Why Birmingham can never have a Mandela

We in Birmingham join in mourning of the passing of the legendary South African leader, Nelson Mandela, who died last week at the age of 95.

It’s ironic that we are currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of our Civil Rights struggle the same year as Nelson Mandela’s death.

Many renowned speakers came to Birmingham this year and emphasized that Mandela was inspired by the Civil Rights struggle here in Birmingham.  It’s clear that Birmingham played a key role in changing the world.

Birmingham has come a long way since 1963, but most would agree we haven’t lived up to our potential.

Many people blame this lack of progress on poor leadership.

Is lack of leadership the problem or is it a system of government in metro Birmingham and Alabama that leaves no room for leadership?

Let’s assume metro Birmingham had a visionary-selfless leader like Mandela who agreed to run for public office.

What office would that be?

It’s certainly not the Mayor of Birmingham.  The Mayor of Birmingham represents only 19% of our metro population.

Mayor Bell is quoted as saying, “I wasn’t elected Mayor of our Region.  I was elected Mayor of Birmingham.”  (Birmingham’s Mayor represents less than one out of five people)

And if Mayor Bell tried to act like the Mayor of the region he would be voted out of office and be criticized for his megalomania.

Also note there’s no Mayor of Jefferson County—only five commissioners who represent five separate districts.  The only major County official elected county-wide is our Sheriff—and he’s not empowered to manage our county.

And even if we did have one county-wide elected official, then that person couldn’t do his/her job because our State Constitution allows no home rule—which leaves the critical decisions to our State Legislature—not our County government.

There’s no one elected official with the geography, constituency, or resources to develop and implement a plan to move our region forward.

A world leader said this week, “Nelson Mandela fought for human rights and left his mark on the war against discrimination and racism.  He was a strong proponent of democracy, a valued arbitrator, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and above everything he was a builder of bridges of peace and dialogue.”

Mandela overcame overwhelming odds to change South Africa–but at least it was possible for him to be elected to a top executive position–a position that does not exist here.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising Agency and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP). 

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4 thoughts on “Why Birmingham can never have a Mandela”

  1. I DO NOT AGREE that Birmingham could never have a Nelson Mandella. In June of 1990 Mr. Mandella spoke to a packed Tiger Stadium in Detroit. His message, as I recall, was basically that there is a spirit straight from the Creator God that is instilled in us in order to make the differences in our societies that brings true justice, freedom and dignity to every person. Trust that spirit within you.

    I think that spirit is here in Birmingham imbedded in the hearts of all of us. Among us, yes here in our midst, there is someone who can emerge who represents in a genuine way the basic needs and rights of the citizens of Birmingham. This person will catch the attention of those who genuinely want the basic needs of all citizens met. That coalition may or may not arise from the present major entities in  the city: BBA, REV, CFGB, LB (Leadership Birmingham). However, this coalition may arise from beyond any of those entities. This person will meet a lot of resistance from “the self-interested,” from the keepers of the “status quo” (“Birmingham will never change”). The character traits of this individual will be strength to counter the opposition. Traits like a reconciler, a coalition builder, a mediator, an accessible person to the public, and a person of faith, that is, it is the destiny of all to reach their fulfilled destiny as a person of worth.  Watch for this person, pray for this person, and by all means, we must each work at our own personal goals that will contribute to the development of the city and the region.

    fr. alex steinmiller, president of Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic H.S

  2. *David, first I want to thank you for your wisdom and clarity of mind in putting forth issues, such as this that probably no one else in Bham could. That is blesssing to us all.  

    I agree with your comments and all those for Father Alex. A person can arise when and where least expected if it is God’s will.  

    I love Birmingham, my adopted city since 1977.  We are the biggest small town anywhere. Yes, the landscape is beautiful as mentioned often by visitors. But is it the people who are the most beautiful, everyone of them.  Friendly , warm regardless of where they live.

    There are so many wonderful people in our town who have not yet reached their full potential in making us who we  were meant to be. 

    I believe that while we might not have a Mandela, I believe we can have a leader with many of his qualities but we all need to come together to identify that person and provide them with support needed  They need to be charismatic, quietly eloquent and driven to make us One City, One Population,  Such a person will just natuallly arise and we will be drawn to him/her, provide support, etc.

    Again, thanks  David for coming forth and talking about things others avoid dicussing.  That is part of the problems. Avoiding discussions, old south mentality be gone.

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