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Celebrating Neighborhoods Day By Bringing In Change

MICHIGAN CHRONICLE — Community activist Shirley Burch proudly points toward a mural being created on the city’s northeast side as an example of what happens when people work together to improve the area where they live. The mural being created on the concrete walls of an old water treatment plant, located on the E. Davison Service Dr. near Dequindre, will connect two cities—Highland Park and Detroit, the way Burch has connected community groups under an umbrella called C.U.P.

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Activist Shirley Burch (Photo by: michiganchronicle.com)

By James W. Ribbron

Community activist Shirley Burch proudly points toward a mural being created on the city’s northeast side as an example of what happens when people work together to improve the area where they live.

The mural being created on the concrete walls of an old water treatment plant, located on the E. Davison Service Dr. near Dequindre, will connect two cities—Highland Park and Detroit, the way Burch has connected community groups under an umbrella called C.U.P.

C.U.P. stands for Citizens United for Progress, a coalition of groups that serves the area of northeast Detroit bounded by Eight Mile/Dequindre to Eight Mile/Van Dyke to Hamtramck Border (Jos Campau) and Davison/I-75.

This will mark the 13th year C.U.P. has participated in ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Day.

It’s important that they participate in Neighborhoods Day, said C.U.P founder and president Burch, who is also a Detroit Police Commissioner. .

“To bring our many neighbors and friends out to showcase our community and express that we deserve safety, clean vibrant neighborhoods and no speeding in our neighborhoods,” she explained.

The highlight of the groups annual involvement is a festival called “Bringing in Change” or BIC that will be held at the Belmont Shopping Center on Neighborhood Day. The shopping center is located at Eight Mile at Dequindre..

“The acronym BIC stands for Bringing in Change, also for Belmont Shopping Center, Imperial Market and C.U.P,” Burch said. “We work toward a positive community with quality merchants, affordable homes, blight programs, and we welcome all to come and live in our community.”

This year’s festival will feature the dedication of a five-acre Walking Path and Exercise Fitness Equipment at Butler Park, located at 2099 Pointer St., behind the shopping center.

This year’s theme is “Changing Horrific to Terrific.”

C.U.P. grew out of Lomax Temple Church located at 17441 Dequindre and the Mound Ryan Block Club in 2007 when it sponsored a no-litter campaign.

“All the block clubs, the businesses and the stores were united to support the hub of our community; the Belmont Shopping Center. We organize to find solutions not complain about problems,” Burch said. “This allows us to do more; the city respects people that know how to come together.” .

Among its accomplishments are boarding up abandoned houses and sponsoring a tool-lending initiative.

“I have seen our community unify and work together, as a result we show progress and results when problems arise,” Burch said.

Being active in her community seems to come naturally for Burch.

“It’s a mission. Where you are in life is a blessing,” she said. “Who knew that I would have a partnership with a mall owner [Belmont Shopping Center] and grocery store owner [Imperial Market], and be able to give back to my community, right where I live? I’ve been in this neighborhood since I was three years old.”

The Highland Park Reservoir Mural Project is the vision and planning of  Burch and Willie Faison, director of the Highland Park Department of Public Works.

The water plant is being redeveloped and more than 200 artists are painting murals on the reservoir’s concrete wall. The project is being facilitated by artist Walter Bailey and is expected to be completed by August.

“The mural will tell a story,” Burch said. “We will use the wall to put up a positive message”, explained Burch

If people want to get involved with this group, call 313-350-9622, visit Shirleyburch23@mail.com or https://www.detroitcup.org/

This article originally appeared in the Michigan Chronicle

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Rebuilding Titusville Community with $300M in Investments

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Picture the Titusville you grew to know and love, a place with miles of land and even more potential. There’s a sense of nostalgia watching so many walk the sidewalks, possibly just as people did where you grew up. Greenery catches the eye, until it’s interrupted by the sight of a vacant lot or a vacant home. Though soulless apartment buildings occupy many spaces, a taste of what once was still lingers in the air. There’s a strong sense of history but not much to commemorate it.

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The Villas at Titusville located on Goldwire Street South West in North Titusville (Ameera Steward, The Birmingham Times)
The Villas at Titusville located on Goldwire Street South West in North Titusville (Ameera Steward, The Birmingham Times)

By Ameera Steward

Picture the Titusville you grew to know and love, a place with miles of land and even more potential. There’s a sense of nostalgia watching so many walk the sidewalks, possibly just as people did where you grew up. Greenery catches the eye, until it’s interrupted by the sight of a vacant lot or a vacant home. Though soulless apartment buildings occupy many spaces, a taste of what once was still lingers in the air. There’s a strong sense of history but not much to commemorate it.

