My first visit to Birmingham, AL was Father’s Day weekend, 1998. I approached the city on I-65 from Montgomery and had no idea what to expect, despite what some in town may believe. I’d left Savannah very early that morning, suffering one flat tire and frayed nerves as I attempted one of my sicker road trips; one that included Thomasville, GA, Dothan, AL and Montgomery, AL en route to the Magic City, without really stopping – in one day. There were no thoughts about dogs, hoses and Bull Connor. It was something I’d read about, something my parents told me about but as observers watching it on television in Trinidad rather than as people who’s family had grown up in it. I was more concerned with how my friend had convinced me to come visit and what was I going to discover while here.
I’ve recently been sorting through items in old boxes at the loft and came across several rolls of film that I’d never developed in the past seven years. Among them were the images that I felt were most important to take during that trip; shots of me in front of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, images from the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, pictures of the statues at Kelly Ingram Park. Images that were burned in my head from that trip were of what this town could be. I remember thinking, “What’s going to happen when everyone else finally discovers Birmingham?”
Last week, an image of Vulcan atop of his perch on Red Mountain gazing down into Jones Valley in the middle of the night served as the post of the day for this blog. The statue itself has served as a symbol of the success of the Magic City since its original erection for the World’s Fair. It has served as a focal point for me over the course of the weekend as I try to get my thoughts about Birmingham’s present and future. While there have been many attempts to identify a vision for the region complete with goals and strategies, a vision statement for the city has not been easy to locate.
Birmingham is a diverse city. It is also magical. It’s magical walking along Highland Avenue in spring. It’s magical sitting in Erskine Hawkins Park during the Function at the Junction. It has provided the momentum to change the world in many different ways. When people think of the city of Birmingham, there are some that only think of Dr. James Andrews and his high profile surgeries on professional athletes or of its cultural offerings and not of its past, though they may need to. When some do think of our city’s past, it is as a vehicle for providing hope for the future of the world and not as a black eye that has been
difficult to remove.
For those that believe that the image of Birmingham needs changing, maybe the image of Birmingham actually needs defining. My Birmingham is not Atlanta, not Charlotte, not Memphis, but Birmingham. It celebrates the diversity of the city and promotes inclusion in all facets of its existence. My vision is for this to serve as the 21st century hub of the New South. It enables people to know of all that is good in our region and to instill a can-do attitude in its residents. It is a city that celebrates the accomplishments and assets that it already possesses and determines ways to expose it both inside and outside of its boundaries. It is a city that does not think of failure or why it won’t work immediately but one where its citizens work together to lead the region forward, implementing the various goals and strategies developed through organizations such as Region 2020 and Operation New Birmingham with its residents
in the recent past.
What do we do to achieve this vision? Maybe the first question is really “Do you believe this too?” Is this feasible? I know it is. What am I willing to do to get there? The forum that I’ve suggested is aimed at improving that line of communication among all age levels, as some of the best young professional organizations are those that are young at heart. There are others working to strengthen communication in the corporate and political spheres of influence in the region. Our future leaders need to organize as well and possibly set the tone for their city, their future. Some are better at collecting information, others at producing projects and goals from that information. Let’s get that dialogue going and lead our region into this new frontier.
I have two questions for those reading this: What is your Birmingham? What are you willing to do to get there? Let us know. I’ll be seeking some answers from people around town and posting them here.