​​Alumnus Builds Gardens, Changes Lives

News Date
Nick Rankins photo2
By Hazel Scott/ASU

Alumnus Nick Rankins is making a positive impact on the causes that matter to him in the community. He is using his financial resources to spread change and contribute to areas he is passionate about -- feeding those in need and helping black males.

Rankins, a physical education teacher and head girls track coach with the Lowndes County Public School System, is making his money grow locally through a community garden called Nixon-Times Community Garden, the former “Full of Life” urban garden, on the historic Westside of Montgomery, 700 Emerson St. He hopes the garden will mitigate some of the problems that plague the community.

“I built the community garden to allow residents greater access to nutritious food,” Rankins said. “Community gardens can stock pantries.”

The mentor, teacher, coach and role model said anyone who lives in the area is welcome to pick fresh produce. A portion of the vegetables, he said, are used to prepare meals for elderly residents every first and third Saturday in a partnership with catering service Beyond the Plate.  

“The garden is also open to the public,” he said.  “We’ve planted peppers, squash, sweet potatoes and much more.”

“The Young Men on a Mission,” an organization founded by Rankins, is maintaining the garden.  The organization, composed of 3rd and 12th graders, focuses on education, family, community services and social activities.

“It’s a wonderful way to not only grow nutritious good food but grow boys into good men,” Rankins said. “I want to continue to expose our young men to the different options they have in life to keep them out of the streets and doing something positive.”

The Mobile native added youth who come into the program learn two important life lessons: how to work and responsibility. He has expanded the mentoring program to the Black Belt and his school.

This garden has been so successful that he plans to build another in Montgomery’s Regency Park community.

Other Community Outreach

Rankins also gives back to the community by providing lunch once a month to about four or five businesses.

“With COVID, we try to provide lunch for the front liners such as nurses, doctors, firefighters and police officers. We provide lunches for businesses as well.”

For Black History Month, Rankins invited the Alabama State University Street Team to perform at the garden, which was highlighted on WSFA. Rankins also was featured In March on Montgomery’s WAKA TV Station’s “Pay It Forward” segment. The segment focused on his philanthropy works in the community.

Rankins said his motivation comes from a movie character.

“Ever since I was younger, my role model has been Joe Clark in ‘Lean on Me.’ I feel if we put love into our community and put love into our kids, we can only improve lives. We must look at ourselves and ask what we can do to change the narrative on what we hear on the news and radio every day. We lose a lot of our kids by pushing them away rather than pulling them in.’’

ASU Changed Life

Rankins said his life wasn’t always the way it is now.

“I got put out of my first college. I got into trouble and wanted to run the streets, and I wasn’t listening to my grandparents. I went another way.”

It wasn’t until he enrolled at ASU that his life changed.

“ASU was the catalyst to my positive transformation,” he exclaimed. “I give praise to Connie Dacus, an adviser who motivated me.  I earned two degrees from ASU. Alabama State was truly my second chance. It became home and has been home ever since.”

A recipient of ASU’s “50 Under 50” award, Rankins holds double degrees (B.S. and M.S. in Physical Education) from Alabama State University.