Benjamin H. Barnes was one of Tuscaloosa County's first African-American public school educators. He was born in Tuscaloosa during Civil War reconstruction and resided in Tuscaloosa for his entire life.
His father, Jeremiah Barnes, was also an educator, and Barnes worked hard to follow his lead. Barnes was committed to bringing civic involvement and advancement to his community.
Barnes taught at Central Elementary School until his father retired from his job as the school's principal, leading Barnes to become the new principal. He incorporated more courses into curriculum at Central Elementary and emphasized choral music as an important part of his students' education.
Barnes was dedicated to education both inside and outside the elementary school. He served as Sunday School Superintendent for 25 years at the First African Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, also serving as the church's organist for 20 years.
His service earned him an honorary Masters of Arts degree from Selma University, and in 1961, the west Tuscaloosa YMCA Branch was named for him to honor his history of community outreach. His contributions to education in Tuscaloosa were important to the development of the local educational system, both during and after his lifetime.
In her time, Ellen Peter Bryce was a beacon of light for a vulnerable population in the city of Tuscaloosa. She was born Marie Ellen Clarkson on May 22, 1841 in Charleston, SC. Immediately after marrying Dr. Peter Bryce in 1860, the couple moved to Tuscaloosa.
The Civil War broke out soon after their move. The mental hospital her husband was tasked with leading was facing little funding and was in the midst of construction, so they worked together toward creating a respectable facility for the mentally ill.
Mrs. Bryce organized music programs to entertain patients and spent time providing various forms of entertainment to keep patients as happy and comfortable as possible. She conducted religious services for patients and regularly spent time entertaining students at the University of Alabama.
Outside of the mental hospital, she was active at the Christ Episcopal Church and dedicated to prison reform. She believed in applying similar humane methodologies to those her husband implemented at the Alabama Mental Hospital. When what is now Bryce Hospital was named for her husband upon his death, she changed her last name to Peter Bryce to honor his memory.
Referred to as one of "Alabama's Greatest Women" at a meeting between 18 different Alabama women's clubs in 1922, Mrs. Bryce was tireless in her efforts to make the mental hospital's patients comfortable and to strengthen the community which she called her home until her death in 1929.
Dr. Peter Bryce, originally from Columbia, South Carolina, was born on March 5, 1834. He graduated from The Citadel in 1855 and received his doctorate from the New York Medical School in 1859.
Dr. Bryce was hired to run the Alabama mental hospital in Tuscaloosa in 1860. Dorothea Dix had recommended him to lead the hospital, knowing he advocated for peaceful, humane approaches to treating mentally ill individuals. In the same year, Dr. Bryce married Marie Ellen Clarkson and immediately moved to Tuscaloosa with her.
His treatment of mentally ill patients was far ahead of his contemporaries. He strongly believed in using non-restraint, respect and care, and occupational therapy in mental healthcare. Dr. Bryce incorporated farming, sewing, and carpentry into the hospital's treatments, providing patients with a sense of purpose. This work quickly became necessary to the hospital's success as state funding waned during and after the Civil War.
Alongside his wife, Dr. Bryce spent 32 years developing policies and procedures by which the mental hospital would run. He worked as the superintendent until his passing in 1892. In his lifetime, Dr. Bryce treated all of his patients with respect and kindness, firmly holding onto his progressive views despite dissent from his peers. He is remembered for leading the creation of a hospital in Tuscaloosa that became renowned across the country for its humane, effective treatment of mentally ill people.
Born August 13, 1947 in Gadsden, Alabama, Cynthia W. Burton arrived in Tuscaloosa in 1980. She had been assigned to open and manage the Legal Services office in West Alabama.
Upon leaving the Legal Services office, Burton managed the private law firm of John H. England, Jr. and John A. Bivens. She established a solid Social Security practice at the firm, allowing hundreds of individuals and their families to receive their benefits and aiding in their quality of life.
Burton has also assisted with a number of political campaigns. Most notably, she helped Artur Davis secure a win when it seemed unlikely, and after his win, she served as Regional Director for Tuscaloosa and the Black Belt during his first administration. She ensured there would be staff available to assist constituents with resolving issues and create appropriate referrals.
She was a founding board member for Spouse Abuse Network, now known as Turning Point. Burton used this organization to increase awareness of domestic abuse, provide resources for its clients, and establish strong leadership.
