I am absolutely giddy with excitement this month for a couple of reasons. One, in honor of Father’s Day, Magic City Momma is featuring our first Daddy of the Month, and two, our Daddy of the Month is one of my all-time favorite people in the world, my big brother, Andra D. Sparks, presiding judge for the city of Birmingham Municipal Court and senior pastor of Forty-fifth Street Baptist Church.
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Andra Donell Sparks. I am 51 years old, and I was reared here in Birmingham. I attended Birmingham Public Schools and was part of the initial group of students in the EPIC Program, now EPIC School. I graduated from West End High in 1981, attended Tuskegee Institute, and earned a B. S. in political science in 1985, was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, and attended The University of Alabama School of Law and earned a Juris Doctor in 1985. After passing the bar, I was an Army Lawyer (JAG Corps) for four years. I was in private practice for about two years before becoming a referee at Jefferson County Family Court in 1985. I was there for 12 years. I have been a judge for the City of Birmingham since 2008 and presiding judge since 2010.
I am married to Karen Moore Sparks, who is from a big family in Tuskegee. We met in college and have been married for 30 years (on June 28, 1986). We have two children, a son, Anthony, who is the executive director for the YMCA Youth Center and is married to Ashley, a teacher in Hoover at Brock’s Gap; and a daughter, Brittany, an RN at UAB, who is married to George Davis a fireman for Birmingham. Anthony and Ashley have a four-year-old son, Aidan. I affectionately call him Poly, for roly poly.
I have also served as senior pastor at Forty-fifth Street Baptist Church since 2004.
What are the best and worst things about living in Birmingham?
I consider myself an ambassador for Birmingham, and I know that it is a hidden jewel. There are so many things that I really like. The food scene is excellent! I love sharing different restaurants with friends. I also love the fairly mellow pace of life here in the city. I love being near all my family. The worst thing can sometimes be the very oppressive heat we have to deal with. I also fret over the cultural divisions in the communities.
If you could change one thing about Birmingham, what would it be and why?
If I could change one thing, I would eliminate the community boundaries so that we could be one great metro area. I think we all lose so much in the constant battle over boundary lines and by not being able to share our authentic selves with others. We go in and out of people’s lives and never truly get to know people.
You work with youth a lot. What advice do you have for parents trying to raise youth in today’s society?
I actually feel for parents today who are raising kids. There are so many external influences that parents have to combat. You absolutely must be hands-on today. You have to be tech savvy and somewhat intrusive to stay on top of all the issues. Kids have not fundamentally changed, but the landscape is so different. The community that used to support parents is eroding, and so we are trying create artificial community to help us. You absolutely have to be hands-on. Around the time they reach the teens we have a natural tendency to want to ease up and give much more freedom, but I urge parents not to do so. The decisions made during this time period can have life-changing consequences (i.e., drugs, alcohol, and sex). You must be vigilant throughout this period and enlist trusted friends and family to help. All kids need to be spoiled a little, they just don’t need to be spoiled rotten.
What tips do you have for other parents who are juggling family and career?
Well, I have done this for years, but you have to establish priorities. First things must be first. If you want to show your children the significance of a spiritual foundation, then it must be significant to you. You can’t just talk about it. You must live it. They are smart enough to see authenticity. They also know when they are the priority. Family must also take precedence over career. Most right thinking employers understand the priority of family. Just be reasonable with your actions, but be a parent first. It’s your primary duty. I have a saying, Just do your job, and things will usually work out.
With all the hats that you wear, how do you make your marriage a priority?
Well, the first thing is I love Karen. She is a priority. I feel a responsibility to her, and I try to make that known to all. My grandparents were married for 68 years, and we have examples of long marriages in our lives. We like being with each other. I think she is my greatest gift from God, and I try to honor God by honoring the gift. I fail, but usually not intentionally. I also honor her before our children as an example for my son and son-in law of being a husband and an example for my daughter and daughter-in-law of what to expect from a husband.
What’s next for Andra D. Sparks?
I am really trying to be the best servant I can be, so more opportunities to help people. I hope to join my sister and son, and I would like to publish a book. I want to continue working at the court and developing programs that are meaningful and helpful to people. I also would like to continue leading the church congregation until I reach a point where I don’t have the energy that position requires. I would like to keep holding Karen’s hand for many years to come, and I hope to play with some more grandchildren.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I’m honored to be asked to be a guest on this blog! I think it’s great. I am partial to Chandra Sparks Splond though!
Visit 45bc.org to find out more about Forty-fifth Street Baptist Church.