Shauna Stuart hesitates to call herself a “Southern girl” even though she grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and has been living in Birmingham, Alabama, since last year. But this New Jersey-born media maven is dedicated to making sure the voices of Southern girls are heard. Shauna is a social media specialist for AL.com, a subdivision of Alabama Media Group, where she works on a number of initiatives, including the Southern Girls Project, a partnership between AL.com and NOLA.com that is using journalism and various media platforms to help Southern girls share their stories and convey what it really means to be a girl in the South. Today, we are excited to feature Shauna as our FACE of Birmingham.
What is the goal of the Southern Girls Project?
The goal of the Southern Girls Project is to amplify the voices of girls who grew up in the South. Michelle Holmes, the Vice President of Content at Alabama Media Group, is very careful to say we’re not giving these girls a voice; they already have it. But people all over the country have this pattern and habit of invalidating voices that come from the South, especially if you’re female. So it’s about being able to uplift those voices. Girls from the South are strong. They’re powerful. But outside of the South you have this definition of a Southern woman as docile and delicate. People love to define the South so much. I don’t understand the obsession with wanting to speak on behalf of the South, particularly if you’ve never lived here or only visited. And that was an inspiration to me for wanting to join this project.
What are some examples of things you have done through the Southern Girls Project so far?
We did a series on girls and their rooms. We talked to girls after the election about how they felt and their thoughts. We’re following a girl from Birmingham and she’s giving us a visual picture of what black history means to her by going to different spots in Birmingham.
And recently, I had the opportunity to talk to young ladies who attended a screening of Hidden Figures hosted by Mayor William Bell at The Summit. Two of the women profiled in Hidden Figures are from Virginia, so it was great being able to talk to these girls, who are from the South, about what it was like to see these women represented on screen who are also from the South. They were really excited about the movie. I almost shed a tear. They said, “I loved it! It made me so hopeful!”
Why don’t you consider yourself a Southern girl?
I consider myself a Southerner. But I wasn’t born here, and I really didn’t embrace the whole Southern girl lifestyle because a lot of my family is in Jersey. My parents are from the Caribbean. For most of my life, I wanted to go back to Jersey where my family was. I didn’t really embrace living in the South until college. In college, at the University of Maryland, I was like, “Yeah, you know, I’m from Atlanta!” because you get to college and people get really over-enthusiastic about “repping” their cities, and up there, it was all about P.G. [Prince George’s] County, Baltimore, DC and New York. That’s when I really started being proud of being from Atlanta. And I never really took to the DC area, so whenever I got back home for Christmas or vacation I was like, “Thank you, God, I’m back on holy ground!”
What do you think of Birmingham so far?
I feel very humbled to experience living in Birmingham as an adult. I’ve always paid a lot of reverence to the history of the city. But being able to live here really helps me put those events into perspective. In November, I had the chance to go to the Lyric Theatre for the Fred Shuttlesworth Awards. I got to see the historic “Colored Entrance” and see the balcony, which was formerly reserved for “colored” patrons. It was a very solemn experience for me to watch Eleanor Holmes-Norton receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Award sitting in a seat and entering through a door where I wouldn’t have been able to 50 or 60 years ago.
Also, Barbara Cross, the daughter of Pastor John Cross of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, was a substitute teacher at my school, Green Forest Christian Academy in Decatur, Georgia, when I was in the second grade. She was featured in the Spike Lee documentary Four Little Girls. She taught my second grade class on a few occasions. She spoke to our class about the bombing, and we watched the documentary. Now, as an adult, I remember how humble she was and how she bore witness to that event. So to see the church again as a 29-year-old and to live in her hometown is a very solemn experience for me.
Do you have any favorite places in Birmingham yet?
I really like the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. I went there for the first time in fourth grade on a class field trip, but it’s a very different experience as an adult. I was there recently, and I’m looking forward to being able to visit multiple times and seeing something different every time I go.
I’m looking forward to trying Hot and Hot Fish Club and the Pizitz Food Hall. I’m very worried about weight gain moving here. But you only live once. I’m not going to put myself on a diet and not enjoy all the food that’s here.
I’m also looking forward to finding out about Alabama’s jazz and blues scene. The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame is on my list of places to visit.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
This a hybrid of some of the best advice I’ve gotten, whether it was through “Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday” or just a friend: Get over it! Don’t be afraid to hit that reset button. When something happens, you’ve got to move on. If you’re having trouble with something, figure it out. Handle your life. Handle your situation. Really get a handle on whatever you’re going through.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
I’ve taken a real liking to lobster. I liked it before, but then I lived in New England and I got it for cheap — a lot — and I just really love that little red crustacean. I just can’t get enough!
Also, lipstick is very important to me — different shades and textures of red lipstick.
And I really like glasses. I would love to have 15 different pairs to switch out with my hairstyle and my mood.
Thank you, Shauna! Learn more about the Southern Girls Project at al.com/southerngirlsproject and follow the Southern Girls Project on Instagram at @southerngirlsproject and on Twitter, using the hashtag #southerngirlsproject. You can also join the Southern Girls Project’s Facebook page.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the fabulous photos of Shauna on Morris Avenue in Downtown Birmingham.