. And the NFL’s gonna be there next year. I try to not get in any hurry, and I want to enjoy my college experience before real life hits.”

As far as planning out exactly what his next step should be, he said, “The way I see it is, I haven’t worried about plans so far, and God has blessed me beyond what I could ever dream of. So, I guess I’m just gonna stick with that plan. God has a plan for my life, whatever that may be.”

Whether life after college holds a desk job as a CPA or a spot on a professional football team, Jones is perfectly content in the present.

“Honestly, people probably won’t remember me in 50 years except for the plaque that’s already in the complex,” Jones said with a laugh. “More so than people remembering me, I just hope that I made an impact on someone. I feel like God’s given me a really unique platform, and I just hope that I use that platform for His glory and not mine. I don’t want people to walk away and say, ‘Man, that Barrett Jones is an awesome guy;’ I want them to say, ‘Man, that Jesus is an awesome guy.’”

Legally Bold

A.T. Helix does not take herself too seriously. She giggled as she tried to get all of her documents in order; there were a lot of them.

“You didn’t tell me there were going to be pictures!” she protested, then shrugged and laughed some more.

Being photogenic has never been something that A.T. has cared about. A.T. has never really cared about looking or acting like anyone expects her to; which is good because she definitely doesn’t act the way anyone would expect.Ben Johnson, extra

In many ways, A.T. is an average college student. She studies neuroscience at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). She has papers, exams, and is involved in extracurricular activities. However, her extracurricular activity isn’t exactly the “sewing club.” A.T., along with four other UAB students, have started a massive, student-led campaign to fight for the Alabama legislature to repeal H.B. 56.

A.T. first heard about the immigration law while she was working in her mother’s law office.

“I had heard too many of my mother’s clients worrying about how this law would affect their lives,” A.T. said. “It bothered me that this law was criminalizing these individuals, and what was even worse was that the law forced my mom to break confidentiality with her clients. They couldn’t tell my mom everything she needed to know out of fear that they might be thrown in jail. I decided to share their stories.”

A.T. knew she had to get involved in trying to stop the bill. She participated in a march against the bill in September. It was there that she and three other students, William Anderson, Dana Alfarhna and Farrah Alfarhna, decided to form a student group dedicated to immigrant reform.

“We wanted to create an event where students from different schools could come together, learn about the injustices going on, and then spread that news to their campuses,” A.T. said.

As the group discussed what course of action to take, they eventually decided that they all wanted to plan a week of activism, with each day focusing on a different aspect of HB 56. A.T. was chosen to take the lead in planning it, a task that she found daunting.

“It was a lot to do in a short amount of time. I basically had to spend all of Christmas break planning these different events. It was a lot of phone calls and emails, but eventually I got a schedule together.”

A.T. and her colleagues planned a five-day event. The event started on Monday, Jan. 30 and went to that Friday, Feb. 3. Each event focused on a different aspect of the bill, like the unity event where the all participants wore yellow for the people that have went missing, and “Surviving with No Water,” where participants passed out water bottles that had information about HB 56 on them.
Ben Johnson, Feature Image

The protest was made up of students, from UAB, Samford, Birmingham Southern, Montevallo and Jefferson State.

The biggest demonstration was on Friday. That day, the students held the “Wells Fargo Death March” to protest private detention centers where many undocumented immigrants get sent to since the government cannot legally hold them over a long period of time.

“Many of the people die in these centers,” A.T. stated. “They have poor health and living conditions, even worse than prisons!”

The march started in Kelly Ingram Park. The protestors were dressed in black, and several people carried caskets. Each casket represented a real person that had died in a detention center. They then marched to Wells Fargo, where two priests gave eulogies in front of the office.

“Friday was definitely the day with the most publicity,” A.T. said. “We had the biggest turnout and had the most media coverage. We were featured on the liberal blog, Color Lines, and were even on CNN.”

A.T. considers the protest to be a success. “I kept getting emails from people all over the country. The two most interesting were the president of the NAACP and a documentary film maker from France. I was just really encouraged to see other people who are out there wanting to stop injustice as well.”

Now that the event is over, A.T. is focusing on spreading similar events to other college campuses.

“We have three goals in mind. The first is to hold events on other campuses across Alabama so that students will stand up and pressure the state legislature to repeal it. After we get it repealed, then I hope that our group will begin to advocate for broader immigration reform.”

