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A new generation of young people are pouring their hearts into Birmingham and making this a better city for all of us.

Written by Lindsey Lowe   

Photography by Beau Gustafson

 

When I began interviewing for this story, I didn’t tell the people I spoke to how old I was. I’m a few months shy of 23, so I get it. I know what it’s like to be the youngest person at the table, or at the party, or at the office luncheon. I know what it’s like to lay your dreams down on the table between you and someone who’s been in the business for a long time and ask for a chance. And I know what it’s like to be given one.

As I talked to these people, I realized that we’re all doing the same thing—cobbling together our foundations one idea and stroke of courage at a time. I talked to a lot of people who are young, yes, but who know what they want, both for themselves and for this city. They are fresh-faced and excited, and they know that, too; after all, we’re told so all the time: “You are so young!”

These next few pages are full of bright young’uns who want to be; the purpose of this story, though, is to show that while we’re all working on becoming, we also already are a lot of things: We’re entrepreneurs, lawyers, renovators, teachers, bankers, and writers. We’re passionate, excited, grateful—and sometimes we’re a little nervous, but we’re figuring it out. So, Birmingham, meet some of the newest generation to show up to the party, people who are—are driven and brave and, well, young.

 

Rhett McCreight

“My Birmingham is a community of friendly people willing to help each other out.”

McCreight, 32, is a marketing consultant at the Shelby County Reporter. Birmingham, he says, is a singular city because it has a small-town feel with big-city advantages. One of those advantages—and McCreight’s favorite—is the revitalization of downtown Birmingham. “There are so many great restaurants, bars, breweries, and parks that are being developed,” he says. “Southside is being completely revitalized and bringing much-needed entertainment options to the city.”

McCreight has been involved with YPBirmingham for two years, (he got involved soon after moving to Birmingham) and has served as chair of sponsorship. He initially got involved because he wanted to meet others in his stage of life and network with them, goals that he says YPBirmingham helped him meet.

 

Britton-LynnBritton Lynn

If you’re thinking you’ve seen Lynn’s face before, you probably have—she’s a FOX6 WBRC traffic anchor and sports reporter. But you may have also seen her running on the trails throughout Birmingham or down her Homewood sidewalks; her favorite thing about being in Birmingham is that there are so many ways to enjoy the city’s beauty. “After growing up next to highways and cement in Dallas, Birmingham looks like something out of a movie! Birmingham is unlike any other place. Trust me—I’ve already lived in five different cities throughout my career [Dallas, Los Angeles, Austin, Tuscaloosa, and Birmingham],” says Lynn, 24. “In what other city could I be surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscape right outside of my office? The fast-paced city lights on one side and the mountains on the other?”

Lynn says she takes as much advantage of the ease of being active in Birmingham as she can, from walking to the Little Donkey to practicing yoga at Yoga Circle in Homewood. While these things allow her to lead the lifestyle she desires, she says that she’s fallen for more than the running trails: “Oh, the people. The people who live in Birmingham are the cherry on top,” she says. “The news never stops, so I’m here for holidays while my family is in Dallas. I had so many offers from families all over the city to join them on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Christmas Eve.”

Lynn is also involved in a number of community organizations, including Northstar Soccer Club (she coaches a girls team), the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation (there are 42 Alabama children with life-threatening illnesses currently waiting for their wishes to come true.) And of course, she gets to work every morning at 4 a.m. to begin the tasks involved in helping drivers navigate safely to their own jobs. “I want to do whatever I can to make it so that our viewers get to work as safely and quickly as possible. That’s why we have worked so hard constantly tweeting on @FOX6Traffic,” Lynn says. “So when viewers email me and say they avoided being at work late from a detour, it’s a huge achievement.”

