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Brandy Williams Rebounded From Hurricane Katrina To Bring Taste of NOLA to Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — At age 18, two weeks into her freshman year at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL), New Orleans, La., native Brandy Williams’s life changed forever—when Hurricane Katrina forced her family from the only place they knew and loved.

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By Ameera Steward

“That time was just a blur because it was just a nightmare,” said Williams. “You’re happy that everybody is safe. Still, …all my childhood memories, … all of our videos [are gone]. … I don’t have any baby pictures to show my [future] kids because they got destroyed. We were able to save some stuff from the second floor [of our house], but everything on the first floor was destroyed.”

One thing Williams didn’t lose was one her fondest memories of growing up: the sweet taste of snow melting in her mouth after eating a New Orleans snoball. “Unlike a snow cone that is extremely hard and crunchy, a New Orleans-style snoball is very soft and fluffy,” according to Williams’s website (whodatsnoballs.com).

“I remember snoball stands in New Orleans being so popular,” Williams said. “My favorite ones were Plum Street and Rodney’s… It’s just a taste of home.”

Williams, 32, has brought a taste of New Orleans to Birmingham as the owner of Williams Who Dat Snoballs, a food truck that sells not only a range of snoball flavors but also some of her favorite hometown dishes, including red beans and rice, gumbo, crawfish pies, jambalaya and crawfish etouffee.

“[If] you would have told me three years ago that I would have a truck selling snoballs, I would have laughed in your face,” said Williams, who now puts smiles on the faces of her customers.

“I’ve always had a love for kids and a love for people,” she said. “One of the greatest things [is] something as simple as giving a snoball [with gummy bears on top] to a child and seeing that child’s face light up. Something as simple as bringing a smile to [a child’s] face is very fulfilling to me. That makes it all worth it.”

Putting gummy bears on top of a snoball was something Williams grew up with.

“It was only natural to do it here,” she said.

Williams Who Dat Snoballs offers flavors, such as cake batter, banana, mango, pink lemonade, and strawberry cheesecake; prices range from $3 to $6 for different sizes.

Family

Looking back on the hurricane that brought her family to Birmingham, Williams said, “I wouldn’t wish that pain or devastation on anyone, not even my worst enemy. I wouldn’t want [anyone] to experience that.

“One day you have a home, and the next day you don’t know where you’re going to live, where you’re going to lay your head, where your family is.”

Williams was majoring in communications and minoring in business at ULL when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. She was staying in an apartment on campus when her parents came to stay with her in Lafayette, La., which is about two and a half hours from New Orleans. They stayed with her for two weeks and moved to Birmingham in September of that year.

“I went to [ULL] to be close to New Orleans [and] my parents, then they moved all the way … to [Hoover], Alabama,” she said. “[This] was probably one of the hardest things I think we ever had to do.”

The Williams family lost everything and scattered to different places. Her dad went back to New Orleans for work. One sister was in college in Oklahoma. Another sister was in Atlanta, Ga. Brandy was in Lafayette.

If not for God, Williams said, she doesn’t know how they would have survived.

After graduating from ULL in 2009, Williams said there was no doubt about where she would live.

“We had been through a lot, lost our whole house, and got displaced. Then, a couple of years later I lost my sister unexpectedly,” Williams said. “I had to come home. … Home is where my family is.”

Williams’s sister, who attended and graduated from an Oklahoma college in 2008, became ill while the family was living in Hoover, so coming back to her family meant everything to Williams because she was able to see them and make sure they were doing well.

“[It was important] just to know that I got to see them, touch them, … make sure they’re eating, make sure they’re getting up and still continuing with life,” said Williams. “I know it wasn’t my responsibility, but I felt like it was my responsibility to make sure my parents kept living because they still had other kids to live for.”

Who Dat

Coming to Birmingham also meant bringing a slice of New Orleans along with her—so Williams started her business in the summer of 2017 with a table and a tent.

“I thank God for my parents, [Blake Williams Sr. and Donna Williams],” she said. “My dad believes in me more than I believe in myself. If it weren’t for him, I probably … wouldn’t [be where] I am now. … He got all of my business licenses and registered everything I needed. … [My parents] have been behind me 100 percent since the moment I said this is what I wanted to do.”

Her parents help in another way, too. Williams still works a full-time job as a help desk analyst at a local financial software company. Technology and computers were an occupation before she started her business, and her family helps run things while she’s in the office.

Williams Who Dat Snoballs operates mainly during the summer. Because of the heat, they mainly sell snoballs and crawfish nachos; on Sundays, they sell New Orleans cuisine specialties. In the colder months, the family sells food full time—but that doesn’t stop them from selling snoballs.

