Jonathan Porter: From Bessemer to President of the Greatest Sporting Event in Alabama History

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By Javacia Harris Bowser
For the Birmingham Times

On a beautiful spring morning, Jonathan Porter embarks on a tour of the places that have profoundly changed his life, beginning with a visit to the AG Gaston Boys and Girls Club (AGGBGC) in Bessemer, Alabama, and ending with an interview in his Office located on the 16th floor of the Alabama Power headquarters in downtown Birmingham.

Between those stops, Porter — chairman of the board of directors of the Birmingham Organizing Committee for the 2022 World Games (TWG 2022) and senior vice president of customer operations at Alabama Power — takes a trip to his childhood home in Bessemer, where he visits his mother.

“She means everything to me,” Porter said of her mother. “No matter how high I go [in my career]I will always watch it.

These days, Porter, 48, has people looking up to him. As Chairman of the TWG 2022 Board of Directors, he is expected to oversee all operations, lead fundraising efforts, and serve as an ambassador for the games, the city, the state, and even the nation.

“Of course there’s a team,” Porter said. “We have a great team of people who are committed to the success of the games, who are committed to showcasing the city of Birmingham, the state of Alabama, as this new South.

“[TWG 2022] is going to be the biggest event in the history of the state of Alabama. … For me, a little boy from Bessemer, a [historically Black college and university (HBCU)] graduate, [someone] who statistically probably shouldn’t even be in those seats – now being asked to chair this huge international event was truly humbling,” said Porter, who hopes his story will show young people from all walks of life similar that they too have the ability to beat the odds.

The TWG 2022, which will attract elite athletes from over 100 countries around the world, will take place July 7-17 at various venues across the Birmingham Metropolitan Area including Protective Stadium, Legion Field, Birmingham CrossPlex and the Hoover. Metropolitan complex.

The event takes place every four years in the year following each Summer Olympics. The World Games represent the pinnacle of competition for 3,600 of the world’s best athletes in more than 30 unique multi-sports including pool games, wheelchair rugby, dance and many more.

Porter knows what’s at stake and doesn’t take his role lightly. He sees TWG 2022 as an opportunity to show the world that Birmingham can live up to its moniker of ‘The Magic City’.

“People out of state and out of town still tend to think of Alabama and Birmingham in black and white. They think about what they saw in the 1960s,” Porter said. “Yes, we’re going to embrace our history, but we want to focus on our trajectory and the city of Birmingham being this vibrant new city in the South.”

A good basis

Growing up, Porter spent much of his time outside of school at AGGBGC in Bessemer, where he first met The Birmingham Times for this profile and a tour of the places that made a difference in his life. It was at this club that he started playing football, which he calls his “first love”.

“It also introduced me to a number of coaches who really stepped in as father figures,” Porter said. “I met some of my best friends still to this day, and it kept me focused on something positive rather than just running around the streets.”

Today, Porter sits on the board of AGGBGC to give back to an organization that has given him so much.

“They had summer enrichment programs in addition to sports, and they taught us fundamentals like leadership, discipline, teamwork, and accountability for your actions,” Porter said. “It really laid a good foundation for me.”

“A Bunch of Love”

Porter was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, but his family moved to Bessemer when he was a freshman, so he considers Bessemer his hometown. His parents separated when he was around 7 or 8 years old.

“I grew up in a single parent home, not a broken home,” Porter said. “A broken home is a home where there is no love. I got a whole lot of love.

That love came from his mother, Gwendolyn Porter, who still lives in the Bessemer home he grew up in. It was our second stop.

“My mom means everything to me,” Porter said. “She must have been a mother and father, a doctor, a lawyer, a cheerleader – everything. She keeps me down.

Porter’s mother motivated him to make education a top priority, so he knew bringing home bad grades was unacceptable.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for Gwen Porter,” he said. “No matter how high I go, I will always watch her.”

In search of Wakanda

Porter also credits his early days at Jackson Solomon Abrams Elementary School in Bessemer where he was honored last week by representatives from the 2022 World Games and the cities of Birmingham and Bessemer.

Porter couldn’t thank elementary school enough for what it meant to him. Quoting German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Porter told students and officials, “If you treat a man as he is, he will remain as he is. If you treat it like it should be and like it could be, it will,’ so I want to thank Bessemer City Schools, JS Abrams Elementary School, for treating me like I should be…” Porter said.