Now envision this same space with newfound light and life. Apartment buildings filled with love and community. A house built by generations of a family occupying a once-empty landscape. Black-owned businesses emerging from the shadows of blight and years of poverty.

Welcome to new and improved Titusville community, which is now undergoing $300 million in redevelopment that includes Atlanta, Ga.-based data center provider DC BLOX Inc. opening its flagship hub data center at the former Trinity Steel site in the historic Birmingham community.

And there’s more.

  • King Manor and Montevallo Gardens along Third Avenue Southwest have merged to form the University Crossings apartment complex, which will provide safe housing for veterans and those with low incomes.
  • Loveman Village—now known as the Villas at Titusville and undergoing construction by the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD)—is currently in the midst of phase one of a renovation that includes 100 units planned for completion by the fall; phase two will include 64 new units and should be complete in the summer of 2020.
  • The former Center Street Middle School was purchased by Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School, which is making significant upgrades to improve the facility for its students and the surrounding community.

More Diversity

Titusville, a neighborhood nestled between the University of Alabama (UAB) to the east and Elmwood Cemetery to the west, launched the careers of politicians, college presidents, prize-winning journalists, and international bankers. It was home to prominent local leaders, such as African American architect Wallace Rayfield, who designed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church downtown Birmingham, and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It was one of the first neighborhoods in Birmingham where African Americans were allowed to own residential and commercial property.

“A lot of good things are coming to Titusville, a lot of good jobs. … No matter where you go, there will be great housing, great job opportunities, great developments, great opportunities to develop businesses,” said Crystal Smitherman, 25, who was born and raised in Titusville and now represents the area as the District 6 Birmingham City Council member.

“I’m excited because I think new housing will bring millennials, young families. It will still keep the integrity of the community, but it’ll also bring more life and more diversity.

She added, “Certainly, DC BLOX will push employee traffic to the area. Employees will opt to exercise at Memorial Park or use the walking trail to enhance their fitness routines. For decades, that property has been dormant. Now lights cut into the darkness. You can even see the red rooftop [of DC BLOX] from the street—it’s Titusville’s first skyscraper.”

Approximately eight developments are expected to be completed within the next few years, beginning in North Titusville with DC BLOX. The University Crossings apartment complex has just two more units to complete; the Davenport and Harris Funeral Home, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, is expanding; Center Court apartments on Fifth Avenue will be demolished; and lights at Memorial Park around its baseball field are being repaired.

Improved Sidewalks And Safety

Jefferson County District 2 Commissioner Sheila Tyson, who represents the area, said, with all the current changes being made the community will soon be unrecognizable.

“Neighborhood Housing Services [of Birmingham Inc. (NHSB)] has plans to redevelop some homes [in Titusville], as well as develop streetscape plans [to improve] sidewalks and lighting,” she said.

NHSB stabilizes urban neighborhoods in Birmingham and surrounding areas by promoting personal financial empowerment and home ownership.

Improving quality of life in the area and providing safe and affordable housing for residents were among Tyson’s main focuses when she served as a city councilor for the area, beginning in 2013.

“All I wanted was [University Crossings] remodeled and people living there, but I wanted security too,” she said. “I didn’t want another Montevallo Gardens, [an apartment complex on Third Avenue Southwest that is now part of University Crossings], where we were having so many problems. I wanted [residents] to have security.”

University Crossings will have 24-hour security, as well as police officers onsite not only walking the premises but also living among the residents.

The former King Manor and Montevallo Gardens were combined to create University Crossings, which is housing some tenants while construction is ongoing. Other amenities in the apartment complex include matching appliances, as well as a day care facility and workforce development center. It also has a storage unit that is shared with the Villas at Titusville apartments.

“To secure the [Villas at Titusville] property, [the HABD] closed off certain areas to prevent people from running between apartments,” Tyson said. “Porches were redesigned so they’re not too big; they’re big enough for you to be able to talk to your neighbor but not so big that people can gather and hang out all day long. [The Villas at Titusville also] will get an air-conditioned recreation center, in addition to day care and workforce development centers.”

The HABD will provide the remaining $500,000 for the Villas at Titusville Early Childhood Development Program, which is expected to be completed within 12 months, through its capital improvements fund budget; the agency also recently announced that it has secured a $500,000 grant to renovate the existing onsite day care center facility.

