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Data is the New Black

Number-crunching has replaced the phenomenon of meaningless selfie uploads to social media and aspiring media influencers can’t complain. For Dr. Russell Davis, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of West Alabama, analyzing data has become his chicken noodle soup for the soul.

“Let me do the numbers,” said Davis through an effortless smile. “A part of my soul is satisfied when I get to analyze data; it’s my happy escape.”

Data analytics is the process of extracting data from sources while identifying trends and patterns that could affect decision- making in any business or organization.

Data analytics and statistics increasingly are cemented into most of the foundation that businesses build their marketing and advertising choices upon. Davis sips coffee from his yellow smiley-faced mug.

“Basic analysis is a story problem. It’s a puzzle to me about how you make what’s sitting here get where you need it to go. I love that because there’s always an answer, it’s just about how you get to that place.”

In the Beginning

At the University of Ohio State, Davis pursued an undergraduate degree in agriculture. In the process of obtaining his masters, Davis realized his mind was built for analytics.

Davis attended Louisiana State University to do large scale data analysis of the economy and has not looked back since.

“I wanted something bigger,” said Davis.

Joining the Census Circus

At the Center for Economic Studies in Washington D.C, Davis earned the title of Special Sworn Status Researcher working with the U.S. Census Bureau.

“I was basically in a room full of economists who use the data from the census to analyze specific cause and effects while monitoring trends,” said Davis. “It was not glamourous, I can promise you that, but it mattered.”

Davis hit the ground running as he entered the world of number-crunching. As tasks began to pile up on his desk, he only had eyes for positivity, ceasing every opportunity to learn more.

While tackling this opportunity, Davis says he discovered the existence of the rest of the world. With a gasp of realization, he began to see the world organized into rows and columns.

“Once I connected math and statistics to things that people do, boom, it hit me. This is what they’ve been talking about,” said Davis.

Davis Holds onto Data

Similar to most professors, Davis never wrote “become a teacher” on his list of aspirations. When asked if he has always

wanted to teach, Davis filled his office with subtle laughter.

“I like to have fun,” Davis said. “Once I found sociology and connected it to data, I fell in love.”

Throughout his interview, Davis emphasized the importance of gaining experience. Davis believes that the main source of experience stems from working with others because of the absence of data management and analytics in education curriculums.

“It’s not as fulfilling if it’s not a story you’re actually interested in,” said Davis. “From the content side of it, building up a resume and set of experiences that validate your analytic skills is a little bit tricky because there’s not a lot of room in those curriculums for that.”

Davis passes along opportunities for undergraduate students to obtain these skills and gain certifications in specific software for analyzing data.

“Those little things, such as, software specific training programs, are so seemingly insignificant but they’re the 80% of what you can do in college that pays off,” said Davis.

Davis continues to work with analytics as often as opportunities arise. He will always say yes for the chance to learn a little more and do something that matters.

“I have data for every school in the entire nation and have connected it to counties which means I can connect it to any other data out there. I just hope someone takes me up on the offer,” said Davis.

Why Data Matters

Data provides direct cause and effect explanations for the trends that develop in the world.

“People like to think that individuals make their life what it is and those who don’t make it aren’t trying hard enough,” said Davis. “When you can show people maps of poverty rates where the southeast is the poorest region, and has been since the country was founded, and you start mapping out poverty rates among five-year- old children, it becomes real tough to say that the southeast is the ‘laziest’ region in the country.”

When data is connected to an issue or an assumption made by the population, it shows that there are some things individuals just cannot do anything about, Davis explains.

“I am never amazed at how many people are willing to make guesses about things. Without analytics, that is all people are doing; guessing” said Davis.

In the last 10 to 15 years, data has migrated to the Internet as its main source. Phones, computers, and tablets have the capability to access data almost instantly.

Data analytics presents endless answers to problems that arise with the increase of technological advances. Any individual has the ability to discover analytic-based information about anything at any time.

“I find it insanely gratifying about this kind of work that I can sit by myself without other people, I wish I could do it more.” Davis whispers, “It’s the part of my job that I actually like.”

Companions with No Home for the Holidays

As the winter weather blows in, people and pets retreat into the warmth of their homes, huddled near the fireplace or cuddled underneath their favorite blanket because the chill becomes too difficult bear. What about the homeless pets?

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), there are over 70 million stray animals in the United States. Roughly 6.5 million of those strays are brought to shelters.