“I can’t pull up somewhere and be like, ‘Oh, we’re not selling snoballs. As long as I have this truck and it says Who Dat Snoballs, I’ll put ice in the machine and crank it up. Even if it’s just one, … I’m going to always be Who Dat Snoballs,” Williams said.

Another positive about the food truck for Williams: it helps her meet new people and gets her out of her comfort zone. That’s a benefit for someone who’s not from Birmingham because her business interactions give her an opportunity to network.

Williams Who Dat Snoballs is usually set up at Exit 1 in McCalla at the Sunoco gas station on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., and on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. They also travel to farmer’s markets, and Williams said they’ll still do table and tent.

“We haven’t forgotten where we came from,” she said.

For more information on Williams Who Dat Snoballs, visit whodatsnoballs.com.

This article originally appeared in the Birmingham Times.

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Q&A With Kenneth Boswell, chair of Alabama Counts 2020 Committee

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — The great thing about the 2020 Census is that it has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker. Notification letters from the Census Bureau to Alabama households began going out on March 12 and are continuing until March 20. There are three ways to respond: online at www.my2020census.gov, by phone at 1-844-330-2020 or by paper form.

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Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and chair of the Alabama Counts 2020 committee. (Provided Photo)

Compiled by Erica Wright, The Birmingham Times

Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, is chair of the Alabama Counts 2020 committee. He responded to these questions from The Birmingham Times.

BT: What impact does the recent coronavirus pandemic have on the Census efforts in Alabama?

Kenneth Boswell: The great thing about the 2020 Census is that it has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker. Notification letters from the Census Bureau to Alabama households began going out on March 12 and are continuing until March 20. There are three ways to respond: online at www.my2020census.gov, by phone at 1-844-330-2020 or by paper form.

We are keeping in contact with the U.S. Census Bureau and know that they are monitoring the situation very closely. We anticipate any changes would likely be to the in-person follow-up by census workers to households who do not complete their census by April 30. Right now, that portion is scheduled to begin in May.

BT: How does the state plan to proceed with the Census in light of the pandemic? 

Boswell: The census is something that is quick and easy to complete at home, so that is our main message right now. We have a statewide awareness campaign that includes TV, newspaper, radio, social media, billboard and digital messages. Some census-related events scheduled for the next couple weeks have been postponed, but we are adjusting accordingly and will continue to do everything we can to encourage all in Alabama to take their census.

BT: What’s the significance of the April 1, 2020 deadline with the Census?

Boswell: April 1 is simply what the Census Bureau calls Census Day. It is a symbolic day designed to encourage all who live in the United States to self-respond to their Census form. Right now, we are encouraging participation as soon as the invitation letters are received and by April 30 which is the designated self-response period before the Census Bureau follows up in person with those households who have not yet responded.

BT: How much does the state stand to lose in funding if there is an under count or drop in Census numbers? What are some of the programs that will be affected if that money is lost? 

Boswell: Alabama receives about $13 billion in census-derived funding per year for important programs that support Alabama’s healthcare, schools, infrastructure and community services.

Here is a link to a study by George Washington University that details 55 federal programs linked to census data and their impact on Alabama: https://census.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/IPP-1819-3-CountingforDollars_AL.pdf

BT: Is there a certain percentage for example, 70-90 percent that the state has a goal to reach for the Census count? 

Boswell: We are asking for maximum participation as close to 100 percent as possible. We must do better than the 72 percent participation rate that Alabama recorded in 2010.

BT: If this is an under count, how many seats, statewide and on a federal level does Alabama stand to lose and what will that mean for residents?

Boswell: Many projections have the state at-risk of losing a congressional seat if we perform at the same level as we did in 2010. The impact of that lost seat will mean one less voice to advocate for the state’s needs at the federal level. For example, Congress is currently discussing a package of stimulus/recovery dollars to lessen the impact of the Coronavirus on the economy. The more representation that the state has during these discussions and decisions, the better our voice will be heard and the better the likelihood that we will receive our fair share of federal dollars to benefit Alabamians.

There would be no change in the number of state legislators. However, the data collected during the census is used by the legislature for redistricting purposes.

BT: How is the importance of the Census spread to communities that have been historically undercounted? What strategies are in place to make sure those areas are fully included?

Boswell: Those areas and communities are very important to the success of the 2020 Census and we all benefit from maximum participation. So, we are focusing on the impact that a successful count would have on our state and those communities. We have been working to identify those partners for these communities as part of our grassroots campaign. In December, Governor Ivey awarded $1 million in grants to 34 statewide, regional and local groups to support grassroots census efforts, with many targeted toward harder-to-count groups and areas, including Alabama’s Black Belt, Hispanic immigrants, people with disabilities, children under age 5 and college students.

We have also developed an online tool kit of awareness and promotional items that can be used by any group or individual to help increase awareness of the 2020 Census and its importance to Alabama at www.alabama2020census.com.