Other HABD plans include the construction of approximately six houses on the property behind the Titusville Library on Sixth Avenue, as well as the development of 56 lots on which new affordable homes will be built. For these efforts, the HABD has partnered with the Birmingham Land Bank Authority, which transforms vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties into areas that increase community and overall … property values.

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Memorial Park

Units in Titusville’s Memorial Park have been remodeled to include new floors; the complex also has a new pool, air conditioning in the gym, and fresh dugouts on the baseball field.

Another plus: DC BLOX recently opened its flagship hub data center on Sixth Street South across from Memorial Park. The initial investment is for 20 jobs with the potential to grow up to $785 million in capital investment. In addition, Tyson asked DC BLOX for a 15-year agreement to install a computer lab in the Memorial Park recreation center, which resulted in company officials promising to not only update the computers but also buy chairs, tables, and a printer for the facility.

“On my side, during my time on the City Council, I promised to install the alarm system to secure the [facility],” Tyson said. “[We have] $18,000 for the security system and the Wi-Fi.”

Other improvements in the Memorial Park area include remodeling of the Golden Flake Snack Foods plant, located down the road at the end of Golden Flake Drive, as well as expansions of both the Smith and Gaston and Davenport and Harris funeral homes.

Aside from seeing homes built and businesses expanded, Titusville will also see transportation improvements, such as bus depots or shelters and parking lots. Metro Area Express (MAX) Transit, the bus system operated by the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA), has plans for Titusville as part of its $20 million grant that will be used to place Birmingham Bus Rapid Transit Project (BRT Project) hubs throughout the city, including across from Davenport and Harris Funeral Home on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Third Avenue Southwest.

According to birminghamtransitprogram.org, “The … [BRT Project] will be a modern, enhanced transit line through Birmingham’s Jones Valley along the U.S. [Highway] 11 corridor. … It will connect 25 neighborhoods to services and provide residents with greater access to opportunities.”

Rebirth

When work is completed in North Titusville, efforts will begin in South Titusville and Woodland Park, Tyson said.

“If there are any vacant lots in South Titusville that can get under land banking, we will get those lots through HABD and build over there.”

For Smitherman, the rebirth of Titusville is personal. She is responsible for ensuring that the housing development is on schedule.

“I’m kind of the liaison between District 6 nonprofits and businesspeople in the city,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get in touch with the city if you don’t know somebody there.”

For example, Navigate Affordable Housing Partners Inc.—a nonprofit group that focuses on ensuring safe, quality, affordable housing by focusing on the unique needs of specific neighborhoods—recently boarded up the apartments behind Westminster Presbyterian Church and the Titusville Library. Smitherman is partnering with Navigate to develop new housing, some of which will be rebuilt with support from the organization.

“That’ll help the city with demolition costs,” she said.

The Titusville Development Corp. (TDC), founded in 1984 to maintain, revitalize, and develop the community, is bringing approximately 50 new houses to North Titusville, as well, Smitherman said.

“Those are the main two nonprofits involved right now,” she said. “It’s very encouraging to see people taking pride in the community.”

Smitherman has been working with Titusville as an official since January 2019, when she was sworn in as a Birmingham City Council member as the representative for District 6, where she has lived her entire life.

“[This community] will always have a special place in my heart. We renovated my granny’s house, and just to see her … property looking a lot better means a lot. … I think [this] will bring a lot of attraction,” she said, adding that the Sixth Avenue corridor is “ripe for restaurants, gas stations, shoe shops. … The possibilities are limitless.”

Growing Toward the Future

In addition to rebuilding and renovating, Titusville is preparing for the future, part of which involves bringing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) opportunities to the community. Last month, Smitherman met with leaders involved with UAB’s Core Curriculum, particularly those in the areas of math and science, to discuss ways to help Washington K-8 School become a STEM-focused school, as well as improve reading and math skills among “every age group.”

“If you help every age group, you can chip away at the bad habits people have, such as not knowing how to build up credit or buy a house. I think it’s very important to educate people,” said Smitherman, adding that community-wide education efforts for residents of all ages—preschoolers to seniors—could start as early as next fall, and programs will be offered both during and after the school day.

What’s best for Titusville is best for the entire city, said elected officials.

