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NBA superstar Shaq lends support as Omega Academy moves forward with plans in Talladega

omega ribbon cutting

TALLADEGA —  Friday was a momentous day in Talladega.

The city government fulfilled the major priorities outlined early in the current administration, and addressing those issues should have positive repercussions for the community for years to come.

Rehabilitating the Talladega Municipal Golf Course and the East Side Head Start building had been priorities for Councilwoman Betty Spratlin and Councilwoman Vickie Robinson-Hall, respectively, according to City Manager Seddrick Hill. Both properties will now be part of the Omega Academy, a non-profit educational foundation that is part of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal is a member and was closely involved in the efforts in Talladega, although he was not able to be there Friday. Instead, he sent a videotaped message, thanking Hill and Hall and saying that he was aware of the other transformative programs being implemented in the city.

Both the golf course and the head start building had been vacant for several years. Early in his tenure as manager, last year, Hill and Councilman Trae Williams (who was not able to attend Friday) took representatives of the fraternity on a tour of the city and “showed them some of our strengths,” Hill said.

“As we walked, I started dreaming,” Omega Psi Phi Grand Basileus Dr. David Marion said. “I saw great things, extraordinary things."

Omega Psi Phi Sports and Entertainment Committee Chair Dr. Mark E. Stevens was also involved. 

“We want to be part of the Talladega family,” he said. “Seddrick approached Shaq, and he said ‘we need the General, we need Icy-Hot, we need Krispy Kreme, we need everything you’ve got to help save our youth. He was in. … And we want all of you to know, will be here until the end.”

Lamar Williams pointed out that the Omega Psi Phi’s core principles are “manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift. We are wanting to give young men something to look up to.”

Omega Academy has already opened a school for young men who have been suspended or expelled from public schools in the metro Atlanta area, and there were plans in the works last year to open a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math oriented school in Atlanta as well. The location fell through, however, 

The project was shelved briefly but revived following the walking tour with Hill and Williams.

The day was particularly poignant for Mayor Tim Ragland, who grew up on the East Side (“Knoxville For Life” was a common refrain throughout the afternoon) and was a graduate of East Side. During his remarks, Ragland also thanked the late Horace Sims, who had served as director of East Side Head Start, and who the building was named after.

“He had the same mission,” Ragland said. “Help children and give them a head start in life.”

Also making his first major public appearances, Friday was Talladega College’s incoming president, Dr. Gregory Vincent. He spoke only briefly, saying it was an honor to be present and that he was there to serve.

The plan for the 38-acre golf course is to use parts of it for a golf school or six-hole loop course and driving range. According to the announcement, the program will enable youth to build the strength of character that empowers them through a lifetime of new challenges by seamlessly integrating the game of golf with a curriculum focused on diverse life skills.

At the old head start center, the Omega Academy of Science and Fine Arts will provide services to individuals and families whose quality of life has been negatively impacted by poverty, unemployment, homelessness, crime and inadequate public education services, the release says. The academy’s resources will provide an alternative education platform and child development options for the community, according to a memorandum of understanding approved by the city council last month.

Specifically, the academy will offer enhanced science, technology, math and engineering classes to junior high and high school-aged boys.

According to the MOU, Omega will not be allowed to resell the East Side property and must begin work on renovating and converting the building by a certain deadline or the property reverts back to the city.