Amid the Rubble, A Beautiful Spirit Shines Through

I’ve dreamt of tornadoes before. But none of my dreams was ever like the one I had about two weeks ago. In it, the tornado funnels seemed to fall out of a blustery sky toward the ground, one after another, several at a time, two or three funnels in a swirling mass of dark gray clouds.

Another scene in this dream sequence that’s too ghastly for me to repeat here. It was terrible enough to make me wake up. I shoved those scenes deep into a mental corner as I would any bad dream and tried to forget them.

I wish I could wake up from the living nightmare that struck our state last week.To my great discomfort and sorrow, it was not a dream. 

Photo from the devastation in Birmingham's Pratt City neighborhood.

Officials estimate that 38 tornadoes carved gashes into the Alabama landscape like fingernails dug deep into vulnerable skin. Particularly devastating was the mile-wide monster that tore Tuscaloosa, our Birmingham neighborhoods and other communities in its path to shreds. The tragic loss of lives (more than 330 across the South, with about 250 in Alabama alone), property and sanity is just achingly devastating.

If there is any brightness in these very dark times it is the overwhelming generosity of neighbors. And in situations like this, everyone is a neighbor. It’s impossible to see the pictures of total destruction in print or on TV, stand among endless stretches of rubble that used to be homes, or personally know someone with dead, missing or injured loved ones and not be deeply moved to help. Only a total sociopath could be that callous.

Charles Barkley helps volunteers load supplies for tornado survivors.

In this photo provided by Samford University, former NBA star Charles Barkley, right, helps to unload a truck of donated goods for tornado victims at Scott Elementary School, Saturday, April 30, 2011, in Pratt City, Ala. Violent tornados tore through parts of Alabama on April 27, 2011, killing at least 249 people. (AP Photo/Samford University, Caroline Summers)

Even narcissistic Charlie Sheen was moved to visit Tuscaloosa and has set up a fund to help tornado survivors. (Guess this means he’s not as crazy as he’s been behaving lately.) The list of famous folk who’ve come to shine a national light on Alabama’s plight include: radio jock Tom Joyner of Tuskegee; Birmingham’s own, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; home-grown comedian Rickey Smiley; the Rev. Jesse Jackson (friend of Rev. Tommy Lewis whose Bethel Baptist Church in Pratt City was demolished), icon Bill Cosby, who will tour the Pratt City area today; Leeds native and basketball star Charles Barkley, and of course, President Barack Obama with First Lady Michelle Obama.

In a time when people are economically pinched, most are giving out of what little they have in order to help those with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a few scraps of memories.

When I went to Sam’s Club on Sunday, I saw many people’s baskets full of bottled water, toiletries and non-perishable foods that I knew they were buying to help our distressed neighbors. I took the items to Pratt City’s Scott School, a closed building turned into a relief center by area churches; some of the lead volunteers were people who’d lost their own churches. When I stayed to volunteer, I saw friends among many other good neighbors there to give food, clothing and other assistance that poured into abundantly into the school.

It was one of many private and public efforts organized in response to this great tragedy. I have never seen our community so united, so generous with limited resources, this galvanized to meet the tremendous needs of distressed neighbors regardless of race, income, religion or location or any of the criteria that usually divide us.

Pressure brings out what is inside the heart. Yes, there are a few snakes, those looters and tricksters from near and far (like these thieving idiots from Florida).  But what I am seeing from the people – here in Birmingham, the region, and the state – is grace under pressure.

You really ARE beautiful, Birmingham. Alabama the Beautiful. I hope you all remember that and keep being beautiful after this tragedy is over.

Other Beautiful Happenings

Prize 2 the Future

Colin Coyle stands Thursday night as the first-place winner among other top contestants in the Community Foundation's Prize 2 the Future idea competition.

I’m sure you heard by now that Birmingham’s Colin Coyne of the strategic consulting firm The Coyne Group won the top prize of $50,000 in the Birmingham Community Foundation’s competition to develop a cool idea for city-owned land near Railroad Park. His idea, One Birmingham Place, is an eight-part, revenue-generating multi-use facility. It includes a performance venue, an outdoor projection wall, a cafe and meeting space with a computer lab that serves as a high-tech community hub where people come to share ideas.

But what struck me more was not his idea, but what he said in the presenting video. People in the community, when given a stage to share their skills, will rise to the occasion, he said. “If you change the way people think, you can change how they act.” So true.

Again, if we can just remember that we are beautiful, and if we are given the change to bring our best selves to solve the problems facing us, we can be nothing but a successful city. Now that’s worth well over the $90,000 in prizes given out last night. (see more on Coyle the other winners at

In addition to those prizes though, Kate Nielson of the Community Foundation announced a new tornado relief fund coordinated with other community foundations statewide. At last night’s event, two Birmingham companies and an undisclosed donor announced by mayoral Chief of Staff Chuck Faush contributed $300,000 toward the fund. Again, that’s beautiful.

Other Storm Relief Efforts

A good resource to find a number of links to resources for both tornado survivors and those who want to help can is on the Birmingham Public Library’s blog page here. Being the beautiful people you are, you will surely pass this info along to others. And I will post more information on my blog as it becomes available to me.

Other Events

Many events scheduled before the April 27 tornadoes are turning into relief efforts. That includes this Saturday’s Strawberry Festival, part of the East Lake Farmer’s market official 2011 kickoff. The list of items it will collect include toiletries like combs, nail files and clippers, bath size soaps, toothbrushes, baby products and non-perishable food items and bottled water.

Another beautiful event is this Saturday’s tour of one of my favorite comeback neighborhoods, Norwood. Its second“Hard Hat Tour” features some of the bungalows in the north-of-downtown area that have been beautifully renovated or are under reconstruction. Magic City Post has a good overview of the day’s events.


  1. Vickii, thanks for the link to our Norwood home tour story.

    I must say that despite Charlie Sheen’s fund-raising, that money will never wash away his criminal past as a domestic abuser.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.