Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, one learns a lot about the history of race relations in America. After all, Birmingham was the seat of the greatest civil rights movement in modern history. My early exposure to programs like Anytown Alabama and Youth Leadership Forum spurred in me a deep interest in race relations, inequity and hope for a better, brighter future for all.
This interest followed me to Trinity College where, as an American Studies major, I wrote my senior thesis on Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and the use of the church in Black politics. Armed with these experiences, I was honored to join the board of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in 2016, and to become vice chair of the board in 2019.
Through these personal lenses I have viewed, observed and felt the inequities and social injustices that have proliferated in different and frightening ways all over our country – especially in recent years. Clearly, we have come a long way since June 19, 1865, but qualifying how far we have come since September 15, 1963 is a much more difficult and complicated task. In Birmingham we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 2013, but since then we have learned, and continue to witness almost daily, how very far we still have to go – from criminal justice reform, health disparities, income inequality and more.
Additionally, each of us either has witnessed, participated in or been victimized by terrifying racially motivated events over the past few years. It seems extremists are, perhaps more than ever before, empowered, emboldened and operating in the absence of fear of retribution. It sadly is true that unnecessary loss of life always has been a part of our nation’s, state’s and city’s histories, but it seems as though we are regressing as a society. We must remember that, in the absence of hope, there is no chance of attaining peace. That said, it is with some trepidation that, like all parents, I am concerned about the world in which my boys are growing up.
After the murder of George Floyd, our team came together to discuss what we can do to accomplish three goals:
Since George Floyd’s murder – and countless others that have occurred since May 25, 2020 (most recently in Buffalo, where a white man targeted Black Americans, taking the lives of 10 people from their families and friends), our team repeatedly has asked “what can we do,” “how do we do it” and “how will we know it’s working?” While the transformational events of the last few years have pushed us to challenge ourselves and ensure we walk the walk, answers to those questions remain elusive at best.
With Summer’s arrival upon us and Juneteenth days away, we will continue to do the work necessary to address these questions. While those answers may continue to challenge us, much of our work – particularly the workforce development initiatives in which we are engaged across the country – focuses on reaching those who are under-represented and motivating them to take action.
I personally am very proud of my coworkers who, on many occasions, have invested the time to engage in the work necessary to move forward as one nation, indivisible. Clearly, we are aware that transformational change will require more of our earnest energy and time. But time is not on our side.