Selma acknowledges tornado anniversary 

Published 10:25 pm Saturday, January 20, 2024

On Jan. 12, 2023, a storm roared through Selma and Dallas County, carving a path of destruction that shattered many families’ lives. That devastation gave way to a celebration of healing Saturday at the Arts Revive.

The gathering resembled a congregation of Central Alabama’s political heavyweights, with none more enthusiastic about the day’s success than Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr.. As Perkins mingled with those who came out to enjoy a beautiful morning by the river with their children and friends, his theme was clear.

“From the brokenness, we rebuild,” Perkins said. “Many in our community were traumatized by last year’s storm, and many of them have lived with anxiety for the past twelve months. I am hopeful that today’s event and yesterday’s non-eventful weather scare will allow the community to begin living again.”

Email newsletter signup

Perkins’s words were both poignant and heartfelt as everyone in attendance seemed to follow his jubilant lead and fully engaged in the festivities along Water Avenue. Upon entering the Arts Revive, visitors were greeted by smiles and handed red carry-bags filled with goodies from vendors, local businesses, and federal agencies from Central Alabama.

In addition, to the families and children in attendance, there was a Selma-Dallas County political who’s who, also relishing the venue with those celebrating a beautiful Saturday morning.

Prominent officials in attendance included United States Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Alabama State Senator Robert Stewart Jr., City Council President Billy Young, and Dallas County Probate Judge Jimmy Nunn. All walked around, greeting visitors and capturing pictures with community onlookers.

As the event neared the noon hour, Arts Revive Executive Director Becky Youngblood and Board Director Ruth Talton directed attendees to gather outside in the common area.  A mural created by Jo Taylor was curated, as sightseers marveled at the art piece.

“This mural represents the brokenness caused by the Jan. 15 storm,” Taylor explained. “Immediately after the storm, like many in the community, I wanted to find purpose during the cleanup. I decided to create art from the debris left by the tornado’s destruction.”

After the presentation, the microphone was handed to “Miss Selma,” a title Congresswoman Terri Sewell first embraced from her hometown as a young Princeton University undergrad. “Come up here and speak to the people,” expressed Sewell. She was directing her attention to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin Wallace.

“This is the man responsible for ensuring 22 million dollars of Federal Funding reached Mayor Perkins,” Sewell explained.

Wallace and FEMA arrived in Selma soon after the 2023 storm and made a commitment to the Selma Community.

“I promised everyone who applied for federal assistance they would receive funding.” Wallace went on to say, “Those who applied and were initially rejected because of incomplete or erred paperwork were given numerous chances to correct their application or received hands-on assistance from our staff. As a result, no one was denied. Congresswoman Sewell asked me to come back today and I was more than happy to celebrate this day with Selma.”

Sewell also reminded everyone she is referred to as “the girl from Selma” by her Washington, D.C. colleagues, a title that emphasized the continuous plea for aid from her hometown in the early hours that followed the Jan. 12 storm.

“Get us help, get us help,” Sewell reflected, help she proudly said came after making a direct request to The President of the United States, Joe Biden.

“We recognized Selma was in need, and I made sure the President also knew it and he responded,” Sewell said. “Praise is due, that we all got this right.”

As Sewell continued to emcee the event, speakers began to line the front of the mural, and officials were called to the microphone one at a time to address the attendees.

“I am a tornado survivor,” claimed Alabama Senator Robert Stewart Jr. “My wife saved my life. If she had not snatched me away from my Zoom meeting, the tree that crashed through our home would have also crushed me. I am constantly reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, asking, “Where do we go from here? I think we should all choose growth over chaos. Resiliency is the story of Selma.”

After officials spoke and left their mark on the festive day, Sewell concluded by proclaiming the strength and determination of area citizens.

“We are Selma strong. We are Dallas County determined, and we are Alabama able. The Selma rebuild won’t be a sprint; it will be a marathon.” Perkins concluded the event addressing everyone, as he summed up the day, “No individual was lost, there was only loss of property and material items.”

After pausing, he finished “We were all able to weather the storm without any human casualties, that miracle itself rewards the thanks of God. The storm is Selma’s most recent story, but it won’t be our last story.” (updated – 1/20/24)