Does Birmingham have a ‘closed’ culture that shuts out millennials?

The Rotary Trail--Community porject of the Rotary Club of Birmingham
The Rotary Trail–One of the many projects of the Rotary Club of Birmingham

The speaker completed his talk at my Rotary meeting.

When I got up from my table to leave, a young man tapped me on my shoulder.

After introducing himself, he said, “Mr. Sher, I enjoy reading ComebackTown, but I was upset by one of your articles.”

He was referring to a piece I had written about Birmingham losing our  large  public companies and the community leaders we also lose. As a result, the remaining business executives are forced to assume multiple high level civic roles.

He complained that the Birmingham business community has created a ‘closed’ culture—not allowing young people the opportunity to grow into meaningful leadership positions.

He said he is disappointed with the Rotary Club of Birmingham–which I am a member.

He told me he currently belongs to the Rotaract Club.

Rotaract is a Rotary sponsored service club for young men and women ages 18 to 30. The Rotaract Club of Birmingham allows members to belong until age 35. He said he soon will be 35 and he will be required to leave the club.

He explained that he would like to grow his career  within Rotary, but because he works for a large company, the Rotary Club of Birmingham limits the number of memberships to top corporate management—and he is not eligible.

He said he knows he could join other Rotary or civic clubs—but felt constrained.

Birmingham’s probably the best civic club town in America.

Both the Rotary Club of Birmingham and the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham are the largest in the world.  Our Rotaract Club, which my young friend  is a member, is also the largest Rotaract Club in the world.

Many people don’t know that the Civitan Club was founded here in Birmingham.

Our civic clubs are incredibly generous and make a difference both locally and internationally.

Our Birmingham Rotary Club has played a major role in seeking to eradicate Polio worldwide.

Some of our many projects included establishing an effective Birmingham preschool learning initiative;  responding  generously to the destruction of the 2011 Birmingham tornadoes; and funding the Rotary Trail.

But I’m approached most every week by young professionals looking for advice on how to get involved in making Birmingham better.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy answer.

So I ask these questions to our millennials…

Do you feel Birmingham provides meaningful opportunities for leadership roles for young professionals?

What opportunities should be provided?

What do you recommend to our established business community and to our many civic clubs?

You young folks are our future.

How can we best take advantage of your talents, energy, and vision?

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 Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham.

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4 thoughts on “Does Birmingham have a ‘closed’ culture that shuts out millennials?”

  1. “Both the Rotary Club of Birmingham and the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham are the largest in the world. Our Rotaract Club, which my young friend is a member, is also the largest Rotaract Club in the world.”

    Then these huge clubs represent the cream of Birmingham’s owner and managerial class. Then why is Birmingham so far behind other large southern cities? Apparently one group of people run the city and county, and the other group owns and runs all the businesses. Sad they’re not on the same page.

  2. Leave it to a Millennial to think Bham is closed just to him. The nature of conservative business policies is to protect the status quo, which inevitably hands the opportunity for growth to those outside of region. The same ‘brain drain’ has been happening across rural America for years….Just with Birmingham it’s happening on a much larger scale.

  3. Hi David, I’m 33 and in an similar position to your Rotaract friend. I have been in the Rotaract Club since 2011 and it has been a truly transformative experience for both my personal and professional life.

    I do not believe it is the responsibility of our city to provide opportunities for us. It is our responsibility to create our own opportunities and bring others alongside us. That’s how the Rotaract Club was founded in the first place. There was a need and a handful of scrappy young professionals made it happen. They had the support of the Rotary Club, which was absolutely vital, but it wouldn’t have happened if young professionals hadn’t stepped up in a big way. The Rotary Club of Birmingham is a fantastic organization, but it’s true that it’s challenging to get in or even find out the qualifications for getting in. Great. Go elsewhere. Find another organization. If you can’t find one, start one. It’s totally possible here and there are examples to prove it.

    I’ve always thought it strange that these older, more established clubs don’t recruit younger, more diverse members more strategically. Seems very short sighted to me. (Though I know there has been a big push from some Rotary Clubs like Sunrise and Vestavia to recruit Rotaract members). On the flip side, a lot of these clubs have become unappealing to younger members. They’re probably very effective at what they do and the service they provide for our city, but they need to find some energy and life.

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