 

ginnard-archibaldGinnard Archibald

Archibald, 26, is the owner and director of Capture Fate Films and owner of Ginnard Photography. About a year ago, Ryan D’Alessio, the president of YPBirmingham, noticed his work and reached out. “He specifically told me, ‘I believe in you personally and your talent will fit perfectly for YP,’” Archibald says. Soon after, he came onto the YP board to work with YPBirmingham’s social media realm. He found that D’Alessio was right, and YPBirmingham was a great fit for him. “[YPBirmingham] is a hub for people like me to go out and network and make connections,” he explains. “You always hear the saying, ‘It’s all about who you know,’ and YP makes that happen.”

Moreover, Archibald has found that Birmingham itself is bursting with ways for young people to move forward, get involved, and have fun in their city. “The growth in culture and diversity has created a spark in Birmingham, and it’s on the rise,” he says. “I would tell anyone moving here to catch the wave, because it’s going to be awesome.”

 

Kathleen-HamrickKathleen Hamrick

“My Birmingham is flourishing.”

Several months ago, Hamrick, 26, along with her sister, ran 169 self-supported miles through the Grand Canyon over a six-day period to support a patient at a center for eating disorders; while that feat is impressive on its own, Hamrick notes that it was also neat to watch Birmingham support her efforts. “Many Birmingham natives contributed to this cause, raising $5,500 in a three-week period,” she says. “The recipient remains anonymous, but his or her life has been changed by these efforts: one gesture, lifelong impact.” This is just one of the ways that Hamrick is working to contribute goodwill to the world, and she says that Birmingham is just the place to do it. “This year, Birmingham was featured in the New York Times and in Forbes magazine. With its nationally acclaimed cuisine, nationally ranked medical and research institution, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB); parks and recreation amenities; breweries; art: the Birmingham Museum of Art and ArtPlay; and great music venues, Birmingham attracts a vibrant young professionals crowd,” she says. “The best part? Birmingham boasts real Southern hospitality, so newcomers quickly feel at home.”

Hamrick was one of those who quickly felt at home. She works at NaphCare, Inc., in the operations division and is pursuing her MBA at UAB. She says she’s interested in tapping into the business opportunities Birmingham offers. “The most measurable way to change the world is to build a business that elegantly solves a major human need,” she says. She touts resources like Innovation Depot and UAB’s Institution for Innovation & Entrepreneurship and says that she’s in the midst of developing a video game that broadens youth access to quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning in such informal environments as the home. She hopes to see the project come to fruition in the next several years. If anything, she’s a believer in fresh innovation, which she notices sweeping her city. “My vision for Birmingham is continued growth, such that it becomes known nationwide as a…place where the magic happens,” she says.

 

Bo Draughon

“My Birmingham is alive!”

“My favorite thing about Birmingham is the growing energy!” says Draughon, 29, a managing partner/team leader at Keller Williams Reality Birmingham and a member of the big events committee for YPBirmingham.  “As a fairly large city with a focus on growth, our city looks to the young professionals for ideas and energy.” Draughon became involved with YPBirmingham more than two years ago. “I was excited about the opportunity to meet and network with other young professionals in the Birmingham area,” he says. That’s exactly what he has done, meeting people from all types of professions around the city. He’s also spent that time moving his career forward, and he says that he’s found these initial years important; it’s a great time to build a community that will remain even after those beginning years are over.

“As a city that’s alive, my Birmingham has a culture and energy that people should be proud of,” he says. He certainly is, and he is excited to continue moving forward with Birmingham’s momentum.

 

Starr Drum

“Birmingham’s young professionals are the antithesis of apathetic,” says Drum, 29, and just like that, she sums up the whole point of this story—there are a lot of movers and shakers in Birmingham right now, and the youngsters are moving and shaking with the best of them. “Across organizations and industries, we are collectively excited about Birmingham’s future and are getting involved in making improvements to our community,” she says. Drum, a litigation associate at Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C., has experienced the momentum through YPBirmingham; she’s been a member of the organization since 2011 and served on the board in 2013. One of the best ways to be a part of the movement, she says, is to choose a nonprofit group to help in Birmingham. “At each monthly YPBirmingham event, we host representatives from different charitable groups who educate attendees about their organization, and I am always amazed at how many people offer support or otherwise get involved with these charities,” says Drum.

