Black Belt Community Foundation marks 10th anniversary with inaugural legacy dinner

The Black Belt Community Foundation will mark its 10th anniversary by honoring two of its founding members, Alabama Senator Hank Sanders and Julian Smith, a retired vice president of Alabama Power, at its inaugural Hank Sanders – Julian Smith Legacy Dinner on Thursday, February 20, 2104, at the Carl C. Morgan Convention Center in Selma, AL.

“Hank and Julian are original and now emeritus board members who provided the guiding leadership to help found and then sustain the BBCF to support Alabama’s Black Belt region,” said Felecia Jones, president of the BBCF.  “In our initial 10 years of existence the BBCF has provided $2-million in grants for the Black Belt region in supporting programs in education, wellness, economic development, and the arts.  It is exciting to have the opportunity to celebrate our 10th year anniversary by honoring two individuals who enabled our mission to take root and transform lives.”

The dinner will feature guest speaker, Thom Gossom, an actor, writer, and communications consultant and friend of both honorees.  The Selma High School Ensemble Choir will perform as part of the event.  Barbara Howard, a member of the faculty of Tuskegee University and BBCF board members, will be the emcee.

Smith retired in June, 2008, as Alabama Power Company Vice President of Corporate Relations.  He had oversight of both governmental affairs and community relations since 2000.  Smith joined the company in 1974 in the construction department at Greene County Steam Plant and over the years held positions of increasing responsibility.  He moved to governmental affairs in 1982, with responsibility for federal affairs, which included leading the legislative team that successfully lobbied for passage of the 1986 federal hydro relicensing bill.  Smith was promoted to vice president of governmental affairs in 1991 and assumed his current, expanded position in 2000.

He has been active in politics since 1958.   Smith served as corporate liaison to former Gov. Don Siegelman.  He was appointed to the Delta Regional Authority (2001), the Alabama Commission on Physical Fitness (2001), and was corporate liaison for the creation of the Alabama Black Belt Community Foundation.

Smith serves on the board of trustees for Marion Military Institute.  He is an alum of Leadership Birmingham (1993) and served on the 1996 Birmingham Soccer Organizing Committee and numerous committees for the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.   The Alabama Jaycees named him among the “Four Outstanding Young Men of Alabama” (1981).

Senator Sanders, a practicing attorney in Selma, AL, is serving his eighth term in the Senate of Alabama.  He was first elected to the Alabama State Senate in 1983 and has championed issues pertaining to education, children, health, women, and removing sales tax from food. Senator Sanders served as Chairman of the Finance and Taxation Education Committee; selected as Outstanding Legislator by the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus; voted a finalist in the Legislator of the Year Award by his fellow senators, and received a 1999 Nation Builder Award from the National Caucus of Black State Legislators. As part of his accountability, he writes a weekly column entitled, “Senate Sketches” which is published widely. Senator Sanders does weekly radio programs: the Sunday School Lesson, Radio Education, and Law Lessons.

The second of 13 children born to Ola Mae (deceased) and Sam Sanders (deceased) of Baldwin County, AL, he challenged the twin obstacles of poverty and racism to graduate from Douglasville High School, Talladega College and Harvard Law School; establish a law practice, and serve as the first African American State Senator from the Alabama Black Belt.  Senator Sanders is a Baptist, a Democrat and a member of the Campaign for a New South, C.A.R.E., Alabama New South Coalition, National Conference of Black Lawyers, National Bar Association, American Bar Association and Alabama Lawyers Association.

In addition to his work with the BBCF, Senator Sanders has helped found or build many organizations including Alabama New South Coalition, where he currently serves as President Emeritus; 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement; Alabama Lawyers Association; Black Belt Human Resources; The National Voting Rights Museum and Institute; C.A.R.E. (Coalition of Alabamians Reforming Education); the Slavery and Civil War Museum, and many others. In 2007, he received the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding work over a lifetime.

Gossom is an actor, writer, and communications consultant. He received his Bachelor of Arts in communication from Auburn University where he was the first Black athlete to graduate. A walk-on, Gossom defied the odds, earned a scholarship and became a three-year starter. He is featured in the HBO special, Breaking the Huddle, about the integration of Southern College Football.

Gossom furthered his education with a Master of Arts in communication from The University of Montevallo. He began his communications career at BellSouth in the office of Public Relations, before striking out on his own with Best Gurl inc. a public relations and communication firm. As President and Owner, Gossom’s years of experience as a working actor and corporate communications consultant lays the foundation for Best Gurl. Whether assisting a client with a new initiative, a performance, or producing a documentary, collaborative efforts with other professionals gives Best Gurl the creative and strategic edge to help clients achieve their goals.

As an actor, Gossom starred as the title character, Israel, in the NYPD Blue Emmy winning episode, “Lost Israel,” and in the recurring roles of City Councilman Ted Marcus on In The Heat Of The Night, Judge Blake Winters in Boston Legal, and as Judge Shepard on the upcoming CBS Series Reckless. Film credits include, Fight Club, Jeepers Creepers 2, and Miss Ever’s Boy’s.

Gossom’s writing credits include his published memoir, Walk-On: My Reluctant Journey To Integration at Auburn University, (State Street Press, 2008).  Gossom’s new work is A Slice Of Life, a collection of “life stories.”

Gossom serves as Vice Chairman on the Auburn University Foundation.

The Black Belt Community Foundation’s mission it to forge a collective stream of giving – transforming the 12-county Black Belt region and connecting those interested in having an impact in this area with the nonprofits that are making a difference today. Founded in 2004 with the idea that those living and working in the Black Belt best knew the area’s challenges and opportunities, the Black Belt Community Foundation actively puts needed resources into the region to make a lasting impact.

The inaugural Hank Sanders – Julian Smith Legacy Dinner begins at 5:30 P.M. with a cocktail reception.  A dinner and program will follow through to 8:30 P.M.  Friends and supporters of the Black Belt Community Foundation from within the region and around the state received invitations to the inaugural dinner.