• Meet Iris Rinke-Hammer

    Posted by ASFA on 1/1/2020


     Coming to this country was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  On May 1st, 1975, I put my foot for the first time on this continent.  And I never forget the silly thought that crossed my mind:  ‘The grass is green here too.’  Luck was on my side that my introduction to the U.S. was a small, beautiful neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C., where African-American families had lived for generations.  Little did I know that not all of America was this culturally diverse, a lesson I learned when I moved some years later to Bowling Green, Ohio.  First I came to the U.S. to visit for a few months because I was in love with an American fellow and wanted to improve my English (we had met in Lausanne, Switzerland, where we both studied French and then transferred to Paris, France, where we continued our studies), then I came back to go to graduate school at Georgetown University where I got my master’s degree because I had fallen in love with the country:  with jazz (the music of John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Wayne Shorter led me many years later to Lewis White, the man I’m sharing my life with today), with baseball (my late husband, Adam Hammer, was not only a poet but also a baseball player who had a tryout at age eighteen with the Pirates), with the openness (in residential neighborhoods the green lawns move seemingly seamlessly from one house to another versus the walls, hedges and fences that so often separate properties in Europe), with the vastness of the country, with the people. 

    I came to writing rather late in life.  I was nineteen when I wrote my first serious piece.  I remember how I hammered away on my manual typewriter so fervently it felt like my life depended on it.  Ever since that time writing has been a refuge of sorts to me.  Growing up, books and classical music provided that kind of refuge from an often incessantly active household.  Writing reminds me of the feeling I had when I was little hiding under the covers at night, my flashlight lighting up the page of my book like a big dramatic scene.  Nothing else mattered, just me and the word.

    Applying to ASFA was another one of those good decisions.  To be an artist takes courage, lots of courage.  I believe that ASFA is so special because we are surrounded by gutsy people who don’t shy away from facing their innermost feelings.

    My twenty-six years at ASFA have been a wonderful journey from teaching German and Russian, then French and Spanish, and then creative writing.  Moments when students hand in beautiful work, win contests, become Presidential Scholars or get their first book published while still in high school, are just the icing on the cake.  It’s seeing the daring diving into invisible territories that students do every day while writing that makes me admire them so much.  I can’t imagine a more rewarding job.  Besides working with students and getting to read their work I love discovering new writers, my favorite writer always the one right in front of me.  I just read Mary Ward Brown’s stories for the first time – tight and controlled small jewels of stories that give the reader glimpses into Alabama’s rural life ca. fifty years ago.  Her language so precise and clear, almost minimalist.  I love crazy experimental literature too, like the sound-driven pieces in Severance by Robert Olen Butler.  Growing up watching movies by Fellini, Bunuel and Bergman have made me lean toward the edgy and surreal qualities of art.

    When asked who my mentor was in my life I’m quite surprised by my response:  my mother.  Surprised because our relationship went through many rocky moments.  But she, a strong woman, taught me to work hard and to always speak my mind.  It was instilled in us to never stop trying new things:  discover a new part of the world, learn a new language, start a new hobby or sport.  So five years ago I started training my two German Shorthaired Pointers, one in conformation until he earned his championship, and the other in agility.  Three years ago, almost sixty years old, I began to play golf, a sport I would like to get decent at before I turn ninety.  If somebody would ask me the silly question of what I would like to have inscribed on my tomb stone I’d say:  “She loved life.”

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  • Meet Darius Hill

    Posted by ASFA on 1/1/2019

    Darius Hill is an alumni and visual arts chairman at ASFA, and has exhibited throughout the region. The award-winning artist received a degree in printmaking from Atlanta College of Art, and his works are part of museum, corporate and private collections throughout the United States.

    Darius Hill never set out to make work about identity issues. “I grew up in the Western tradition,” he explains, “so I was influenced by impressionism, post-impressionism, and abstract expressionism at first.” He describes the work as gothic, but in reference to the architectural style rather than the post-punk stylings. “It was really fascinating,” Hill continues.