Moreover, Drum points out that Birmingham as a whole—from young to old—boasts many unique nuances, and one of those is the legal community. “Birmingham’s legal community has uniquely grown to where we have ample opportunities to work on highly sophisticated matters, but still maintain small-town gentility within the local bar,” she says. “Very few places offer this combination of qualities.”

 

Richard-DannerRichard Danner

The YPBirmingham Head of the Social Chair, Danner, 32, is also the marketing director for the Gusty Gulas Group/RealtySouth in Mountain Brook. He was also someone in whom Ryan D’Alessio, YPBirmingham president, saw great potential to help revitalize the YPBirmingham organization; D’Alessio invited him on board just under a year ago.

It’s been a great way for him to connect to people who are interested in the things he is, like enjoying the different entertainment options available in Birmingham. “My favorite thing has to be growing options of things to do around town, from restaurants opening up, to new bars and nightlife,” he says. “Our city is on the cusp of something big, and in my opinion, it’s long overdue. I just hope I am still young enough to enjoy all the different things coming in the next few years!” Danner says that the interesting thing is that while YPBirmingham has allowed him to meet lots of people in his season of life, he’s also met many different kinds of people within that category. “There’s definitely people from all walks of life here, so you have to be prepared to ‘not meet a stranger,’” he says.

 

ellen-davisEllen Davis

Davis, 25, is an avid history nerd and a history teacher at Cornerstone School in Woodlawn. She moved to Birmingham in 2006 for school, and she fell for the city. While she loves hiking and exploring Birmingham (“When I first moved here, I would take a different area at a time and explore,” she says), she really became connected to the city through history. She took some 20th-century American history and civil rights courses at Samford, and she also had a historical internship with Red Mountain Park. “Interviewing retired iron ore miners and their families, some just months before they passed away, gave me a strong sense of connection to the history of the city, and thus, the city itself,” she says. “These people were, and are, very special to me.  Their pictures hang in my classroom right up there with Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.”

Davis says that as she’s investigated both the background and the nuances of the city, she’s found more and more reasons to love it, and one of those reasons is the people who find their ways here. “While we don’t have the reputation of being an international city, we do have quite the international mix,” she points out. “The local universities and big industries bring people in from all over the world, and I appreciate that aspect of the community at large.” She also, of course—“Like any true Birminghamian,” she says—has a lot of fun with the culinary scene, which is really good and getting even better: “I appreciate our variety of great food, and I don’t take it for granted.”

But Davis’s favorite thing about the city, more than its history, more than its bustling atmosphere, is the middle schoolers who file into her classroom every day. Not only does she get the opportunity to help them understand and get excited about history, she also creates relationships with them, and, she hopes, makes an impact during her time with them. “My students are my greatest achievement,” she says. “The hardest part about being a teacher is that I plant seeds every day, but most of the fruit will come years after these students have left my classroom. So I celebrate every bit of fruit I see now—a student accepted to a prestigious program, a student who made a wise choice in trying circumstances, or simply a pair of eyes lighting up because they’ve come to some epiphany.”

 

Daniel Snyder

When Snyder moved to Birmingham a few years ago, he experienced what many people in a brand-new city do: disconnection. He wanted to find a way to meet young people who were doing the same things he was—getting plugged into the city, a new job, and a new life. He found his place at YPBirmingham. “I did not have many friends in town outside of some law school classmates who also got jobs here. I wanted to branch out and meet new people,” he explains. “I had a good time [at YPBirmingham] and felt like the group was very open and inviting to newcomers, not cliquish. I found myself attending the monthly events regularly, meeting interesting people, and making new friends. At the same time, I was looking for an organization in Birmingham that I could get more involved in and serve. I decided that serving as a part of YPBirmingham was a perfect way for me to give back to the community and help other newcomers to the city.”

