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We invite you to join us in celebrating the unsung heroes and trailblazers within our midst – or as we call them ‘Black Belt Bold’. Their stories inspire, their actions uplift, and their impact resonates far beyond our community’s borders. Black Belt, in every step we take, in every triumph we achieve, history is still being made. Let us shine a spotlight on those who contribute to the rich tapestry of our community. Together, let us acknowledge and amplify the voices and stories of those who are making history now. As BBCF celebrates the 20th anniversary of its founding across all of 2024, we will continue to amplify and celebrate these voices and stories.
Sarah Cole

In the Heart of Hale: Sarah Cole’s Culinary Revolution

Sarah Cole’s international mission has successfully and charmingly brought her bold  culinary vision to the Black Belt. Sarah is the Owner and Chef of Abadir’s, an Egyptian Comfort kitchen nestled in the historic town of Greensboro, Alabama. She has created a quaint yet vibrant eatery that showcases a unique blend of Egyptian flavors and Southern charm. Sarah’s international cuisine infusion has been transforming the local food scene since Abadir’s humble beginnings in 2020 when operations were focused on catering and pop-up service.

 

A Taste of Egypt in the Black Belt

Sarah’s journey is as rich and diverse as the dishes she creates. Her Egyptian and Alabama roots stem from her Mom immigrating to Demopolis Alabama while fleeing Christian persecution in Egypt. Her Southern heritage has given her a unique palate that infuses traditional Egyptian and Middle Eastern fare with a local twist. Think stuffed collards in the style of Egyptian grape leaves, or Koshari, the beloved street food of Egypt, given a local makeover. It’s this innovative approach that has made Abadir’s a culinary beacon in the Alabama Black Belt region.

 

Sustainability on the Menu

But Sarah’s innovation doesn’t stop at her menu. She’s a pioneer in sustainable food practices, sourcing locally and organically whenever possible. Her kitchen garden at Yarrow Stalk Farm is not just a source of fresh ingredients but a symbol of her commitment to the environment and community. It’s here that Sarah harvests the produce that stars in her intuitive creations, each dish telling a story of the land and its people.

 

The Abadir’s Cottage: A Community Haven

In April 2023, Sarah expanded her vision by purchasing a 1901 Victorian cottage, transforming it into the Abadir’s Cottage. This multi-purpose kitchen concept isn’t just a space for dining; it’s a hub for retail, communal experiences, and educational programs. It’s a place where other chefs and food educators can share their craft, and where the community can gather to savor not just food, but life. There’s the feeling of a small grocery here, one which highlights regional farmers and producers.

 

A Philosophy Rooted in Wholesomeness

Sarah’s philosophy is simple: treat our bodies and our planet right. She intentionally avoids overly processed foods. Instead, her focus is on utilizing nutritionally-rich, whole ingredients that promote a better relationship with food and the environment. It’s a philosophy that’s resonating with locals and visitors alike, who come seeking not just a meal, but an experience.

 

With Sarah’s bold and innovative approach, she is not just feeding the body but nourishing the soul. She’s proving that even in the most unexpected places, culinary magic can happen, and that the heart of innovation sometimes beats its loudest in the quiet corners of the world.

 

Learn more about Sarah and her work:

Sister Afriye We-kandodis

Sister Afriye We-kandodis’s work as a dynamic performance artist, motivational speaker, and co-founder of the By the River Center for Humanity in Selma, Alabama is a testament to the power of the arts and a deep belief in the indomitable human spirit as vehicles for healing, self-discovery, and empowerment.

Born from a deep desire to help guide individuals through the often-painful process of confronting the trauma of slavery, the Middle Passage and their legacy, Sister Afriye’s work is rooted in the belief that the arts can create transformative experiences that can directly help individuals in their healing journeys. Her “Soul Prints of Our Ancestors and Ourselves” interactive performance experience is a prime example, immersing participants in a journey of self-reflection and spiritual release.