One of her most notable talents is helping struggling non-profits and charitable organizations in their time of need. Always ready to lend a hand, Burton has successfully guided organizations through their most difficult periods. Tasked with helping Tuscaloosa Emergency Services at a time when it was suffering from governance issues, Burton's legal knowledge led her to help TES in increasing its capacity and improving its overall image, elevating the organization to the highly regarded non-profit it is today.
She also chaired the Whatley Health Services Board of Directors during a turbulent time for the agency. Burton turned around the organization's trajectory in a seemingly impossible six months. This led the way for Whatley to increase from just two locations in Tuscaloosa County to 13 locations in 7 counties. She has served on the national boards of National NeighborWorks® Association which provides grants to the 240+ Neighborworks® organization throughout the country, who are charged with providing safe, decent and affordable housing as well as leadership in community development; also, CAPLAW which is Community Action Legal Services, a non-profit that provides legal guidance and resources to the multiple community actions throughout the nation.
Burton is currently vice president of the Tuscaloosa Alternative Sentencing Board, which provides resources to defendants in the court system through drug testing and case management. She formed the Non-Profit Council with Karen Thompson-Jackson, aiding the development of local non-profits and assisting these organizations in streamlining their services.
Forty years after arriving in Tuscaloosa, Burton who currently serves as the Executive Director of Community Service Programs of West Alabama, is still working tirelessly for the good of Tuscaloosa County. She is focusing on efforts to help convicted felons re-enter society and live more productive lives post-incarceration. She has demonstrated a talent for improving the state of organizations and individual lives when they seem bleak, and creating positive outcomes.
Robert Wayne Monfore, Jr. wished for nothing more than to better the lives of those around him. Upon moving to West Alabama in 1969, Monfore became deeply involved in the community, and focused on promoting education, music, and the arts.
Born in Estelline, South Dakota, Monfore grew up and attended college in South Dakota before moving to Tuscaloosa to work with Regions Bank, then known as City National Bank. He had already received his Bachelor's degree from Southern State College in Springfield, South Dakota, but went on to earn a Master of Divinity degree from Emory University, and his Juris Doctorate and Masters of Law in Taxation from the University of Alabama.
Monfore was involved with the American Red Cross Board of Directors, the Black Warrior Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and was appointed to a seat on the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education during his time at the bank. He spent 19 years on the Board of Education and led the creation of an educational improvement goal and plan, which was achieved in 1997 and 1998. Additionally, Monfore ensured there would be sufficient taxes and funds for the construction of new schools and building renovations. He secured support to not only renew an existing property tax, but to impose an additional tax that would allow for more rapid improvements.
A longtime supporter of arts and music, Monfore saw its value for the sake of education and as a part of the community. He was involved in a variety of fundraising activities supporting the Symphony, Arts Council, and Kentuck. His support was honored with the Patrons of the Arts Award alongside his wife, Anne, in 2005. This past August, Monfore was honored as a Pillar of the Community from the Community Foundation.
Monfore was involved in a variety of professional organizations, including being a member of the American Bar Association, the Alabama and Tuscaloosa County Bar Associations, and served on the Pension Committee for the DCH Health Care Authority for more than 10 years.
Monfore was a pastor at United Methodist Church for many years, offering ministry and guidance to individuals from smaller communities. He was also an active communicant at Christ Episcopal Church, having contributed to the development of the church's new parish hall.
In his half-century in Tuscaloosa, Monfore tirelessly worked to improve the state of education and the arts in the community. He ensured that no one in his life felt left behind.
Active in Tuscaloosa's community for almost 40 years, Robert H. Shaw has contributed his time and resources to a number of important causes, ranging from the DCH Foundation to the Children's Hands-on Museum.
Born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1938, Shaw served in the Navy for 24 years, retiring as a Commander before taking up residence in Tuscaloosa in 1981. He received a Navy Achievement Medal with Combat "V," a Meritorious Service Medal, and a Vietnam Service Medal while serving in the Navy.