BT: How long do people have to fill out their Census? How long does it take to gather all of the Census information and get it to the federal government?

Boswell: We are asking everyone to self-respond by taking the census as soon as they receive their letter from the Census Bureau and definitely by April 30. Right now, the census workers will begin following up in-person with households who have not completed the census starting in May and continuing through July.

The census only takes about six minutes to complete. There are 10 very basic questions – name, date of birth, sex, race, whether you own or rent the residence, phone number and similar information about others living or staying in your household. You typically submit more information when responding to a special offer online.

The data is secure and protected by strict federal law. Nothing you submit can be shared or used against you by any agency.

BT: How or when will the state know the results of the Census?

Boswell: The deadline for the census results to be submitted to the president is December 31, 2020. The Census Bureau will publicly release the final results around March 2021.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Help keep flu out of the classroom and protect your family from illness

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Parents can do their part to help keep germs out of the classroom. Jennifer Ponder, Ph.D., chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education Department of Curriculum and Instruction, suggests parents send hand sanitizer, paper towels, tissues and disinfectants to help keep the classroom clean. When a child is running a fever, coughing or sneezing excessively, lethargic, or showing other symptoms of the flu, keep them home. If symptoms persist, call your pediatrician.

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Keeping flu at bay is difficult when kids are in school. Encourage your children to wash their hands frequently, and to avoid touching their nose, mouth and eyes to prevent the spread of germs. These practices can help keep your entire family well throughout the flu season. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Alicia Rohan, UAB News

School classrooms are a breeding ground for bacteria and germs. Teaching children about the flu and other contagious diseases starts at home but should continue at school as well.

“Children are very observant and hear about the flu in conversation, on the radio and on the television,” said Jennifer Ponder, Ph.D., chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “It is important that caretakers and educators continue those conversations to create healthy hygiene habits in children. In order to succeed in the classroom, a child needs to be healthy and present, so starting good hygiene early on will increase their chances of success.”

Ponder suggests that educators create a classroom environment where children are in charge of taking care of their space. This includes teaching cleanliness and strategies to disinfect spaces and protect germs from spreading, such as using a disinfecting wipe to clean all desks and surfaces on a daily basis.

“There are resources for educators to help teach kids about proper hygiene,” Ponder said. “Finding ways to incorporate hygiene and the flu into your lesson plan makes learning fun and will resonate with younger children more.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a resource for educators to incorporate hygiene and the flu into their curriculum, “Teaching Children About the Flu.” Activities include:

  • Sing “If You Are Happy and You Know It, Scrub Your Hands” while washing your hands to ensure that students wash for the appropriate amount of time.
  • Model how to wash your hands with the appropriate amount of soap.
  • Cough or sneeze in their elbow/sleeve if tissues are not available.
  • Simulate how germs spread by using a drop of unscented lotion and a pinch of glitter. Make a fist with glitter in it, then open the hand to show how glitter spreads. The teacher touches another child’s hand to show how the glitter spreads easily. Use a paper towel to wipe off the glitter. The glitter is hard to get off, showing how easily germs spread from person to person.

Parents can do their part to help keep germs out of the classroom. Ponder suggests parents send hand sanitizer, paper towels, tissues and disinfectants to help keep the classroom clean. When a child is running a fever, coughing or sneezing excessively, lethargic, or showing other symptoms of the flu, keep them home. If symptoms persist, call your pediatrician.

“Parents should be talking to children about the flu and flu symptoms,” Ponder said. “Reiterate what they are hearing at school, on TV and from their friends. Use these opportunities to talk about germs, proper handwashing and keeping your home clean.”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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‘There are three people in your marriage… you, your partner and God’

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — I was a freshman and Shamar was a junior…as the night went on I was at the bar fixing my food and he came over and introduced himself. We conversed all night, we had amazing conversation and that night God literally told me that he was my husband and that kind of freaked me out because at the time I wasn’t hearing from God audibly. We ended up exchanging numbers but he never called.

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NADIA AND SHAMAR GRAMBY

By Je’Don Holloway-Talley, Special to The Birmingham Times

“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Erica Wright ewright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

NADIA AND SHAMAR GRAMBY

Live: Chelsea

Married: July 14, 2012

Met: In Huntsville in the fall of 2003 at a fellow Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University [A&M] student’s apartment. Nadia’s friend and Shamar’s frat brother were throwing a social gathering and Shamar was one of the hosts.

“I was a freshman and Shamar was a junior…as the night went on I was at the bar fixing my food and he came over and introduced himself,” Nadia recalled. “We conversed all night, we had amazing conversation and that night God literally told me that he was my husband and that kind of freaked me out because at the time I wasn’t hearing from God audibly. … We ended up exchanging numbers but he never called.”

