Speaker links civic involvement to school health

Published 2:42 pm Wednesday, June 27, 2012

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The founder of a nonprofit organization aimed at bettering communities all over the state encouraged those at a June 27 Greater Shelby Chamber of Commerce luncheon to “create a culture of high expectations” in the Birmingham metro area.

During the luncheon, Impact Alabama founder Stephen Black encouraged those in attendance to become involved in civic activities, and discussed the importance of supporting students in the state’s high-risk areas.

Black, the grandson of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, said America’s gradual move from cities into suburbs has had an impact on civil involvement and support of community institutions such as schools.

“The vast majority of Americans are working paycheck-to-paycheck. The time constraints of that life have constraints on our civic health,” Black said, noting many are facing “civil disconnect and civil withdrawal” because of extended work hours and long commutes.

Black said 15 years ago marked the first time more Americans lived in suburbs than anywhere else, and said “about 1,000 families a year” have moved out of Birmingham and into the suburbs during the past several years.

“The majority of jobs are not there. In addition to working longer hours, they are also commuting more and more,” he said. “We have less personal connectiveness with those unlike ourselves.”

Black said there has been a “40-year decline in civic engagement” in organizations such as Rotary and Kiwanis, but said 15- to 25-year-olds “have been reversing that trend.”

“It’s not just a feel-good, altruistic generation. This is a goal-oriented, fact-driven generation,” Black said of 15- to 25-year-olds.

By becoming involved in programs such as Impact Alabama, which works with colleges, universities and communities throughout the state to foster civic involvement, younger Americans have been able to make significant changes in schools, Black said.

Black said when schools have a “feeling of being nurtured by a community,” they can overcome many obstacles and become high-achieving schools.

“There is a school in North Birmingham that is testing at the same level as your schools (in Shelby County),” Black said. “Every school should be testing at that level. Every kid in our region is worth fighting for.”