16th Street North, Birmingham, AL.
February 1, 2020. Aside from this being my sister, Sonja’s 28th birthday, my sister/friend opened her dance academy on the 60th anniversary of the opening of the historic A.G. Gaston building. Ursula Smith epitomizes strength, endurance, resilience, and brilliance. As I was driving to her grand opening ceremony, stopping at the corner of 6th Avenue and 16th Street North, my heart began to swell with pride. I wanted to cry as I endearingly looked at the Four Spirits sculpture, victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. As I turned onto 16th Street, Ursula’s occasion seems surreal. The weight of her work made the Heaviest Corner on Earth (20th Street North) seem extremely light. She was now in line for even more remarkable success – 16th Avenue Baptist Church, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, A. G. Gaston Building housing Ursula Smith Dance Academy.
A. G. Gaston died a multi-millionaire. He was a historically influential businessman in a city of the radically-charged South. He created the Smith & Gaston funeral home, owned a radio station, commissioned a savings and loan, and established the A. G. Gaston Motel. He strove to translate Black power to Green power because money talks and answers all things. He was able to fund significant moves within the Civil Rights movement, including providing bail for Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy after being jailed for protesting. Dr. Gaston’s legacy of success is perpetuated in the steps of every dancer Ursula produces.
Find a need and fill it. Successful businesses are founded on the needs of people. Ursula took these words of Dr. Gaston to heart. It is no irony or coincidence that she has acquired the keys to this historic landmark. God favors her. She is the articulation of extraordinary faith that has enabled her to move mountains. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 Amplified Classic Edition: We ought and indeed are obligated [as those in debt] to give thanks always to God for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is growing exceedingly and the love of every one of you each toward the others is increasing and abounds. Her faith is astounding and is exhibited through her love for people, little black children, talented dancer, and people who just want to move. Ursula consistently professes – Dream. Be. Create.
I am constantly amazed by what Ursula can conceive and achieve. This studio is just the culmination of years of hard work, disappointments, tears, surgeries, job changes, car deaths, supportive friends and family, a December dream, and two successful births of her son, Elijah Benjamin, and daughter, Sophia Janeen. I am only four months older than her, and since the age of 19, when she wanted reports of how I was doing in college, Ursula has felt like my older sister. I often find myself pulling from her strength, and attempting to apply her principal of getting up every day as if it is my last to my life. Our pastor, Steve Green, recently said, Don’t be surprised by what God does but always be amazed. Amaze is a verb defined as to surprise someone greatly; fill with astonishment. Ursula amazes me.
The legacy of Ursula Smith is built on a firm foundation. She gracefully juggles her roles as wife, mother, sister, daughter, business owner, choreographer, friend, teacher, and dancer. She continuously allows Elohim to breathe through every lift, spin, lean, and leap. God obviously loves, and favors her and she truly loves God. Ursula is never ashamed to express this love and now the greater Birmingham area has a front-row seat to her show.
I remember when Ursula showed me where the balance bar would be installed in her 1st studio located in the living room of her 1st home. I helped apply yellow paint to the walls of her 1st storefront studio in Fairfield, AL. I am a witness of her transitions and triumphs. This eulogy of her accomplishments is not final because Ursula is just beginning the next chapter of her incredible story. I am sure this Decade of Destiny will be one that she dances to with joy. I am in great expectation of what else God can do.
Give love. Get love.