If you are a Birmingham resident and reside in a place other than Ensley, you’ve probably never walked the streets of its merchant district. I never had until recently, when Brian “Voice” Porter Hawkins, one of the founders of Ensley Alive, gave me a tour.
To say it was enlightening would be an understatement. You could feel the pulse of the West Birmingham community beating through its stores and offices, and through the public art Ensley Alive is providing.
The Ensley community boasts an interesting history. It was founded in 1886 by Memphis entrepreneur Enoch Ensley and attracted early steel plants. But the past is not the only intriguing part; Ensley’s future is being mapped out by the group of residents who formed Ensley Alive.
“Ensley Alive is a living movement. It’s the coming together of a lot of different people and organizations who are working in and for Ensley. It’s not an organization in and of itself; it’s the media for Ensley, where people can come and find out what’s happening. All of the wonderful things happening throughout Ensley you can find through Ensley Alive,” Porter Hawkins said.
The goal of Ensley Alive is to raise the profile of the Ensley community and its six neighborhoods. The founders aspire for people to think of Ensley as a progressive, up-and-coming, safe community.
“I grew up in Wylam, one of the Ensley communities, and graduated from Ensley magnet high school,” Porter Hawkins said. “I’ve seen more people leaving than coming. The more people leave, the less there is life in the merchants’ districts. The less there is life in the merchants’ districts, there is less for people to do and less to purchase. I’ve seen a speeding up of people leaving as we’ve moved on.”
Now, Porter Hawkins and his group of concerned citizens think of solutions. This is why they created Ensley Alive. They work with all the organizations planning to find solutions to this perception problem.
“I think the thread that connects us all is that we understand that Ensley is a beautiful and wonderful place with so many amazing people. An example would be the Color Project of Ensley. We are creating public art so that we can use creative spaces so people can come out and be a part of the community,” Porter Hawkins said.
When I asked Porter Hawkins what it means to him, as an Ensley native, to be involved with Ensley Alive, he was quiet for a few minutes.
“You know, it’s very hard to describe the feeling. I would liken it to having been absent from a loved one for a long time, hearing about them not doing well, but then finding them again and they are indeed doing well. I’m feeling good about things moving in the right direction,” he said.
Ensley is enjoying a renaissance, thanks to Ensley Alive and to people like Brian “Voice” Porter Hawkins.
For more information visit www.facebook.com/ensleyalive/.
Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected].