Jazmund Walker (second from right) with students from the Alabama School of Fine Arts
Growing up in Birmingham's inner city, Jazmund Walker knew harsh living conditions firsthand. "There are high crime rates, high teen-pregnancy rates, drug and alcohol addictions, poor educational systems, and so on," she says. "But in every neighborhood, in the midst of all the jagged edges, I know there's greatness; it just needs to be properly cultivated."
While she was still in high school, Walker had a vision of how she could go about cultivating her own community—by starting an organization to empower inner-city youth. "But it wasn't until I took Reverend Angela Wright's honors seminar, Changing the World: Anatomy of Social Change, that I gained the necessary knowledge and encouragement to finally put my plan into action," says Walker, who is a senior in the University Honors Program with a major in journalism and a minor in English. "The seminar really showed me how one person can make a difference, regardless of harsh circumstances."
Sources of Strength
Last year, Walker began LIFT—Leadership, Intellect, and Femininity Training—a program run by young adults that is focused on encouraging and nurturing inner-city girls ages nine to 12. It will launch in Birmingham's Norwood neighborhood this summer.
"These young people face challenges that crush the inner being and defect personal development," Walker says. "I believe that they can benefit greatly from the guidance of someone from the same background and close to the same age who can listen, understand, and relate to their struggles."
Walker explains that LIFT's mission is to teach girls essential life lessons—such as leadership traits, etiquette, and graceful habits—that will strengthen them "both interpersonally and intrapersonally." The organization's board members will begin an intensive, monthlong summer training program for participants annually, with sessions focused on physical, mental, social, and spiritual education. The board members will then act as mentors to the girls throughout the year.
One interesting aspect of the LIFT experience, Walker notes, is how well the project has complemented her studies at UAB. In the future, Walker plans to use LIFT as a service-learning project and to design her own independent study seminar for the University Honors Program. This is appropriate, since it was the honors program that inspired LIFT—and drew her to UAB in the first place.
"Since as early as I can remember, my dad encouraged my siblings and me to attend UAB," Walker says. "But it wasn't until I was exposed to UAB's honors program in high school that I realized I absolutely had to go here. When I found out about the University Honors Program, that's when I fell in love with UAB."
Inspired by Wright's class, Walker quickly mapped out the specifics of the program. But before LIFT could achieve liftoff, she needed one more thing: funding. One day, Walker came across the Web site for mtvU—a college student-specific division of cable television network MTV—where she discovered grants tailored to young adults starting their own businesses or organizations.
"It was exactly what I needed," she says. "In a short amount of time, I turned a small, handwritten plan into a detailed grant proposal. Grant writing is quite intimidating for a first-timer, but I was very determined to do it." Following an interview with mtvU and partner Youth Venture, Walker was chosen to receive a $1,000 grant.
Help for the Helper
For guidance with the growing project, Walker called on two advisors, Rosie O'Beirne, of UAB's Center for Urban Affairs, and Wright, who has founded many community projects in Alabama and New Orleans. "They are two accomplished, intelligent, and strong women who are deeply involved in community service in the inner city, and I knew they'd make the perfect advisors," says Walker.
A self-confessed workaholic, Walker hopes to edit and write for a national magazine after graduation, but she says she will always remain involved with her original community project. "After a few years, I plan to expand the program to other inner-city communities."
Now knee-deep in the specifics of organizing LIFT's first year—recruiting volunteers, seeking donations, applying for additional grants, networking within the community—Walker has enlisted the help of fellow students within the honors program who share her sense of dedication to inner-city communities.
"One reason why the organization's board members are mainly young adults," she says, "is because I know that I'll always have an energetic group driving the organization."