Snyder, an attorney at Burr & Forman, and a YPBirmingham board member on the membership committee, lives in a loft downtown, and says that it’s been neat to see the transformation there in the past few years. “I love being able to walk to work and experience somewhat of an urban lifestyle,” he says. “Three and a half years ago, when I moved here, there was no Regions Field, no Railroad Park, no El Barrio, no Carrigan’s Public House, no Todd English P.U.B, no Iron City. Now those are all places I can walk to.” He feels that not only is Birmingham a great place to live, but it’s the perfect central location to experience the Southeast, within a few hours of the beach or the mountains, Atlanta or Nashville. In fact, he believes so strongly in Birmingham that he volunteered to play tour guide for young people interested in the city. “If a young professional is considering moving here, I would encourage them to visit for a weekend and let me introduce them to some cool people and cool places,” he says.

 

Gusty Gulas

Gulas, 32, is a realtor and team leader at the Gusty Gulas Group at RealtySouth. He encountered some of the members when YPBirmingham spotlighted Kid One Transport, a nonprofit that the Gusty Gulas Group also supports. “Our team noticed many young professionals passionate about nonprofits and the city of Birmingham, and we immediately got involved and have been a sponsor of YPBirmingham since 2013,” he says. He points out that while one of the major goals of YPBirmingham is to connect young professionals and offer networking opportunities, another one is to get them involved in supporting and serving their community. They do this by spotlighting different nonprofits and encouraging those involved in YPBirmingham to choose the ones that they feel drawn to and make a difference in the city.

Gulas, who was raised in Pelham and now lives in Homewood, knows a thing or two about the city; after all, his job is to find homes for her people. He’s seen all of her nooks and crannies, and he sums up his favorite parts: Birmingham has heart, and she also has great beer. “We are a caring city,” he says. “We are one of the largest philanthropic cities in America and our health care industry is world-renowned. The best medical minds in the world want to learn in Birmingham. We also have a good music scene and some of the tastiest breweries around.”

 

Jen-BarnettJen Barnett

Barnett, the CEO of Freshfully, was born and raised in Birmingham. As a teenager, she rode a school bus that took the Red Mountain Expressway from Trussville to Rosedale every day: “I’d dream of living somewhere on the mountain with a view of the city,” she says. “That’s where I live now.”

Freshfully began in 2011 as a website devoted to getting more local food in Birminghamians’ hands; there’s now a brick-and-mortar market in Avondale and a host of other cities involved on the website. Barnett’s success with Freshfully plays into her vision of Birmingham; she says she’s one of many who are starting new things because they see a need and take the jump. “All of Birmingham is like a start-up company right now. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can take any role you like,” she says. It’s these people, she says, who are carrying Birmingham from where she was into the revival everyone’s talking about, and these surprises are her favorite part of what’s going on right now. “Talented people are taking chances and bringing us fun new businesses like Harold & MOD, Alabama Biscuit Company, Communicating Vessels, and Baking Bandits, to name a few,” she says.

Barnett won the Alabama Retail Association’s Gee Emerging Retailer of the Year award in 2013, and says her vision for the future is to continue building success for Freshfully, both for the farmers, for herself, and for the city. She points out that her success and the success of others is dependent on Birmingham showing up: “Encourage someone else to be great,” she challenges. “If you appreciate the efforts someone’s making to improve the city, let them know. Remind the guys at Avondale Brewing Company or Post Office Pies that you’re glad they’re there. That’s what keeps you going when money’s tight and the hours are long.

“For every 50 naysayers, there’s one person determined to make this city work. My money’s on that person,” Barnett says.

 

Brandon-HillBrandon Hill

Hill knew Birmingham, but after spending some time in Austin, Texas, and relocating back to the Magic City, he wanted a way to reconnect with old friends and former colleagues, and he jumped into YPBirmingham. “Within several months, I made friendships that I still have to this day,” he says.

