Coming to Alabama was a bit of an adjustment. Alabama’s brand of southern is both more rural and more polished than Memphis, or so it would seem. What I knew about Alabama before I started school was beef cattle farming in Cullman County and the affluence of law and finance in Birmingham.
The thing I’ve loved most about my time UA is finding its grit. A few weeks ago, I spent an evening sitting on Malone-Hood Plaza, a place I have walked past many times on my way to volleyball games and meals at the dining hall nearby but never knew had a name. As I marinated in the heat, I listened to three famous speeches: Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream,” George Wallace’s inauguration speech “Segregation Now,” and Wallace’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door,” which took place right where I was sitting.
As I let the famous words wash over me, I thought about how rich that ground is and how blessed I am to have grown up where I have. Some would argue that growing up in places with histories of hate is nothing to be proud of, but I think it has kept me grounded. Living so close to a struggle keeps you from forgetting it, from thinking that all the work has been done.
In the research I’ve done for Alabama Heritage, I’ve found the grit. I learned about Bobby Kennedy and the Emphasis symposia. I learned about the Monuments Men and their connection to Alabama. I even learned about the Iron Bowl and a 1971 kickoff return that rivaled the 2013 game.
I’ve loved the University of Alabama for a long time. Its fans welcomed me as family at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure what family really meant. Its donors have given me the opportunity to not only to learn in and out of the classroom in ways I never could have dreamed of, but also to graduate from college without a dime of debt. But now, I love Tuscaloosa and the state of Alabama just as much.
Grit is uncomfortable, irritating even, but it polishes things. I encourage you to be gritty. Find the grit in what you’re doing and revel in it. Any Grizzlies fan will tell you that’s where the magic is.
I’ve loved spending my summer discovering Alabama’s heritage. Reading and writing and thinking about what this place is, where it has come from and where it will go has been one of the most soul-filling experiences of my life. I am unendingly grateful for the opportunity to learn about the past and use my voice to share what I learn with others.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and death shaped my city, and his words are shaping my life in Alabama: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
May we not fall silent about our heritage. May we remember it every day and work to ensure that the future is bright.