Did I make a mistake by moving back to Birmingham?

Javacia Harris Bowser
Javacia Harris Bowser

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

Today’s guest blogger is Javacia Harris Bowser.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

“I dwell in Possibility.” – Emily Dickinson

What made you want to come back to Birmingham?

A few months ago someone asked me that question and I realized I didn’t know how to answer it.

I’m a Birmingham native who first left the city just to travel about 45 minutes up the road to Tuscaloosa where I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Alabama. But for graduate school I went nearly 3,000 miles away from home to the University of California at Berkeley. I spent a bit of time in Seattle, Washington, and then I got married and settled down in Louisville, Kentucky for several years.

But Birmingham always brings you back.

Unhappy with the lack of opportunity for advancement at my newspaper job in Louisville, I decided to pursue another career goal: teaching. When my husband discovered that the Alabama School of Fine Arts was hiring an English teacher I jumped at the chance to work at my alma mater.

ASFA is a school that changed my life. So I guess you could say I wanted to return to Birmingham so I could give back to the school that gave so much to me. But, sadly, I never had any great passion for the city itself. And I spent my first year back in Birmingham thinking that my decision to return to my hometown was a huge mistake.

I complained about everything – my water bill, my grocery bill, and my rent.  I complained that the city still felt segregated. I complained that there was nothing to do. And I complained that I couldn’t find any new friends who shared my interests in writing, wellness, and women’s empowerment.

I started asking around, wondering if there was some group for women who write and blog that I could join. None of the folks I asked knew of any. They told me I should just start one of my own. And so I did.

On March 24, 2011 I started See Jane Write. Our first event was simply a meeting of about 14 ladies crowded around a dinner table at a local Mexican restaurant. We talked about writing and what we would want from a writing group. We talked about blogging and social media.

The next event – a workshop on how writers can get the most out of Twitter – drew 40 women. The event after that – a panel discussion on blogging – drew about 70.

As this little group of mine was growing, so was my love for Birmingham.

I began to embrace Birmingham because I was so overwhelmed by how Birmingham embraced me. I kept hosting panel discussions, workshops, and networking events and people kept showing up! And when I needed sponsors for more costly events – such as a full-day conference — local businesses chipped in to support.

And I have seen this city be supportive of so many other creative ventures, from community organizations and community art projects to unique fashion boutiques and offbeat restaurants and bars.

Through See Jane Write I found my people. I found people – of various socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds — who were not only interested in writing, blogging, and social media, but who were also passionate about fitness, feminism, and faith – other things I value greatly.

And when I found my people, I found stuff to do. There are networking events for young professionals to attend. There are movies to watch at the Alabama Theatre. There are performances to see at the Alys Stephens Center. There are baseball games to enjoy at Regions Field. And there are free fitness classes to try at Railroad Park, which I need because there are so many great restaurants in this town, too.

Instead of asking me what brought me back to Birmingham, I think it’s better to ask what has kept me here. I have remained in this town because I believe it is a land of possibilities.

Over the years I’ve received some positive press because of See Jane Write. But the story of See Jane Write, I believe, says more about the city of Birmingham than it does about me.

Sure, Birmingham is still far from perfect. The city’s problems didn’t disappear just because my social and creative lives improved. But if there’s something you want to see in Birmingham that’s missing, create it. If you are willing to do the work, you can take an idea, plant it in our rich, red earth, and see it miraculously grow. And then you’ll know exactly why Birmingham is called the Magic City.

Javacia Harris Bowser is an educator and freelance writer living in Birmingham. She is also the founder of See Jane Write Birmingham, a network for women who write and blog. Javacia blogs at WriteousBabe.com and her writing portfolio can be found at Javacia.com

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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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