Freshmen Landon Kight, Jordyn Parmley and Olivia Peck, are Micah Fellows, Samford’s four-year, service-oriented honors program grounded in the wisdom of Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
As part of an inspired community called to serve others, Micah Fellows devote their minds and talents to making Birmingham, and the world beyond, a better place. Through innovative course work, high-impact community development and service abroad, the Micah Fellows program provides an intentional university experience connected to the world around us.
“During the students' first year in the program, we are focused on building a foundation for their next three years in service to the local community,” said Amy Green, associate director of the Micah Fellows program, “within the students' service and community engagement course, they define service and gain practical tools for engaging in service through an ethical lens. One way they do this is through the completion of an asset mapping project.”
Asset mapping is a community development tool which helps individuals and communities identify their specific strengths and resources. Micah Fellows work with community leaders and stakeholder representatives to complete this project.
Kight, Parmley and Peck were assigned the community of Collegeville. Together, with the leadership of Martha Bouyer, executive director of the Historic Bethel Baptist Church community restoration fund, and Thomas Wilder, senior pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, the group worked to highlight the strong, historical assets of the Collegeville community and the church related to civil rights.
Other students within the class focused on the communities of East Lake and West End. Students gathered information regarding the history of these communities, specific data statistics, and designed their own methodology in partnership with community leaders and members for gathering assets. From the collection and identification of these assets, the students created asset maps, presentations, resource brochures, etc. for their communities based off the recommendations from their community stakeholders.
The community stakeholders of Collegeville specifically desired for the students to focus their project on the rich history assets of the community around civil rights. The community leaders in Collegeville believed the Micah Fellows’ work would be a great addition to their application for Bethel Baptist Church’s nomination to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bethel Baptist Church is a national historic landmark and museum. Pastored by Fred L. Shuttlesworth, the church served as the headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and helped to lead the movement that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The church was bombed on three separate occasions, but still stands as a testament to the power of God and the civil rights movement. Because of the church’s rich history, community leaders have been working to see the church considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site for years.
“The greatest asset in Collegeville is the impact of Bethel Baptist Church on the civil rights movement. Rev. Shuttleworth came to Collegeville to aid and build up the community, and his legacy has been left in the hands of Dr. Bouyer and Rev. Wilder,” said Peck. “As time went on, he was the catalyst for the civil rights movement in Birmingham, bringing Martin Luther King to the area. The historic church itself is incredibly important as it is a national historic landmark and brings tourism to the community. Collegeville has a very interesting relationship within the greater Birmingham community, with it being the location of many industrial plants and railroad crossings. It is a hub of industry, but also struggling due to the environmental impacts the companies have on the neighborhood.”
The first year of the Micah Fellows program is devoted to justice. As Kight, Parmley and Peck began their research, themes of injustice began to emerge.
“I found it most surprising and interesting how white lawmakers of the 1900s ‘gifted’ the Black community with the Collegeville land. The land ‘gifted’ was horrible, unusable land that ended up being dangerous due to the railroad development, chemical exposure and valley location, which allowed for the chemicals from companies to sit and infect the area of Collegeville. Collegeville maintained segregation as the railroads were developed and until recently this area couldn’t be accessed at certain parts of the day due to trains forming physical blockades,” said Kight.
Flooding, chemical exposure and railroads have kept Collegeville in its bubble on the wrong side of the tracks. Traditionally underrepresented and poorly documented, much of the community’s history is lost.
“The Collegeville neighborhood specifically falls under the 35207-5116 specification, which is not accounted for in census reports by means of population, average income, employment or education rates. This is a clear depiction of how forgotten the neighborhood is to the city of Birmingham and it was so disheartening that we could not even come across some of this basic demographic information,” said Parmley, “How can we honor such a historically significant area of the city if it is not accounted for or documented properly?”
Despite years of neglect, the Micah Fellows and stakeholders identified several important economic and historical assets in Collegeville.
“We were able to witness how much Bethel Baptist Church currently contributes to this community and how important it is for neighborhoods such as this to have a heartbeat of people that work for and care for the community. Without New Bethel, the current Bethel Baptist Church, I am not sure there would be much advocacy for Historic Bethel, Rev. Shuttlesworth's church, to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or for simple improvements like the recent grant to plant sunflowers in the community as an effort to purify the soil that has been so damaged by environmental pollutants from large companies manufacturing nearby,” said Parmley.
Through investigative research and community involvement, the Micah Fellows have been able to work with Collegeville to successfully identify ways to continue to improve the conditions of those living just north of Birmingham.
“It is important to develop asset maps for our communities in order to uncover the unique strengths that lie within each community. With the strengths defined, the communities can utilize them to find solutions to problems while understanding limiting factors within the community,” said Kight.
Each year, the Micah Fellows will continue to learn more about justice, mercy and humility and how to implement healthy servanthood and positive growth in our communities.