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“Should I stay, or should I go?” Why I left…

Dalian Williams
Lynn Oldshue
Dalian Williams

The Alabama Public Radio news team is examining the issue of keeping skilled and educated workers from leaving the Gulf coast. This on-going series of reports is called “Should I stay, or should I go.” Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Washington D.C., Charlotte, and Chicago are consistently ranked at the top of the lists for best places to live for young Black professionals. They are also the top destinations for many raised in Mobile who are seeking higher salaries and better opportunities for career growth.

My grandmother was always very proud to say that of her four children she had two doctors, one lawyer, and one accountant,” said Danielle Ayodelle. “They all did extremely well, but they had to go away to get their education. When my mother initially tried to come back and start her career in Mobile, she couldn't because she was Black. They ignored her application.”

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Ayodelle lives in Chicago building high-performing teams and coaching leaders to make it easier to do the work they love. She knew from a young age that she would leave Mobile. She’s now a North America experience manager for one of the big three global consulting firms. She calls it a dream job that she didn't know existed. Her brother is also there, working at the University of Chicago.

“It's not that we didn't want to be in Mobile,” said Ayodelle. “It was almost as if Mobile was saying this is not the place for you to have your career. As a result, a lot of the Black professionals left to pursue their careers. My brother who has an incredible background and was not even given a chance in Mobile and that's today's generation. It would have to be this current generation deciding we're going to start to do things a little bit differently.

Ayodelle remembers walking every day under the confederate flag painted on the ceiling of her high school. Her uncle and aunt were both dentists. They had to open their own practices because no one else would let them in. Danielle says creating more opportunities means breaking open the closed-off system based on who you know which leaves out many Black professionals in Mobile.

“At its core, Mobile has to be ready, open and willing to accept Black professionals,” Ayodelle insists. “For that to happen, you have to break apart this network and system that still permeates throughout Mobile. If you're Black, you're just not a part of that network in that system.

Pixabay

For Ayodelle, leaving also means raising the next generations away from their families and roots in Mobile, making it harder to stay connected.

“Our parents are now empty nesters trying to call their children back home. But it's hard because we can't pick up and transfer our careers to Mobile,” she said. “So a lot of my mother's friends and colleagues who had children who went to school with me at McGill were able to start their careers in Mobile, do well, and have their families there. They're surrounded by their children and their grandchildren and see them all the time. They can easily spend the holidays together. But my mother, along with a lot of her other Black friends, their children are all away.”

Ayodelle does the best she can to bring her young sons home and raise them with roots in Mobile.

“We were down there for a visit and it was so important to me that my boys, even at five months old and two years old, see where I'm from,” Ayodello recalls. “To drive up and down and see those big beautiful trees on Government Street and ride through downtown. To go to the beach and put their feet in the sand and feel the water coming off the Gulf coast.”

Lynn Oldshue
Dalian Williams

“I don't see organizations and companies that can recruit individuals like myself,” observes Dalain Williams. “I have other colleagues who are in other major cities from Chicago, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Miami. It’s hard to attract those individuals back into Mobile when they've established themselves professionally and Mobile doesn't support them, whether it's income needs or lifestyle needs.”

Williams grew up in Prichard and was raised by a single mother who worked at Scott Paper. Today he lives in Dallas and is a Technical Program Manager at Google helping to make the search engine more inclusive and equitable for all users. He hoped Mobile would grow into a city where he could reach his potential with a high-tech company, but he says it hasn’t happened yet.

“For me, salary was a big thing. Coming from an economically depressed area, you didn't really see a lot of successful Black men in this industry,” he said. “My brother shared with me that Microsoft was producing more millionaires than the NBA. And I didn't know if it was true or not, but it resonated with me.”

Williams says Mobile is better at producing professional athletes through sports camps and coaching than producing successful entrepreneurs and engineers. The same guidance is needed to develop a similar development pipeline into professional careers.

“I would love to come back, and I still try to do certain things in Mobile, whether it's investing in the community or partnering with organizations,” said Williams. “I see Mobile as a hidden gem in a lot of ways with a lot of valuable assets. The people are one of the most valuable assets.”

Like Williams, many of those who move away are still rooted to Mobile. They come back for high school football games, holidays, beach trips, and Mardi Gras. They want to find ways to use their skills and connections to help their hometown, even from a distance.

Lynn Oldshue
Folashade Anderson

“The brain drain is real. It is an issue. I don't know how you would spark the interest to come back if you can't offer the people what they have away,” said Folashade Anderson, who grew up in Mobile and graduated from Tuskegee University.

“When I lived in Washington, DC, everything I needed was within a four or five block radius of my apartment’ Anderson recalled.

Few jobs were available in her engineering field in Alabama, so her career took her to Hartford, Connecticut, Dallas, and Washington D.C. She moved back to Mobile to help her mother and is a patent examiner for the federal government. She misses the variety of restaurants, cultural experiences and entertainment that were only a walk or a short train ride away, every day.

“Mobile does have things to do,” Anderson insists. “So that's on me to get out and take in all that Mobile has to offer. No, it's not DC. No, it's not New York. It's not Boston. It's Mobile. And it's a pretty city with a lot to offer.”

Lynn Oldshue is a reporter for Alabama Public Radio.
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