Wednesday, August 16, 2006
The South Trip, Marion, Alabama (Day 2)
There's something in the air in Perry County, Alabama. Or the
water, or the soil. Whatever it is, it's causing some of the young
people who grew up in the Black Belt of this deep South state
-- so named for the rich dark soil that characterizes a wide swath
of the land -- to come back home again, or not to leave in the
At least, that's what one young woman who's decided to stay --
for now -- believes: She is 20-year-old Allison Beckett, who grew
up in a tiny dot on the map named Faunsdale, in Marengo County,
next door to Perry County. But Allison's life has been anything
but circumscribed by the place where she spent her childhood.
As a student, she excelled at just about everything she tried.
But it was her talent for ballet that propelled her from home,
at just 13, to the big city of Birmingham, and to the highly competitive
Alabama School of Fine Arts.
After four years there, during which she studied ballet across
the United States, she enrolled at the University of Alabama,
Birmingham, while some of her classmates headed to colleges like
MIT and the Juilliard School of Music.
"I guess I felt a tug in the direction of home," said
Allison, tall, slender, dark haired. Even when wearing a pony
tail and blue jeans, she carries herself with the posture of a
ballerina. She quickly grew to dislike the University of Alabama,
and so when her uncle contacted her, half way through her freshman
year in college, she jumped at the chance to move back, close
to home -- to help run the family cheese business, an adjunct
to their very successful dairy farm. Overnight, she put her math
skills to work, learned to balance the books, and today -- two-and-a-half
years later -- Southeastern Cheese Corp. has doubled in size.
When I asked why the family had reached out to her, she looked
down and said modestly, "I'm good at math and science."
But her accomplishments don't end there: Today, even as she attends
Judson College and aims for a degree combining science and business,
Allison is deep into talks with investors over how to convert
some of the cheese byproducts into ethanol, a highly desired alternative
In addition, just one year ago, she teamed up with a young friend
and Perry County native, John Allan Clark, to buy and revive the
weekly county newspaper. As a publisher and editor team (she's
the business person, he's on the news side), they've seen circulation
climb, even as they've taken on some entrenched political interests
in Perry County. (You'll hear more about John Allan in our television
and online reports.)
Ask Allison what she wants to do in the future, and she talks
about how gratifying it is to own a newspaper that can transform
a community. "I'd like to buy several more papers in this
area," she told us. "It's a way of making a real difference."
Allison turns 21 this November.
-- Judy Woodruff