YMCA: Our community’s cornerstone

Published 8:04 pm Saturday, October 20, 2012

By: Mark Peterson

I grew up in Selma, attended Edgewood Elementary School, and graduated from Selma High School in 1987. As I progressed through Selma’s public school system, I interacted with many of the city’s leaders, including those at the Young Men’s Christian Association, or YMCA. The YMCA was founded in 1844 in London with the goal of empowering young people through Christian activities. During my adolescence, the Selma Paul M. Grist YMCA and the Claude C. Brown YMCA fulfilled this mission by providing my generation with recreational activities ranging from basketball to Friday night dances.

I still remember those cool autumn Friday nights when friends gathered after Selma High football games to coordinate transportation to a YMCA dance. In the words of my grandfather, “It was truly a simpler time.”

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After graduating from Selma High, I attended a prominent New England area college. Three years after receiving my undergraduate degree, I returned to my alma mater to obtain a Master’s in Business Administration. During my business career, I have traveled the globe spending time in places such as China and the Philippines.

Why am I summarizing my resume? I want Selma residents to realize how special our town and its prized institutions are and were in 1987.

In college, I met students from America’s most prestigious northeast private schools, and they were envious of me. Why? Because in 1987, their school administrators were afraid to host integrated high school proms — an activity Selma High students had enjoyed for more than a decade. The YMCA, like many of Selma’s organizations during that period, served as a bridge between the city’s communities, providing communal activities and facilities for all its members. I also benefited from the YMCA’s progressiveness in 1987 when committee members selected me as Selma’s first African-American “Boy of the Year.”

Despite a legacy of Christian leadership in Selma-Dallas County, the YMCA is now facing the possibility of closing its doors forever. For those of us who love Selma, there are three reasons why we cannot let this happen.

First, Selma needs the YMCA to promote healthy living (aquatics, cycling and zumba) and to reduce the cost of healthcare. According to CalorieLab’s “United States of Obesity Fattest States” annual study (CalorieLab.com, May 12, 2012), Alabama was the second most obese state in the union with a whopping “obesity rate of 31.2 percent.” Gallop estimates that obese individuals generate $500 in incremental healthcare costs more than non-obese individuals.

Second, Selma needs the YMCA to mitigate the culture of exclusion that has seeped into the City’s political and social dialogue. By continuing to provide a facility for all of Selma’s residents to gather, the YMCA will continue to serve as a conduit for diversity and social interaction within our community.

Finally, Selma needs the YMCA to attract new businesses. Alabama’s fastest growing communities (Alabaster, Pelham, Enterprise, etc. ) all have vibrant and active YMCAs. When business leaders evaluate places where they wish to locate their headquarters, they consider whether these communities can support non-work activities where a diverse workforce can interact.

The YMCA of Selma has served as a social cornerstone for our community. The YMCA of Selma has given so much to so many of its residents, and now the organization needs you. Believe in Selma by supporting the YMCA.


Mark Anthony Peterson is a 1987 Graduate of Selma High School and is the Managing Executive for Ceyero, LLC and author of the book, Guerrillapreneur: Small Business Strategies For Davids Who Want To Defeat Goliaths.