    “I was studying at the Atlanta College of Art at a very interesting time, when both Kara Walker and Radcliffe Bailey were there. But I wasn’t making work about my African-American identity, I was simply exploring a sort of masculine abstraction through a series of paintings, etchings and drawings.”

    Hill’s perspectives on exploring these issues changed almost a decade ago. “I was really influenced by rap music, especially artists who expressed a social consciousness,” Hill remarks. “My uncle was Lester Cobb, who was a student leader during the Civil Rights movement. He went on to be a really respected jazz drummer,” Hill continues, “but when I was younger I didn’t really realize the significance of the stories he was telling me. As I got older, particularly after he passed,” Hill pauses, “I wished I had spent more time listening and learning. What I did know then, though, was that there were ways I could explore my history, my interests and my present thinking through my work.”

    What emerged was the first piece to include Hill’s use of an afro comb. “The afro comb is an amazing object,” Hill laughs. “When I was younger I worked my way through every hairstyle, from the afro to the high-top fade to my dreads. When I was thinking about an afro comb, I began to realize that not only was it a really utilitarian object, but it also had qualities that other people put on it. It was a comb, a pick, but some people also thought of it as a weapon. I wanted toimagine everything it could be at the same time that I thought about everything it meant to me.”The comb became a recurring theme in many of Hill’s works, transforming from an early print to an icon in numerous paintings to its most recent manifestation as an eight–foot tall painted wooden object. “I got interested in the possibilities of working with wooden sculptures simply because I’ve often had to make all my and my wife Bethanne’s frames,” Hill smiles. “I started constructing these large-scale afro comb armatures, and I realized that these oversized objects were really embodying a lot of the ideas I’d been exploring in my works. After appropriating icons from the canon of traditionally older, white male artists—basically the artists I studied in school—I realized that I could continue to explore my loves for painting and printmaking at the same time that I was also starting to make three-dimensional sculpture. What was most important to me was not to be categorized. To me it wasn’t important what the medium was, it was simply important for me to capture the meaning.”

    Reprinted from B Metro magazine by Brett Levine; Photo by Barry Altmark.

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  • Meet Carol Yarbrough

    Posted by ASFA on 1/1/2018

    Working in a corporate job behind a desk, Carol Yarbrough dreamed of being in front of a classroom of students. She patiently waited for the timing to be right, while working her way up the corporate ladder.  Her jobs included being a computer programmer at BellSouth and Senior Technical Architect at Accenture. Finally, both she and her family were in the right circumstances for her to pursue her ultimate goal of teaching. She went to University of Alabama at Birmingham and earned a Master’s degree in education to supplement her dual undergraduate degrees in Math and Computer Science from Rochester Institute of Technology. She expected to be a math teacher upon completion of her graduate studies.

    Her first teaching job was math at a middle school. Just a few months in though, she was questioning whether she had made the right choice. Many days she’d come home frustrated and overwhelmed. She struggled with students who were not at the level they should have been and she felt like more time was spent on discipline instead of teaching math. She says, “Many of the students weren’t interested in learning math. They had so many other things that were going on in their lives that took precedence over doing their schoolwork.” Mid-year she was ready to quit and call it a mistake, but she felt like she’d made a commitment and decided to finish out the school year and then reassess.  

    Her son James, was attending ASFA in the Math & Science department. Yarbrough loved ASFA, the students, the community and the faculty. As fate would have it, there was an opening for a Geometry teacher for the following school year and Yarbrough decided to apply as her last effort to stick to her dream of teaching. What she wasn’t expecting though, was department chair Hungsin Chin, to talk her into teaching computer science classes. Yarbrough agreed as long as she could still teach a math class or two.

    Nine years later, Yarbrough is fully invested in her chosen career as one of country’s leading computer science teachers. She loves her job because she says, “students at ASFA are interested and engaged and it’s fun to teach students who are enthusiastic. When the kids complete a project, they will literally jump up and down and scream, ‘it worked, it worked!’”

    Last year Yarbrough taught Computer Science Principles, AP Computer Science and Databases. Though her classroom is in the Math-Science department, she teaches both Math-Science and arts students.

    “Computer Science Principles is a perfect class for arts kids. There is a lot of room for creativity and personal expression. It provides another medium for them. It is also such an advantage for them to have computing skills. It is essential now to be able to do that.” She has about 17 arts students enrolled in Computer Science Principles. Yarbrough says that the Advanced Placement Computer Science class is even structured with some similarities to an AP art class. Students are required to create a project that they work on throughout the semester that is then submitted to the AP College Board for grading; similar to an art portfolio. One example of the melding of arts and computers that has come out of Yarbrough’s class is recent Visual Arts graduate, Rachel Moeller who went on to Carnegie Mellon and is studying both Visual Arts and Computer Science.

    Even though many would agree that computer science is an essential to modern life, teaching computer science is high school is still fairly rare. Yarbrough was one of the first CS teachers in Alabama. Her AP CS Principles class at ASFA was part of the national three year pilot school program run by the College Board who governs AP classes.  The course was developed with support from the National Science Foundation.

    Yarbrough also has worked closely with a committee spearheaded by University of Alabama Computer Science professor Dr. Jeff Gray. Through their recommendations two specific computer science courses now count as a math credit towards graduation in Alabama.

    “We mapped all the learning objectives for computer science courses to those existing math courses to show that computer science will teach students all of the things that have already been deemed necessary in math courses,” Yarbrough said. “I was amazed that it was almost a complete mapping. Now, other states are using Alabama’s mappings to make the case for their computer science courses to count towards graduation too,” she added. Alabama is only the 15th state in the nation to count computer science courses as credit for graduation.

    Currently Yarbrough is working as a CS Content Specialist through a collaboration between the organizations, A+ College Ready and Code.org and the Alabama state Department of Education. The goal of the collaboration is to train 50 additional Alabama computer science teachers. Yarbrough will be coaching new teachers on how to instruct the CS Principles class. In addition to helping those teachers, Yarbrough spent part of the summer in Georgia and Texas teaching even more future computer science teachers at the College Board’s AP Summer Institutes.

    “It feels good to have the teachers I train get excited about teaching computer science and to know they will in turn excite their students. It is so important that students have a foundation in computer science.  If they are excited and engaged about the subject it makes such a difference. Computer science is an extraordinarily important skill that is essential for every students’ future success.”

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  • Meet Vinzent Wesselmann

    Posted by Julie Weber on 6/1/2017

    Being fluent in German and English, conversational in French, and knowing some basic Mandarin, it was only natural that Vinzent Wesselmann, wanted to learn to speak Korean.

    Wesselmann, a senior clarinetist at ASFA, applied for and was accepted into the National Security Language Initiative for Youth. A six-week language intensive fully sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, students attending NSLI-Y study a language in the country where it is spoken. Below, Wesselmann reflects on his experience in Korea:

    I knew no Korean and my host parents knew no English. My host sister spoke English, so she often translated dinner table conversations and jokes. Overcoming the language barrier that separated me from my host parents constantly motivated me to learn all that I could during my daily Korean class.

    Every Monday through Friday I would wake up at 6:30 am, eat a breakfast consisting of cereal and leftover Korean food, and greet my host father at his tile shop on my way to the subway station before I would catch the 7:30 am subway train to Sookmyung Women’s University station. After getting off the subway, I would walk through the streets filled with restaurants, stationary shops, and cafés to  my Korean language classes at the university. With no shortage of Korean games and songs, there was rarely a dull moment in the class and it provided me the language skills that I would need outside of the classroom. After class, my friends and I would get lunch at one of the many delicious and inexpensive Korean restaurants near the university. Naengmeon, or iced noodle soup, quickly became my favorite dish in the hot Seoul weather. After lunch, we had the day to ourselves.

    I rarely went home right after lunch, often visiting museums, going to free concerts, biking by the Han River, or practicing my Korean negotiating skills at one of the many markets in Seoul.

    I think that this is something that truly sets the NSLI-Y program apart from other language learning programs. Learning the language in the morning and using it in the real world during the afternoon helped me see my progress as my Korean became more confident and fluid, whether it was ordering my lunch or asking for directions to the peddle-boat rental.