“When you improve Titusville, you will improve West End, Smithfield,” said Tyson. “All the communities over here will be affected by this.”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Here Are Some of the Rising Developments in Titusville

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Ronald Bayles may not live in the Titusville community, but it is where he has attended church for the past 30 years and where he spends most of his time as executive director of the Titusville Development Corp. (TDC).

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Lisa McCarroll, CEO, Navigate Affordable Housing Partners, Inc. (Ameera Steward, The Birmingham Times)
Lisa McCarroll, CEO, Navigate Affordable Housing Partners, Inc. (Ameera Steward, The Birmingham Times)

By Ameera Steward

Ronald Bayles may not live in the Titusville community, but it is where he has attended church for the past 30 years and where he spends most of his time as executive director of the Titusville Development Corp. (TDC).

“It’s very personal for me [to be] in a place that was once cited as one of the most blighted neighborhoods in the state and see the changes,” Bayles said. “We’re at the place where change is literally happening.”

“We’re here to fix the blight and pass the knowledge so the blight does not happen the same way it has in other neighborhoods,” he said. “We want to make sure that what we do in this community is something that is both viewed and received by the residents as a … collective effort.”

The TDC has been in existence for 35 years, maintaining, revitalizing, and developing the area. One of the top priorities, Bayles said, is to replace, preserve, and rehabilitate the housing stock in North Titusville.

“We’re going to do that through … rehabbing homes that are currently existing and offering critical repairs for current homeowners … [through] a partnership with the city and other equity partners like [Navigate Affordable Housing Partners Inc.],” said Bayles. “We’re looking to offer funds to people who qualify to actually work on their particular homes.”

Bayles, who attends Living Church Ministries on Omega Street in Titusville, said he’s in the community at least six days out of the week and has worked with the TDC for the past 11 years. His team is looking at a “holistic revitalization.”

“It’s not just building with sticks and bricks,” he said. “It’s making sure we are actually dealing with people.”

For example, the TDC plans to be more specific with its Greek Street Initiative, which has been in the planning process for the last two years. Titusville’s Greek Streets are a series of streets named with letters of the Greek alphabet — Kappa, Iota, Theta, and Omega — by the community’s founder.

The Greek Streets Initiative is a 50-house development of workforce housing priced between $140,000 and $200,000 on each Greek street and is part of the Titusville Community Framework Plan, an effort supported by funding from the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB) and the Birmingham Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Building Communities Program that involves mixed-income housing, said TDC Director of Housing Development Archibald Hill.

The Framework Plan was presented first as an existing condition report and then developed and adopted by the community to be conducted in three phases: community assessment, public involvement, and plan development and action; the final draft was presented to the Birmingham Planning Commission in 2015.

“This is not something the TDC is just jumping into and doing,” Hill said. “This is something we are assisting with.”

The TDC isn’t the only entity investing in the Titusville renaissance. Other nonprofits and businesses plan to participate, as well. Here are some of their proposed plans.

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Navigate Affordable Housing Partners

Navigate Affordable Housing Partners Inc. is a Birmingham-based nonprofit that has taken an interest in Titusville for several reasons. The location, for starters, said Navigate CEO Lisa McCarroll.

“Sixth Avenue is a significant portion of the … [Birmingham Bus Rapid Transit Project (BRT Project)] they are starting to build. It’s also historic, … [it has] proximity to downtown Birmingham, and … it’s got defined boundaries,” she said. “Many of the other communities in Birmingham sprawl. … We wanted something we could get our hands around, … [something through which] whatever efforts we took could be seen by the community. … We wanted something that was meaningful.”

Navigate—a nonprofit group that focuses on ensuring safe, quality, affordable housing by focusing on the unique needs of specific neighborhood—plans to start small, working with the Center Court apartments on Fifth Avenue Southwest, behind the Titusville Library. The group said, “We’re going to involve the community here, [asking them], ‘What type of housing?’” said McCarroll.

“Some folks may say senior housing, but what does that … look like? They may say single-family, but that could be duplexes, that could be town houses. We’re trying to figure out what [all of that] means [to and for the residents],” she said.

Navigate Planning and Development Coordinator Matthew Churnock added that the first step is to demolish existing units and then leave the site as an open canvas for the community or leave one of the buildings on the property for a community mural project.

“We’re probably at least a month out from breaking ground on a new project, so we don’t want to leave it as a vacant site for the next year,” said Churnock. “The intent is to work with the community to reprogram that site into an amenity while we wait on redevelopment plans.”

He added that Navigate is planning an event to kick off the mural campaign on August 15, if it can get permits in time. The group is working with the community to figure out the highest quality and best use for properties, “whether it’s family or senior housing, town houses, or single-family,” he said.