At Jess Lanier High School (now Bessemer City High School), Porter continued to play football and helped lead the school to a state championship. He then went on to play for Tuskegee University, where he spent four years in football as a running back/back and was an all-conference athlete-scholar.

“Football has been good to me,” Porter said. “It funded my journey through college.”

The executive said the grill also helped prepare him for life after college. Sport taught him discipline, the importance of teamwork and how to get along with different personalities, skills he uses every day in his role at Alabama Power and as Chairman of the Board of TWG 2022 administration.

In 2019 Porter was inducted into the Tuskegee University Athletic Hall of Fame.

Despite his love for soccer, Porter is eager to show young black men that athletics aren’t their only option for a better life.

“Sport is great and sets the stage for things, but I want our young people to understand that through education you can do something outside of sport too,” Porter said.

He recalls a line from the Notorious BIG’s song “Things Done Changed”: “Either you throw crack or you got a good jump shot.” »

“A lot of young people in our community think that’s their only option,” Porter said. “But you can have a nasty jump shot and have a 4.0 [grade-point average].”

Porter received more than a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Tuskegee: “I received a personal education,” he said. “That’s really where I became a man.”

In addition, meeting people from diverse backgrounds challenged him and helped him grow. “I know the focus is on HBCUs again right now, but for me, Tuskegee was Wakanda long before [the film] ‘Black Panther’,” he said, comparing the university to the fictional East African country that was home to the Marvel Comics superhero and described as the most technologically advanced society in the world. .

Knowing that renowned men like educator Booker T. Washington, agronomist George Washington Carver, and author Ralph Ellison once graced the campus, Porter felt he walked on hallowed ground every day. When his time in Tuskegee ended, Porter was offered several jobs in other states, but he turned them all down.

“I realized that I loved this state and wanted to stay,” he said. “I wanted to give back to the community in which I grew up. If you keep taking soil but don’t replenish it, that soil will eventually die. I turned down several job offers that would take me out of state because I wanted to do my part to replenish the soil, so we could continue to develop our talent.

Maintain relationships

Porter joined Alabama Power in 1991 as an intern through INROADS Inc., described on its website (inroads.org) as “a nonprofit organization that creates pathways to careers for high school and college students of diverse ethnicities. “. As part of the program, Porter continued to intern in public service each summer until he completed his undergraduate studies.

After briefly working as an underwriting analyst at Protective Life Corporation and as a director at INROADS, Porter joined Alabama Power in 2000. Over the past 22 years, he has held a variety of positions including Senior Recruiter, Vice President of Resources Humanities and Ethics, and Vice President of the Birmingham Division. Currently, he serves as Senior Vice President of Client Operations, managing over 600 employees across the state. He visits each Alabama Power office once a quarter to maintain good relations with those employees.

In addition to his work with the power company, TWG 2022, and AGGBGC, Porter serves on several other boards, including the Jefferson County Education Foundation, Jefferson County Economic and Industrial Development Authority, United Way of Central Alabama, REV Birmingham Inc., the Birmingham Business Alliance and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Even with his busy schedule, Porter’s top priorities are spending time with his wife, Kima, and “building a great relationship” with his daughters, Laila, 18, and Kailyn, 12. Watching movies with her daughters is one of her favorite weekends. hobby. He and his youngest daughter recently binged all the Harry Potter movies.

“History or History”

“Birmingham has to decide if we are going to be historic or historic,” said Porter, now seated in his headquarters after visits to AGGBGC and his childhood home in Bessemer. “I think sometimes when you focus so much on your past and that’s the only thing that defines you, you can become the story.”

TWG 2022 is Birmingham’s chance to show it’s relevant and here to stay, he said, adding he hopes the games – which are expected to have an estimated economic impact of $256 million – will also show that Birmingham is “open for business”.

To show the city’s dedication to diversity, TWG 2022 has pledged to dedicate 35% of its budget to minority and women-owned businesses and creates other opportunities for entrepreneurs. Additionally, the games will include an interactive career fair highlighting manufacturing, healthcare and technology careers available in Alabama.

“Just as the eyes of the world were on our city and state in the 1960s, the eyes of the world are on us right now in 2022,” Porter said. “What a great opportunity we have to rewrite the narrative of Birmingham and the state of Alabama.”

TWG 2022 will take place July 7-17 at various venues across the Birmingham metropolitan area. For more visit twg2022.com

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