    Every student also chose a culture club to attend on Friday afternoons. I chose Korean cooking class, but taekwondo, fan dancing, and Korean traditional music were also offered. We learned to cook a new Korean meal every week. Our instructor was somewhat of a celebrity chef in Korea, so we enjoyed stories of how she cooked for the president and Korean movie stars.

    While the weekdays usually had something planned, the weekends were mostly unscheduled and enabled all of us to spend time with our host families and explore Seoul at our own pace. Some of my favorite weekend activities included hiking Namsan Mountain, going to a Korean baseball game, touring the Samsung headquarters, participating in water festivals, and visiting the many ancient palaces in Seoul.

    In addition to receiving a unique language and host family experience, another feature that sets NSLI-Y apart from other language programs is its affordability. Because NSLI-Y is a full scholarship program, students do not have to pay for their flight, accommodation, language courses, food, or any other travel expenses within Seoul, plus we also received a weekly stipend of about $100 USD.


    Details and application information can be found at www.nsliforyouth.org

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  • Meet Javacia Harris Bowser

    Posted by ASFA on 6/1/2017

    Though she considers Beyonce "the patron saint of female millennials,” Alicia Keys definitely has her number.

    This girl is on fire.

    Javacia Harris Bowser, ASFA alumna and faculty member, writer and entrepreneur, and self-described “Southern fried feminist” is building an empire. She dreams big and holds back little. A professionally trained journalist, she has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Alabama and a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkley. For years she wrote columns, articles and blogs for various media outlets. But the creation of See Jane Write, which began as a small women’s writing group in 2008, has grown into an award-winning business and put Bowser in the Birmingham spotlight. This month, Javacia will be honored at an award luncheon as one of Birmingham Magazine’s Women Who Shape the State. We sat down and talked a bit about her initial inspiration and vision for her company in the future.

    •  Do you remember the first time you felt the urge to write? 

    “The first thing I remember writing was a poem for my best friend who was about to move away. I was 8 and it was terrible. In fact, I'm sure it contained the line "Roses are red, violets are blue" but in that moment I realized that writing had the power to make me feel better. So I started writing and never stopped.”  

    •  Who has been the greatest influence on your as a writer? 

    “Even though I don't really write poetry anymore the poet Nikki Giovanni has had a huge impact on me as a writer. When I read her poetry it was the first time I felt someone was writing about so many feelings I'd had but had been unable to articulate. When I read her poetry I felt understood and I wanted even more to be a writer because I wanted something I had written to one day make someone feel that way, too.” 

    •  When did you begin blogging? Why do you think people are interested in your thoughts and opinions?
    “I started blogging when I worked as a full-time newspaper reporter in Louisville, Kentucky. I blogged for my paper's website. I enjoyed blogging so much that I soon after started a blog of my own. 
    When I started blogging I didn't really worry about if people would be interested in my thoughts or opinions or not. I just started. Perhaps it was because I had a bi-weekly column at my paper that was pretty popular and that gave me confidence or maybe I was just naive. But either way, I just started a blog and wrote with reckless abandon. It was wonderful.” 

    •  What do you see as your greatest accomplishment?

    “In my teaching life, having students tell me that I've made a significant impact on their lives is what means the most to me. Once a student told me that my elective, Women and the Media, completely changed her life. I cried when she told me and sometimes get weepy even when I think about it. 

    In my writing and business life, See Jane Write is my greatest accomplishment. I built it from scratch, as I like to say, with no recipe to follow. Through See Jane Write I have been able to help so many women go after their writing, blogging, and business dreams. See Jane Write will be my legacy.” 

    •  You were recently named one of Birmingham Magazine’s Women Who Shape the State.  How do you feel you have influenced the women of Alabama?
    “A member of See Jane Write recently said I helped her find her voice and that was one of the greatest compliments I've ever received. I think that is how I most influence the women of Alabama. I am inspiring them to share their stories. I am inspiring them to not just find their voices, but to also use them.” 

    The success of See Jane Write has awarded Bowser with recognition that includes her selection as “One of the Smartest Women in Birmingham” by the Women Fund of Greater Birmingham’s SMART Party Committee, one of the "Top 40 Under 40” by the Birmingham Business Journal and one of Birmingham’s “Women Who inspire” by Girls on the Run.