The president of Fusion Advisory Services, Hill joined the YPBirmingham board of directors in 2013. He’s seen other cities, but he says that Birmingham has the best of all of them combined: “I’d describe it as a hybrid of Portland (craft beer and, well, craft anything), Austin (amazing food and music), Charlotte (banking and IT), and Nashville (healthcare and music), but with lower cost of living,” he says. “If you want to make your mark—in whatever field—in the next 5–10 years, Birmingham is the place to be.”

Hill is particularly interested in being a part of the renewal of downtown, not just as a theater, art, and food district, but also as a residential option. “Knowing 3,000 people could be living downtown is exciting,” he says of the renovation of many of the downtown buildings. He also mentioned the rumored river that runs under the area: “I’d always heard that there is an underground river beneath Birmingham, so I went exploring last summer,” he says. “I believe I found where it emerges as Valley Creek. See for yourself where it flows out from under Fifth Avenue North at the intersection with Seventh Street North.”

 

Audrey Pannell

“We have the opportunity to create our own future right now,” says Pannell, director of public relations and social media at STYLE Advertising and YPBirmingham social chair. This opportunity is what drove Pannell, 26, to join YPBirmingham: “With YPBirmingham, young professionals have a chance to be a part of that,” she says. In 2009—the first year she was a member—Pannell was nominated for the Young Hot Birmingham contest, which motivates nominees to raise money for their favorite nonprofits, and she raised more than $5,400 for the Autism Society of Alabama.

Pannell says her favorite part about Birmingham is the burgeoning culinary scene. “Birmingham has an immense array of locally owned restaurants that are fabulous choices,” she says. “In connection with that, Birmingham Restaurant Week has been a great way to promote these restaurants, and it regularly has more than 40 restaurants participate each year. It’s a very unique thing to the city, and I am proud that Birmingham has it.” Well, there is one thing that she thinks competes with the Birmingham food scene, and that is the view from the top of the Vulcan. After all, it’s where you can best see that Birmingham is full of light.

 

 

Taylor-WyattTaylor Wyatt

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that technology has changed the world, and that our future won’t look the same as our right now does. Wyatt and her team at MotionMobs (a mobile and web application and game development firm) recognize that, and they’re on the frontlines of making the future better. Wyatt, 22, is the president of MotionMobs, which she says is simply “the solution to a problem.” “Our community was lacking professional resources for well-planned mobile application development,” she explains. “We’re passionate about the mobile industry and how rapidly it was and still is changing our economy.”

Moreover, Wyatt (who is also the president of Kiosk Evolution, a digital interactive kiosk solutions company, and a REV Birmingham board member) and her husband not only believe in the revival of the city—especially downtown—but are an active part of it. “When we walked into the Blackwell Building [on the corner of First Avenue North and 25th Street] for the first time, it was my vision to be a catalyst in the revitalization of downtown Birmingham starting with this building,” she says. “Today our development includes three luxury lofts and two commercial spaces.”

Though Wyatt has obviously accomplished much for a fresh college graduate, which she attributes to her “entrepreneurial spirit,” she says that she’s ever marching forward, knowing this is only the beginning. Mostly, she says, she just wants to keep making the world a better place: “I want to continue building and expanding technology products that change our future as consumers with the same passion I have today. Personally, I would like to dedicate more time and resources to supporting animal shelters and how our communities assist abandoned animals.”

Jason Booi

“I’m an eternal optimist,” Booi says, something that one gleans from hearing his story. Booi, 33, is originally from Aruba and came to Alabama in 1999 to study at the University of Montevallo. With his parents still in Aruba (and funding only his tuition), he had to go through the process of both acclimating to life as an adult and to life in a new country on his own. Those years, he says, were not without struggle. “As you can imagine, I wasn’t used to or ready for the ‘cold’ weather and didn’t have funds or means to go shopping,” he says. “I laugh about it now, but I can still vividly remember walking around campus in jeans and a T-shirt in 40-degree weather.” His sophomore year of college, he got a job handing out flyers at a coffee shop; the next year, he paid cash for a used car. In the summers, he would travel or be a camp counselor since, unlike most of his peers, he couldn’t go home.