The increasing amount of stray and homeless animals is a rising issue across the nation and the community of Livingston, Alabama is no stranger to this endemic.

“There are thousands of strays statewide that cause issues for clinics,” expressed Natalie Tatum, Livingston Animal Clinic employee. “Most strays that come in have never been touched or even had shots making it harder to handle the stray let alone care for it.”


Not only is our local clinic affected by stray populations, but Livingston business owners struggle with the presence of these animals near or on their property.

“When strays become overpopulated, they start to hang around more. Especially under our trailers, which could damage pipelines, ventilation structures, and possibly electrical wiring,”

sighed McVay Properties owner Clayton McVay

McVay explained that cats dig in the dumpster, spreading trash throughout their property, affecting the interest of potential renters to live there.


The effort to control or help the stray population may be slim, but it is not invisible. Local Anna Holycross founded Sumter Strays, an organization that aims to alleviate the growing stray population and advocate for animal rights.

“I began by feeding cat/kittens at dumpsters in town, but I realized that I was only preventing them from starving, I was not reducing the number of homeless animals. I knew I had to do more,” Holycross explained.

Sumter Strays is not the only helping paw lent to the stray animals. The Livingston Animal Clinic also recuses strays as often as they can to help the animals in need.


During this season of giving, the community is presented with an ample amount of opportunities to give back to the stray animals in the area through volunteer work and fostering.

The clinic takes in as many strays and tries to find homes for as many as possible,” expressed Tatum.

“If able, families can open their homes to stray dogs and/or cats and become foster parents. Many of these strays become easily adoptable since they have experienced life with an actual family,” urged Holycross.

The community also has the opportunity to volunteer at the Livingston Animal Clinic and donate animal food or supplies to help provide for the incoming strays.

“Some things that could help would be to get your animals spayed/neutered or adopting and not shopping,” said Tatum.

Adopt this howl-iday season and give back to the animals who do not have the power to give to themselves.

For more information about what one can do to help provide for the local stray population, contact the Livingston Animal Clinic or Sumter Strays.

Have Yourself a Merry Christmas on the River

It’s the most wonderful time of the year in Demopolis, Alabama as the small town prepares to celebrate the holidays with their own special peppermint twist. In the city of the people, the holiday that always seems to make an early appearance after Halloween leaves is celebrated on the river.

“Christmas on the River (COTR) is such a big tradition. If you tell anyone that you have anything to do with Demopolis, the first thing they usually mention is COTR,” said Sidney Freeman, the Executive Director of the Chamber who oversees the activities of the Christmas tradition for Demopolis.

Demopolis Comes Together

As one drives down the roads of neighborhoods, the eyes are drawn to the inflatable snowmen staked into the ground of front yards or the trickling lights strung around the houses. Demopolis residents create the holly jolly feelings of Christmas in preparation for the events to come.

“COTR encourages community involvement,” Freeman smiles. “We always welcome volunteers and people just show up.”

Middle school and high school groups, as well as, adult residents of Demopolis come together to help create an atmosphere of what can only be described as similar to a Hallmark Christmas movie.

The community’s shared heart seems to grow three times its size this time of year.

Events Galore

During the first week of December, Wednesday is when the COTR festivities begin. While Saturday is the day of the parade, the events building up to it are equally celebrated.

From the Lighting of the Love Tree, to the Jingle Bell 5K Run, and then the popular Fair in the Square, all COTR attendees stay busy throughout the week. In the heart of downtown Demopolis, people peruse through the Fair in the Square, greeted by homemade Christmas decor and the smell of chicken on a stick.

Reminiscing on the past, Freeman expresses, “growing up I would always have the most fun at the parades. The day parade is my favorite, everyone is always so excited.”

Sixteen hand-crafted and paper macheted floats cruise through the crowds who are bundled up along the sidewalks. The sound of jingle bells and cheering flood the ears. Children race toward

the flying candy as it lands on the pavement. The COTR day parade prepares everyone for the nautical parade soon to come.

As the sun sets on the first Saturday of December, the bottled-up excitement bursts as the community and its visitors migrate toward the river to watch the highlight of the weekend. The colors of Christmas lights bounce off the water of the Tombigbee as the decorated parade boats float towards land. As the last boat of the river parade glides by, the eyes are diverted to the night sky to watch a display of fireworks that places the cherry on top of a sweet experience.

“The night parade is where it all started,” Freeman explains. “This is what makes us stand out.”

