“When students become more familiar with the realities of poverty and individuals struggling to break free of it, they begin to develop a greater sense of responsibility to take action to promote social change.”  Stephen Black, Founder

Stephen Black, grandson of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, grew up in New Mexico after most of his family left the state in the 1950’s and 60’s following his grandfather’s role in controversial Civil Rights decisions, including Brown v. Board of Education. Despite growing up over 1,000 miles away, from a very young age, he was fascinated by Alabama and the legacy of his family’s commitment to public service in their home state.

Mr. Black received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated magna cum laude and his Juris Doctorate from Yale Law School in 1997. Following his graduation from law school, he returned to Alabama to join the Birmingham law firm, Maynard, Cooper & Gale, PC.

After three years with the firm, he was called to public service — serving for a brief time as an assistant to the Governor focusing on policy and economic development projects. Encouraged by the enthusiasm of thousands of students he encountered when speaking across the state, he turned his focus to founding and leading the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility at The University of Alabama, where he has served as Director since 2004.

In 2004, Mr. Black also founded Impact Alabama: A Student Service Initiative. In October 2014, Impact Alabama became Impact America and currently operates fully-staffed programs in Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Housed at the UA Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility, Impact America is an award-winning nonprofit with a staff of more than 90 full-time college graduates who have provided more than 8,900 college students the opportunity to participate in structured service projects designed to promote learning and leadership development.

Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility and Impact America accomplishments include the following:

  • FocusFirst: Over 3,500 college students have screened more than 432,000 children in Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida since 2004, with approximately 10% of the children failing the screenings and receiving free follow-up care as necessary.
  • SaveFirst: Over 5,400 college students have prepared tax returns for more than 63,000 low-income, working families since 2007 – helping them to claim $113 million in refunds and save more than $20 million in commercial preparation fees.
  • SpeakFirst: SpeakFirst’s first ten graduating classes (thirty-nine students) have earned more than $4.9 million in college scholarships. SpeakFirst also launched a middle school debate league in August 2013 which now serves for more than 120 middle school students annually at seven Birmingham-area middle schools.
  • Every Move Counts: Since 2010, approximately 500 UA students have taught chess and critical thinking skills to more than 1,500 2nd through 12th graders in seven Tuscaloosa schools.

In 2008, Mr. Black received the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award for his work with FocusFirst. This national award is given annually to individuals who demonstrate creativity and commitment in addressing society’s most pressing health issues. Ten recipients were chosen from over 800 nominations.

In June 2017, Stephen received the National Communicator of the Year Award from the National Speech & Debate Association for his work in developing the SpeakFirst Debate Initiative in Birmingham, AL.

The Birmingham News says of Stephen Black, “Black is bright and energetic and he speaks persuasively on such broad issues as tax reform, constitutional reform and education reform. Black exhibits a new spirit of leadership that Alabama desperately needs.”

The Tuscaloosa News proclaims, “Stephen Black could be the template for what people envision when they talk about the best and brightest. Energetic, brilliant, articulate, Black is the brightest hope for the future in Alabama.”

And the Florence Times-Daily writes, “Stephen Black has much to offer: intelligence, wit, enthusiasm, and, best of all, fresh insights and the energy to follow up on them.”

Stephen Black on the TEDx Huntsville Stage: “A Story of Culture: The Transformative Potential of Campus-Community Collaborations”

Stephen Black Accepting the 2017 Communicator of the Year Award from the National Speech & Debate Association

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In April 2014, Stephen was featured in a story on NPR’s All Things Considered. The story, “Alabama Tax Program Grows Out Of A Grandfather’s Lasting Legacy,” is about the SaveFirst initiative and the importance of promoting civic responsibility among Alabama’s young adults.


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