    And she won’t stop there. Bowser plans to take her brand beyond Birmingham, knowing it may take some change or fine tuning ... ”It’s what I have to do if I want it to grow.” 

    “I am definitely building an empire. This is something I’ve only been able to admit to myself recently. I used to be reluctant to say this for fear of sounding cocky.”

    And, of course, she wants to continue to write.

    “I want to write a few books and and see my byline in all my favorite magazines and online media outlets.” 

    We’ve no doubt, Javacia, that you will.

    “Looks like a girl, but she's a flame
    So bright, she can burn your eyes
    Better look the other way
    You can try but you'll never forget her name.”

    Girl On Fire lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

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  • Meet Willie Williams

    Posted by ASFA on 8/1/2016

    At age 20, Willie Williams, Jr., already has an admirable resume as a visual artist. Williams, who graduated from ASFA’s Visual Arts department in 2014, has received recognition from the National YoungArts Foundation. In 2013, he was commissioned by the City of Birmingham to do a painting in commemoration of the four little girls killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963, a painting that now resides in the Office of the Mayor. But Williams’ latest accomplishment wasn’t about helping his own resume, but about advancing the art careers of his peers.

    In July 2016, Williams opened the doors to his very own art gallery, Studio 2500, located in the North Birmingham neighborhood. He says his hope is that his gallery will give artists “that are lesser known a chance to become known, to get exposure and to build connections with other artists.”

    This summer’s grand opening exhibit included works by three recent ASFA graduates -- Morgan Capps, Ivey Davis, and Angelica Lyublinskaya.

    “I wanted to give them a chance to go into college with some momentum,” Williams says.

    The show also included the works of four students from Birmingham Southern College, where Williams is currently pursuing a degree in fine art.

    “In a sense it was almost by accident,” Williams says, when asked how Studio 2500 came about. “My father and I have a metal workshop company and we were looking for space where we could expand the business. We found enough space in North Birmingham to do that and I figured out the space was so big that we could divide it with one part being my studio and the other part being where we would do our commercial work. Then the idea dawned on me that this space is big enough for me to have a studio and a gallery.”

    And so Studio 2500, located at 2500 26th Avenue North, was born.

    “My gallery will be able to promote artists post graduation and artists that may not necessarily have an immediate demand of their work to be shown or to be exhibited in spaces that are already currently here,” Williams says.

    With all of his accomplishments, it’s hard to believe Williams’ art career is just getting started.

    At Birmingham Southern College Williams is highly involved in campus life, serving as a resident assistant and as a member of the One Accord Gospel Choir, the Black Student Union, and Art Students League.

    Many of Williams’ extracurricular activities center on cultural awareness, which is also often a theme of his artwork.

    “My theme has been for the past year about promoting black beauty,” Williams says. “I’ve been looking at ancient African women’s hair styles and looking at how intricate and complex they were and what they meant to society.” And he’s been relating this to the current natural hair trend in the African American community, a trend that he believes is not a fad.

    “I see it as a renaissance,” he says. “The renaissance of black beauty.”

    As for his future plans, Williams hopes to continue the family business, Architectural Metalworks Incorporated.

    “That tends to coincide with my art because I use a lot of metalworking in my sculptures,” he says.

    Williams also hopes to pursue a master’s in fine art and perhaps even a doctorate in art history.

    He says his time at ASFA helped to fuel his thirst for learning.

    “ASFA cultivated the attitude and the spirit of being an artist,” he says. “And not just being an artist, but not being afraid to express myself and to evolve as a person and to continue learning things.”

    Williams knows that education can also lead to more opportunities.

    “Education expands your options of what you can do,” he says. “And education, I think, helps you to be able to give back because you give insight and knowledge to people that might not have the same access as you.”

    Story by Javacia Harris Bowser

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  • Meet ASFA Alum Adam He

    Posted by Kelsey Crafton on 6/1/2016

    ASFA Alum Adam He

    It is hard to imagine that making a perfect score of 36 on the ACT test is not your proudest high school accomplishment. However, this is the case with ASFA senior Adam He.

