Category Archives: Soapbox

We all have stories, and I believe yours matters

“Morris liked to share the books with others. Sometimes it was a favorite that everyone loved, and other times he found a lonely little volume whose tale was seldom told. ‘Everyone’s story matters,’ said Morris. And all the books agreed.”

I read “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” to my Avondale Elementary students during my final visit of the year. Once a week since October, I’ve visited them to encourage a love of reading. After the week’s book, I would distribute prizes–books!–earned by reading and completing a report on a book from their Better Basics-provided classroom library.

Two days after that classroom visit, I was to speak to a group of creatives about story at Birmingham Creative Roundtable. A light bulb went off: I should begin my talk with William Joyce’s book.

I’m passionate about story. That may be an obvious statement from a writer, but let me elaborate. I believe storytelling goes beyond the written word, beyond an oral tale. It shows up in nearly every aspect of life. Whether they were in photography, web design, branding, coffee or some other area, I told these creatives, storytelling is part of their work.

You can watch that talk in the video above, and work through your own story with guidance from this handout.

The event also motivated me to retell my own story. I focus more of my energy on telling those of others, and the about page of this site had become woefully out of date. I chose a career in writing as a child, and my motivations have been shaped by experience. (You can read more about that here.) Life as a storyteller is a step-by-step journey, and I hope my walk doesn’t end until I reach my grave.

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Filed under Autobiography, Journalism, Reading, Soapbox

Contemplating “The Geography of You and Me”

Nearly three years ago, I responded to a post in a Facebook group from a woman seeking a copy editor for her memoir. Although I didn’t yet know this woman, I knew of her; Amy Bickers and I had several friends in common and I read her riotously funny blog, Vodka Cranberry Clooney. I jumped at the chance to edit her book, largely because I badly wanted to read it.

I knew it wouldn’t be an easy story. Amy’s memoir is an account of witnessing her ex-husband’s suicide and how she processed the darkness that followed. She writes beautifully, powerfully about mental illness, addiction and the sorrow of those left behind. Although the subject matter is dark, the book is ultimately hopeful.

Since she entrusted me with her words, I’ve been convinced that Amy must share her story with the world. Many agents said kind things, but ultimately passed on it because they believed the subject matter would be hard to sell.

At last, Amy has taken matters into her own hands.

Today she launched a Kickstarter to fund “The Geography of You and Me,” which was the best book I read in 2012. In fewer than 24 hours, Amy is $246 from her funding goal.

Let’s push her over the top. (Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to see this project funded in less than a day?)

Amy has written beautifully on the campaign page about what you’ll find in the book and why it matters. I encourage you to spend some time with her words. But I also urge you to consider this: Reading someone else’s story helps us better understand the world. That’s why I believe “The Geography of You and Me” must be published. Regardless of whether you see yourself or someone you know in this story, I believe it offers valuable insight into an all-too-common struggle. Understanding one another helps us embrace our humanity.

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Filed under Reading, Reasons why, Soapbox

The kids are alright

It seems that every generation looks down, in some ways, on those who follow. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before my peers started talking about those who follow in our footsteps. Even so, I’ve been surprised to hear talk about how “kids these days” just don’t get it. They’re lazy. They’re entitled. They can’t put down their smart phones long enough to engage with the real world.

It sounds an awful lot like the accusations hurled at my generation by those older than us.

It could be that I’m overly sensitive because I’m on a generational cusp. Although there aren’t clearly defined boundaries between generations, most folks who write about such things declare that the birth-year cutoff for Generation X is either just before or slightly after I came into the world. And I can identify with both Gen X and my millennial brethren. I like to argue that I’m an X-er, but you could make a solid case either way.

But I don’t think that’s what’s holding me back from critiquing millennials. I think the truth is, our youth have a lot to offer.

For years, I’ve self selected the millennials with whom I spend the most time. I oversee Birmingham magazine’s intern program, and so I’m personally responsible for ensuring that the students I spend time with are the best and brightest. I’ve been spoiled.

