Established in 2018 by representatives from eight Birmingham neighborhoods – Belview Heights, Druid Hills, Fountain Heights, North Titusville, Riley, Rising-West Princeton, South Titusville and West Goldwire – BUN seeks to improve neighborhood health through partnerships and collaborative projects.
Last year, BUN identified environmental blight as its top priority. To further its initiative, BUN partners with the UAB Center for the Study of Community Health by supplying input to the center’s core research project, Community Health through Engagement and Environmental Renewal (CHEER).
With a goal of beautifying overgrown lots and removing debris, MCBB volunteers collected more than 20 bags of trash and mowed two large, unkempt lots.
“It was refreshing and encouraging to see the natural response of the neighbors when they saw what we were doing,” said Darlena Battle, vice president of the Fountain Heights Neighborhood Association. “One resident went home to get his lawn mower and got busy cutting. Others went in the house to change clothes and joined in to help us pick up trash. Moments like that give us hope and reassure us that we are on the right track.”
MCBB coordinates BUN residents to address abandoned and deteriorated homes, overgrown lots and litter. MCBB’s Blight Mobile moves in and volunteers begin working to restore the area. Residents are encouraged to use land bank policies and city codes to improve community health.
MCBB encourages volunteers of all ages to assist. Battle’s eldest son, Jeffery, helped in the work.
“I stood back like the proud mama that I am as some of the leaders in BUN gave my son instructions to operate the equipment,” said Battle, a lifetime resident of Fountain Heights. “Once he was done cutting grass, he partnered with me on trash pickup.”
The hard work brought satisfaction and pride in community.
“Later that evening as we were reflecting on the day, he told me that he actually enjoyed the cleanup day,” Battle said of her son. “That was a beautiful thing to hear. My goal as a parent has always been to raise productive young men who would care for their families and communities.”
Battle believes the community is better defined as people, rather than buildings.
“When I think about how the physical environment impacts people, I am more inclined to get involved,” she said. “Blight plays a major role in health disparity; therefore, I believe in a holistic approach to helping in the community and MCBB puts those beliefs into action.”
Bonderia Lyons, president of the Fountain Heights Neighborhood Association, saw Battle’s passion and drive to beautify the area, and inspired her to get involved.
Describing their relationship, Battle said, “She is Batman, I am Robin.”
“I knew turning things around in our neighborhood was not going to be easy and it would not happen overnight, but the most difficult realization was that I could no longer sit on the sidelines and cheer, I needed to take an active part,” Battle said. “It is rewarding to know that I have done something that will benefit community. My hope is that others will feel inspired and empowered to join.”
BUN is funded for MCBB by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, the Jefferson County Public Health Advised Fund and UAB’s Community Health Scholars program.