    He, a multifaceted and multi-talented Math & Science major, is used to being recognized for his accomplishments, partly because he thrives on challenge. Academically, he will graduate from high school with 15 credit hours from UAB courses he has taken, and excelled at, during his high school days. He began this accelerated journey as a junior, taking Calculus lll, followed by several courses in Physics and Partial Differential Equations.

    Adam knew he had to master the foundation of math and science to begin solving his unanswered questions about the universe ... something that began at a very young age.

    “I think the first time I ever wanted to know more about something was when I looked up at the night sky when I was little. It represented a vast unknown that I couldn't help but wonder about. For me, outer space was a reminder that there's so much about the universe we don't know, and that made me want to learn more. I made a beeline for the astronomy section every time my mom took me to Barnes & Noble in order to find out more. I developed an interest in astrophysics that I continue to explore today,” he says.

    This interest earned him national recognition in the Intel Talent Search, an achievement that he does consider his finest to date. “Being a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search was amazing. Only 300 people out of all high school seniors receive the honor, and I was completely caught by surprise when I found out about the award. It was great to receive recognition for something I had worked so diligently on.” It is not surprising that his project reached for the stars. “I researched the orbits of planets around binary star systems, writing a program that tested whether or not certain orbits were suitable for life.”

    Adam is again in the national spotlight. He has been named a Finalist in the National Merit Scholarship Program. He qualified from among more than 1.5 million entrants nationwide. The nationwide pool of Finalists represents less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors.

    In addition, and equally impressive, Adam has been notified that he is a U.S.Presidential Scholar candidate. All high school seniors in the U.S. who took either the ACT or the SAT are considered for participation in the U.S. Presidential Scholar program. The U.S. Department of Education chooses the top 20 male examinees and top 20 female examinees from each state to be candidates. It one of the highest honors for our nation’s high school students.

    He plans to continue his education in astrophysics after graduation this spring, with Harvard, Stanford, Yale, MIT, and Caltech on his list of preferred universities. When asked what he saw as his biggest challenge, Adam mentioned his uneasiness speaking in front of crowds. Not to be hindered in any way, he challenged himself by enrolling in a Theatre Arts class and achieving high marks. It was unusual for a
    Math & Science major to test himself on the stage.

    “I think excelling in theater necessitates a really strong emotional repertoire, something that can be built through experience, whereas excelling in math/science involves applying an analytical and computational side of yourself, a side that needs an incredibly strong foundation in logic and problem-solving. Both require a really committed work ethic though,” he explained.

    “I had been developing an interest in theater throughout high school, specifically acting. I feel that acting allows me to explore my own emotions and my creativity, and it lets me express myself in a whole new way. Because I ran out of both math and science classes to take last semester, I asked for permission to join theater classes.” Adam has embraced the spotlight, has become an active member of ASFA’s Theatre Arts circle and entered The Walter Trumbauer Secondary Theater Festival last November. “ I performed a three-minute monologue called "The Fact-Checker." I also attended the Alabama Thespians Festival on January 15 at Samford, where I performed two monologues--one dramatic and one comedic.”

    Being engaged in both arts and sciences will better prepare Adam for the real world. It will enable him to think globally, provide out-of-the-box solutions, and be better prepared for college and career.

    Adam brings that same enthusiasm and light to his personal relationships. He places as much emphasis on communication and connections as he does his studies, making him a dynamic member of the ASFA community. For fun, Adam loves to play the piano and is an accomplished pianist. He enjoys movies and mingling with friends at the local bubble tea cafe. Formerly from Arizona, he has embraced Southern culture and particularly enjoys Southern hospitality. “Whether I'm getting help from a random person when I have a flat tire, or having my meal paid for by the person in front of me at a drive-thru, I'm always incredibly grateful to be surrounded by such generous people--and it taught me a lot about being selfless as well.” Among his best school memories are the annual school retreats. “They were the highlight of my experience at ASFA--the friendships and bonds that I made on every retreat continue to this day. I'd tell any incoming student not to be afraid to get out of their comfort zone and to make friends with students in other departments. Even though they may not have the same specialty as you, they are people that you can learn a lot from and have a lot of fun with.