History of Tradition

This rain or shine event has never seemed to fall short of the Christmas spirit each year. People from all over the state, and sometimes out of state, come to celebrate in the small, almost secluded town of Demopolis.

“COTR is a big tradition. It is so special and means so much to our community,” Freeman says with heart.

COTR, created in 1972, celebrates it 48th year on Dec 7, 2019. According to Freeman, they are already preparing for next year’s COTR and its 50th anniversary. Always in a Christmas state of mind, Freeman teases that there are big and special things happening in the future.

Freeman concludes, “If I had to describe COTR in 3 words I would have to say: joy, excitement, and community.”

For more information about the upcoming COTR celebration, check out the COTR Facebook page or go to www.visitdemopolisarea.com.

Read Between the Net

Applause, cheer, and the effortless yell of “Go Tigers” echoes off the walls of Pruitt Hall Gymnasium. Senior volleyball player, Taylor Donato embraces the rush of adrenaline and plays harder than she did the game before. When she falls, she fights to get back up.

During these last few seasons of volleyball, Donato battles with an issue in her legs. She continues to fight through this unknown problem that causes her legs to go numb and evoke high levels of pain.

“My leg problem has impacted how I play a lot. I am a really hard worker and sometimes the pain keeps me from going as hard as I can, but its definitely given me a lot of confidence and made me stronger,” Donato explains.

Throughout this experience, more confidence and strength have been built into the foundation of her life. Donato plans to continue to build up from there.

Self-diagnosed as passionate and hard-working, Donato always continues to push herself to be better. However, while her final season of volleyball comes to a close, Donato now digs for her identity without volleyball.

“Volleyball has been a huge part of my life since I’ve been nine-years-old and

has pretty much been a large part of my identity as a person since then. It is hard to figure out how I am going to define myself once it’s over,” said Donato.

Teetering on the beam between being a volleyball player and everything else, Donato struggles to find her balance. While writing new chapters of her life, she works to make the heart of her story about her life and not just volleyball.

“Even though I’m a really intense and competitive athlete, I’m not just a volleyball player. Dealing with the dumb jock stereotype my whole life has been something I continue to combat,” urges Donato.

From the outside looking in, the window reflects not just Donato’s athleticism, but her personality shines through. As a University of West Alabama student, she pursues a degree in Integrated Marketing Communications. In the future, she hopes to own an advertising agency. Donato also hopes to coach volleyball in the future, keeping her passions close to her heart.

Donato expresses with underlying confidence, “I don’t know if it’s a bad thing or have I just been lucky enough to make a ‘job’ out of my passion.”

Living Life After Cancer

On March 25, 2016, Jordan Mahaffey’s life was forever changed when she was diagnosed with Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma, a cancer of the sinuses.

At the age of 24, Mahaffey was nearing her college graduation whenever she started to feel sick. At Kirklin Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Woodworth delivered the news of her cancer diagnosis.

“Is this really happening?” Mahaffey said was the only thing she remembers thinking after she heard about the cancer.

With her sister’s wedding coming up in June, Mahaffey feared she stole attention away from that.

“When people have cancer, it’s a hardship for caregivers,” Mahaffey said, “but it has made me very grateful because it showed me who my people are.”

Treated at the University of Alabama in Birmingham Hospital, Mahaffey was able to stay at Hope Lodge, a place where people with cancer can stay for free and be transported to and from treatments. Without Hope Lodge, Mahaffey said she would not have been able to have received the treatment she did.

“I was fortunate enough to have a slow growing cancer that responded well to treatments,” said Mahaffey.

After 33 radiation therapies with chemotherapy, Mahaffey finally finished her treatments in September of 2016. She has lived two and a half years with no evidence of disease.

Currently pursuing a Master of Education in Social Sciences at the University of West Alabama, Mahaffey has decided that she wants to share her knowledge with others and become a teacher.

When asked about what advice she had to offer, Mahaffey said, “try to have hope and let people help you. Don’t be afraid to be negative. There’s an overwhelming pressure to be positive, but sometimes you just want to say, “this sucks”, and that’s okay.”

Economic Growth Becomes a Reality for Sumter County

On Friday morning, Livingston hosted the announcement of industrial growth for Sumter County and welcomed Gov. Kay Ivey, along with other state and county representatives.

At the corner of Epes, Alabama, reflecting on the Tombigbee River, Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet producer, will plant their business with a $175 million investment.

