Q&A with Emma Percy: Young female pilot defies status quo in aviation

Pilot Emma Percy, 18, poses by her 1973 Bonanza V35, the plane she trains in.

Q: Where did your interest in aviation come from?

A: My dad does fly and I think that’s really what got me started with flying, you know just kind of being interested in that part of his life. So, he got me my first lesson (at Shelby County Airport). And after I took that first lesson, I was kind of hooked on it. It took me about a year of training to get my private pilot’s license which is the first license.

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The Faces of Reed Books

Reed Books is a bookstore in downtown Birmingham. With a residency of several decades, it has become a staple of the community. While people come from all over the world to view the thousands of books that line the shelves and the floors, there is much more to this bookstore than just the books. While Mr. Jim Reed, owner of Reed Books, will want to greet you with a smile, there are more faces that will welcome you into the store. Take a look…

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Earth Day Purpose and Celebrations

Earth Day comes around every year on April 22 but the history and idea behind the day is not commonly discussed. The concept for Earth Day was for the nation to focus on the environment for one day. Founder Gaylord Nelson was a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. After seeing the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara and being ruled by the student anti-war movement, he related the public needed to be aware of the air and water pollution they were contributing.  Nelson worked until the next year

Earth Day Network states that “on April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies.” Learn more about Earth Day.

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Q&A about “Cultural Shock.”

Q & A with Ruth Blackburn

  1. Can you introduce yourself? What’s your name? Hometown? Major?

My name is Ruth Blackburn. I am a junior from Birmingham, Alabama. My major is Foods and Nutrition with an Art minor.

  1. When people mention Asia or Asian, what is your first thought?

I think of the cultural differences between Asia and America. My best friend went to China for 6 weeks and I think of the stories of squatty potties and riding bikes all around the cities. I once read that middle-aged men in Asia are at a very high risk of suicide because of pressure to succeed and do well in the workplace.

  1. What makes you most proud to be an American?

The kindness that people show to each other even when they are strangers and do not know each other.

  1. What do you think about “Culture Shock”?

I have never been affected by culture shock very much when I go to different countries. I think I am very easy going so the differences between countries do not shock me or bother me that much and it takes a lot of effort for me to pick out the differences and things that bother me or that I like better about one country.

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Colorful Seasons of Kelly Ingram Park

May 1963, Kelly Ingram Park held organized protests and boycotts as a part of the Children’s Crusade of Birmingham. In response to these protests, law enforcement officers used fire hoses and dogs to stop the protesters. This event in history was broadcasted internationally, turning people’s attention to the endless fight for racial equality. Kelly Ingram Park holds the hearts, blood and lives of many who took a stand for justice everywhere that day. The park historically stands across the street from the Civil Rights Institute with statues and memorials decorating the acre. It’s spring colors are as vibrant today as they were then in a field of black, white, and red.


String Theory

An unconventional & groove-worthy ensemble

A musician guides his bow across the strings of a cello. He is tucked away behind a conductor stand, embracing the cello as if it is a beloved friend. Just a few measures into the song, he thrusts the bow with vigor. The instrument delivers a melody reminiscent of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen’s chart-topping, pop-rock anthem. Have your ears deceived you, or is a conservatoire-trained musician performing rock ‘n’ roll hits on a cello?

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Three Inexpensive Nights Out In Birmingham

You deserve a night out. If you are a college student like me, you are probably juggling six or more classes, an internship for academic credit and a paid full-time job just to pay your rent. Because of all these things, you have the right to treat yourself every once and a while. The issue often tends to be that, though you may want a night out, you cannot afford to spend a lot of money. That is where I come in. Having lived in the city of Birmingham my whole life, I knew quite a few spots that can help you save a few bucks while enjoying what the city has to offer. Here is a short list of three different locations in Birmingham on the cheap. You can find directions to each location by clicking on the venue name in the list.

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Q&A with Harrison Tarabella

One of the best parts of my Samford experience has been all the creative people I’ve met during my four years here. One such example is Harrison Tarabella: a talented visual artist who got his initial training from professional National Geographic photographer. I sat down with Harrison to talk about where his passion comes from, his favorite experiences thus far and what’s next for him.

Answers have been edited for content and clarity.

