I was recently home for the funeral of a beloved friend. She was a second mother, a member of my home church, and her children are like my sisters and brother. On the way to the cemetery, my sister, Renee, asked when I die, where I want to be buried. I said, “Birmingham, it is home!”
I have lived in Birmingham longer than any other city. I moved to Birmingham almost twenty-eight years ago from Pontiac, Michigan. All that is seriously important to me is here: my wife, our children, grandchildren, career, and a city and region I have grown to love.
I have watched this city change in multiple ways. I have witnessed the leadership of our city change. Dr. Richard Arrington, Jr. was mayor when I arrived January 1990. Last week, a Morehouse College-Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity brother, Randall Woodfin, was elected mayor of our city. The late Dr. Cleveland Hammonds was Superintendent of Birmingham City Schools in 1990. Dr. Lisa Herring, a Spelman College sister and a native of Macon, GA, recently became Superintendent of Birmingham City Schools. The late Arthur Deutsch was Chief of Police and I witnessed Chief Johnnie Johnson become the first African American Chief of Police and in 2003, Chief Annetta Nunn became the first woman to become Chief of Police. In 1990, downtown was a ghost town as many employees fled the City at 5:00 p.m. and drove southward. Today, downtown’s nightlife is exciting, expanding, and thriving. The City of Birmingham continues to change.
We continue to experience the birth pains of a city that is stretching, becoming, and growing. Although it is almost 147 years old, Auburn University’s history professor emeritus, Dr. Wayne Flynt, described Birmingham as an American city “whose citizens are more aware of their failures than of their successes.”
One of the greatest successes of our city has been the rich tapestry of diversity. We have a very diverse city and region. The diversity of our city is a positive statement and our greatest challenge. We have to learn how to get along with each other, how to address challenges that affect not only Birmingham but the region.
It should be our sincerest and earnest prayer that moving forward, our city and region will recognize our differences, applaud and accept them, see them as a positive asset, and strive to make our metropolitan community the best place for all citizens to live. May it be so, Lord, may it be so. Amen.