Navigate also recently closed on the Marc Steel Company Building on Sixth Street next to DC BLOX, where the group would like to redevelop a few single-family homes.

“The other part of redeveloping homes and helping revitalize a community [involves good schools]. People move where there are good schools,” said McCarroll. “We’ve been partnering … with Washington [k-8] School [on improvements]; that has included everything from helping paint during the summer to participating in some of their programs to reading to the children.”

McCarroll said Navigate wants to do its part for Titusville, which she calls a “jewel.”

“When you place on top of that the folks that live in this community, the people who care about it and want to see it stabilize and do better [things will move forward],” she said. “With all the efforts that are happening, … as long as we’re all pulling together—and from my standpoint, we are—as long as we’re moving in the same direction, it’s a win-win not only for this community but for South Titusville and Birmingham in general.”

Davenport and Harris Funeral Home

All three Davenport and Harris Funeral Home buildings across from Elmwood Cemetery on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive are being renovated.

“This will help transform the Titusville community from what is considered a low-income community to a historic designation,” said Titusville resident and Davenport and Harris President Marion Sterling. “It’s going to also change the landscape of how we look as a community. The visual landscape will change.”

Sterling, 64, was born and raised in South Titusville, where he still lives. He recalls when Avenue F became Sixth Avenue.

“That is what I remember as being a spark of change,” he said. “There’s been a lot of change in the community. When I was growing up, the yards were pristine, the homes were very well kept, there was not much blight. … Now, I think the revitalization is not only with businesses but also within the community. I think there’s a different level of respect in movement now. … I think it’s returning to what it was like when I was a child.”

Looking at the funeral home from Elmwood Cemetery, Davenport and Harris will have three buildings. The first will support funeral and/or cremation services. The second will be utilized as a community life center for events, such as repasts, the gathering of family and friends after a funeral, and community meetings; it also will have a nonprofit to support seminars and events for youth and seniors. The third building will be used as a second chapel.

In addition to helping with the renewal in Titusville, Sterling said the changes will offer options for families.

“Today, most families are restricted to communicating with churches for locations, but some family members are not members of a church, so they often have to look for a repast location,” he said.

“Outside of churches, there are few community life centers where families can hold events. … There also are very few facilities in the city of Titusville or across Birmingham where groups can host seminars for our youth; they usually have to contract with large facilities like the Boutwell [Auditorium]. … Now, [our facility] will be available,” Sterling said.

“We’re hoping our renovation will spark other businesses to come into the area.”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Kingston Teaching Farm Renamed in Memory of Richard “Dick” Pigford

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — 

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A group photo of everyone who attended the dedication to Richard "Dick" Pigford in the Kingston Teaching Farm (Ameera Steward, The Birmingham Times)

By Ameera Steward

Following a moving ceremony in Kingston attended by family, friends and members from some of the city’s leading organizations, the legacy of architect Richard I. Pigford, also known as “Dick,” will live for generations.

On Wednesday, the Kingston Teaching Farm located on Center Street North was renamed the “Richard Ireland Pigford Memorial Kingston Teaching Farm” in memory of Mr. Pigford, a Kingston Coalition charter member, who passed March 31 of this year.

“Communities were so important to him,” said his wife, Dana. “He loved Birmingham, he loved this area, the people that he worked with here he had a great fondness for …  going forward this could be the structure to help other communities that are at risk and even those communities that aren’t at risk, teaching them how to come together.”

Ella Pigford, his sixteen-year-old granddaughter, remembered helping him in one of the gardens and was touched by the number of people at the ceremony.

“I’m happy that he’s done so much for so many communities,” she said. “[His work] makes me think that I can do more for my community, it shows me what I can do for my community and it shows me the communities that he cared for, it makes me want to help them more. It inspires me to do more and want to do more when I grow up,” she said.

Individuals from a number of organizations who worked with Pigford toward healthier communities were in attendance including UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center (UAB MHRC), the Kingston Coalition and the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD).

“This garden was just a tiny piece of what Mr. Pigford did in Kingston,” said Tiffany Osborne, director of community engagement for UAB MHRC. “He worked on projects, he invested funds, he helped us go after funds so that we could do programs and projects, there’s another community garden that he invested in, just other little things that he did…and I think that that’s really important for people to know.”

Partnerships

Working in the community, meant people working together with Mr. Pigford, Osborne said.

