Today’s guest columnist is Paul Kix.
I am a white man from Iowa who married a Black woman from Houston, and we’re raising our three biracial children in suburban Connecticut, and I’m here to tell you: My life is only possible because of Birmingham, Alabama.
From the vantage point of the present day, events in Birmingham allowed me to fall in love with Sonya from Houston in 2004, to get married in Texas, a former Jim Crow state in 2007 and to raise our two black kids today on a shaded street where none of our neighbors, white or black, harass us for who we are.
Birmingham is the origin story of America.
I’m convinced that Birmingham 1963 was the linchpin of the civil rights era and perhaps the most consequential ten-week period in modern American history.
Maybe you know that story and maybe you don’t, but I feel so indebted to Birmingham.
Birmingham, the greatest story of America
Sonya and I knew that the historic events over 10 weeks in Birmingham that year shaped America in ways that no season had before and none had since. What happened during Project Confrontation in Birmingham in that spring of 1963, was more than a great story of the Civil Rights Movement. It was the greatest story of America.
Martin Luther King Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference went down to Birmingham, financially insolvent, completely afraid, with the intent to break segregation or be broken by it.
King and the rest broke segregation in that most segregated of American cities through grit and perseverance and, above all, hope.
The success in Birmingham then set in motion all that followed: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 and King’s death in 1968 and then a new life for his country. The rise of the Black middle- and upper-class and Barack Obama’s presidency.
I am now telling this story, but through the prism of another story, about my family.
In the summer of 2020, as Officer Derek Chauvin ground his knee absent-mindedly, almost playfully, into the back of George Floyd’s neck, the murder felt almost personal.
You see, Floyd was from inner-city Houston, and grew up in Third Ward, one neighborhood over from where my wife Sonya grew up, in the equally hard up Fifth Ward.
George was Sonya’s age, forty-six, and he’d gone to Yates High.
Sonya’s cousins had gone to Yates. Her cousin Derrick knew George back then, watched him as a tight end on the Yates football team that made the state championship game.
In part because of the overlap between Sonya’s history and George’s, we didn’t shield our kids from the coverage of his death like we had the others, all the unarmed Black men whom police had killed and whose murders had also been recorded by security footage or cellphones.
No, with George Floyd, we sat on the couch and watched him die on CNN.
“That could have been Derrick,” Sonya said as we saw officer Chauvin absentmindedly, almost playfully, grind his knee into the back of George’s neck.
That could be one of our boys.
Shortly after there were separate killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Jacob Blake.
Our twins lost their innocence. They saw that footage also.
“Why do they keep trying to kill us?” Walker yelled, running from the room in tears with Marshall following him.
It was a tough time, the latter half of 2020.
I’m a writer and because of those ugly incidents and how they impacted my family, I chose a book project as a means of inspiring our children and others.
Everything in the 21st century is birthed in that pivotal spring in Birmingham, 1963.
I visited Birmingham early this year when my book, You Have to be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live, debuted.
I fell in love with Birmingham.
I spoke at the Civil Rights Institute and found a city welcoming to all.
Birmingham changed America and my life—and for that I will be grateful forever.
It is not just the most personal story I’ve ever told but one we all share.
Here’s praying our children and grandchildren always remember it.
I know mine will.
Editor’s note: I read Paul’s book and it is one of the best books I’ve ever read–a Birmingham story that reads like a thriller novel. I couldn’t put it down.
Paul Kix is a best-selling author, entrepreneur, and public speaker, who lives in Connecticut.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. 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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