Facebook thinks I was born and raised in northwest Alabama.
It’s a funny mistake, based, I assume, on the statistics the company applies to most people. The friends of the average person probably hail from the same area where that person lives, with perhaps some groups of friends still living cities and towns where the person used to live and perhaps some old school chums from back in the day. Throw in a few scattered professional contacts around the country or world, and that’s most people’s contacts on social media.
Not me. After the “I’m with Phil” effort of 2011, I have more Facebook friends living in and around Phil Campbell, Alabama, a small, rural, dry town that I’ve visited only a handful of times, than anybody else, anywhere. And I’ve lived, quite actively, in several cities, and I’ve kept in touch with friends stretching back to first grade.
Seriously. Whenever I idly visit the Facebook “recommends friends” setting, I see only unfamiliar faces. More Alabamians. Friendly-looking enough people, but foreign to me...yet claiming dozens of mutual friends of mine.
I know that director Andrew Reed was motivated into making the I’m with Phil documentary because he was raised in Phil Campbell. He knew several of the people who died in the 2011 tornado that destroyed much of the town. His own house was spared by pure luck. I can see, understand, and appreciate how badly he wants to raise as much money as possible for this film, so that he can give it back to the town to help it rebuild.
My own motives are more complicated. I initially decided to help because it just felt like the right thing to do; some people in Alabama needed help right after the tornado, and you don’t walk away from people in a time like that. Moreover, it seemed like the other Phil Campbells and I had something real to offer, if we could just pitch the idea – Phil Campbells helping Phil Campbell, what a sincere idea! What branding! – to the right media outlets, and beg the right corporate sponsors to contribute some money, we might be able to have a real impact.
Two years later, perhaps the reason I keep going with the “I’m with Phil” idea is because, quite frankly, I’ve never been so embraced by so many over one thing I’ve done, and I've walked the red carpet with Hollywood actors and have given a few pretty decent-sized book readings! It’s a completely new experience. And the circumstances could hardly be more strange. Me, Phil Campbell, a relatively anonymous transplant living in Brooklyn, New York, a high-strung writer, an unapologetic liberal and card-carrying ACLU member who has struggled with religious doubt and who relishes arguing about politics, race and culture, being accepted by an entire town that has a reputation for traditional Southern ways, Baptist churches, and a strict prohibition on the sale of alcohol?
And yet it’s more than that. Like the original impulse in 2011 to help the town of Phil Campbell, I think there’s an opportunity, through this film, to continue to help the town, and quite possibly to inspire other people to just get involved, to just lend a helping hand -- all those cliches we use to talk about the need to help others when others need help. I had forgotten how authentically good that feeling was. Maybe that’s the only real justification or explanation I need.
So, two years later, I’m still motivated to help. Maybe I can inspire you to do the same? You can donate here -- help us finish the film I’m with Phil, so we can hunt for distribution for our film, and find an even bigger way to help the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama.