50th anniversary for University of Alabama integration brings chance for reunion with high school classmate

A memorable day for me as I ended up covering the same event at University of Alabama with Vasha Hunt, a classmate from high school more than 25 years ago in my hometown of Richmond, Va.

As much the 50th anniversary of the integration of the University of Alabama means to me as an African American faculty UA  member, an unexpected reunion after 25 years on June 11, 2013  meant much more.

Vasha Hunt (AKA photo v-man) is now a photojournalist based in Tuscaloosa, where I have been working at the University of Alabama as a journalism instructor for more than 10 years.

But from 1985-1989, he was a student at Thomas Jefferson High School in the West End of our hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

I can’t tell you all of the classes we had together.   But,  I know he was one of the smartest students in the school.  I always looked up to him, even though I recall he was a year behind me in school.  I graduated in 1988.

Yeh, we were in several classes together and there was always a high intensity of work and intellectual activity happening there.

On Tuesday, for a moment I felt like I was high school again as I was shooting photos at the same event that Vasha was shooting photos– the 50th anniversary of  integration of The University of Alabama at the now famous Foster Auditorium.

This sign on the jumbotron is the best marker of WHERE I was shooting photos at the event on the University of Alabama campus, where I am on faculty.

His photos were better.  Check them out on the al.com photo gallery. After all, he does this every day for the largest news web site in the state.    I’m a broadcast journalist (TV guy) at heart.

Yes, I had seen Vasha once before more than five years ago when he was working at the Opelika-Auburn News  (also in the state of Alabama).   Now we’re in the same city again,  but under very different circumstances than our beloved Richmond.

June 11, 2013 will be remembered as the day two friends re-linked and realized they’re working in the same profession.  Vasha, I know you’re been here for months– Welcome to T’town!

What Makes Tuscaloosa One of the BEST Places For Young People?

Tuscaloosa County has won the distinction of being one of the 100 Best Places for Young People, for the third year in a row.

I’ve been in Tuscaloosa for a decade now.   But,  I have not always believed we had the absolute best schools. That’s primarily due to the lack of funding for education.

Still, despite my own perceptions,  Tuscaloosa County continues to rank among the America’s 100 Best Places For Young People.

Tomorrow, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox,  Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon and Judge Hardy McCollum, who was recently elected to his seventh term as  Probate Judge of Tuscaloosa County, will gather for an official presentation of the national award.

This is the THIRD YEAR in a row Tuscaloosa County has won the award.

The only other Alabama communities to win such as distinction in 2012 are Sylacauga and Mobile.


According to the 100 Best Communities for Young People Web site,  Tuscaloosa  County was recognized because it hosts programs to support healthy youth development such as FocusFirst and the Maude Whatley Health Clinic mobile van.

Professor Stephen Black from FocusFirst, will be among the speakers at Tuesday’s gathering at the Bryant Conference Center.

Community partnerships such as one between the Tuscaloosa district attorney’s office and the local sheriff’s office and the Tuscaloosa City Schools.

It’s called Helping Education Linking Parents, a program designed  to decrease students’ discipline problems and improve their retention and graduation rates

The venue for the presentation of this latest award Tuesday will be the  Doing What Matters for Alabama’s Children Conference, the seventh such event.

During the conference, I look forward to hearing more about the state of our community’s efforts to help children in 2013.

Tuscaloosa Snow Nice While It Lasted

Today’s snow event in Tuscaloosa provided a nice opportunity to grab a few photos that show it can snow in this city of the Alabama Crimson Tide, just not very often.

Snow covered yards and homes in Southern Tuscaloosa County are proof of the first winter storm event of 2013.  Photos like this are rare and worth having to show Tuscaloosa does have four seasons.
Snow covered yards and homes in Southern Tuscaloosa County are proof of the first winter storm event of 2013. Photos like this one of today’s snow (January 17, 2013) are rare and worth having to show to others that Tuscaloosa does have four seasons.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve cleaned snow off my car.But, today, I had that occasion after heavy snow fell in T’uscaloosa this morning.

About an inch of snow accumulated on my car and had to be brushed away from a random towel I had inside.

Visibility was poor driving around Tuscaloosa between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. today.

But, before the snow stopped, there was time to snap a couple of rare winter wonderland pictures here in T’town.

I watched as a couple of my neighbors built a little snowman up the hill from my house.
The snowflakes were big and the wind hit you in the face this morning.


