16th street baptist church in Birmingham

OLLI at UAH members visit famous 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

Fathia Hardy

Race relations, community and lifelong learning combine in the diverse course offerings within the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System. The program’s efforts were recently recognized nationally, with a UAH OLLI course taking second place in a conference competition during the Osher National Resource Center (NRC) Virtual Conference.

Black and white: Conundrums on Race

OLLI at UAH garners 2nd place nationally for a course on race relations.

Fathia Hardy | Osher National Resource Center

Every 18 months, the NRC hosts a national conference where OLLI staff and volunteers participate in various informative presentations, networking sessions and social activities. This year the conference, which had been scheduled for April 2020 in Tampa, FL, was canceled due to the pandemic. However, the staff at the NRC worked hard to offer an alternative virtual conference to the participants last month.

During the closing session of the conference, winners of the "Woo-Hoo moments" were announced. A "Woo-Hoo moment" is a recognition of particularly significant out-of-the-box experiences that have occurred at respective OLLI programs in the past year. This year OLLI at UAH submitted its Black and White: Conundrums on Race course together with the Civil Rights Day Trip to Birmingham as an entrant for this award. The course and trip were organized by former volunteer Vice President (VP) of Curriculum, Linda McAllister, and Associate Director of the College of Professional Studies (CPS), Fathia Hardy.

"When approached with the idea to assist in building a course on race relations, I was thrilled," Hardy says. "I was so proud that our members wanted to learn and do more. I called my network of on-and off-campus community members, including members as far away as Birmingham, to share their wealth of knowledge and personal experiences. I am humbled by this recognition voted by our OLLI institutional peers. It proves we are moving in the right direction to offer diverse and inclusive courses and activities within our program."

This course started as an initiative to promote diversity at OLLI, the UAH campus and the Huntsville community. It offered members the opportunity to learn about many African-American leaders in the greater Huntsville area, such as Judge Lynn Sherrod, who spoke about segregation in the past and present; William Hampton, who presented on the history of African-Americans in Huntsville; a preview of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the Divine 9, and many more.

Members also had the opportunity to visit important historical sites on a full day trip to Birmingham. The locations visited included the 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Negro Southern League Baseball Museum and more. "Each of these sites offered sobering reminders of history that we are still trying to understand and not repeat," McAllister says.

This award represents an important accomplishment for OLLI at UAH, as the program was one out of only six winners among 124 entries nationally. The recognition demonstrates how hard volunteers and staff work together to continue improving the courses, programming and activities for OLLI at UAH.

At the NRC Conference, Ale Pacheco, OLLI at UAH Program Manager and Allan Williamson, OLLI VP of Administration and Finance attended various sessions on the topics of building courses, engaging members virtually, fundraising, diversity and others with notable presenters. Also, they were able to participate in many networking activities with OLLI representatives from all over the U.S.

Pacheco states, "I was so excited to be given the opportunity to meet other OLLI Program Managers around the U.S. Each OLLI is so unique, but they all have the same goal of providing lifelong learning opportunities to their members. It was refreshing to see how each OLLI is adapting to the virtual environment, as it has opened many opportunities that had not been explored before."

To join this community of lifelong learners and participate in the many quality courses, for more information, visit Osher.uah.edu.