Weld’s “Neighborhood Voices” series features interviews with the presidents of each of Birmingham’s 99 neighborhood associations about the strengths and challenges facing their communities. If you are a neighborhood leader and would like your neighborhood to be included, you can reach out to us at email@example.com.
The Fairview neighborhood is located on the west side of Birmingham, bordered to the northeast by the Bush Hills neighborhood, to the west by Ensley Highlands, to the southeast by Rising–West Princeton and to the southwest by Central Park. According to the Birmingham Housing Study, the neighborhood has a population of 2,206 residents. The entire neighborhood is part of District 8, represented on the Birmingham City Council by President Pro Tem Steven Hoyt.
Recently, Fairview Neighborhood President Gerri Robinson spoke with Weld about keeping her neighborhood’s residents involved and how she thinks the city government could best help her neighborhood.
Weld: Why did you decide to become your neighborhood’s president?
Gerri Robinson: First of all, I believe that it’s important to want to have self-worth. That includes not only looking out for yourself, but for your family, your friends, and the entire community. So one of the reasons that I decided to run for president of the neighborhood is because I felt that I could give something positive to the neighborhood. I’ve always had a pretty good understanding of what neighborhood is about, because I had a mom that made us become involved and remain involved with the neighborhood.
I grew up in a small town called Docena, a small town in Jefferson County. [Editor’s note: Docena is technically considered an unincorporated community.] It’s a country town, but it’s the best place I’ve ever lived in my life. It taught me about friendship, love, family, community, and the overall way to care and maintain a community. One of the things that I realized is, if I did not become involved, I couldn’t make a difference. So one of the reasons I ran for neighborhood president is so I could do some things myself and have a self-worth about giving something to the community.
Weld: How would you characterize the community involvement among members of your neighborhood?
Robinson: We’re basically a unit. I could use the word “team.” We have a common bond, and that is doing something to make our neighborhood good, safe, and healthy. I can characterize my neighbors as a family.
There could always be more [involvement]. But we have a really nice turnout when we have our neighborhood association meetings. Now, I do know, and I have basically taken advantage of the fact that sometimes, when you have something to offer [people come to meetings]. I do snacks. I do them at my expense, most of the time. At one point, we had what’s called “Salads and Issues.” That’s what we’re going to start doing again. What we did is, when people came to neighborhood association meetings, they knew they would get a really hearty, tasty — and we tried to keep it healthy — garden salad.
When we did that, the largest count I recall is 44 people. These were not just neighborhood residents; there were maybe four to six people coming in to bring something before the neighborhood. But at some point, when we did that, we had enough people coming in there — and they started bringing things themselves. They would bring something to the [meetings]. One man brought pecans, another brought raisins; they were so enthused that they started bringing things themselves. In other words, it was so wonderful that people would come, because they didn’t know what to expect. Believe me, when you feed people and make them comfortable, they’ll come.
We do whatever it takes to make it work. I try to do it every time. I will share some type of humor on the agenda. I will place some type of nice quote on the agenda. When it’s breast cancer [awareness] month, the agenda’s on pink paper. When it’s Halloween, when it’s Christmas, I try to use different emblems and different things that speak of the seasons. We do things to keep them involved. … They never know what to expect next. Whatever it takes to get them there.
Weld: What are the biggest problems facing your neighborhood?
Robinson: Oh, shoot, of course blight and crime. I’d say those are the two major ones.
Weld: What are some ways in which you would like to see your neighborhood improve?
Robinson: I will say this: In the past several months to a year, I’ve seen improvements with abandoned lots being cut. I’ve seen improvements with houses that have been demolished. Those are two of the types of things that I would like to continue to see. Now, we’ve had conversations about that in the neighborhood. If I had to choose among a million things, my answer would be, I would like for the city of Birmingham to continue on its path of making sure that the blight, specifically, has been acknowledged and addressed, because that is something that I have actually seen happen over the past several months. We’ve had conversations, quite frankly, with the neighborhood, and a lot of them say, “We want it to continue to happen. We don’t want it to happen every so often. We want it to happen continuously.”
Weld: In what other ways do you think the Birmingham city government could help your neighborhood improve and flourish?
Robinson: I’d like for the city government to be more amenable to [the neighborhoods]. They come out to the neighborhoods. Sometimes they’ll have functions and town hall meetings and that kind of thing, [but] I would like for them to get more personable with the community. I know that they’ve done some things, but I’m talking about sitting down and talking with [people]. Just showing up at a meeting here [to say], “I’m here not just because I’m running for office. I’m here just to let you know that I’m available.” I would like for them to make the residents more comfortable that they’re there to support what we need. When there’s an election, for whatever reason, we’re bombarded with people on the agenda. We’ve had some [officials] who are always there — not everybody. We’ve had one county commissioner, Sandra Little Brown, and she said that she wanted to come just to let people know [she was available]. She said, “I’m not running for office, but I would like for your neighborhood to know that I am here. And if there are any concerns you have for me, I’m available.” That, I was really, really, really happy to see.
Weld: What do you want Birmingham citizens outside of your neighborhood to know about your neighborhood?
Robinson: I want them to know that we’re a family, a community that’s trying to improve where we live. I don’t want them to think [people] need to move out of this neighborhood to live in a better environment. I want them to know that crime, in particular, is everywhere. It is not just in one area. I believe sometimes it might be highlighted more in some areas than others. However, it exists everywhere. I want them to know that we can live in our own neighborhood and feel comfortable in knowing that we are just as important as any other neighborhood or community. We focus on working together. My personal thing is, “Working together works.” I want them to remember that. I think those words, in a nutshell, tells them where we are, and where we need to be. You can’t go wrong working together. That’s truly the way I feel about that.