Hey, it’s nice to know that even Tuscaloosa has four seasons some years.

With above freezing temperatures now,  a lot of the snow is melting already as the white blanket that covered grassy areas begins to fade.

While both Tuscaloosa County and Tuscaloosa City  schools dismissed early today along with the University of Alabama, which is shutting down at 3:15 p.m., one has to wonder why.    Seems to me the hazardous conditions were several hours ago.

Assuming temperatures do fall again later in the evening, re-freezing and ice formation is a possibility.But, the sun is peeking through the clouds and likely to dry up much of what was slush on the roadways.

WVUA Video of University of Alabama Students At Bama Belle Crossed Way Over Ethical Line

A WVUA YouTube Video showing distraught, emotional University of Alabama students after Charles Edward Jones fell overboard Thursday from The Bama Belle violated the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics code, which requires journalists to minimize harm.

This is a still image taken from the questionable WVUA video that showed the crying students as they exited the Bama Belle, shortly after Charles Edward Jones, III apparently fell overboard.

A WVUA-TV video clip posted on YouTube showing emotional University of Alabama students as they left The Bama Belle Thursday night after one of their own fell overboard went far beyond reporting the news and has sparked outrage among those on social media.

The body of Charles Edward Jones,III known by friends as “Tre,” was found Friday afternoon following hours of searching Tuscaloosa’s Black Warrior River.

Jones, an engineering major from Demopolis, Ala.  had been attending a Delta Sigma Theta party Thursday on board The Bama Belle, a riverboat along The Black Warrior River that’s become one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions since it started offering public cruises in 2001.

While the investigation into Jones’ tragic death continues and family and friends prepare to remember him at an April 11th memorial service,  we must call attention to a journalism mis-step that makes all of those covering this story look bad.

Continue reading “WVUA Video of University of Alabama Students At Bama Belle Crossed Way Over Ethical Line”

Stillman College Loses Technology Leader, Award-Winning Professor

Anthony Nzeocha, an education and psychology professor at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, is remembered for his advocacy for technology in the classroom and his award-winning teaching. His memorial service will be held Thursday, June 16.

Outside of Tuscaloosa’s Stillman College, the name  “Anthony Nzeocha” may not ring a bell.The native of Nigeria was not one to seek a great deal of attention, unless of course you talk about Stillman’s Annual Integration of Technology in the Classroom Conference.

Anthony Nzeocha

“The conference is designed to demonstrate innovative uses of technology to enhance learning,” Nzeocha said of the most recent conference, which has taken place for the last nine years.

Nzeocha was the face of the Integration of Technology technology, which is held each year during the month of February.

I first met Dr. Nzeocha through this event that brings college professors from around the Southeast who are interested in ways to link technology to teaching.

Each year that I attended I remember Nzeocha keeping us on time and on task even as he captured portions of the conference on video and still photo.   He was the perfect host, while also challenging students who attended the sessions to take seriously the insights of the faculty presenters who came from near and far.

Nzeocha lost his battle with cancer this week and will be memorialized at an 11 a.m.  service this Thursday, June 16 at Tuscaloosa’s Holy Spirit Catholic Church.

The West African native graduated from Clark Atlanta University with his Ph.D. in July 1990.

He has been at Stillman for more than 20 years.

He taught classes in both Stillman’s department of Education and Psychology.

In addition to his role as coordinator of the technology conference, Nzeocha also served as Stillman’s National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) Assessment Director.

In fact, almost every year at Integration of Technology College, Nzeocha made sure to include a presentation or discussion about how technology aids those in higher education to do assessment.

While I don’t work on the Stillman campus, all of us in the Tuscaloosa educational community are affected when one of our great educators is taken from us.

Fortunately, during his more than decades at Stillman, Nzeocha was recognized for his great work in the classroom.

He received The Joseph A. Gore Faculty Merit Award for Excellence in Teaching twice.

We celebrate the life of this great teacher who was clearly one of Stillman’s biggest champions for technology.

He will be missed!




Talking about Technology in Teaching in Tuscaloosa

The Two-Day UA System Scholars Institute has begun at the Bryant Conference Center in Tuscaloosa, less than two weeks after a deadly EF-4 tornado touched down a few blocks away.

The 2011 UA System Scholars Institute is underway here on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa.

Faculty from the three campuses of the University of Alabama System- here in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville are focused on what’s new for technology in the classroom and what’s needed.

The two-day event began with opening remarks from those at the UA System.

The UA System is the largest higher education system in the state of Alabama.

“We represent the highest aspirations the 4 million people in our state have,” said Art Dunning, vice chancellor of the UA System of Alabama.  “We must be informed very much in a shared way in a shared culture.  It’s what we do in higher education.”

Even in this opening address, there were references to the deadly tornado that touched down just blocks from the Bryant Conference Center where the UA System.

“What’s happening for this coming together is that we are transforming ourselves in a fundamental way,” Dunning said.

Dunning encouraged those attending to remember the importance of disconnecting from one’s normal routines and making connections with those from the other UA System campuses.

“There’s no way we can do this work without the sharing of ideas,” he said.

Conveying the Scope of the Tuscaloosa Tornado’s Devastation to the World

Convey finer points to the international media trying to cover the devastation in the wake of the tornado that came through Tuscaloosa Wednesday.

It’s now 7  a.m. in the Central Time Zone and literally the whole  world is waking up to what happened here in Tuscaloosa yesterday.  After my earlier blog list, celebrating the return of electrical power to my home, I got a call from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).

Joined by a University of Alabama student, James and another resident of Birmingham, (that would be the largest city in Alabama), we took questions about asked to share our perspectives on what happened.

The conversations about the tragedy of a tornado are different from the news reporting of death tolls, street closures and relief efforts.

Right after the BBC Interview,  I went on to talk about the situation on John Hockenberry’s The Takeaway. which airs on WNYC here in the United States.

In doing these first two interviews, it’s interesting to note the following:

The importance of being accurate about what the tornado did and didn’t do

Some have reported that the tornado left destruction on the University of Alabama campus.  But, no UA buildings sustained structural damage

Explaining the geographic landscape to  those unfamiliar with West Alabama

The pictures taken along the roads like Veterans Memorial Parkway or McFarland Boulevard might give the impression that the entire town was leveled.  This is not a small town with one traffic light.  As the commerce center for West Alabama with more than 80,000 residents, Tuscaloosa City and County are largely intact except for tree damage.   The parts where the storm hit are heavily damaged or destroyed.

Those of us talking to the rest of the world have to convey these finer points.

Showing that we DID prepare for the possibility, but can never be prepared for the impact of  a tornado

It’s hard to believe, but for those of us who live in this neck of the woods.  we know how to prepare for a possibility of severe weather.  The University did that.  The local meteorologist told us two days in advance that Wednesday would be a rough weather day.  The local schools closed in anticipation of the severe weather warnings.

in a breaking news situation, especially driven by tweets and text messages, it’s important for those of us on the ground to be the source of accurate and reliable information.

Let There Be Light

Today we mark the beginning of the day after a devastating tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa, Ala, the home of the University of Alabama.

The time– 3:15 a.m.  Central Daylight Time,

The day, Thursday, April 28, 2011, the day after a devastating tornado ripped through the commercial center of West Alabama– Tuscaloosa.

Thanks to a battery-operated cassette radio that I’ve had for more than 25 years, I was able to stay in touch with the outside world.

D-batteries and my radio got me through the last 9 hours.   Well, I slept about four of those hours.

But the restoration of power to my home makes all the difference.

For hundreds here in Alabama, that is not the story.

It was expected,. It was anticipated– bad weather, severe weather.

But, you have to understand the threat of severe weather is not an uncommon occurrence here.

A tornado that  goes down one of the busiest east-west thoroughfares in town– that is uncommon.

While I lament the inconvenience of being without power for 9 hours, I pray for those families who’ve lost their loved ones, their homes, their life’s belongings.

As the morning news cycle begins shortly, it will be interesting to see how the world sees this college town, the epicenter of the devastation that has affected so much of the Southern United States.

I thank God for sparing my life.  Now I must know I’ve been spared for a reason– blessed to be a blessing to someone else.

Do I point out Tuscaloosa Toyota’s faux pas?

Tuscaloosa Toyota has signs up asking people to “follow us” on facebook when Facebook, the Web site, doesn’t use followers. It uses “friends” and “fans.”

I’ve reached the mid-point of Spring Break.  While I absolutely love my students and what I do, it’s nice to take a break and get re-charged.   Speaking of re-charging, I’m at Tuscaloosa Toyota today to have my car serviced.