Sister Afriye’s mission extends beyond individual transformation. She recognizes the crucial role that collaboration plays in the healing of entire communities.

In addition to providing the main performance space for her “Soul Prints of Our Ancestors and Ourselves” interactive performance, the By the River Center for Humanity serves as a mixed-use creative incubator, serving other local performers and artisans as a showcase promoting their talents, arts, crafts and merchandise. The center is located at 1306 Water Avenue in Selma, Alabama.

“It is Our Mission to encourage and allow small business owners, artists and performers to promote their services to a larger market of consumers through our gallery, retail gift shop and monthly open market events.  It is also our mission to provide educational classes in business and offer to the public; presentations, workshops, exhibits, performances, demonstrations, documentaries, specialty tours and interactive experiences.” *

Over several years, Sister Afriye and the By the River Center for Humanity have proven key partners to Selma’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT Selma) program, itself a community partnership of the Black Belt Community Foundation and the Selma Center for Nonviolence Truth & Reconciliation. TRHT Selma started through support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and has now entered its seventh year of operation. Through this partnership, Sister Afriye has hosted many out-of-town visitors seeking to learn more about Selma and ongoing racial healing work directly impacting the community. She has led healing groups in the region to such sites as EJI’s Legacy Museum and the National Monument for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama as part of MLK Day and the National Day of Racial Healing commemorations. Her work was featured as part of the 2020 W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s, TRHT National Place Leads virtual Selma Convening. The year before, her work was included as part of the official Alabama State Bicentennial commemorations through a community-informed photo and film project produced by Blue Magnolia Films.

Regarding those attending the workshops or performances, she explains, “I want them to remember that they are beautiful, magnificent spiritual beings created by the divine wisdom of The Almighty Creator. I see my work as a gift from The Almighty, directed by the Holy Spirit and inspired by the Spirits of my Ancestors”.

The impact of Sister Afriye’s work is palpable. Through her performances and workshops, she has helped countless individuals reclaim their self-worth, forgive themselves and others, and embrace their full potential. Her message of love, acceptance, and empowerment resonates deeply, offering a path to healing and freedom from the shackles of self-hatred.

With each performance and workshop, Sister Afriye shines a light on the resilience of the human spirit and the power of the arts to heal and transform. Her work is a testament to the belief that even the darkest chapters of our history can be a catalyst for growth, self-love, and liberation, thus opening brighter chapters for our communities’ present and future.


*As quoted from website: www.bytherivercenterforhumanity.com


Learn more about Sister Afriye:

Jo Taylor leaning over pottery wheel

Selma, Alabama native Jo Taylor has art in her blood and loves putting her talent to work for the betterment of her community. Since graduating Magna Cum Laude from Auburn University in Montgomery with a Bachelor of Science in Art Education and Summa Cum Laude from The University of Montevallo with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in Ceramics, pottery has been her first choice of artistic expression.

 

Privately, Jo Taylor maintains her Studio 903, named after her Selma childhood home’s street address at 903 Franklin Street.  At Studio 903, she primarily focuses on practicing the ancient Japanese pottery artform known as Raku ware, a style that many in the Black Belt have never encountered until they meet Jo.  Taylor’s pieces are unique and have grown in popularity as she has perfected and grown in her craft. Her pieces have been exhibited and marketed regionally at the Selma Art Guild, Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center in Camden, Arts Revive in Selma, and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, where the gift shop has even carried her Raku pieces.

 

Publicly, Jo has been active in arts education for some time now. Currently she serves as a facilitator for the Alabama Institute for Education in the Arts. From 2007 – 2014, she served as the Visual Arts Teacher for the Dallas County School system, creating curriculum and establishing the visual arts department at Dallas County High School. Following that, Jo spent several years working with the Black Belt Community Foundation as Program Manager for the Arts which saw her frequently working with the public through museums, festivals, capacity building, after-school, and summer learning programs across the Black Belt region as part of the Black Belt Arts Initiative, a partnership between BBCF and the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

 

Jo’s joy in connecting art to the people in her community is readily apparent through her collaboration with Selma’s ArtsRevive and its Pottery Place project. CreateSpace was established by the ArtsRevive Board to give local artists an affordable space to work and Pottery Place was formed as an extension of CreateSpace with the mission to teach pottery to adults and students.  Pottery Place project started with one kiln and from those humble beginnings, an additional kiln, a slab roller, 3 potters’ wheels, shelving and tables have been installed to increase teaching capacity.

 

Partnering with Selma’s Edmundite Missions, the space has become integral to their after-school arts and summer camp arts programs.  Beyond the children’s learning, 5 adults have now developed their pottery skills to the point where they have started a small business in pottery. CreateSpace also has a virtual component, an online arts community that can be found as a Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1079404689930242.  Taylor encourages anyone interested in the arts to join in this safe space for creativity and networking.

 

Jo Taylor is an outspoken advocate of the healing, healthy living, and restorative benefits that blossom from incorporating the arts into our everyday lives and as an outlet for collective community expression.  Following Selma’s devastating tornado destruction of January 12, 2023, Jo conceptualized and implemented a community mosaic arts project through ArtsRevive entitled “Bent But Not Broken.”  Members of the Selma community at large were encouraged to collect broken pieces of pottery, china or dishes destroyed by the tornado. Several of those who donated pieces for the mosaic also worked collaboratively under Taylor’s direction in creating it. The goal of the project was to harness the broken by-products of the storm’s trauma and destruction of homes and lives and reconstitute them into a visual symbol of beauty, re-birth and the strength of rebuilding and starting anew.

 

“It’s about the little child that lost their bicycle and their home, and they want to create something beautiful. It’s about that single mother who lost everything and is scared navigating through red tape. It’s about the older people that were trapped in their home. It’s about the human element and how God heals thorough art,” Taylor says.

“We can collect people’s stories as well. They can tell what they lost and how they felt. We can tell the story of how our community came together and worked as a unified community to rise from this devastation and be stronger in the long run,” she continued. (1)

 

The “Bent But Not Broken” mosaic is now permanently visible on the theatre side wall of ArtsRevive’s Carneal Cultural Arts Center building in downtown Selma.  

 

“As we get older, we have to become more creative in taking care of ourselves,” Taylor says with her very intentional pun. Her future goals include securing grant funding whereby CreateSpace in Selma will facilitate a creative aging program for the benefit of area senior citizens.  The program she has in mind will be in keeping with the practices of Lifetime Arts, a national organization dedicated to making creative aging resources available to all interested American seniors. Lifetime Arts’ core philosophy, ”fully embraces “positive aging” — with the arts at the core. Rather than perceiving aging as a period of inevitable decline and loss, “positive aging” proponents celebrate growing older as a time of life ripe with the potential for personal growth, enhanced well-being, and civic engagement.”(2)

 

References:

  1. Jo Taylor quotations taken from Selma Sun Newspaper online article by Todd Prater from Feb. 3, 2023
  2. Lifetime Arts description taken from website: https://www.lifetimearts.org/about-lifetime-arts/

 

Learning links:

 

Videos:

Ada Webb speaks into microphone at community associate retreat

Ms. Ada Webb is a beacon of hope in Hale County, Alabama and beyond. As a dedicated community associate for the Black Belt Community Foundation for nearly a decade, she has devoted herself to uplifting her community and making a difference in the lives of those around her.  Her devotion to her community has seen Ms. Webb serve and lead across several levels of community health outreach and engagement. This includes her role as a Community Health Advocate and County Coordinator (for both Hale and Greene Counties) working with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (U.A.B.) through both its Office of Community Outreach and Engagement and the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center. Ms. Webb is also a BBCF H.O.P.E. (Health, Outreach, Prevention and Education) Ambassador, serving as a key community link in both promoting and assuring vaccination access across the COVID-19 Pandemic.

 

Born and raised in Hale County, Ms. Webb’s passion for community service was ignited at a young age from the profound sense of belonging and well-being she experienced as a camp attendee of the Sawyerville Summer Camp. Ada likes to point out that some of the many key lessons she gained during her journey from Lower to Middle to Upper Camper included learning patience and togetherness, experiencing cultural humility from others, and gaining a keen understanding of social determinants of health.  She even credits her growth experience there as “saving my life,” especially in reference to camp counsellor and beloved mentor, Mrs. Susanna Witsett. Ada’s love of the camp continues through her yearly volunteer work and service as a staff member and coordinator.  Both of her sons now attend.  A beautiful offshoot of her camp activities is the creation of Sawyerville Christmas Ministries which started with a mission of serving young mothers and grew to now include helping elders, cancer patients and survivors and caregivers in Greensboro, Sawyerville and Newbern, Alabama. It is clear from both Ada’s personal growth in the camp and the services to community that she helps maintain through it, that Sawyerville’s camp has a vital role in its history of nurturing both present and future community service leaders for Hale County.

Beyond her core work, Ms. Webb wears a myriad of community service hats. For over three years, she has been a key figure in community revitalization efforts, storm relief and flood and tornado readiness. Her efforts have included tireless volunteering to make sure the community’s needs were being met while connecting people directly to information and aid resources provided by FEMA. For nearly a decade, she has worked with the Army Corps of Engineers through Sawyerville River Fest, helping educate on the importance of maintaining the environment through the cleanliness and health of community water resources and parks along with education in water and boating safety.  She is a registered representative of the office of the Alabama Secretary of State who helps local citizens register to vote and gain any assistance needed with voter ID’s.

 

One of Ada’s most recent projects is the establishment of “Ada’s House of Refuge.” This serves as a safe space for those that need a refuge in dealing with any number of life critical situations. Guests can “stay for a day, or longer if their situation requires it.” Her dedication and passion are now leaving an indelible mark on Hale County (and beyond), and her legacy is inspiring and uplifting the community she so dearly loves.  Ada has fostered a culture of health and wellness that can be witnessed as successfully becoming ingrained in the local ethos.

 

 

Find out More About Ada Webb:

Charlie Lucas holds a piece of his artwork while posing for picture.

In the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt region, where the land is as rich in culture as it is in soil, a unique artist named Charlie Lucas has been wielding and welding his magic for decades. Lucas’s artistry is deeply rooted in local culture and history, making his work a testament to the region’s spirit and resilience.

 

Lucas, also known as “The Tin Man,” is a self-taught artist who has been creating extraordinary works of art from discarded materials for over three decades. His medium of choice is often discarded metal, which he transforms into intricate sculptures and installations that tell stories of Alabama’s past and present. Though less well known as compared to his sculptural work, Lucas is also a prolific painter, using house paint on canvas and boards to express his vision.

 

His work, characterized by an eclectic mix of materials and themes, is a reflection of his life experiences. From the rusted metal of an old tractor to the worn-out wheels of a car, Lucas sees art where others might see trash. He breathes new life into these discarded items, creating pieces that are not only visually stunning but also carry deep symbolic meanings.

 

Lucas was born and raised in a family of sharecroppers with both immediate and extended family members being skilled craftspeople. His mother and grandmother were quiltmakers and ceramicists. His grandfather and great-grandfather were blacksmiths. Other family members included basket weavers and woodcarvers. Being surrounded and inspired by their talents, Lucas’ interest in arts and crafts sparked at a very early age.

 

During childhood, Lucas spent much time entertaining and making toys for his many siblings. In his 30s Lucas experienced a tragic accident falling off the back of a truck on a construction site, rendering him permanently disabled.  After being bed-ridden for almost three years, he aided his recovery through art.  He has coined his artistic process as “recycling himself” and his figures composed of recycled materials underscore this deeply personal process. Lucas likes to infuse his art with the playfulness of toys that encourage  conversational interaction and can convey a sense of friendliness, open dialogue, and social unity though communication.  Communication through art is key for Lucas who grew up with dyslexia, hampering his ability to read (which he eventually overcame) and forcing him to rely heavily on visual and aural ways to express himself.