In the spring of 2004, he graduated from Montevallo; other than a trip to Europe, he wasn’t sure of his next steps, but he knew what he wanted to do. “I wasn’t a star student, and because of my performance I knew it was going to be very hard to continue onto graduate school,” he explains. “When I told my adviser what my plans were, he told me that I was a ‘joke.’  Although he was partly right, I knew that I needed to realign my study habits.” Over the next several years, Booi worked to improve his grades and eventually earned his MBA from UAB in 2012 (finishing at the top of his class). “Now that I have my MBA under my belt (and I’m not a ‘joke’), I feel I can easier obtain my goals,” he says. “As I continue to expand, I’m now mentoring people on a regular basis to never give up, by being honest and showing them reality.”

Booi is now an international EDD analyst for Regions Bank and YPBirmingham’s treasurer. He says that it’s been great to experience Birmingham’s shift to “the” cultural city of the South in the past several years. “When I first came here in 2005, the city was in its infancy of change. My friends would often question me: ‘Why Birmingham?’” he says. “I didn’t have a good answer at the time other than it was a gut feeling that this was the place to start my career.” It has afforded him both a great career and the opportunity to encourage others in their pursuits. “Many people don’t know that I struggled greatly when I first came to Alabama, so I can understand some of the struggles that some people have,” he says. “One thing I have learned is that Birmingham likes to be involved and the people in it are very generous.”

 

Nicolette-HayesNicolette Hayes

When Hayes initially moved to the South from New York—many years ago—she wasn’t anticipating a place like Birmingham. “It’s not what it seems from the outside looking in,” she says. “Prior to relocating, I was under the impression that the South in general was slow in regards to new innovative ideas, advancement, and relationship building. I was completely wrong!” Hayes has since found a home in Birmingham, a city that she says offers her a lot of entertainment as a young professional and will also be a great city for family when she’s ready to begin her own.

Hayes, a recruiter for Robert Half, joined YPBirmingham in 2012, though at first, she wasn’t sure if it was a good fit for her, either; however, it didn’t take long for her to realize it was. “Initially I had reservations because I wasn’t sure if it would be a benefit to me and if I could be an asset towards the betterment of the organization as well as the city of Birmingham,” she explains. “[Then] my coworker invited me to an event, and I joined the same evening without hesitation.” YPBirmingham has allowed her to get to know the city even more, and as she has, she’s fallen even deeper for it. “My favorite thing about Birmingham right now is the heart of the city,” she says. “We’re a constantly evolving city with an endless amount of personal growth and development, to say the least.”

 

James Little

If Birmingham is inspiring, then it’s because it’s full of inspired people channeling their inspiration into action, and Little is one of them. At 36, he already has a host of accolades—Birmingham Business Association Small Business Advocate of the Year (2010); Birmingham Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 (2012); Al.com’s Best of Birmingham Most Influential Local Food Advocate (2012); and others—but he believes that there is much work to be done. Economic developer and neighborhood district manager for REV Birmingham, Little has his hands right in the midst of both harnessing the inspiration and creating more. For example, he is the creator and director of Birmingham Restaurant Week (the fifth annual Birmingham Restaurant Week will be Aug. 15–24, 2014.) “I get to work with many local merchants throughout Birmingham by empowering communities and fostering economic stability. I believe that local businesses are the backbone our local economy,” Little says.

 

Anna Stanford

“My Birmingham is always interesting!”

Stanford, 28, went to law school. But she says her greatest professional achievement wasn’t earning that infamously hard-to-get degree; rather, it was when she spent time as an instructor at Shelton State Community College while working on her master’s degree. “I taught workplace development skills to nontraditional college students to prepare them for the Alabama Career Readiness Certification,” she says. “I taught four different classes, and achieved a 100 percent pass rate for all of my students; sure, on paper this achievement sounds great because everyone passed, but my greatest achievement couldn’t be summed up by a number. It was much more than that. It was what I learned from my students and what they taught me about life and the power of believing in someone. That’s pretty valuable.”

