Birmingham’s been called the ‘city of perpetual promise.’
But that potential seems to elude us.
Destiny, however, has dealt us a hand and it’s up to us to grab it.
If we want to make our mark on the world then we must identify how we’re unique and how we can exploit that uniqueness.
Modeling ourselves after other cities is a losing strategy
It’s good that we’re building a technology presence here, but we’re never going to be Silicon Valley. And we’re certainly not going to be the “Rocket City”–Huntsville owns that.
We have a nice music scene, but we’re not going to be Music City–that would be Nashville.
And forget about competing head to head with Atlanta.
We’re proud of our $60 million Regions Field, but the Atlanta Braves are now hitting home runs in a brand new $672 million baseball stadium. Once there was talk of building the Birmingham Aquarium, but then Atlanta opened the $290 million Georgia Aquarium.
Embrace our history
It’s unfortunate that Bull Connor forced his reign of terror on Birmingham. It’s a tragedy that four little girls lost their lives in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, and we’re known around the world since Martin Luther King wrote his letter while being incarcerated in a Birmingham jail.
We cringe when Birmingham is featured in the news because we have to suffer through television footage of blacks being attacked by ferocious dogs and fire hoses.
That, however, is our unique racial history and no other city in the in the U.S. is quite as ill-famed.
Atlanta built a National Center of Civil and Human Rights. Memphis opened a National Civil Rights Museum. However, Atlanta, Memphis, nor any other southern city is even close to being known for suffering the Civil Rights indignities as Birmingham.
We have been designated a Civil Rights National Monument by the U.S. National Park Service because we have the…
- A.G. Gaston Motel
- Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
- 16th Street Baptist Church
- Bethel Baptist Church
- Kelly Ingram Park
- Colored Masonic Temple
- St. Paul United Methodist Church
- 4th Avenue Business District
Birmingham could impact the world by becoming the epicenter of human and civil rights
If we get it right, people from all over the US, Europe, and Asia will visit Birmingham to see our historic sites and to learn how to make the world a better place.
According to Brent Leggs, a senior field officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Alabama Tourism Department estimates 550,000 people visit the state each year to experience civil rights history. It’s estimated that cultural tourism attracted $52.5 million to the state last year, including $6.8 million on lodging, $14.2 million on dining, and $21.5 million on transportation.
Some folks may wish we could make Birmingham’s checkered history go away.
But that isn’t going to happen.
After more than fifty years Birmingham is still known around the world as the center of the Civil Rights struggle.
Let’s become the city that learned from our mistakes and set an example for the world.
Birmingham will never be Music City, Rocket City, or the Big Easy–but we must seize the opportunity and become “The center of human and civil rights.”
It’s time for Birmingham to embrace our civil rights past.
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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. firstname.lastname@example.org.