Shamar recalled that Nadia stood out. “I saw this beautiful young lady sitting there… I saw her communicating with everybody and she seemed fun and outgoing and it’s like God was telling me there was something about her that I needed to find out . . . we ended up having a real deep conversation which is odd for those kinds of parties. We talked about our goals, and faith…we had a lot in common and had a lot of the same things that we wanted out of life.”

First date: The pair went to see a movie that they cannot recall and afterward had a candlelit dinner at Shamar’s apartment. They ate steak, potatoes and green beans. Nadia recalled being very impressed. Shamar said he couldn’t recall the movie but did remember he cooked a full course meal and had some candles flickering. “I wanted to make sure she knew that I thought she was unique and special and that she deserved a certain level of effort and care.

Nadia said she couldn’t focus on the movie because “I was jittery and nervous the whole time. When Shamar picked me up from my dorm room he had flowers for me…he was playing R&B in the car, he was such a gentleman and opened all the doors for me… when we got done with the movie he said, ‘I’m going to cook you dinner and I got to watch him make it.”

Nadia said they shared a kiss at the end of the night. “I really wanted to kiss him and I knew he wanted to kiss me, but he was so respectful that I knew he would have never made the move to kiss me first, so I gave him the three-second start, I leaned in [first].

“I took it from there,” Shamar said.

The turn: Nadia and Shamar dated throughout their collegiate careers and had a son in September 2007. They didn’t want to get married early on “just for the look of it,” Nadia said. “We didn’t want to get married just because we had a baby, we wanted to be ready and marry because we were still in love.”

After dating for seven years they began talking in 2010 about marriage.

The proposal: On a couple’s trip in 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Venetian Hotel on a gondola ride.

“I chose the Venetian [hotel] because I had previously been to Italy and I wanted to take her one day so I thought it would be the perfect place…I chose a special song for the guy [paddling the boat] to sing to her in the Italian language and when we got to [the arching bridge] I had the guy pause there and I told her how much she meant to me and how I could not live without her in my life and that I would be honored if she would be my wife. I took the ring out and she said ‘yes.’

“I was surprised because we had been [on many adventures] during the trip and we were so casual, I could not believe he was proposing to me while I had on jeans and a tee-shirt,” Nadia laughed, “…when the man started singing in Italian and he [Shamar] started going in his pocket I was like this is really happening today!…it brought me back to the day I heard the voice of God and His promise was really about to manifest.”

The wedding: At the Museum of Art in Huntsville, officiated by Pastor Windell Davis of Union Chapel Church in Huntsville. Their colors were tiffany-blue, mocha and white.

Most memorable for the groom was Nadia’s walk down the aisle. “The band ‘Remedy’ (A&M students) was playing live and my cousin Sheena was singing [the band’s song] ‘You’ as she came down the aisle… Her essence and her beauty, and all of our memories came to a head, our child, I just broke down right then and there. Somebody had to pass me a handkerchief,” Shamar laughed.

Most memorable for the bride was “when we did the unity sand together after we did communion as a family,” Nadia said. “Instead of union candles, we did sand, so Shamar and I, and our son Khalil all had our own sand that we poured in a glass together and for me, that was really special for our family to be under the covenant of God in our relationship.”

Words of wisdom: “Always put God first, put Him as the head of your life,” Shamar said. Next, be loyal to each other and have each other’s back. It may not always be 50-50, but be willing to pick up where the other left off. Always encourage each other. Always keep in mind the reasons why you married that person and be willing to talk and look at their perspective in life because people change. Be an open book, whether it’s good or bad.

Nadia said, “you must remember that there are three people in your marriage: you, your partner and God. If you remember that and keep Him in the middle of your marriage, you’re more likely to have a successful [union]. Also] knowing that I can trust my husband… I can trust him with my heart and I can trust him with who I am at the core of who I am, and because I can trust him I can communicate… I can be honest, I can tell him how I really feel because I know that he will honor me and take care of me as his wife….

Happily ever after: The Gramby’s have one child, son Khalil, 12, and enjoy helping to build other couples as board members of the marriage ministry at their church More than Conquerors in West End.

Nadia, 34, is a Daphne, Ala. native and graduated from Daphne High School. She attended Alabama A&M where she studied psychology and earned a B.S. in Human Resource Management from Faulkner University (Hunstville campus). She is a birth and post partum doula and owns her own company ‘Crown of Glory Birth Services’ and is also an [online] student midwife at The National College of midwifery (in New Mexico).

Shamar, 37, is a Columbus, OH native, and graduated from Reynoldsburg High School. He attended Alabama A&M, where he earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering. He is an accounts service rep in sales and marketing for Viva Health.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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