By Rachelle Wilson
Photography by Maryann Bates
Part of a series that features individuals from our community who, after some time away, have returned to share their skills and talents here.
If ever you have the honor of being a guest in Alice Bailey’s home, do not refuse the glass of sorrel she will offer you. Originating from the Caribbean, the deep burgundy drink is at once spicy and sweet, much like Alice herself.
Only a few moments of acquaintance with Alice will reveal a hospitality that is almost other-worldly. Her genuine tone, patience to listen to others and willingness to share herself create a perfect foil to the hustle and bustle of our modern era.
I had known her only minutes before she was offering me a vibrant, thriving plant – one of the many found flourishing in her home. In fact, sharing is the way in which Alice moves through life. It’s a trait she learned in Macon from her mother.
“My mother was a fantastic human being who taught us how to live in the world with other people as partners with them – not better than they or less than they. I’m very, very blessed to have been born to her and my father,” Alice said.
“My mother never gave anything to anybody; she shared. She said, ‘When you give, you say, “I don’t want this anymore. I don’t need it, so I’m going to give it away.” But when you share, you say, “I like this. I want someone else to enjoy it, too.”’ So, you share.”
Listening to Alice, glowing with generosity and love for her mother and, more surprisingly, for Macon, is almost unbelievable. Growing up during the 1940s and 50s, when those with melanin in their skin were publicly denied full engagement with the benefits of our society, Alice must have experienced an upbringing surrounded by hatred. The South, with its reputation, was particularly difficult.
However, she reflects on her childhood in Macon with warmth and no resentment toward what opportunities were deprived of her.
“I went to St. Peter Claver, a school that my mother and her four or five brothers and sisters had attended as well. I’m a staunch St. Peter Claver parishioner. I believe in the mission of the school and the mission of the order of nuns, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, that taught us. … They taught us about being people as well as being academic. From there, I moved to Ballard Hudson,” Alice said.
“At the time, it was just an excellent, excellent, excellent education. We had teachers who were special human beings, dedicated to the profession, who taught us a great number of things – both what was in the books as well as how to be adults and people.”
Alice took her education and experience – as a radio disc jockey at WIBB – and went to New Orleans to study at Xavier University. By that time, her mother had relocated to Philadelphia near some relatives, which is where Alice ultimately settled. But before Alice was 21, her mother passed away. And despite being heartbroken by the tremendous loss, Alice did the only thing she knew: She poured herself into her community.
During her time in Philadelphia, Alice saw a severe health need in those around her and used her platform in the media to fix it.
“I was then often known as the health fair lady. I started health fairs in 1972 with Jessica Savage; we both worked for KYW television. She had a three-part report on the scene of health of black people in Philadelphia: hypertension, diabetes and cancer,” Alice said.
They developed an idea of free screenings to provide a service and raise awareness of the growing health crisis.
“We announced it, promoting the idea on air. … When it started, we opened at 11 o’clock for the screenings. By 9 o’clock, the sidewalk was full of old folks. Well, that concept grew and grew,” Alice said. “During that time, Blue Cross became aware of me and asked if I’d come work for them and do that. The idea caught on. My favorite was the children’s health carnival. That was great fun down at the zoo every year.”
Alice went on to provide such services across the country and in the Virgin Islands. And after building a career, the impact of which is still seen today in health fairs across the nation, Alice resolved to return to her roots.
“I wanted to come home. It allows you to feel part again, to be back to where you came from – a belonging. You have a place there,” she said. “I have a tremendous place in Philadelphia as well, but, you know, I had to make it (feel like) home.”
For Alice, Macon already was home.
“I still knew the neighborhoods; knew where all the streets are. I knew the people. It was my beginnings. I was surprised by Tindall Heights; Tindall Fields had changed. At that time, Pleasant Hill was being torn up, and that was unbelievably sad – still is for me,” she said.
Since returning to Macon, Alice has continued her involvement with the community. She recently was honored by The Phoenix Project for her contributions to the Middle Georgia community with a “Woman Who Leads” award. This kind and generous soul is always happy to share with those around her – whether it be a glass of something exotic, a story of her childhood at St. Peter Claver, a beautiful plant or the wisdom learned through a life of overcoming and thriving.