I noticed when I arrived a new sign on the door saying “follow us on facebook for contests and prizes”

I thought, ‘wow, Toyota is getting in on the Facebook craze like everyone else.’  But, then as I am sitting here waiting for my car, I thought– DOES Facebook have followers now like Twitter?

As one who teaches social media as part of journalism and mass media classes, I try to make sure my students use the right lingo for the particular outlet that they’re employing.

A sure sign of a newbie or novice is one who uses the wrong lingo for the outlet he or she is employing.  Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all social media outlets.  But, they have differences in the language and terms of use.

I just looked around to see if this is a common social media faux pas.  There is a list. But, this wasn’t on it?   Maybe I’m wrong or over-analyzing this sign?

Facebook works based on friends.   You can also become a “fan” of a particular page or group.

But, you only follow someone on Twitter.  Some people brag about the number of “followers” they have.

So, telling your customer to “follow us on Facebook” is like mixing up the two social media sites.

Tuscaloosa Toyota should change its sign in TWO ways:

1) facebook should be capitalized as it is a proper reference.

The trademark brand is the only time you show the word lowercase.  Even on its own site, Facebook refers to itself with a capitalized word.   A “facebook” is actually a book with headshots of people.

2) the sign should say “Become our fan on Faceboook”  or “Join our growing number of Facebook fans for contests and prizes”

OK– should I just take off my copyediting hat?  Should I not think like  a teacher or one who would grade a student’s promotional campaign?

Or, should I find the marketing person here at dealership on Skyland Boulevard and suggest they make new stickers with this correction?

I just checked the dealership’s Web site and there’s no evidence of a Twitter account on its homepage.

Hey, Tuscaloosa Toyota has historically been one of the highest volume dealerships in the state and region.  So, shouldn’t they be flawless in their lingo/language with their social media strategy?

Have I become part of the social media police?

There is a Downside to Robert Bentley Becoming Governor

The down side of Tuscaloosa physician Robert Bentley becoming Alabama’s governor is that he takes with him great local residents like Jon and Rebekah Mason.

Most of us who live in Tuscaloosa were elated that one of our own took the Alabama Governor’s Mansion as Robert Bentley won the top spot in defeating Democrat Ron Sparks last November.

Now a week into his administration, Bentley becoming governor is looking not as great as I thought, at least if I were to be selfish.

I’m realizing there IS a downside to having a hometown hero running our state–  he takes OTHER hometown heroes with him to Montgomery.

Losing A GREAT Weatherman

Friday we learned that Jon Mason, an outstanding meteorologist who knows Tuscaloosa and has done so much for WVUA-TV now twice  is leaving those of us at the University of Alabama  to become the director of the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

After former WVUA-TV meteorologist Wes Wyatt was hired away by another Birmingham area television station last year, I was excited to see Jon return to a position he once held a few years ago.

As The Tuscaloosa News reported Friday, Jon will join his wife, another WVUA alumna, Rebekah Caldwell Mason,who has already survived her first public relations crisis as Dr. Bentley’s press secretary.    Both Jon and Rebekah own a local marketing firm, Caldwell Mason Marketing, here in Tuscaloosa.

Surviving A Crisis

Hours after his inauguration, Bentley made national headlines for comments he made about his faith and connection to other Christian brethren during his prayer breakfast on Monday.

A meeting with Jewish leaders and a few press statements later, it appears all has been forgiven.  But,  Rebekah Caldwell Mason had to manage the situation very carefully.

The irony in the crisis is that it spotlights the importance of FAITH and RELIGION not only to Governor Bentley, a deacon at First Baptist Church here in Tuscaloosa, but also to the media in looking for a good story.

Jon Mason will be wading into those faith and religion waters as he reportedly will oversee a staff of 11 in the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

I suspect Jon will be making some of his own headlines with some of his efforts in this new role.  But, that doesn’t take the sting out of losing him on the air here in Tuscaloosa and North Central Alabama, especially as we have a few more weeks of winter weather ahead.


I guess I should be happy that we have highly-qualified professionals like Rebekah and Jon, who can represent our city well as they take on leadership for an entire state.

As Tuscaloosa residents, we have to think of Dr. Bentley, Rebecca Jon and other folks from our city as being ON LOAN to all of Alabama, for four years (or maybe longer).

We know they’ll be home soon.