Rose Prince is an AmeriCorps member serving at the YWCA Central Alabama as a court advocate with Domestic Violence Services. She recently moved back to Alabama, her birth-state, from Tennessee where she attended Bryan College, graduating with a B.A. in Psychology this past May.
When people are surrounded by trash, they feel like trash. I’ve struggled with the reality of this, having grown up in a home that was, quite honestly, trashy. My family didn’t have a lot of money. We ate free or reduced lunch at school, and our home was never clean. I identified as “white trash.” It’s what I grew up around, what I had been told I was. The psychological impact of this still affects me, but it has also empowered me to tell others that they can rise above where they come from.
I love “rags to riches” stories. I love rescue stories. I love seeing someone with a past full of hurt, poverty and impossible situations actually make it and then use that past to relate to others in similar situations, to tell them there is hope for something better.
This is why I love Birmingham’s story. When I first moved here, I didn’t understand the specific challenges this city faces. I didn’t understand why people I know, who had grown up literally 10-15 minutes outside of the heart of Birmingham, never come downtown. I didn’t understand why there are areas still referred to as “black neighborhoods.” I heard stories of wealthy people who live outside of Birmingham bragging about not venturing downtown for years. I learned about Birmingham’s high crime rate. Forbes magazine ranked Birmingham as the sixth most dangerous city in America. Downtown used to be littered with empty buildings and crime. There was little here for people to get excited about doing, but that’s changing.
I soon learned about the work of REV Birmingham. I automatically jumped on board. It’s what I love—seeing broken people, broken buildings and broken areas become a community of productive citizens in a vibrant, healing city. Recently on a Friday night, I attended REV Birmingham’s Street Party on 3rd Avenue North, a block that is usually deserted. The street was full of music, laughter, food, dancing and hula-hooping. It was a success. Part of this event was lighting up the Lyric Theater for the first time since it began to undergo restoration. The Lyric is not only a historic landmark, as one of the only vaudeville theaters still standing, it was also one of the first theaters to join the fight against racism. Rev. Henry Edmunds preached to black and white, rich and poor congregations at the Lyric, which may have been the first integrated church services in Alabama. In the short documentary, “Act Two: A Gift from a Previous Generation,” Glenny Brock, Lyric Volunteer Coordinator, notes on the history of Birmingham, “All the theaters on 2nd and 3rd were white theaters, all the theaters on 4th were black theaters. But the Lyric was unusual because it was the only theater in downtown Birmingham where black and white audiences saw the same show, at the same time, for the same price.”
The truth is, racism still exists, and it’s happening in this city. Injustice breeds crime and poverty, but justice and opportunity produce hope. How about we, as a community, start spreading hope? Let’s not be afraid of “venturing downtown.” Let’s get involved with opportunities like “Light Up the Lyric” and “REV Birmingham.” Let’s help our neighbors to view themselves as treasure instead of trash.
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