Jay Pigford, son (left) and Dana Pigford, wife (right) (Ameera Steward, The Birmingham Times)

Jay Pigford, son
(left) and Dana Pigford, wife (right) (Ameera Steward, The Birmingham Times)

“[He] was not one to just do, he wanted the residents working alongside of him because this is one of the communities that we work in to try and encourage the community to come work together . . . and Mr. Pigford was good about doing that,” she said. “He connected the neighborhood to representatives from UAB who assisted Kingston to help identify projects and agree on priorities. So, it is no surprise that the teaching farm is located on the Morton Simpson site.”

Adrian Peterson-Fields, HABD COO called the ceremony a “momentous” occasion.

“I grew up in Birmingham, I know what this looked like before and to see [the] teaching farm in honor of and memory of Mr. Pigford” and now to see the fruits of his labor in the teaching farm is crucial, she said.

“We all know that the Kingston area is in a food desert and so these type of foods as we begin to harvest and bring forth; we’ll be able to assist our residents,” said Fields.

Lovie Crawford, president of the Kingston Neighborhood Association, said Pigford was a “true, divine man and his belief was beautifying people…his work speaks for itself, this teaching farm here as well is a dream of his…we will forever remember Dick and all the good things he’s done.”

Beyond The Garden

A lot of Pigford’s work went beyond the teaching garden, said those in attendance.

“He was very interested in violence reduction,” said Dr. Mona Fouad, professor, and director of UAB MHRC. “We were looking at projects to see how can we impact violence reduction so children, and young people, and older people in the community can freely enjoy this beautiful neighborhood.”

Part of Pigford’s legacy, she said, is that the National Institutes of Health has provided UAB with additional funding to create a violence reduction program in Kingston. She added that her department’s Grand Challenge win [part of UAB’s strategic plan that united university activities with community partners] will help the MHRC help bring resources to Kingston.

Others in attendance included, Erica Williams, director of educational advancement for the city of Birmingham and Cathy Adamas, board member of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.“When we asked the [Kingston Coalition] what we should do to honor Dick and his work, unanimously everybody voted to [rename the teaching farm] and it’s going to stay forever,” Fouad said. “We’re going to make sure it’s going to stay like this and even get bigger…and impact all the residents here.”

“I kept thinking that it’s just not fair that he’s not here and then I just heard this voice saying ‘of course he’s here, he’ll always be here,’” said Adams who has known Pigford for 50 years. “This wouldn’t be here without him and it will go on because of him…I am so grateful for every minute I was able to spend with him.”

Jay Pigford, Mr. Pigford’s son, said his father would be honored by the dedication.

“He would be more proud that it’s a great honor for the community and what they’re doing here, and creating a legacy for future generations here on this property,” said Jay Pigford. “This seems like a great gift to Kingston but really the Kingston community was such a huge part of his life and a gift to him.”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Committee Chairs Request Information from Consumer Bureau on Efforts to Protect Student Loan Borrowers

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Former Student Loan Ombudsman Seth Frotman asserted in his August 2018 resignation letter that CFPB leadership “has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting.” The position of Student Loan Ombudsman has been vacant since Frotman resigned in August 2018.

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Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), is the Chairwoman of the House Committee of Financial Services

Chairs Also Request Documents from Education Department, Loan Servicers

WASHINGTON – Today, Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), sent a letter to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathleen Kraninger requesting information and records concerning the CFPB’s efforts to protect consumers from unlawful student loan servicing practices.

In the letter, the Chairs raise concerns that “…the Consumer Bureau has taken actions that weaken its ability to fulfill its mission to protect student loan borrowers,” and that the agency is “…providing potentially harmful and conflicting advice to student loan borrowers.”  The Chairs request records from the Consumer Bureau by no later than September 9, 2019.

Former Student Loan Ombudsman Seth Frotman asserted in his August 2018 resignation letter that CFPB leadership “has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting.” The position of Student Loan Ombudsman has been vacant since Frotman resigned in August 2018.

The Chairs also sent a letter to Betsy DeVos expressing deep concern over the Education Department’s failure to protect students and families from student loan companies. The letter addresses recent reports that the Department is shielding student loan servicing companies from state law enforcement and undermining the CFPB’s oversight of these companies. In March 2019, an independent watchdog found that the Department failed to establish policies to properly conduct oversight of student loan servicing companies.