“I have been trying to make this day happen for the past 5 years,” said Enviva Chairman and CEO John Keppler. “While the road ahead is not easy, the hard work has already been done by everyone who is here today and could not be here.”

Enviva owns and operates seven plants strategically located in the southeastern corner of the country. Their goal is to continue to develop a cleaner energy alternative to fossil fuels by producing and exporting wood pellets.

Every ton that the Epes Enviva plant will produce has already been sold, according to Keppler.

Ivey shares her remarks, stating how she is always thrilled to be a part of reigniting rural areas in Alabama.

“I am proud to have Enviva invest in Sumter County and to welcome them to Alabama,” said Ivey.

Not only is the growth of Sumter County highlighted with the introduction of new industry, but the city of Epes also faces opportunities of community progression.

“I am most excited about the families that will be transformed in our community,” said Mayor Walter Porter of Epes. “Men, women, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons will be given the opportunity to put food on the table, provide for their family, and maybe send their children off to college.”

Enviva plans to hire locally first, directly employing 85 full-time workers, according to Keppler. After that, at least 100 more indirect jobs will be available.

Sen. Bobby Singleton envisions no other county more worthy to benefit from Enviva’s introduction to Alabama.

“Nowhere else will you find the most loyal, hard-working people to help make [Enviva’s] profit,” said Singleton.

Throughout the announcement, Sumter County Commission Chairman, Marcus Campbell coined the phrase “let’s go Enviva”. By the ended of the announcement, the present community high-fived each other, echoing Campbell.

“There’s no better place to build a business than Epes, Alabama,” said Porter. “Enviva, our doors are open, come on in.”

A Man with No Dream

Autonomy has become a concept that seems far from achievable by people in the most recent generations. However, for Jim Meade, an art professor from the University of Southern Mississippi, self-accomplishment is his preferred cup of tea.

“The best lesson, passed on to me by my father,” reflects Meade, “was that ultimately you’re on your own, so do it yourself.”

The cliché phrase “be yourself” has molded into the key of success that Meade uses to open life’s doors of opportunity.


In a room of organized chaos, art supplies rest and creativity dances off the walls where Meade embeds his passion in the lives of students any day he is given the chance. As he props a leg against his khaki pants, Meade leans back and vocally sketches a mental image of his life.

Meade grew up with a vision that had no dream. College never apparated in his envisioned future. However, Meade decided to return the pen that signed his life over to the military and pursue education.

After graduating from East Tennessee University, Meade earned two additional graduate degrees in art. After sharing his teachings for over 50 years, Meade wonders where the time has gone.

After laughing at the assumption that teaching art was listed on his life to-do list, Meade shares, “I grew up without art and never really discovered it until my junior year in college.”

Looking past the reflection on his Harry Potter shaped glasses, Meade blinks with eyes full of passion and intellect. He expresses that within the nature of art, direct communication with the great minds of the world easily sprout.

“I’ve always been inspired by the ‘mess’ of my life and others around me.” Meade continues. “Ideas for my art typically stem from deep memory.”

Meade experienced the heart of the civil right movements and recalls memories of the past to influence his creativity for the future. Art sculpted itself into a form of communication and investigation that Meade uses to analyze and inspire life.

At the age of 16, Meade became a caretaker for his three younger siblings. Yet, among the tragedy of his parents’ passing, Meade does not have to strive to see the silver lining. He embraces responsibility and supports the push it gave him.

“Art opens a door and mine led me to great young men and women who I get to call students,” smiles Meade. “Honestly, I hate long vacations because I just miss my students too much.”


Similar to how roads and bridges connect us with otherwise unreachable people, Meade cemented a plethora of connections with “buddies” who continue to inspire him.

From the southeast to the foreign cultures of the far east, Meade humbly showcases his work of dark quality and pessimism. Despite the 137 art showcases Meade has on his list of accomplishments, he could not help but to share his love for Italy.

“I found a home in Italy, where art is just as valued as baseball is valued here in America,” chuckles Meade. “Italy was where I found my real passion for art.”

Meade describes Italy as his watershed, where art became more than what he studied in books or classrooms.

Meade removes a collection of erasers from his pockets while he discusses the drawing created earlier that morning. In his collection of personal journals, he dedicates time every day to express his passion and encourages students to do the same.

“If you let your passion rest for three days, it will take you three more days to pick it back up. Don’t let yourself waste those six days,” advises Meade.