Following his move to Tuscaloosa, Shaw attended the University of Alabama and completed law school in 1984. He remained deeply involved in university activities for years after his graduation, serving as the president of the University Club, president of the National Alumni Association, in the President's Cabinet for more than 10 years, and on the boards of other university organizations. Shaw has been active both professionally and as a member of the community. He was an AmSouth bank officer for 17 years, serving as the Vice President there for 11 of those years. He dedicated time serving as President of the Tuscaloosa Convention and Visitors Bureau, Chairman of the Board of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, a DCH Foundation Board Member and Fellow for 12 years, and more. Additionally, he has actively served as a Vestry member of Christ Episcopal Church for 3 full terms, and is currently serving another 3 year term.
Some of the honors Shaw has received include the UA Capstone Men and Women Distinctive Image Award in 1999, the West Alabama Community Foundation Pillar of the Community Award in 2009, and the Book of Golden Deeds Award, given by the Tuscaloosa Exchange Club in 2018.
Bob Shaw has greatly served the community in a variety of areas, dedicating years to serving the
people of Tuscaloosa through community service, service to higher education, and the church.
Dennis Steverson, Sr., has had a sizable, positive impact in Tuscaloosa County. He has donated his time and personal resources to community initiatives in the area, touching lives all over our region.
Born and raised in Aliceville, Alabama, Steverson was the first in his family to attend college. He graduated magna cum laude from Stillman College and went on to attend law school at the University of Alabama. In 1982, Steverson began his career as an Assistant District Attorney for Tuscaloosa County. He quickly developed a reputation for treating everyone fairly, and during this time, he became interested in volunteer work, serving as a board member at the Advisory Committee of A Woman's Place and Turning Point.
Assisting vulnerable populations has always mattered greatly to Steverson, and so in addition to aiding charitable organizations, he prosecuted domestic violence cases as Assistant District Attorney. Steverson has used his legal expertise to help a variety of causes. He helped establish the Stillman College Federal Credit Union, donating his time and financial resources alongside other donors. Steverson's legal skills also were of critical importance when he served on the Tuscaloosa County Judicial Selection Committee and the Executive Committee of the Tuscaloosa County Bar Association.
Steverson went on to serve as a board member for other important organizations, including the Foster Care Advisory Committee of the Tuscaloosa Department of Human Resources, Easter Seals, and the United Way of West Alabama (UWWA), where he assisted in the efforts that allowed the UWWA's campaign fund drive to fundraise a record breaking amount.
Steverson has received a number of honors in his lifetime, including the Meritorious Service Award, given by the United Negro College Fund in 1994, the Presidential Citation, given by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, the Black Achievers Award, and a Pillar of the Community of West Alabama.
Dennis Steverson has displayed a commitment to donating his time and knowledge to not only serving the community at large, but focusing his talents on areas of the community where he can truly make a difference in the lives of others. His hard work and dedication have been an example to others who wish to make an impact on the well-being of Tuscaloosa County.
Dr. Karen Thompson-Jackson (1966-Present)
A lifelong resident of Tuscaloosa County, Dr. Karen Thompson-Jackson grew up in Northport and received Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctorate degrees from the University of Alabama. She has served as the Executive Director of Temporary Emergency Services (TES) since 1990.
Thompson-Jackson has been the driving force behind the TES's quick responses, maximizing what the agency can do during any natural disasters Tuscaloosa may experience. She kept 28 warehouses stocked with goods for the community after the Red Cross and Salvation Army buildings were destroyed by the 2011 tornado. Following the tornado, Thompson-Jackson worked additional hours alongside her staff to ensure victims would receive the help they needed. Even as TES moved locations twice over the course of her leadership, she kept the staff motivated to work and always made decisions in the best interest of the City of Tuscaloosa.
In addition to her time at TES, Thompson-Jackson served as the President of the Junior League of Tuscaloosa. She paved the way for better communication with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides various funding for the program. Thompson-Jackson currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Community Services of West Alabama and the Capstone Charter School. She has dedicated time to other service programs in the past, such as the Board of the Mental Health Association and the Board of Five Horizons. Her tireless dedication has been recognized through awards such as the Karen LaMoreaux Lifetime Achievement Award from the West Alabama Girl Scouts and the Tuscaloosa Junior League Volunteer of the Year in 2012.
Thompson-Jackson also serves an adjunct professor at the UA School of Social Work and is the administrative assistant at the Elizabeth Baptist Church, where she has implemented a community garden growing fresh vegetables for the west end of town.
Karen Thompson-Jackson has given countless hours of her time toward the betterment of the local community and uplifting local organizations when they most need it. She strives to make the place she calls home the best it can be.