Black Belt citizens brave storms to attend meeting

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 2, 2005

MARION-Over 600 people crowded the campus of Judson College braving stormy weather and all other elements to get a simple point across. While the meeting was designed to be a Town Hall Meeting for the Black Belt Action Commission the theme took on a far more serious tone.

The efforts citizens of the Black Belt made to voice their opinions and pledge their support showed the strong sense of unity that has developed in the 12 Black Belt counties.

The strong showing quickly gathered the attention and praise of local leaders who attended the meeting.

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Sen. Hank Sanders said the crowd showed the spirit of what this group was trying to accomplish.

“This is the most comprehensive effort to bring Alabama together,” Sanders said. “Gov. Riley had the vision to appoint a committee and over the last six months it has worked extremely hard.”

Sanders said the group had several committees aimed at improving the Black Belt and had done just what the title said. They were taking action to improve their region.

“There are 13 committees and each one of them have come up with projects,” Sanders said. “This is not just another way to study the Black Belt. We feel the Black Belt has been studied enough. We feel it is time for some action.”

Helping the Black Belt emerge through the tough times will not be easy. Sanders said the process would take a lot of work and a lot of time.

“This situation won’t get better in one year,” Sanders said. “After we have a couple of years we will see a big difference. This is the best opportunity we have had to improve the Black Belt. We have to seize it and take advantage of it.”

Alabama Treasurer Kay Ivey said it takes efforts from many to make the programs succeed. She encouraged everyone in the Black Belt to take an active role.

“Please participate,” Ivey said. “This is an us thing. We have tried to make this very open as far as information. Please join with us and make this an “our and us” effort. Together we can be successful.”

Congressman Artur Davis highlighted unity as an avenue to achieve all goals. He said it was imperative that Black Belt counties work for the good of the unit, not just the individual.

“There are no islands in the Black Belt,” Davis said. “We are very much connected to each other. Without our collected efforts I can’t imagine where we would be.”

When Gov. Riley first planned the Black Belt Action Commission it was met with a great deal of skepticism and doubt. Davis said he wished all those who doubted the program could see how strongly the people have responded.

“This is such a remarkable vision,” Davis said. “Who would have thought we could all assemble here together tonight. Who would have thought that we would all stop dividing ourselves? There are skeptics all over the state who think the path to power is keeping the state divided. If anybody thinks the Black Belt is divided I wish they could come here tonight and see us standing together.”

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley also made the long drive from Montgomery to Marion to ensure the people the commission was working hard for them. Riley said from the success stories of the health care division alone, the commission had been a success.

“Somebody asked the question what has this action commission done?” Riley said. “From the things you have heard tonight and the Health Care Committee it the others committees did nothing it would still be a success.”

Riley said he took great pride in the strides the area has made and the people who have made it possible.

“I have never been more proud of the people I have been associated with over the last eight months,” Riley said.

“During the last eight months there is not a county in the Black Belt that has not reduced their unemployment level. The Alabama development office knows that the first place they can go is the Black Belt.”

One year from now the success stories are expected to grow exponentially. Riley said he hoped to stand on the same stage this time next year and discuss these successes.

“I can go down all of the committees and each one of them has success stories,” Riley said. “I want to come back next year when we have our one year anniversary. I want to come here and I want to explain to the community and explain what the successes were for each one of the programs.”

Riley said the most satisfying part of the town hall meeting was to show critics of the program that it could and would succeed. He said the recipe for success was very simple.

“When I first set this up someone told me this was a recipe for failure,” Riley said. “Only if you fail. The only thing we are doing is doing what the people in this community said they needed done. This is not complicated. It’s not complex. If you don’t have transportation to get your child to the doctor, then lets go find someone who will provide it. If you don’t have access to eye screenings then lets get funding. The same thing applies to each one of the programs the Black Belt Commission is doing today.”