Stanford, the secretary of YPBirmingham, moved back Birmingham in 2011 after leaving for three years to attend law school in Atlanta. She says she’s glad she found a position available in Birmingham; though she was just a few hours away, she wanted to be back in the Magic City: “We have a growing, diverse economy, the cost of living is lower than most bigger cities, and the people here are great,” she says (and the people here do include her family, whom she’s glad to keep close.) “We have a sense of community here, and it’s contagious.” Like many young people in the city, Stanford is excited about being a part of its renaissance, and she believes it has only just begun. “I am so excited that investors have bet on the future of Birmingham and see the same strong potential for growth here in Birmingham that we do,” she says. Stanford lives in Vestavia Hills with her cat, Smokes, who believes he is a dog and comes when called.

 

Larry-LawalLarry Lawal

“It is easy to just accept the way things are and go down the trodden path; however, being contrarian is very often a good heuristic for finding what is right,” says Lawal, 25. This is Lawal’s perspective of the shift that is happening in Birmingham, and he believes that anyone who wants to be a part of it can—and should. “The city’s unique strength is how much opportunity exists to make a real difference,” he says. And this is a challenge he is taking part in. Lawal is a pioneer in the scientific and medical research realm in Birmingham; he is a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar and received the Dr. Constantin Cope Medical Student Research Award. As he become more immersed in the field of research, he realized that something was missing and was inspired to found Healthfundit, a medical research crowd-funding platform. “Too often highly promising research projects are never actualized, entire research avenues go unexplored, and patients and their loved ones are left hoping for a scientific discovery that may not come in time because of shortcomings and problems inherent in current funding mechanisms,” he explains.

He points out, though, that Birmingham is certainly headed in the right direction. “My favorite thing about Birmingham is the emerging biotechnology industry,” he says. “You’ll be amazed by the number of creative solutions employed to improve the lives of individuals suffering from various conditions and to improve our collective health.” Lawal is committed to continuing to shape Birmingham into a city that is not only a great place to live, but can provide hope through the medical technology we have available. “I’m passionate about improving the lives of people suffering from various conditions. I see myself at the intersection of health, technology, and research to bring innovative solutions to help those in need,” he says.

“We can address issues of race, diversity, and corruption here, or we can choose to maintain the status quo. We can embrace innovation and foster the development of local talent, or we can remain stuck in the past and inhibit creativity and growth. I hope to make my Birmingham a city of inclusion, opportunity, and progress for all.”

 

Emily Schultz

This group of young professionals is a sample of the newest adult generation, but Schultz, 30, has her mind on the generations to come. The executive director of the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools, she dreams of a Birmingham with high performing public schools, so that every child has the chance to be equipped for the future he or she dreams of. Currently, she travels around Alabama educating the state on public charter schools, which operate outside of a school district. “They have more autonomy over curriculum, staffing, and budget than traditional district public schools, but they also have increased accountability—If a public charter school does not perform, it is closed,” she explains. “Alabama is one of eight states in the country without public charter schools.” She hopes that in the next five years, that will change, and she would love to be involved in the development of the first public charter school in Alabama.

Though she sees many parts of the state, she comes home to Birmingham, a city that she says is moving forward with revitalization not just in the music, food, and development scenes, but also in the school districts. “My favorite thing about Birmingham right now is the potential for our public schools,” she says. “I’m excited to see what our new Birmingham city board of education is going to do.  I see so much opportunity in this group of board members who are committed to working with the superintendent to develop policies that are focused on students and supporting strong leaders.”