However, in the past two years I’ve also started teaching at the college level. I have no input into who enrolls in my classes. All I know is they’ve taken the prerequisites necessary for a 300-level communications course, and they are bright enough to attend the universities where I teach. And although these students are usually a bit earlier in their career paths than my interns, who are typically seniors, I’ve been delighted by the kids I teach.

In my experience, millennials aren’t lazy–or at least, not any more so than I was in college. (I’d be ashamed to admit how many classes I skipped because I couldn’t find a parking spot.) They aren’t self involved; in fact, many of my current students dream of jobs in the nonprofit sector.

These kids are charming, funny, ridiculous in the best possible ways and driven. I was a pretty well-rounded student with a solid GPA, a slate of extracurriculars and a total of four internships between undergrad and graduate school. But these kids are usually so much more. I often hear from them a year or more after they’ve completed my class or finished my internship. They are eager to receive advice about how to enhance their portfolios, contribute to their communities and edit their resumes. Yes, it’s in their best interest, but they also come to me after doing the work and research themselves. They know that their instructors are there to guide them into the “real world” after college, and they take advantage of that help (something I never thought to do!). They’re bright and enthusiastic, quick to embrace technology and savvy enough to know when it’s relevant for their careers.

I could be biased. For whatever reason, I get along especially well with college kids. But I think the truth is, the kids are alright.

Today’s subject line comes from The Who song by the same name.

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It’s nice to have you in Birmingham

“It’s nice to have you in Birmingham.” That mid-century motto touted Birmingham’s welcome during tumultuous times. But the city, however imperfect, has come a long way–which has been marked frequently during this, the 50th year since so many important moments in civil rights history in Birmingham and otherwise.

Regardless of anniversaries or occasions, I believe this city offers many reasons to brag. Earlier this year, economic development group REV Birmingham launched its LIV Birmingham initiative to promote life within city limits. I wrote about the project for the May issue of Birmingham magazine.

Are you looking for a modern condo in a building above a restaurant, steps away from a coffee shop and within blocks of your office?

Well, yes. You know downtown can offer city living.
But what if what you really want is parks, a fenced-in yard and affordable housing with plenty of space? Or historic charm, nearby schools and a short drive to downtown?

Birmingham has that, too.

That’s the message behind LIV Birmingham, a marketing initiative that will launch this month in an effort to recruit residents to the 99 neighborhoods within Birmingham city limits. It’s a project of REV Birmingham, the economic development organization that was formed last fall by the merger of Operation New Birmingham and Main Street Birmingham.


Now, my own Birmingham story is featured at I’m grateful to call this city my home, and I actively try to recruit everyone I can into my quiet, friendly neighborhood. (One of my college roommates recently moved down the street. Her previous location? Washington, D.C. I’m serious about this, y’all.) Want to know more about why I love where I live? Just ask–but be sure you have time to listen to me prattle on about the city’s many virtues.

Hey there, Carla Jean! Why don’t we get started— where in this great city do you call home?

Crestline Park. I’ve also lived in Crestline Gardens and Huffman in Birmingham, and the metro-area cities of Trussville and Irondale.

Very cool. So have you always been a Birminghamian?

This is my third time living in Birmingham. I relocated most recently from Cullman (where I lived in 2006), and in 2003 I came back to the state of Alabama after 15 years in Florida.

Read more “Proud Placemaker: Carla Jean Whitley, Crestline Park” on

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Filed under Autobiography, Reasons why, Soapbox

All of our problems gonna disappear when we can whisper right in that president’s ear

I voted! 

I never feel more patriotic than on election day. You’ve got till 7 p.m.! (Election night coverage is, by far, the main thing I miss about newspaper reporting.)


Also, just because you should know this: This weekend I drove out to Primavera to replenish my barren coffee bean container. (I usually buy their beans at V Richards, but the selection there is limited and I wanted to try something other than my standard Sumatra Mandheling.) I settled on the Rwanda Kinunu—but that’s not the point. The point is, the beans I bought were roasted less than two hours earlier. TWO HOURS.


Where else can you find that kind of freshness? One more reason to shop local.

Don’t hold your breath or your vote until
you think you’ve finally found a savior up on Capitol Hill

Derek Webb, “A Savior on Capitol Hill”

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Filed under Bits & Pieces, Soapbox