Todd Gerelds Talks About the Bigger Picture
I thank God for the book, Woodlawn by Todd Gerelds. Not only do we read about how lives were changed and relationships were healed during the racially tense days that were the 1970’s, but in this book the rest of the world can see the strides that were taken by one southern gentleman to change the dogma that could have crippled the South. Just as the title reads, there was one hope, one dream and one way for a high school in Birmingham, Alabama to set the stage for integration.
Todd Gerelds, the author of Woodlawn, lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife Jennifer Morgan Geralds and their four daughters Morgan, Bailey Kay or “BK”, Alli and Maggie Leigh. He is the son of legendary high school coach, Tandy Gerelds and grew up learning about life through football stories, football practices and games. He was kind enough to share a few thoughts with me about his life, the movie, the book, and life in the South.
In addition to his four daughters, the Gereld’s family also includes a Maltese named Roo, a Tabby Cat named Hunter, an African Bullfrog named Chunk, a ball python named Bagel and 2 Gerbils that he couldn’t remember the names. Todd enjoys cooking, reading, cycling and exercise. He has been trained as a storm spotter and is very interested in weather and storms.
When I asked him to share what he loves about the south, he had this to say,
I love the people because they are generally very hospitable and neighbors seem to want to help each other. When I choose a southern destination, I’m torn between the Panhandle, Destin/30-A area, and the mountains of East TN and Western NC. I also love the city of Nashville.
I am a big fan of Auburn University and their sports teams.
Speaking of sports teams, I asked Todd, “Can you describe the South’s love of sports and how it is incorporated into our family life?”
I think many southern people have traditionally had fewer entertainment and sports options. Many southern cities don’t have professional sports teams, nor access to many of the vast array of cultural/entertainment options some of the larger metropolitan areas have. Traditionally, we have developed an allegiance to our local college teams. Families have often utilized college sporting events as family get-togethers. As a result, the bond with these teams grows incredibly strong over the passing generations. It truly becomes a part of the family. We tend to incorporate sports and eating in an amazing way. I believe the south has revolutionized the concept of tailgating.
Speaking of tailgating, what is your favorite southern meal?
I love fried chicken, creamed corn, pinto beans, and any kind of greens.
What southern saying do you hear yourself saying that your parents used to say?
Running around like a chicken with my head cut off!
Do you have a favorite southern author/book?
I am a big fan of Andy Andrews, and really love his book, “The Noticer.”
In Woodlawn, the testimony of your father’s conversion is very powerful. Would you like to share anything about your personal walk of faith?
I witnessed my father’s transformation as a child. I began attending church and was exposed to the truth of the gospel throughout my childhood. However, my own conversion occurred when I was 17. At this time, my dad who was my high school coach, invited speakers to come talk to his team at football camp. I realized my need for Christ and repented and turned to Him. There have been so many seasons to my walk with Him since that day in August of 1984. I have had some REALLY tough times. Times I’ve doubted. Times I’ve questioned. Jesus has always held onto me. He is always faithful.
Misconceptions About the South
Do you think most people across the country still mentally picture the South with police dogs, fire hoses and rioting in the streets?
I think that most people probably think of there being disproportionately more bigotry and racism in the south. Having lived in the north and the south, I think bigotry and racism are not confined to geographic areas. I think most people would be surprised at the progress that has been made in many southern cities. (There is still work to be done).
I believe that our adversity from the past makes us stronger. I think this is true in nearly every area of life.
Do you think it is possible to change the media’s perception of the South?
The media has to be willing to see it. I do think that the body of Christ, the Church, is doing and can do lots to change perception.
What would you like to see change?
I think the church needs to take more leadership in “loving our neighbor.” We need to be more intentional with our efforts to show grace and mercy to the least and the lost.
Questions About the Book/Movie
How would you respond to critics who would say that this movie only brings more focus to the racial tensions of the past?
I would say that the point of the movie is that the love of Christ is transformational. And, that reconciliation of all people is possible through His amazing love. The world is full of sinful people. Human history is replete with human beings doing reprehensible things. Through the grace of God in Christ, human history is also replete with stories of transformation and reconciliation.Woodlawn, the movie, is a story of reconciliation. #Woodlawn #heartfordixie #seethemovie Click To Tweet
The football chaplain in the movie said, “100% without fail, it doesn’t have to be this way.” Do you believe we can change the way people think of the South? Is this a worthy cause? Should we try?
