“For those on the outside looking in, they’re seeing that the churches can’t even come together,” says Urban Hope member Dion Watts. “That’s something that has been a Goliath – a huge stumbling block. If we can come together on this, the message it will send to the rest of the world will be profound.”
The music is pounding, buffeting the thrashing bodies from every direction as lasers swirl overhead, first red, then green, then melting into a disorienting synesthesia. This is the hottest ticket in Birmingham right now – Tuesday nights at “The Basement.” It draws nearly 5,000 teenagers a week to dance, sing, and pray. That’s right. Pray.
It’s a tough crowd, this assembly of silver-haired Southern gentry. But David Pollick surveys his audience coolly, flashes a megawatt smile, and says something you might not expect to a room full of well-heeled college alums: “Anyone who would aspire to be a college president is a lunatic.” No doubt some have wondered about the sanity of Dr. Pollick, the 12th president of Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), who arrived at the school in 2004. Last year, he and the board of trustees decided sports had become too prominent at the private liberal arts college – a controversial stance in a state where people still revere Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary University of Alabama football coach, even though he died nearly a quarter century ago.
Contrails of sweat arc through the air as a football player slams his opponent into the wall, the momentum carrying him over the four-foot barrier and nearly into the nacho-laden laps of a family of four. Fans leap to their feet and pump their fists to a chorus of “Who let the dogs out? Woof! Woof!” With a triumphant grin, the airborne player vaults over the wall and plants his feet firmly back on the green Astroturf as a parade of silver-clad women shimmies into the end zone. Football is the main event on this Friday night, though religion is a definite subtext – with a Bible giveaway, a Christian concert, and, controversially, football players wearing jerseys with biblical references.