What Birmingham can learn from Ruben Studdard

Willie Chriesman
Willie Chriesman

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

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

It’s hard to believe but it’s been 14 years since Ruben Studdard beat Clay Aiken to win Season 2 of American Idol.

Studdard, known as the ‘Velvet Teddy Bear,’ was memorable for his ‘205’ printed t-shirts.

Yes, a charismatic young man who grew up singing in church choirs around Birmingham and played football for Huffman High was singing the praises of Birmingham on national TV…and we loved him for it.

Ruben was proud he was from Birmingham and we were proud of Ruben.

But what about you?

When you go out of town and people ask you where you’re from, what do you say?

Do you tell them you’re from Trussville or Vestavia or McCalla?

Next time, why don’t you tell them you’re from Birmingham?

I know. A lot of families crossed the city limits years—sometimes generations—ago never to look back. And many who were left behind don’t feel they have much to cheer about in living here. But it’s time for all of us to embrace the concept of Birmingham, not as a standalone municipality, but as a state of mind.

Balkanized Detroit

Having lived in other places, I’ve seen this picture before. I lived in Detroit for a while and, in many ways, it was as balkanized as we are here. People would say they were from Dearborn or Royal Oak or Birmingham (the other one, in Michigan), but few exhibited much pride in the town whose manufacturing dominance led to good wages and comfortable lifestyles for families across the southeastern part of the state.

It was so bad that in the ‘80’s one local television station mounted a promotional campaign that encouraged residents around the metro area toStand Up and Tell Them You’re from Detroit.” (Ironically, that station was based in a suburb, but maybe that was the point. No matter where you live around here, you’re from Detroit.)

Chicagoland Pride

Now take a look at another city in which I had the privilege to live—Chicago. Pretty much anyone who lived along Lake Michigan from the Wisconsin border to the Indiana border and extending far to the west would proudly proclaim themselves a Chicagoan. I suspect a lot of those people just over those state lines made the same claim.

There was a pride that was displayed, not by drilling down to the hamlet that contained your ZIP code but exhibiting some good natured chauvinism and allegiance to the city that made their way of life possible. And while the area known as Chicagoland endures its downs (the tragedy of violent crime) and its ups (Go, Cubs, Go), that pride endures.

Detroit getting its Mojo back

Even Detroit is getting some of its Motown mojo back as old standbys like GM and Ford are seeing brighter days and newer brands like Quicken Loans and Shinola are making parts of the city hum again.

Suburbanites who said they were too afraid to ever come downtown now go back to see their beloved baseball team play and enjoy great dining and nightlife. (Sound familiar?) Even the NFL’s Lions and NBA’s Pistons are returning downtown to join the Tigers and the NHL Red Wings. It’s the kind of activity that makes it easier to say, “I’m from Detroit.”

But what about us in Birmingham?

Telling people from other places you’re from Birmingham gives the opportunity to talk about this entire area that increasingly has so much going for it. It dispels myths and mindsets mired in grainy black-and-white news footage. It lets you talk about the energy, the exploding food scene, the resurging downtown, the rich history, the natural beauty, the wonders of our medical and research communities, the vibrancy brought by institutions like UAB, our values, our great neighborhoods and even greater people we have across our metro area—not just in one city.

If someone in Dallas or San Francisco or London asks you where you’re from and you want to mention some small burgh unknown beyond the 205 area code, do us all a favor…

Stand up and tell them you’re from Birmingham—that’s what Ruben did.

Willie Chriesman is a Birmingham-area native and media veteran. His latest project is Á la Carte Alabama, a digital media venture celebrating food and drink in Birmingham and across Alabama.

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com

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One thought on “What Birmingham can learn from Ruben Studdard”

  1. I completely agree with this blog. I have traveled in the US and internationally for years. When I meet people and tell them I am from Birmingham Alabama, one of two things usually happens. Either I am the only person they have ever met from Birmingham /Alabama, or they have a very outdated and narrow viewpoint on the city and state. It creates the opportunity to be an informal ambassador. Some of those people have eventually come here to visit and have been very impressed with Birmingham, Alabama! We should always take every opportunity to put our best foot forward.

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