    ”At ASFA, Adam He is a star student both on stage and off. He continues to challenge himself both personally and scholastically. He still remembers being that little boy looking up toward the sky, questioning the vastness of the universe, and wanting to know more. And, for Adam He, clearly, the sky’s the limit.

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  • Meet Laverne Cox

    Posted by ASFA on 1/1/2016

    ASFA Dance alumna Laverne Cox made history as the first transgender actress to earn an Emmy nomination for her role on Orange Is the New Black and was named to Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential people” list in 2015. In a moving interview on imfromdriftwood.com, Cox describes the effects of bullying, and subsequently, dance had on her life. 

     “My name is Laverne Cox and I’m from Mobile, Alabama. Until recently, I have had a tremendous amount of shame about the bullying I experienced as a child. Whenever something would happen and my mother would find out, she would yell at me and say well why didn’t you fight back. Why aren’t you fighting back. And she would also say, what are you doing to make them treat you like that. So, I felt like it was my fault. We took the bus to school everyday. I have a twin brother. They, the kids couldn’t beat us up on the bus because the bus driver was sort of watching in the rear view mirror. But we knew that as soon as we got off the bus we had to take off running or we’d get beaten up. And for years, I joked that I was a very fast runner as a child. And it was sort of my way of deflecting from how painful it was, to sort of feel like I was always in danger. Up until that point, everyone was telling me that I was a boy. I was 8 years old and I was just convinced that I was a girl. The therapist told my mom and she yelled at me that boys are this way and girls are this way. And it was just this big thing. And, I again, internalized a lot of shame about the way I was thinking about myself and about who I was. I loved to dance as a kid. I was always dancing around. I would dance in the supermarket. I would just dance everywhere. Back when PE was in schools, when the kids were doing free play I was off dancing to music that was always in my head. And I always sort of had characters that I was playing and making up. So I begged from 5 years old to 8 years old to be in dance classes and my mom finally found a program for me. And I believe that that saved my life. I did try to commit suicide once, when I was about 11 years old, unsuccessfully. But if I didn’t have school, my mom’s a teacher, and education and reading and something I loved and that I was good at, I don’t think I would have survived. I didn’t feel safe at all as a kid.

     And I’ve had moments like that as an adult, but the difference with me as an adult is that I have support now. I have people in my life who support and validate me as who I am. As a kid, when kids were saying all these awful things about me I thought that was the truth of who I was. And as an adult now, I find myself wanting to go back into ‘oh people are saying this about me it must be true.’ 

     But then I’m like, well  no. I have people around me who are supportive and who are amazing who love me and are like no, what these people are saying about you is not who you are. And I know that that’s not who I am.

    This past Christmas, my mom and I were, we were just talking and we hadn’t talked about the bullying stuff but you know, she, my mom she’s very aware of what’s been going on in the news with all the bullying stories. And she, it just sort of came up and she just said, just out of nowhere she said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know how to… I didn’t know what to do. I’m sorry I didn’t know how to deal with it.” She had her way and she thought that was the way and it didn’t work. And she loves me, and she supports me, and she’s proud of me. And that’s all I really wanted as a kid to have my mom be proud of me.That’s all I wanted. And she is, so that’s kind of amazing.”

     Photo on home page courtesy of lavernecox.com.

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  • Meet Ayala Abrams

    Posted by Kelsey Crafton on 6/1/2015

    I auditioned for the ASFA Dance Department my 6th-grade year. Back then I did not know if I wanted to be a professional dancer, but as time went on, my love for dance only grew. Now, when I think about my future, I know I want dance to be a part of it, so much so that all of the colleges that I am applying to have strong Dance B.F.A. programs.

    In order to gain admittance into the B.F.A. programs that I am applying to, I have to attend an in-person audition. At the auditions I have attended so far, the first half consisted of a ballet class followed by modern combinations. Then, the audition panel cuts a certain number of dancers leaving only a set few to perform their solos and partake in an interview. At the past four auditions I attended, I made it to the interview in three and in the fourth one, Juilliard, which had a more complicated audition process; I was cut at the very end.

