Single father sees Birmingham through rose colored glasses

Shariff Simmons
Sharrif Simmons

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Sharrif Simmons.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

I’m not originally from Birmingham. I was born on Long Island, New York, raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, studied at Ealing College in West London, had a  brief stay in Atlanta, even lived in Tampa Bay for a while, but when I moved to Birmingham in 2004, I decided to stay. Making Birmingham my new home was motivated by several factors, the most important of which, being a single father to a preternaturally gifted child, was to pursue a course of action that would nurture his talents and provide him, at the very least, a competitive education in a developing community. I use the word developing here, because when I arrived 10 years ago, Birmingham was not the city it is today.

As I set out to make a living and discover the Magic City, I was immediately struck by the lack of arts education opportunities available to the community at large. Necessity being the mother of invention, I quickly drafted a proposal and submitted it to the Alys Stephen’s Center for review. After securing funds for the program, I went to work on developing a curriculum for an Artist’s in residency outreach program designed to provide poetry workshops in Birmingham City schools, as well as the surrounding Jefferson county system. Some 9 years later and I’m very proud to say the operation was a success. I’m very grateful to be a member of the Alys Stephens/Artplay family.

An unforeseen consequence of my job, fortunately, was coming to know Birmingham largely through the eyes of its children. Working over the years with grades 4-12, listening to their poetry, their enthusiasm and unadulterated optimism, has allowed me to see Birmingham through rose colored glasses. As we enjoy a resurgence of nightlife, music, good food and affordable housing, our main focus must include our greatest resource, the seeds of our future, Magic city’s next generation.

Let’s fast forward to UAB’s Rosie Beck O’Beirne’s invitation to write a poem for TEDxBirmingham’s promotional video. Rosie explained to me the general theme of “resurgence” and “recapturing the magic”.  The request couldn’t have come at a better time. Like most of us interested in turning Birmingham into a destination city, I’ve spent years mired in what seems like insurmountable obstacles to that end. The recurring themes of stratification, racial inequity, lack of esteem, economic disparity and general balkanization, all of which are valid problems, offer no solutions in and of themselves. In my opinion, Birmingham’s challenge is twofold, work on becoming a WHOLE city, and, if remotely possible, be OPTIMISTIC about it. This poem was a result of my belief in the latter:

Big little city

Here’s the story
Of a big little city
In search of its magic
Red mountain gave her essential elements and minerals
She was born
To live out a Reverends dream
Now 50 years forward
And she owns the night
The bonds that tie her Magic
Are as strong as concrete
Her Lyric is a theater
Freshly lit for the world to see
A new vision of leadership
Inspired by common goals
Hers is a story that is by no means complete
The winds of change are blowing
Listen carefully
Her music is a symphony
A gospel of aspiration
Tomorrow finds a promise
Out of the ashes of her past
Warm streams and craft brews
Night life and good food
Come dance with this city
Sing with this city
Her future has a passion
Like the look in her citizen’s eyes
Inviting you to a renaissance
The rebirth of her legacy
Inspired by the growth and the progress of community
Welcome back to the magic
Of a big little city….

Before I sign off, I will say this. I LOVE BIRMINGHAM. I raised my son in its schools, promoted its music across the globe, eaten its finest foods, rolled with its Tide and tilted shot glasses with some of her  most iconic and legendary characters. I’m proud to call it home. I hope to be around when the last rabbit is pulled from the hat, and we all find the magic we’re looking for.

(Editor’s note:  If you’re optimistic about Birmingham, you will love this video…

…As Shariff mentioned above, he wrote a poem for a promotional video for TEDxBirmingham.  Ticketing for TEDxBirmingham 2014 has already closed, but the conference will broadcast via Livestream free on March 1.  More info will be available in February at

Sharrif Simmons is a poet/musician, co-founder of BAAM FEST and outreach instructor for the Alys Stephens Center’s Artplay program.

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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising Agency and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP). 

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