As a past high school athlete, Meade illustrates the challenge of going through the losses. He stresses that no one understand what happens on the field except the player and encourages those around him to always stay in the middle of your own field.

“If someone were to go back and tell my younger self where I am today, I would have never believed them,” Meade said honestly.

As listeners sunk into the assortment of oddly colored, vintage chairs, all eyes of inspiration focused on Meade’s carefree articulation of words.

“I was told by a buddy of mine that the hardest thing to do is get started, and that’s something you just have to do on your own,” Meade recalls.

Life does not always sketch out to be a perfect picture and Meade has found satisfaction in that. The list of endless opportunities that life has to offer is what Meade encourages his students to explore.

Meade concludes, “there is life in front of you, enjoy it. Engage with life. What can you do with the 24 hours you are given every day?”

UWA Preview Day is Right Around the Corner

The small town of Livingston, Alabama is home to the University of West Alabama – ever heard of it? If your curiosity has been sparked, then Preview Day is your perfect opportunity to answer any questions about what the university has to offer you.

Preview Day provides prospective students the opportunity to get a glimpse of the college life and meet possible professors. “The amount of information given on campus that day really covers a multitude of topics,” said Libba Baker, Interim Director of Admissions, “they will get to see the fun side of campus by attending one of our spring sporting events. They will get a taste of what it’s like be a student at UWA.”

One of the many things offered at Preview Day would be a campus tour. The university has student ambassadors who give these tours and are there throughout the day in order for upcoming freshman to meet current UWA students. “Preview Day is a great way for you to not only meet other prospective students, but to get to know the Ambassadors as well,” said Christopher Dunn, current sophomore ambassador, “it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.”

“Students will get to see the sights of the university and eat food from our cafeteria. They will get a sense of what it’s like to be an actual student on campus, going from classroom to classroom. They will get a sense of community,” said Kirstan Cunningham, Assistant Director of Admissions.

So, why does coming to Preview Day really matter? Visiting the campus of a

university could make or break your college decision. For current student, Alisha Chaney, Preview Day was all she needed to decide that West Alabama was where she wanted to be. “It was the location definitely, they had my major, and the atmosphere was great. Everyone was nice and polite,” said Chaney, “what really drew me in was when I came back a few weeks later and the staff that I meet remembered my name and face.”

Upcoming students may register to attend a UWA Preview Day on either March 9 or April 6. It is free to attend.

Here’s what you can expect as a guest at Preview Day:

10:00 AM Check In

10:30 AM Welcome

10:45 PM UWA Essentials

11:30 AM Academic Session

12:00 PM Campus Tour

1:00 PM Lunch

2:00 PM UWA Baseball or Softball Game

In order to register, visit the university’s website, www.uwa.edu.

UWA Student Participation in 2020 Census Could Spark Growth for Sumter County

The 2020 Census is upon us and rural cities need citizens’ participation now more than ever, according to Sumter county officials.

The census is an official count or survey of a population, recording details of each individual. This survey happens every 10 years and allows for states, counties, and cities to determine their wants and needs based on population size.

Distribution of more than $675 million in federal funds, grants, and support to states, counties and communities are based on census data. These funds are spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works, and other vital programs.

“As a student, you and your fellow students play an important part in this upcoming census,” said Mayor Gena Robbins of York, Alabama.

As a student, 70% of the year is spent on campus and living in the city where the school is located. University of West Alabama students are considered residents of Livingston and have the ability to make a difference in what the city and county offers.

“Rural areas have less people and less resources, but we still have the same needs as the big cities,” said Robbins.

The population counts are not only used for vital programs but are also used to determine retail and industry recruitment. The fast food restaurant and clothing stores

that students favor depend on population count to determine whether to place their business in Livingston.

Students hesitancy to complete the census could stem from lack of time or inconvenience. However, the 2020 census will be easier than ever, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Students will be able to receive the census in their campus mailbox or can complete the form online.

Data from the 2010 Census shows that roughly a thousand Sumter county residents did not complete the census. Based on past history, county officials predict that Livingston will be just as low on numbers for this upcoming census.

According to Ezell, for each counted resident, the city receives $1600 in funding. If a thousand Sumter county residents are unaccounted for because they did not complete the census, the county will lose roughly $1.6 million in funding.

“This is considered your home now,” said Robbins. “Share your voice and share an educated voice. You are the future.”

For more information on the 2020 census, visit www.census.gov.