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Civil Rights: 50 years forward

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’” Matthew 5:43-44 reads. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

Jesus’ famous words framed Sixteenth Street Baptist Church’s Sunday School lesson on Sept. 15, 1963. Titled “A Love that Forgives,” it was a message that the predominantly African-American congregation, who were suffering under racial persecution’s climax, desperately needed to hear. Just three months before, Police Commissioner Theophilus “Bull” Connor ordered the use of fire hoses and police dogs against thousands of African-American youths. The atrocious police brutality attracted national and international attention to perhaps the most racist city in the United States.

In a cruel irony, the congregation never heard the lesson on forgiving its enemies. Instead, at 10:22 a.m., a bomb interrupted the service, killing schoolgirls Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair and Carole Robinson and injuring more than 20 other worshippers. Later that day, two more African-American children lost their lives to police and white mobs.

Although that day’s events were horrific, they also served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement’s victory. City officials could no longer ignore the infamous reputation of “Bombingham.” By the end of the decade, African-Americans were vying for and often winning positions as police officers, school superintendents and even suburban neighbors.

Today, Birmingham looks back in reflection and forward in anticipation. The bells of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church tolled in memory of the four girls on Sept. 15, 2013 – exactly 50 years since the tragedy. Their ringing reminds attendees just how much Birmingham has changed. Next to the historic church lies the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which opened in 1992, and Elizabeth MacQueen’s Four Spirits statue memorializing the four schoolgirls unveiled this year in Kelly Ingram Park. An avenue named after Richard Arrington Jr., Birmingham’s first African-American mayor, pierces downtown. Downtown blossoms under the leadership of Mayor William Bell – also African-American – with the construction of Railroad Park, Regions Field and a new entertainment district orbiting the city center, a scene suggesting Birmingham’s best days are yet to come.

‘The blue collar town’
While it may be Birmingham’s most infamous chapter, the Civil Rights Movement is merely one piece of its history, Samford history professor Jonathan Bass said. To fully understand its significance, Bass said one should start at the very beginning—1906, to be precise.

That was the year U.S. Steel bought the behemoth Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company and, in about four decades, built an empire in Birmingham. By World War II’s end in 1945, the city’s iron ores and steel mines were in full production and U.S. Steel had become the city’s largest employer.

“This was a blue collar town,” Bass said, “and that was the heyday of Birmingham’s industrial might.”

But that heyday ended during the 1950s when U.S. Steel found cheaper, higher quality iron ore in Venezuela. The mines closed as quickly as they opened. African-Americans bore the brunt of that change.

“If you go back and look in the city directories, you’ll see African-Americans played a pivotal role in the labor forces,” Bass said. “But [the closures] shifted around jobs a good bit. Unskilled and skilled black labor gets pushed out of the workforce as whites lose their mine jobs and transfer elsewhere.”

That decline in the steel industry, Bass said, set tensions high for 1963.

The Third Great Awakening
During the steel industry’s great leap forward, another factor that would propel the Civil Rights Movement was coming to power—a religious revival.
“[Some] scholars have found ways to interpret the Civil Rights movement without recognizing the role of religion,” Bass said. “But you cannot separate those.”

Bass said that Martin Luther King Jr. is often seen as a political hero but in many ways he belongs with Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney and other American religious powerhouses. The fight for Civil Rights was, in turn, also a religious crusade, nestled perfectly within a spiritual awakening that marked the mid-20th century.

A few years ago Bass attended a Bible study with African-American men ages 18 to 81. He recalls his fellow participants comparing the disciples with local citizens’ sacrifices for civil rights. “That was really eye-opening for me,” Bass said.

Bass continued that, too often, quests for social justice are secularized. That wasn’t the case for African-Americans. “At the center of the Civil Rights Movement was actively practicing your faith,” Bass said. “[The foot soldiers] weren’t out there saying, ‘Bring on the dogs, bring on the fire hoses because I have a secular commitment to social justice.’ If you ask foot soldiers why they were out there, they’re going to say they were putting their faith into action.”

Towards the light
“Most people really look at the Birmingham story as police dogs, fire hoses, four little girls, end of story,” Bass said. “But that’s only the beginning of the story.”
The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate schools and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 dealt strong blows to segregation, but they weren’t enough. Dismantling segregation was a lofty task, but under the leadership of Mayor George Siebels and city councilwoman Nina Miglionico, it happened.
After three long years, the first African-American policeman, Leroy Stover, was finally hired. Then African-Americans D.M. Jefferson and E.W. Taggart joined the Birmingham Dental Society. In 1968, African-American Leon Kennedy became superintendent of Jefferson County schools.
But Bass said the Civil Rights Movement culminated in 1979 with the election of the city’s first African-American mayor, Richard Arrington Jr.
“That was [the conclusion] of what King began in 1963,” Bass said.

