March 11, 2014
On Saturday, March 1st, a group of AmeriCorps members and friends gathered together at the YWCA to view a simulcast of the TEDxBirmingham event held at the Alys Stephens Center. We listened to 16 speakers and artists seeking to inspire us with ideas they believe are worth spreading. The variety of ideas surrounded the topic of “Rediscovering the Magic of Birmingham.” Watching this event propelled us as a group into a deeper discussion on major concerns facing our city.
Many of us were inspired by documentary filmmaker Michele Forman who spoke on storytelling and asked “Is everyone getting to participate in the fairy tale [of Birmingham]?” Rose Prince, who attended the simulcast, said “It’s true that a lot of revitalization has taken place downtown recently, but it’s happening while disparities are still occurring in several communities in Birmingham. I think those still suffering often get overlooked due to all the excitement of the current movement. We end up not seeing a face or a voice for problems.” Similarly, Victoria Hollis with the Birmingham Education Foundation spoke to the importance of reform in public education, and challenged the belief that parents must put children in private schools to live in the city. She reminded us that a city is only secure when we pour resources into its future -- our children. If we continue to revitalize our city yet ignore education, we will meet a dead end.
Another common thread among speakers was bravery in the face of failure. Jen Barnett, CEO of Freshfully, shared honestly about the closing of her business and the importance of being brave when trying new things. We were encouraged by this message, yet we later discussed the idea that failure is a privilege that many can not afford. Not everyone in our city has the resources or safety nets that allow them to risk failure. Which left us with the question, how can we empower people in a way that they can afford to be brave and take risks? We were entranced by Malik Kofi, a 12-year-old cello player who was wise and talented beyond his years. But again we wondered how many children in our community can afford to pick up a classical instrument at four years old? How can we grant our students the opportunity to achieve great and beautiful things just like Malik?
The issues we discussed and the questions we were left facing are huge. The question of “what next?” can seem overwhelming. But I will leave you with a quote Victoria Hollis directed at teachers but appropriate to us all. “If you don’t feel like giving up sometimes then you aren’t pushing hard enough.” To each of you, striving to empower women and eliminate racism in our community, do not give up. What you are doing is worth the effort, and every small difference you make in the life of another is worthwhile. I left this simulcast with a renewed vision of what I want my own efforts to mean in this world, and I hope you will too. The videos are now available online. I encourage you to listen, be encouraged and ask your own questions of how we can rediscover the magic of our city.
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