 

Austin Brooks

“Previously, when I have traveled outside of Birmingham, it was often joked amongst friends that nothing but bad news ever comes out of Birmingham. However, the city has taken a new life, and we have plenty of great things to discuss today,” says Brooks, 28. Brooks was Birmingham-born and raised, so he’s experienced that conversation and he’s experienced the way it’s changed in the past few years. Of course, the city is making a comeback, but Brooks cites something else as the core of the city, something that certainly has contributed to the momentum: “I believe charitable giving is the root that makes it great,” he says. “Birmingham is such a charitable city (usually top five nationally per capita) that there are always awesome, unique events in great local venues around town benefitting the community that you live in.”

Brooks is the director of business development at Highpoint Holdings, LLC, and serves on the outreach committee of the YPBirmingham board. He is excited about his generation’s opportunity to continue to help change both the local and national conversations about Birmingham: “I hope that we push our city to new heights,” he says.

 

Cassie Caraway

“My Birmingham is lively, social, and engaging.”

While some people see inexperience as a handicap, Caraway, 24, sees it as an opportunity—an opportunity to meet new people who will become old friends, to find and feed new passions, and to plant roots in a city that will be your home. This, she says, is the beauty of being young (and inexperienced). “The best part of being young is that you have so much to experience still,” Caraway, an interactive delivery specialist at Daxco, says. “You will never find your niche in life if you don’t experience a variety of things, places, and people.” Caraway, social media and technology chair on the YPBirmingham board, says that this is also why Birmingham is a good landing place for people her age: If they want to, they can be involved in almost anything, from joining a running club to jumping into the theatre realm. “Whatever your passion may be, with our constant, wide array of activities, organizations, and venues, you will find something that you enjoy,” she says. “I love that because it brings a rich value to our culture and allows a variety of people to love the same city.”

 

Ryan D'Alessio, President of YP Birmingham

Ryan D’Alessio, President of YP Birmingham

Get Out and Get Social 

Whether Birmingham is your hometown or a brand-new home, it takes work to connect with people who are interested in same things you are. YPBirmingham offers a great way to get to know people who are just beginning to get their feet under them or who are a few years ahead of you and can offer some guidance. It’s also one of the easiest ways to find out about the different avenues to give back to the city—each month, a different nonprofit is featured at the YPBirmingham socials, which are held at different venues around the city.

In the past year, YPBirmingham membership has increased from 118 to 640, says Ryan D’Alessio, president of the organization. “I saw the potential that we had, not only as advertising to businesses and nonprofits, but to bring people back to that face-to-face interaction. It’s nice to be able to get off at work and have an event to go to with networking and faces,” he says. “What we do is put you in front of people who are not only in your profession, but in others, too. That’s the great thing about it. But we have it all in common: We’re all young and up-and-coming in the city.”

YPBirmingham membership has a plethora of benefits. There are a host of restaurants around the city that offer discounts to YP members (including Slice, FIVE, and Vino), as well as a number of bars that offer free entrance, such as Innisfree and Tin Roof. And there are other discounts, like 20 percent off of services at Joelle Salon and $5 off of major World of Beer events. But YP members insist that the best part is simply getting together to hang out: “Give everyone a good excuse to get together in the same place for a good cause, and the magic takes care of itself,” says Brandon Hill.

2 Responses to “Next”

  1. I came to this article under the notion that this would be a diverse write-up about the young, vibrant life that pushes life through our magical city.
    Sadly, what I found was a long advertorial for the Young Professionals of Birmingham.
    Don’t get me wrong – the YP and its influential members are a fantastic piece to the Birmingham puzzle, but there are TONS of other rising stars AND GROUPS in this city and they should be recognized.

    • B-Metro says:

      Thanks for your response, Amanda. We are always open to feedback from our readers. We agree that Birmingham is the proud home of an incredible amount of talented young people! For us, this spotlight of several YPBirmingham members is just a slice of the larger community this particular organization represents. If you have a story suggestion for a particular individual or organization, we’d love to hear it! Please email us a bmetromagazine@gmail.com.

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