    These auditions can be a scary experience; however, my time at ASFA has thoroughly prepared me, enabling me to approach my auditions with confidence. ASFA has given me the training, performance experience, and mental preparedness I needed to be successful. I feel like I have thrived in this system. I have come a long way since my 7th-grade year and am still improving. I have performed many lead roles in ASFA shows and at dance festivals, I have received many scholarships to colleges and summer intensive programs. Through this, I have maintained high academic scores, received awards such as The Director’s List and Mu Alpha Theta, and been offered college scholarships. The ASFA experience has ensured that I am more than ready to make the transition to college and eventually the professional dance world.

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  • Meet Adriane Tharp

    Posted by ASFA on 6/1/2015

    ASFA Creative Writing graduate, Adriane Tharp, walked away from the Alabama School of Fine Arts last year as a nationally recognized Presidential Scholar in the Arts and a published author of her first book, “Cross/Roads and (Re)Mappings.” In describing it, Joyce McKinnon, Espresso Book Machine Coordinator with Books-A-Million, wrote, “It is a powerful, haunting and beautiful book.” The book was clearly inspired by the author’s circumstances as the main character wanders across the country as a young musician. In a series of flashbacks, she unravels her family’s history with mental illness and her father’s absence.

    On May 21, the New York Times published one of Tharp’s essays, a memoir about working at a Domino’s Pizza in Gardendale and the array of personalities she encountered there. The Times’ Ron Lieber added, “Adriane’s essay is one of the best any of us have ever read. Ever. I don’t know what you put in the water down there, but I’ll take a cup, please.”

    “Once, when I worked at Domino’s, a mechanic jokingly asked me if I could put his order under the name Bill Gates. I told him yes, because why not? Why should a black mechanic who worked day after day for minimum wage not enjoy a few minutes as a millionaire? Whenever I donned my black visor and navy blue polo, customers didn’t see an art school feminist who loved banned books, French films and protest songs. I was a face, a face who took orders and tossed pizzas. I could have been anyone. My favorite thing about working at Domino’s was interacting with the assortment of people that pizza unified. I felt so anonymous in uniform, confident enough to answer phones and talk to strangers. Eiad, our pizza chef from Pakistan, resembled Bob Dylan and sang folk songs from his homeland when business was smooth. One of the other insiders played guitar, managed a costume shop and once welded a statue for Marvel Enterprises in New York. Teenagers came in, grass-stained and sweaty, immediately after soccer practice. Men in flannel with babies in their arms and two kids trailing behind them allowed their children to choose what to order. Elderly women in floppy sunhats and fake pearls would call before Bible school and ask for 20 large cheese pizzas to satisfy everyone.

    Domino’s was like an Island of Misfit Toys floating in the middle of Alabama. My coworkers all joked about each other for what made us different: Richard was a walking Star Wars database, Mike was O.C.D. when it came to stacking pizza boxes, I was a vegetarian who often had to package the meat. Kristen, now 40, had worked at pizzerias since she was 14 and was currently filing applications to enroll in college. Terry preached to a small congregation when he wasn’t delivering. Ever since I moved here, I’ve felt like an outsider in my community. I live for the arts while my town prioritizes football and fishing. The general population is Caucasian, Christian, Republican, anti-gay, and pro-guns — or so I thought. At Domino’s, three of my coworkers fasted for Ramadan, one of the drivers read novels while waiting for deliveries and both of my bosses were women. The people who came in were far from homogeneous, as diverse as the pizzas they ordered: Caucasian, Asian, African-American, and Mexican lawyers, firemen, construction workers, stay-at-home mothers, house painters. Many were married, some were divorced and some were single. Many had kids. Many were still kids. I couldn’t help but admire them. They made enduring irate customers, drunken phone calls and crying children worth minimum wage. All were just ordinary people trying to build lives in America. All were united and equivalent when in need of pizza.”

    Story courtesy of the New York Times. Photo courtesy of www.nsalfloridaeast.org.
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