“As Chairs of Committees with oversight responsibilities over the student loan industry, we are very concerned by reports that under your leadership, the Department of Education has failed to adequately oversee student loan servicers,” the Chairs wrote. “Reports indicate that improper practices by these servicers—including inaccurate determination of monthly payments, forbearance steering, and other practices—directly impact millions of Americans and have ripple effects on their families, communities, and the economy as a whole.”

In addition, the Chairs sent letters today to federally contracted loan servicers seeking information about their operations, including any strategies or policies that push students into more expensive repayment options.

The full text of the letter to the CFPB is available here.

The full text of the letter to the Education Department is available here.

The full text of the letter to Navient is available here.

The full text of the letter to Nelnet is available here.

The full text of the letter to Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency is available here.

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Ohio State Sen. Cecil Thomas: Tracie Hunter’s Conviction is Unlawful

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “No one is above the law, including judges and prosecutors,” Thomas said. However, in an Aug. 13 letter to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Thomas said Hunter’s prosecution and subsequent conviction violated the law.

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“The judge refused a motion for a retrial after he refused to poll the jury, in clear violation of the law and at the request of my attorney,” Tracie Hunter told NNPA Newswire during the annual National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) annual convention in Cincinnati.
“The judge refused a motion for a retrial after he refused to poll the jury, in clear violation of the law and at the request of my attorney,” Tracie Hunter told NNPA Newswire during the annual National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) annual convention in Cincinnati.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Former Judge Tracie Hunter, who became Hamilton County Ohio’s first black juvenile court judge, is receiving support from Ohio State Senator Cecil Thomas, who argues that her conviction should be overturned.

Thomas said Hunter didn’t receive a fair trial and that she appears to have been the victim of corruption.

After being convicted of providing confidential documents to her brother in an attempt to help save his job as a corrections officer and exhausting her appeals, Hunter was literally dragged off to jail last month.

“No one is above the law, including judges and prosecutors,” said Thomas. However, in an Aug. 13 letter to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Thomas said Hunter’s prosecution and subsequent conviction violated the law.

On Sept. 17, 2013, Prosecutor Joe Deters filed a motion requesting special prosecutors for the case against Hunter.

On that same day, Judge Beth Myers filed an entry with the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts appointing special prosecutors, to fully investigate Hunter.

“By filing the motion without due diligence, Judge Myers subsequently appointed Prosecutor Joe Deters’ lawyers and friends who have represented [Deters] in personal litigation,” said Thomas.

One of the attorneys is a partner in the law firm that represented Deters in his divorce, the senator noted, adding, “There are numerous examples that will show just how close these attorneys are to Deters.”

When publicly questioned regarding the appointments, Myers said she “dealt with things as they were presented to me. I will continue to do that,” according to Thomas.

Deters has maintained that he didn’t recommend the appointments and that they were done strictly by the Common Pleas Court. However, Thomas said the appointed lawyers have twice referenced Deters’ role in the appointments.

“Joe Deters requested a special prosecutor because he had a conflict. As such, by law, his only participation is to make the request and provide reasoning,” Thomas said.

“Judge Myers’ role is to decide whether to honor the request and if so, to appoint with the assurance that there are no conflicts,” he said.

“It appears neither Deters nor Myers followed the law to assure Judge Hunter received a fair trial, free of any biases and [Myers] appears to have played a role in unlawfully securing a public contract,” Thomas said.

By appointing Deters’ lawyers, any reasonable person can conclude there are inherent conflicts, Thomas continued.

“First, the mere personal relationship speaks for itself. Second, by honoring his recommendation to hire his personal lawyers, in essence, [Myers] played a role in using her public office to secure a public contract of approximately $700,000 for the personal lawyers of another public official,” Thomas said.

A spokeswoman for the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office said they hadn’t seen the complaint.

Yost’s office declined to comment.

As Thomas submitted his letter, attorneys for Hunter formally asked that she be released.

The judge who carried out her sentence is reportedly waiting for the special prosecutor in the case to respond before deciding.

Hunter, who’s also a church pastor in Cincinnati, has had the support of so many including The Coalition for a Just Hamilton County which is composed of members from the Interdenominational Ministry Alliance; the Cincinnati Chapter of the NAACP; the local chapter of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network; the Black United Front; the Southern Christian Leadership Council; the Nation of Islam and others.

“They’ve tried to stop me from telling my truth and all I have is my truth,” she told NNPA Newswire in June.

She said she had mostly refrained from giving interviews because the local media has only used sound bites to try and embarrass her.