Those are difficult questions. It is difficult, in one way, and not in another. The difficulty is overcoming dogma based on the bias and preconceptions of other people (the very things that lend themselves to racism). The part that isn’t difficult is in whether we do our part in removing this dogmatic preconception that is not based in present-day reality. The answer to that is an unequivocal, “YES!” We should do everything in our power to daily live above reproach in the area of loving our neighbors as ourselves. Whether this will remove the bigoted perceptions of others is questionable. But, it sure will make for a better world for us. Persisting in this over time will, hopefully, change perceptions. And, efforts like yours and this site are good forums and avenues for people to see how much their perception differs from reality.
Was his (Coach Gerelds) salvation accurately portrayed in the movie?
As in various parts of the movie, the chronology of things is off a little bit, but overall, yes. The Erwin brothers actually used Dad’s actual words from his testimony for the scene at the church. Dad’s conversion was the direct result of his witnessing the transforming power of the love of Christ on his team. My book covers the actual chronology of his conversion and baptism. But, overall, it is a good dramatization of how he came to Christ. Dad’s baptism actually occurred at Huffman Assembly of God after the season. His conversion actually occurred the week before the season began.
Huffman Assembly of God was a big church, pastored by Dan Ronsisvalle. I was a young girl of about 14 when I first visited this church. I was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean on a youth trip with Huffman Assembly. It is likely that I saw Coach Gereld’s baptism and had no idea who’s life I was witnessing change. There were many during those years. The city truly underwent a revival.
Back to Todd:
My husband was a student at Huffman High during the game that put Banks and Woodlawn together that fateful day. He remembers seeing Tony Nathan run down the field and realized then that he was “somebody special.” Knowing what you know now, how would you describe the depths of that “specialness” to the city of Birmingham? The state of Alabama? The South in general?
There are a lot of parts to that question. Tony’s athleticism is obviously what your husband was referring to when he noticed that he was special running down the field. And, your husband was right. Tony was an exceptional athlete. That Huffman game was particularly special as Huffman had been such a dominating team for two straight seasons heading into that game. Tony had a tremendous impact on Woodlawn and the students and faculty there due to the character he displayed as a student and athlete there. His mom and dad are special people. They raised Jean, Tony, Vince, Diane, and Cedrick. All of them grew up to be quality people. They raised them to win people over with the content of their character. Tony truly did that. He never showed a selfish side. He still doesn’t. He texted me last night just to check in to see how my family was doing. He was and is humble, almost shy. Still, he shows great strength and toughness. Because of his stardom as an athlete, it would have been easy for him to have an “attitude.” Instead, he maintained a quiet dignity that drew people to him. Tony had a big impact, but really, it was through his humility that God allowed many people to see Him work in and through that Woodlawn football team and school. From there, it spread. God uses all of us in the sphere of influence He has given us. People in Birmingham love their football. Tony’s stardom drew people to him. This brought attention to the bigger picture of what God was doing.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I encourage everyone to go see the movie. Obviously, I’d like everyone to buy the book. The book and the movie are different. They serve two different purposes. The book is a straightforward, accurate, historical account of what happened. The movie takes abundant artistic liberties to dramatize things. The biggest thing was regarding chronology. Movies have to compress and extend things to fit them in to the flow of the story. The movie did this. The movie is true to the theme and overall storyline. There are many things that are done in a hyperbolic manner to make points. I believe the Erwin Brothers did an amazing job and that the movie tells the story in a compelling and effective way.
What a great contribution to Birmingham! One can only hope and dream that others will see the South through the lens of this camera.
For those who didn’t grow up in the 70’s there was a saying that went with a gesture among Christians of the day. If you held up your index finger you were saying, “One Way.” That is one way to God through His son, Jesus Christ. One hope. Jesus Christ. One Dream. Salvation through Jesus Christ. Thank you, Todd Gereld’s for this interview, your book and your dedicated life. May God continue to bless you.
Woodlawn, the book can be purchased here. In Fairhope, AL, the movie will be shown on Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 6:30 pm at Fairhope United Methodist Church in the CLC. Todd Gerelds will be there, too.
In the following video Todd tells how Woodlawn came to be. It’s the story of the love of God that transcends our own misconceptions about how to love our neighbors and who they are.