 

Lucas’s talent and dedication have led him to be recognized as one of the most significant artists in Alabama. His work has been exhibited across the United States, and he has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. A few of the notable exhibits that have shown Mr. Lucas’s work include:  The High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia, 1988 Outside the Mainstream: Folk Art in Our Time; The Michael C. Carlos Museum during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Souls Grown Deep: African-American Vernacular Art of the South; The Birmingham Museum of Art, 1995, Pictured in My Mind: Contemporary American Self-Taught Art and The Birmingham Museum of Art, 2008, Charlie Lucas: The World Through My Eyes; Venice during the 2011 Venice Biennale, The Roots of the Spirit. Mr. Lucas’s work remains in the permanent collection of The High Museum.

 

Simply put, Charlie Lucas is more than just an artist; he’s a storyteller, a historian, and a BOLD symbol of resilience.

 

Find out More About Charlie Lucas and His Inspiring Body of Work:

Jacqueline Webb Underwood

Choctaw County’s Jacqueline Webb Underwood is keen on connecting opportunities with bold vision. She knew right away that when Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivey changed the age requirement for Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDL) in Alabama from 21 to 18 years of age that there was an immediate economic and career opportunity such as had not existed before in rural Choctaw County where high unemployment co-exists alongside limited career opportunity. With several logging companies, concrete operations, hardware, furniture and drop yard businesses operating there already, and all of them requiring their commercial drivers to have either a Class A or B CDL, she envisioned creating the area’s first CDL Training School. With this in mind, Jacqueline sought fundraising for her project and applied to BBCF’s Community Grants cycle in 2023, gaining financial support that allowed her to create U Matter, a CDL training school located in Butler, Alabama. Later she was able to receive support from the state of Alabama.

The old saying “location is everything” rang very true for Jacqueline, since before U Matter, the closest CDL program was 100 miles away from Choctaw County! So for the unemployed and anyone unable to attend out of county programs so far away, the creation of U Matter began a golden opportunity.

 

 

The state’s lowering of the age requirement opened up her ability to approach local high school students who might have an interest in studying for their CDL before or after their graduation.  Student drivers have been able to study and work while living at home with their families. Student drivers are taught hours of service, accident procedures, preventative maintenance, and pre-trip inspections across a 4 week course with each week consisting of lectures, demonstrations, videotapes, and book assignments. After a completion of 160 hours, drivers are then prepared for the all-important Road Exam. After obtaining their Commercial License Permit, U Matter’s volunteer instructors offer them training during the week and weekends. U Matter also prepares its students with study preparation and materials going into permit testing which is offered at local DMV locations.

 

UMatter also serves as the umbrella organization for the Phelebotomy training academy.

Jacqueline Underwood is also the founder, CEO, and lead instructor of U Matter Academy. While working as a Bachelor’s prepared RN, she became a Phlebotomy instructor. She has trained nurses and phlebotomy students in hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes.  After obtaining her Master’s Degree in Nursing, she made the decision to open U Matter. U Matter LLC is intended to target students that are unable to attend a traditional college. Courses are short programs that will allow students to work while obtaining a fulfilling career.

 

Kennard Randolph

Selma Housing Authority President/CEO Ignites Community Transformation

Innovative Leadership:

Bold leadership and forward-thinking initiatives spearheaded by the SHA President/CEO, Kennard Randolph propel the organization into a new era of progress and innovation.

Pathways to Homeownership:

Through groundbreaking programs, residents of Selma now have unprecedented opportunities to achieve the dream of homeownership, fostering a sense of pride and ownership within the community.

Public Housing Conversion: In a bold move towards modernization, the SHA President/CEO initiates the conversion of public housing to RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration), paving the way for enhanced living environments and amenities.

