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School of Public Health News April 03, 2024

Birmingham United Neighborhoods group photoEvery year during National Public Health Week, the UAB School of Public Health recognizes one organization, individual, or group as the recipient of the Lou Wooster Public Health Hero Award. Named in honor of Lou Wooster, a legendary figure who helped save Birmingham from a cholera epidemic in the 19th century, the award celebrates an unconventional public health hero whose work is making a difference in the lives in our community.

The 2024 recipient of the Lou Wooster Public Health Hero Award is Birmingham United Neighborhoods. Birmingham United Neighborhoods, or BUN, is a non-profit organization made up of eight Birmingham neighborhoods who work together to improve community health through collaborative partnerships and projects. The group was established under the Center for the Study of Community Health (CSCH), a CDC-funded Prevention Research Center housed in the UAB School of Public Health. BUN was established in 2018 when the neighborhoods decided to work collectively on issues to improve neighborhoods across the city. The eight neighborhoods within BUN are Belview Heights, Druid Hills, Fountain Heights, Riley-Travellick, Rising-West Princeton, South Titusville, North Titusville, and West Goldwire.

BUN works in collaboration with several Center for the Study of Community Health-led programs to improve the lives of those in need in Birmingham, including the Magic City Blight Busters, the Magic City ToolBank, the Alabama Vaccine Confidence Network, and Community Health through Engagement and Environmental Renewal, or “CHEER.” Specifically, the Magic City ToolBank, a program that provides lawn and tool equipment rental to local volunteers with directions on the proper use of the tools, was the result of a proposal written by and awarded to BUN directly.

The Establishment of Birmingham United Neighborhoods

In 2017, the Center for the Study of Community Health sought to engage the community as equal partners in a research project by developing a CDC Prevention Research Center (PRC) proposal and carrying out an intervention. The goal of this intervention was to revitalize neighborhoods therefore improving local health and health behavior. A series of monthly listening sessions were conducted with neighborhoods across Birmingham to learn about the problems that residents felt were most pressing in their areas. Representatives from the neighborhood associations and Birmingham residents were invited to attend the listening sessions. During the listening sessions, residents provided input on how to develop an intervention to address their greatest concerns and contributed to iterations of the proposal that led to development of the Community Health through Engagement and Environmental Renewal (CHEER) project.

Throughout the following year, the number of neighborhoods that continued to attend the listening sessions declined, while a smaller group of eight neighborhoods became much more involved and vocal. Eventually, the eight neighborhoods that remained in attendance were selected to participate in the CHEER project. After the proposal was submitted, the CSCH intended to suspend the monthly listening sessions, but residents of the eight neighborhoods who remained expressed an interest in continuing to meet on their own because they were “seeing a difference made in their communities.”

Following this decision, the CSCH offered $7,500 to each of the eight neighborhoods to complete a community project in the time between proposal submission and funding decision. Ultimately, the residents decided they did not want to complete eight small projects, instead, they wanted to pool their funding and complete a single, larger project that could have a greater impact on all neighborhoods. Using this funding as leverage, CSCH staff helped the residents apply to the Birmingham Community Foundation for a larger grant. That proposal was awarded and the Magic City Blight Busters were formed to maintain vacant lots and pick up trash. After conducting neighborhood cleanups and meeting as a group for six months, the residents decided that they wanted to form an official organization, and Birmingham United Neighborhoods was formed. Shortly following, BUN filed the paperwork to become a 501c3 organization. BUN continues to strengthen and empower residents to “take back their neighborhoods.”

“Thinking about what has transpired over the last six years, it is clear to me that BUN is the epitome of what happens when the knowledge and resources of academia meet community,” said Dr. Ronald Bayles, Executive Director of the Titusville Development Corporation.

“BUN and its members are highly deserving of this award,” said Jeffrey T. Walker, Ph.D., Director of the Center for the Study of Community Health and UAB University Professor. “Like Lou Wooster, BUN has contributed a tremendous amount of time working to save neighborhoods in Birmingham and helping the people who live here.”

About Lou Wooster

Lou Wooster was a madam in Birmingham known for living on the seamy side of “polite society.” When a cholera epidemic struck in 1873, her concern for others came out into the full light of day. Most residents fled the city during the outbreak, but not Lou. She stood her ground against the disease and opened her brothel to the sick and poor while helping to nurse the city back to health.

“The work that BUN does is exactly the kind of work that Lou Wooster would have celebrated,” said Paul C. Erwin, M.D., DrPH, Dean of the UAB School of Public Health. “We are particularly grateful to BUN for its leadership through our Center for the Study of Community Health. Supporting the research and community outreach activities of the current core project – CHEER (Community Health through Engagement and Environmental Renewal) – especially including the work of the Magic City Blight Busters, is fully in the spirit of Lou Wooster, making BUN a Public Health Hero, indeed!”

BUN leadership were presented with the Lou Wooster Public Health Hero award on Tuesday, April 2nd.

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