Living Democracy

Shipma Enjoyed Time Listening, Learning in Linden

Gee's Bend quiltNot everyone may know about the Gee’s Bend Quilters, but their famed quilts have been displayed in museums from New York to San Francisco. So Kathryn Friday, County Extension Coordinator for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, decided to take Auburn University’s Living Democracy intern Cristiana Shipma for a visit with the quilters in Gee’s Bend this past summer.

Friday was amazed when the quilters agreed to loan Shipma several quilts worth thousands of dollars to exhibit during Linden’s summer art walk.

Friday said she believes they were able to exhibit the quilts at the art walk because of the impression Shipma made.  “They trusted Cristiana with those quilts because of who she is. She was genuine and listened to people. They liked that,” Friday said.

Helping plan the downtown art walk was the highlight of Shipma’s adventure in Linden. She had the opportunity to live and work in the West Alabama community of 2,039 through Auburn University’s Living Democracy initiative. It was a change of pace for the then-freshman from the north Alabama town of Madison.

Shipma, 20, said it was intimidating at first to work with people not her own age. She spent much of her time at Linden’s Senior Citizen Center, which provides lunch and a place to fellowship.  There she listened to stories about Linden and advice about her summer projects as she politely dismissed their offers of blind dates with their grandsons.

Cristiana ShipmaShipma said, “I really enjoyed the times that I was just sitting in a rocking chair and getting to know how life in Linden really is -- not from an economic standpoint, or a business standpoint, but from how people lived their lives.”

It was through these personal connections that Shipma encountered a cast of unforgettable characters who proudly call Linden home. She was introduced to Betty Jean Tucker, the woman Shipma calls “the most interesting person I met this summer”.

“Ms. Tucker used to be the head of the English department at the University of West Alabama. She wrote the book “On a Darkling Plain: Stories of the Great Depression” and I got to interview her. She typed her entire book on a typewriter. She is a big deal but does not act like it. She asked me to help at her book signing, and it was so cool.” See Shipman’s story about Tucker here: http://www.cla.auburn.edu/livingdemocracy/blog/lifelong-writer-publishes-first-book/

Shipma went on another adventure with Kathryn Friday’s husband, Joe. He set up a meeting with a local shrimp farmer who was able to raise inland shrimp because of salty, brackish water in the region. She also enjoyed her first shrimp boil during her summer in Linden.

Aside from the rural farms and small-town atmosphere, Linden has an amenity any millennial would enjoy---a local coffee shop. This is how Shipma met Charlotte Barkley, owner of Charley Burl’s gift and coffee shop. Shipma became a regular, always opting for the mango smoothie. Barkley and Shipma formed a close bond quickly. Barkley said, “She has such a caring spirit. I lost my dad that June, and she always told me she was thinking of me. She was so kind and considerate.”

Cristiana ShipmaThe relational aspect of a small-town community is what interests Shipma, a communications major. This love of people and their stories motivated Shipma to create the podcast Memories of Linden. Her podcast can be found here: http://www.cla.auburn.edu/livingdemocracy/blog/life-in-the-black-belt-of-alabama/

Shipman’s community partners, Kathryn Friday and Brenda Tuck, executive director of Marengo County Economic Development Authority, watched her leadership and confidence develop throughout the summer.

Both of her community partners were impressed with Shipma’s passion and sincerity. Tuck said, “I saw her grow so much in ten weeks.”

Shipma said her Living Democracy experience gave her a greater appreciation for small towns and showed her the importance of community.

Barkley said the community was sad to see Shipma leave to go back to student life in Auburn. Shipma, a sophomore,  is an on-campus resident assistant, involved in Reformed University Fellowship, and was recently named a 2015 Auburn University student recruiter. She aspires to study abroad before she graduates and hopes to pursue a career in ministry.

Friday is optimistic about this Living Democracy student’s future. She said, “Cristiana is able to cross barriers of race, gender, and age because of her caring personality.”

Last Updated: March 18, 2015