Miles to go
Although the dark days of segregation may be over, the battle for equality continues. Mark Stribling, a volunteer at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, recalls his first visit to Birmingham in 1999 for a job interview at UAB.
“My coworkers said, ‘We want to take you to the Civil Rights Institute,’” Stribling, a native of Pittsburg, said. “‘But we can’t because there’s a KKK march.’ I didn’t know racism would be so public [here].”
But for the most part, racism is more innocent. Stribling highlighted the wealth disparity between African-Americans and whites. “White people just bought a car, and black people still have to ride the bus,” he said. “Segregation’s just in a different form.”
Bass noticed the same phenomenon. “Even before the great white flight had started, people on this side of the mountain look down their noses and over the mountain at what goes on in Birmingham,” he said. “What so many residents don’t realize is that what’s good for Birmingham is good for the rest of the county and these municipalities as well.”
Stribling said that education is the antidote to prejudice and indifference. “[Racists] walk around in ignorance,” he said, describing local teenagers who dressed as Ku Klux Klan members and even carried nooses for Halloween. “You have to teach what things represent,” he said. “People in the KKK [dress] to be the ghosts of Confederate soldiers coming back from the dead to kill black people.” Once teens learn this, they usually stop wearing their costumes, Stribling said.
Likewise, Bass challenges youth to examine the faith of African-Americans. “I think the best way for young people to understand the Civil Rights movement is to really look at what motivated these people,” he said. “They would say they were Christians doing what Jesus called them to do.”
Interestingly, when Stribling described the future of Birmingham, he mentioned little of racial division. Instead, he talked about young urbanites flocking back to downtown, UAB forging a law school and a booming business district.
On Dec. 3, 1963, “Look” magazine published Charles Morgan’s editorial about Birmingham titled “I Saw a City Die.” “Who killed Birmingham?” he said in his introduction. “Not only the hate-filled murderers of four girls, but we ‘nice people’ who did nothing to save our city from race hatred.”
Then the nice people came and resurrected Birmingham so Stribling could say something that 50 years ago would be unimaginable.
“No black person fears walking down the street and getting harassed or called a name.”

The Sweet Southern Sojourn

IMG_9010By Reed Richardson

The downtown radius of Greensboro, Ala. compares to the size of a regulation football field. However, right in the middle of it all is a simple pie shop that sure knows how to make an impression.

PieLab is the sweet spot to stop for any explorer passing through lower Alabama, especially if exceptional pie makes you weak in the knees. Flavors range from the all-American apple pie to the unusual Greek yogurt cheesecake pie.

“But butterscotch pecan is the top seller of everything,” staffer John Wilkerson says.



While the dessert pie is a specialty to the shop, PieLab sells a handful of savory pies like pizza and quiche for hungrier customers. “No matter what day it is, there is always a quiche option,” Wilkerson says.

As customers come and go from the counter, Wilkerson mentions that the shop is often filled with travelers looking for a bite to eat or an afternoon sugar rush. “Lots of out-of-towners are always stopping in as they pass through, but it’s also a place to bring people together through pie and conversation,” he says.

Wilkerson’s comment refers back to the beginning of PieLab, a social entrepreneurship plan started by Project M in 2009, and now sponsored by Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization, or HERO for short.


PieLab is a shining star in Hale County, one of the poorest counties in all of Alabama. In conjunction with HERO and Project M, the business works as a facility for economic revitalization, job training and people-pleasing pie. Their mission: “Pie + Conversation = Social Change.”

Customer and out-of-towner Lauren Bates says, “They have a gift when it comes to entrepreneurship. They are using the resources they have in their formula for success. I just wish I lived closer. I would go a lot more.”

With such friendly vibrations, it is easy to see the appeal. Staffers and locals alike welcome customers in with cheer and a quest to get to know you. “You come to the store and talk to someone you might not talk to on the street. It’s amazing what a good slice of pie can do,” Wilkerson says.

With a big bite of lemon icebox pie, Bates confirms, “You never feel like you’re eating alone.”

Located just two hours from Birmingham, Greensboro is a wonderful Southern sojourn for both city and country folk. After a slice of goodness, take a stroll through the square. An eco-friendly bike shop, a quaint little library and a friendly antique shop beg to be explored.


Photos by Reed Richardson