Jazmund Walker: Woman to Woman
By Barrett Hathcock
Growing up in Birmingham's inner city, Jazmund Walker knew harsh living conditions firsthand. "There are high crime rates, high teen-pregnancy rates, drug and alcohol addictions, poor educational systems, and so on," she says. "But in every neighborhood, in the midst of all the jagged edges, I know there's greatness; it just needs to be properly cultivated."
While she was still in high school, Walker had a vision of how she could go about cultivating her own community—by starting an organization to empower inner-city youth. "But it wasn't until I took Reverend Angela Wright's honors seminar, Changing the World: Anatomy of Social Change, that I gained the necessary knowledge and encouragement to finally put my plan into action," says Walker, who is a senior in the University Honors Program with a major in journalism and a minor in English. "The seminar really showed me how one person can make a difference, regardless of harsh circumstances."
Sources of Strength
Last year, Walker began LIFT—Leadership, Intellect, and Femininity Training—a program run by young adults that is focused on encouraging and nurturing inner-city girls ages nine to 12. It will launch in Birmingham's Norwood neighborhood this summer.
"These young people face challenges that crush the inner being and defect personal development," Walker says. "I believe that they can benefit greatly from the guidance of someone from the same background and close to the same age who can listen, understand, and relate to their struggles."
Walker explains that LIFT's mission is to teach girls essential life lessons—such as leadership traits, etiquette, and graceful habits—that will strengthen them "both interpersonally and intrapersonally." The organization's board members will begin an intensive, monthlong summer training program for participants annually, with sessions focused on physical, mental, social, and spiritual education. The board members will then act as mentors to the girls throughout the year.
Inspired by Wright's class, Walker quickly mapped out the specifics of the program. But before LIFT could achieve liftoff, she needed one more thing: funding. One day, Walker came across the Web site for mtvU—a college student-specific division of cable television network MTV—where she discovered grants tailored to young adults starting their own businesses or organizations.
"It was exactly what I needed," she says. "In a short amount of time, I turned a small, handwritten plan into a detailed grant proposal. Grant writing is quite intimidating for a first-timer, but I was very determined to do it." Following an interview with mtvU and partner Youth Venture, Walker was chosen to receive a $1,000 grant.
Help for the Helper
For guidance with the growing project, Walker called on two advisors, Rosie O'Beirne, of UAB's Center for Urban Affairs, and Wright, who has founded many community projects in Alabama and New Orleans. "They are two accomplished, intelligent, and strong women who are deeply involved in community service in the inner city, and I knew they'd make the perfect advisors," says Walker.
A self-confessed workaholic, Walker hopes to edit and write for a national magazine after graduation, but she says she will always remain involved with her original community project. "After a few years, I plan to expand the program to other inner-city communities."
Now knee-deep in the specifics of organizing LIFT's first year—recruiting volunteers, seeking donations, applying for additional grants, networking within the community—Walker has enlisted the help of fellow students within the honors program who share her sense of dedication to inner-city communities.
"One reason why the organization's board members are mainly young adults," she says, "is because I know that I'll always have an energetic group driving the organization."
Christina Ho: Taking Out the Trash
When Christina Ho moved from Hoover to Birmingham's Southside to start classes at UAB, she looked around at soft drink bottles in trash cans and newspapers in dumpsters and thought: What a waste.
"Since Birmingham doesn't have curbside recycling, unlike neighboring cities such as Hoover or Vestavia Hills, many of the residents aren't aware that they have options when it comes to recycling," she says. "I wanted to do something about it."
Now, after three years of involvement in volunteer recycling efforts at UAB, the senior biology major has begun the Birmingham Recycling Initiative on Campus and in the Community (BRICC) with fellow students Umair Khan and Haisam Islam.
Cleaning Up on Campus
Ho was first exposed to recycling on campus and around the Magic City during her freshman year. As a participant in the University Honors Program, she began volunteering at the Birmingham Recycling Center, sorting materials and transporting all of the recyclables from the Honors House to the center.
"The other volunteers and I always talked about how we might expand recycling on campus and to downtown Birmingham," she says. "Because there aren't many recycling bins around campus, especially in places where there is a big flow of plastic bottles or paper, like in the Commons on the Green or in the administration offices, we wanted to increase awareness."
Ho's wish to spread the word has been answered in part by a grant from mtvU, a division of cable television's MTV Networks. She heard about the mtvU grants, which support young adults starting their own businesses and organizations, last spring.
"At the time, I had just become coordinator of the Recycling Volunteer Program in the Honors Program," she says. "I thought the grant would be a great way to financially support and put into action all the ideas and plans that the other recycling volunteers and I had been thinking about since my freshman year."
Currently, BRICC is collaborating with the UAB Green Initiative, a new organization founded by graduate student Becky Smith that has many of the same goals, as well as the Birmingham Recycling Center and the Alabama Environmental Council. Their collective plan is to place recycling bins all over campus that specifically accept mixed recyclables so that all manner of reusable material—plastic, paper, aluminum, and more—can be collected.
"We're also planning to place a big roll-off dumpster somewhere on campus so that all the bins can be emptied, then be picked up by a truck and carried to a recycling sorting facility," Ho says.
Expanding the Message
As a biology major planning to attend medical school, Ho's recycling work is deeply connected to her studies, she says. "I'm definitely aware of how important it is to protect the health of our planet by maintaining eco-friendly practices, and I think that this plays an important role in many biological fields. For example, I'm doing my senior biology research with Dr. James McClintock, who works with marine biology in the Antarctic environment. If global warming continues as it does, it will cause irreparable harm to the Antarctic ecosystem, which could result in many resounding, long-term effects."
As she prepares to graduate, Ho plans to stay connected to the recycling efforts that have been a big part of her years at UAB. "I really look forward to everything that can happen through these two organizations," she says. "After increasing recycling on campus, we plan to have an awareness campaign in the Southside, Clairmont, Forest Park, and Lakeview neighborhoods to promote curbside recycling."