“I’ve lost hope in the justice system which is why I became a judge in the first place,” Hunter said. “I’ve not lost faith in God even though they’ve tried to drive me out of this city.”

Stacy M. Brown

A Little About Me: I'm the co-author of Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway and her son, Stevie Wonder (Simon & Schuster) and Michael Jackson: The Man Behind The Mask, An Insider's Account of the King of Pop (Select Books Publishing, Inc.)

My work can often be found in the Washington Informer, Baltimore Times, Philadelphia Tribune, Pocono Record, the New York Post, and Black Press USA.
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Miles College welcomes interim president Bobbie Knight   

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Miles College on Thursday prepared to say farewell to one member of the school’s family and embrace another. The institution welcomed Interim President Dr. Bobbie Knight and began a farewell to her predecessor Dr. George T. French Jr. who is leaving the Birmingham area to become president of Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Bobbie Knight, Miles College interim president, and Dr. George T. French, Jr., outgoing president, are shown before a press conference in Fairfield, Ala. (Photo by Mark Almond)
Bobbie Knight, Miles College interim president, and Dr. George T. French, Jr., outgoing president, are shown before a press conference in Fairfield, Ala. (Photo by Mark Almond)

By Erica Wright

Miles College on Thursday prepared to say farewell to one member of the school’s family and embrace another.

The institution welcomed Interim President Dr. Bobbie Knight and began a farewell to her predecessor Dr. George T. French Jr. who is leaving the Birmingham area to become president of Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Knight will become the first female president of Miles College in the school’s 121 year history.

“I deliberated long and hard after I got over the initial shock of being asked to consider this opportunity and I have continuously prayed for the wisdom, strength and courage it will take to lead this institution with integrity, compassion and a servant’s heart,” said Knight, during a press conference.

The retired Alabama Power executive who is also chair of the Board of Managers for the Birmingham Times Media Group was named as interim president by the Board of Trustees on July 17.

“During this transition, the job before me is clear; first, to serve the students of Miles College by ensuring they receive a quality education, that they are equipped with the tools they need to be successful here and in the future and that they enjoy a safe and fulfilling campus life. Second, my job is to maintain a fiscally sound institution, I have a business background and my plan is to use business principles and practices to keep this institution financially strong.”

Knight will begin her duties Sept. 1, when French leaves for Atlanta.

Knight said her plans for the college are to continue to encourage students to enroll in Miles and the community to support the school.

The interim president said she will “continue to encourage students to enroll in Miles College. Miles is here, we’re an asset to this community and we don’t want to lose our kids out-of-state or to other colleges when we have a great institution sitting right here.”

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The French Tenure

French will end his tenure at Miles on Friday, Aug.16. Miles has been his home for more than 23 years with nine years as Director of Development and the last 14 as president.

“Thank you for the opportunity to lead this great institution for the last 14 years, for the opportunity to lead in having record enrollments of this institution, for the opportunity to raise over $100 million at Miles College, for the opportunity to more than triple the size of our campus,” said French.

The outgoing president said he was grateful for his time in the metro area.

“I say thank you to the Birmingham community; I say thank you to the Alabama community; I say thank you to a governor who has been supportive, to mayors of Birmingham and Fairfield who have been supportive and to a corporate community that has been supportive of this institution, we say thank you,” he said. “Now after 14 years at the helm, it gives me great pleasure to turn over the reins to my friend, a distinguished corporate citizen, a lover of students and of education, the Interim President of Miles College, Bobbie Knight.”

French said he will continue to be a part of the Miles family and looks forward to forming a partnership between the two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

“Clark Atlanta University saw what was going on at Miles College,” said French. “That research institution with 4,000 students was looking at Birmingham. They were looking at the relationship of alums to Miles College. They were looking at how we are turning this world upside down so we look forward to a partnership with Clark Atlanta University and Miles College. I’m looking for my students after they matriculate and walk across the stage with a bachelor’s degree, I’m looking for them to come to Clark Atlanta University for masters and doctoral degrees.”

Keila Lawrence, a senior and President of the Student Government Association at Miles, said the moment is bittersweet.

“Dr. French has been a visionary and I can only emulate and strive to be like him and his leadership because he’s done so much for Miles and it’s been great to work with him,” said Lawrence. “Of course, it’s bittersweet because he’s done so much, but he had the foresight and the board as well to elect Dr. Bobbie Knight and we’re really excited to work with her and it’s a new era for Miles and I’m truly excited to what’s to come in the future and what it holds.”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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