A.T. admits that she has a hefty goal, but the stories of the people she is advocating for is what keeps her going.

“I heard one story from a student whose parents moved here with him illegally when he was a year old,” she said. “He took a year off after high school to raise money to go to college. He didn’t know he was undocumented. Then, when he finally had enough money to go this year, HB 56 passed that stopped him from going. It’s not fair.”

A.T. believes that there could have been a better way to handle the immigration problem. “There was a humane way to do this, but this way they just cut the power off without leaving any sort of match to light the way.”

While she hopes one day there will be a better way, right now A.T. is planning the next event to raise awareness.

“I can’t just sit by and let this happen in my home. It’s not right, not when so many undocumented immigrants are being treated unfairly for something that for many of them, they had no say. You can’t be called ‘illegal’ for living.”

No Bigger Platform

It all started with a trip to Disney World. According to Michael Catt, a 2001 Sherwood Baptist Church staff retreat to Orlando marked the genesis of Sherwood Pictures.

“We took a behind the scenes tour and learned about their Imagineers,” Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood, said. “As we walked around the park observing the attention to detail everywhere, we were challenged with this thought: If a secular company can be this committed to excellence, why can’t the church of Jesus Christ?”

Over a decade later, this church in Albany, Ga., has produced four major motion pictures that shamelessly profess the name of Christ. The Sherwood Pictures filmmakers have been sharpening their skills since “Flywheel” (2003), a story about a manipulative car dealer who changes his ways after encountering God.

“We just kept playing around with our home video camera and trying to learn everything we could,” said Alex Kendrick, one of Sherwood’s media ministers who directed all four films and played the male lead in three. “The more we practiced, the more we developed a knack for it.”
"Facing the Giants"

Their next film was 2006’s “Facing the Giants,” featuring the faith-driven turnaround of a high school football team’s six-season slump. This $10,000-budget film raked in a total gross of nearly $10 million in the US, according to the Internet Movie Database. The studio’s more recent releases, “Fireproof” (2008) and “Courageous” (2011) experienced similar success, each bringing in approximately $34 million.

“Most of the profits go right back into ministries,” Kendrick said. “So we’re thrilled that the movies are ministering to people, and the money they make is also used to minister to people!”

Kendrick and his brother, Stephen, have co-written all of the movies and the cast of each film has consisted predominantly of church members. Throughout the production process, Sherwood’s members serve in front of the camera and behind it, volunteering in everything from cooking for the cast members to being extras in the films.

Kelly McBride, a 2009 Samford graduate, grew up in Sherwood Baptist Church and helped behind the scenes. She played Bethany in “Fireproof,” a teenager who is rescued from almost certain death when her car gets stuck on the train tracks.

“Being involved in the movies was an exciting experience, and it was a really fun environment,” McBride said. “It’s also such an awesome ministry. A lot of people are critical and say they are just trying to get into Hollywood. But they’re creating an avenue to make people comfortable hearing the gospel.”

For “Fireproof,” the producers had a significantly larger budget of $500,000 to play with. This story of a firefighter who is forced to fight for his marriage when faced with the possibility of divorce has more intense action sequences and better cinematography than their previous films. Sherwood also filled the title role with a bigger name. Kirk Cameron, famous for embodying Mike Seaver on the late 80s, early 90s show “Growing Pains,” plays Caleb, around whom the plot pivots. But not a cent of Sherwood’s budget was funneled into Cameron’s paycheck. He volunteered to be in the movie without payment, accepting instead a donation to Camp Firefly, a charity for terminally ill children headed up by Cameron and his wife.

For “Courageous,” they continued the trend of casting some professional actors not affiliated with Sherwood. Ben Davies, a JMC major at Samford, plays David, a law enforcement rookie who is encouraged by his fellow officers to pursue Godly manhood. Davies said auditioning for the role involved more than just enacting a scene for the casting director. He was really auditioning himself."Courageous"

“I went through the scene with Alex and Steven, but there was also a panel in front of me with the pastor and his wife and daughter,” Davies said. “They asked me, ‘If you died today and were at the gates of Heaven, what would you say?’ I was so taken aback, and that’s kind of a hard thing to articulate on the spot. It was a really challenging moment and great to be in a working environment like that.”

