Answering the Question

March 4, 2014

Rebecca Harkless is a second year AmeriCorps member serving in the YWCA Central Alabama’s Social Justice Department. In her service, Rebecca co-facilitates Heritage Panel trainings in area high schools and middle schools. She has also been on staff for Anytown Alabama.

As the year unfolds, Peace Birmingham continues to seek answers to the question, “Who is Birmingham?” In February, this quest took Peace to Nashville, Tennessee. You might find it odd to search in Nashville for answers about Birmingham. In his book, A Hat Full of Sky, English author Terry Pratchett put it this way, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” With that thought in mind, we loaded up and headed to Nashville.


Although the trip was just a quick weekend excursion, we had many activities lined up for the students. Between college tours, a play, museums, zip lining and, of course, some good Nashville food, students had a chance to really dive into the Nashville culture. It was my hope that we would expose them to something different, ignite their curiosity, and bring them back home with new perspectives about Birmingham.

From the moment we met at the YW’s parking lot to depart for our journey, each student was excited, engaged and supportive. They encouraged each other as they stepped outside of their comfort zones every step of the way. As we visited Fisk University, many of the students expressed that this was their first time visiting the campus of a Historically Black University. As we ate lunch at Nashville’s famed Jewish deli, students tried latkes for the first time. While watching “Grease the Musical,” students stated they had never been to a musical before. There were many firsts for the students over the course of the trip. However, it wasn’t until Sunday at the zip line that I realized we may have found at least one answer to our question, “Who is Birmingham?”

There was no doubt that the zip line required the students to take the biggest leap (literally) out of their comfort zones. With the help of our awesome Adventureworks tour guides and the students’ abundant praise and encouragement for each other, everyone completed the zip tour with a sense of achievement, many fun memories, and I had my answer. These students are Birmingham. A caring, supportive community is Birmingham. People of different backgrounds uniting for one cause is Birmingham. 

Since moving back to Birmingham after college, I have witnessed the city take leaps out of its comfort zone and try to move forward as a thriving city. Just like our Peace students embraced new ideas and took on new challenges, Birmingham as a city is doing the same. With the same support the students gave to their peers as they went from one zip line to the next, we can support Birmingham as it attempts to reclaim its “magic.” Thank you, Nashville, for helping Peace to see Birmingham with new eyes and new colors.