Expanded Affordable Housing:

By expanding access to Section 8 vouchers, the SHA President/CEO ensures that affordable housing remains within reach for all residents, promoting inclusivity and economic stability.

Resident-Oriented Activities:

Engaging and community-focused activities are at the forefront of the SHA’s initiatives, fostering a sense of belonging and camaraderie among residents while enhancing quality of life.

Kennard Randolph is the President/CEO of the Selma Housing Authority (SHA). Mr. Randolph is committed to building a diverse operational culture to help foster a competitive advantage. Mr. Randolph is an experienced public service representative in federal and local government affairs. As the former Congressional Black Belt Outreach Manager for Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, Mr. Randolph built a reputation for being attentive to critical matters impacting the constituents of the historical City of Selma.

Mr. Randolph’s previous Congressional role afforded him the opportunity to create a direct pipeline to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Park Service and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development. He is especially proud of the multitude of social and supportive services he helped secure from HUD, DOT and the USDA to help Selma residents achieve self-sufficiency and improve the quality of their lives.

Mr. Randolph grew up in Selma and attended Public Schools. He credits this experience with understanding the value of partnering with federal agencies to deliver a better quality of life in rural America, from roads, farming and water to quality housing for families, our senior citizens and the disabled.

In 2016, Randolph was recognized by Selma the Magazine, as one of the 20 under 40 outstanding community leaders. This prestigious recognition is awarded to only 20 individuals throughout the city each year. He also completed the Delta Regional Authority’s Delta Leadership Institute Executive Academy and the Congressional Black Caucus Political Boot Camp. He is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and the 100 Black Men of America – Selma. Mr. Randolph currently serves on the board of directors for the Cahaba Mental Health Center and the Black Belt Community Foundation.

Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews

“Black History is more than an account of African American achievements. Black History is the very essence of who people of African descent are. It embodies the greatness of a race who came to this country, against their wills; brought with them a strength, a genius, ingenuity, and creativity – contributing to the building of one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Black History is the suffering of enslaved people, and one of endurance. It is the fierce defiance of those who refused to adhere to the laws of Jim Crow; those who built schools and educated themselves and their children; those who built wealth for themselves; and those who have beat insurmountable odds; despite it all. Black History is a part of American History and of World History.”  – Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews

Born and raised in Camden, located in Wilcox County, Alabama, Matthews grew up in a family with a school teacher mother and a Presbyterian minister father. She and her three brothers learned early on the value of education, human, and civil rights. Matthews was one of eight students who integrated the segregated school system in Wilcox County in 1967 and was also active in demonstrating for African Americans’ right to vote. After decades of professional life serving in roles across Wilcox County public service and social work, in addition to directing the Wilcox Area Chamber of Commerce (to name but a few), Matthews co-founded Better Activities Make All-around Kids Inc., better known as BAMA Kids, Inc. in 1993 as a direct response to the killing of a nineteen-year-old African American male. This community-based non-profit organization provides structured, positive activities for youth. As Executive Director, since its founding, Sheryl has raised millions of dollars in funding to support youth programming. BAMA Kids, Inc. provides academic instruction, arts and cultural activities, life skills and mentoring, impacting the lives of thousands, from youth to productive adulthood. Sheryl proudly serves as a longtime BBCF Community Associate for Wilcox County.

 

Della Maynor

At the age of 14, Maynor marched for voting rights in her hometown of Marion, Alabama on the same fateful night that local church deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed, sparking the march to Selma and ultimately, Bloody Sunday. 

In the years since, Maynor has continued her advocacy for Civil Rights. She was awarded The Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award in 2016, honoring her 50 years of faithful civil rights and community service from the Alabama Civil Rights Museum. 

Maynor represents the BBCF as an active Community Associate in Perry County. She continues her advocacy work with the youth in the community through coaching drama classes and designing and sewing costumes for stage productions.