This dedication to fill all the roles with actors earnestly seeking God has not been in vain. These four films have ministered to people in the U.S. and around the world.

“You’re called to make disciples of all nations, and there’s really not a bigger platform than entertainment,” Davies said. “Breaking out into the movie industry has allowed Sherwood Pictures to get a message to people who have never heard of it and are not used to it. For instance, the Kendrick brothers have gotten messages from people in rural China that saw bootlegged versions of ‘Fireproof’ and got saved.”

Sherwood Pictures constantly strives to tell God-centered stories.

“Most movies just give you sugar in the form of mindless entertainment,” Kendrick said. “We hope to give you a well-rounded meal in the form of a movie and to increase your desire to know God.”

Kendrick says the Sherwood team is in “in the season of prayer that always leads to the next idea,” so Sherwood’s next movie could be coming soon.

A little bead goes a long way

Although Tina Jackson is only a sophomore in college, this Samford graphic design major is giving business graduates across the country a run for their money.

Kelly Cardonne, extraFive months after creating her modish jewelry line, Velina Bracelets, Tina is flooded with excitement as she opens up about the unbelievable success of her new business.

“This is more than just a dream come true,” Tina said. “I’ve never felt more blessed.”

Tina’s older sister and business partner, Erica Jackson, has integrated her public relations expertise with her passion for design and fashion to create Velina’s chic company image. In a very short time, the powerful duo have turned a simple hobby of bead collecting into a prestigious jewelry business that is grabbing the attention of both men and women from coast to coast.

“I could have never expected this to happen, “ Tina said. “It was just something I loved to do in my spare time and now to see my bracelets being carried in boutiques— it is absolutely mind-blowing.”

With two collections being carried in local boutiques: Laura Katherine and Lucca, the launching of a men’s line, and an upcoming spring-summer 2012 collection, downtime is hard to come by for these sisters. Tina professed that she is in absolute awe at the positive feedback from her clients and says Velina wouldn’t be what it is without their encouragement.

“I get my inspiration from the people around me,” Tina said. “Everyone is unique and beautiful in their own way and I think their jewelry should be nothing shy of that.”

Tina claims each bracelet is designed to have its own personality that suits everyone differently and that she loves seeing who orders which ones. After only a few minutes of talking with Tina on Samford’s campus, it becomes evident that her thoughtful creativity and diverse talent has not gone unnoticed by her peers.

“When I first saw her collections, I couldn’t believe a college student actually made them,” revealed a fellow classmate. “They’re just so high-end and well-made; clearly she’s beyond gifted, and as you can see—“ she points to her own collection of Velina bracelets on her arm, “we all love them!”

These unique accessories are appropriately defined by an equally trendy title. The distinctive name for the company, Velina, comes from the Jacksons’ mother’s Italian nickname.

“I wanted something different, something people couldn’t easily get tired of—I figured why not make it about someone who means the world to me,” Tina said.

Tina claims her family is her number one supporter and that the name, Velina, is a constant reminder of that. The Jackson sisters feel that the bracelets are more than just a business, but a passion that has formed into a diverse form of self-expression for both themselves and their clientele.Velina Bracelets

In addition to the support from her family and friends, Tina claims her clients’ positive feedback is her main motivation and wants to ensure that they will always get their money’s worth.

“The stones come from all over the world, so they’re extremely versatile; yet, I make sure I pick the very best quality possible, especially if my name is connected to it,” Tina insisted. “I have this instinctive appreciation for good-quality jewelry and intend on representing nothing less.”

From boyfriends to brides, clients from California, Kansas, New York and even Canada have ordered Velina bracelets. When asked about how high her expectations are for the company, Tina sincerely replied: “I would love to see Velina progress even further. In my mind there is no limit. If it takes off and does something crazy like go international, for instance, I would be beyond thrilled. However, at the same time, if it stayed a local business, I would be as equally pleased because regardless of the outcome, I get to do what I love and get to inspire others while doing it.”

Tina hints that she is currently working with her sister on gathering inspirations for new lines, hopefully to be released later this summer.

Whether the exquisite bracelets are seen in classrooms or over seas, Tina Jackson has demonstrated that with a little creativity and determination, no idea is too small to be turned into something big and beautiful.