2018 Civic Fellow Katherine Mauldin reflects on her first several months in Marion, Alabama.

August 24th, 2018 marked the beginning of my civic fellowship with the David Mathews Center for Civic Life. Marion, a town first introduced to me through The University of Alabama’s 57 Miles program, is now home base as I work with Main Street Marion to bring jobs to this community while keeping the character of the historic main street. But, in true David Mathews Center fashion, I have travelled over 2,500 miles to and from seven different Alabama communities celebrating strong leaders across the state and learning about innovative solutions to some of Alabama’s wicked problems.

This fellowship is allowing me to learn how local nonprofits collaborate and how to teach tools for deliberative dialogue. I have sat in rooms full of educators, politicians, and foundation boards. The work scales from small town to statewide weekly, always giving me something new to experience.

Over the past 65 days, this civic fellowship has changed my normal.


Now, Apple Maps considers Marion, Alabama “home” and tells me just how far away I am from this new home every time I get in my car. I have also begun to spell Mathew with one “T”, despite my fiance being Matthew with two “T”’s. And, I find myself clutching the steering wheel with two white-knuckled fists in Tuscaloosa traffic as I am now accustomed to travelling county roads.

Yet, I still rush to work, now just across the street, with coffee in one hand and a bowl of cereal in the other, without a hand to wave to drivers honking hello throughout town. Every day is still an adventure; I have found myself touring antebellum hotels and hanging zip lines in rainstorms.

And, the people of Alabama continue to amaze me as they drop by the office to celebrate life’s victories and talk through hard times.


Each day, I am humbled to work alongside Alabama’s local leaders, from the owners of The Social who provide a space for people to play board games, sing together, and enjoy a sweet treat to the Marion postmaster who knows everyone in town and reminds me to send thank you notes for all the packages I receive.

Within my first month at The David Mathews Center, I attended Black Belt Roots’ State of the Black Belt Conference in Demopolis, Alabama. At this conference, I listened and heard over and over again that the Black Belt needs leaders who are willing to collaborate and work for the people.

I see this kind of leadership every day. Leadership that cares for the people and places that make up a community. Leadership that seeks to include others in plans for the future. Leadership that works hard and does not always take the credit. Leadership that listens well, that thinks before they act. Leadership that celebrates and mourns with a community.


Living in Marion-town, my new home, I have seen churches organize the packing of over 1,000 shoeboxes, I have seen shopkeepers clean the sidewalks and water flowers hours before opening, and I have seen strangers become friends after one conversation. This town generously serves and graciously lives.

I am honored to have the opportunity to serve Marion and Alabama as a David Mathews Center Civic Fellow. This town and this state have plenty to share and teach a young person and I look forward to 2019 with Main Street Marion and the David Mathews Center.

-Katherine Mauldin, 2018 Civic Fellow