Sunday, January 5, 2014

Is the Celebration Over?

Driving last week down HWY 20/59 through Birmingham's downtown, I was sad to see only a frame where the 50 Years Forward banner hung for the past year. Last Tuesday marked the end of Birmingham, Alabama's celebration highlighting the progress Bombingham (Birmingham's horrible old nickname) has made since 1963, the height of the civil rights movement.

Some viewed the celebration as a dog and pony show. Some saw it as a shameless way to exploit Birmingham's past for tourism bucks. Some people felt it unproductive to bring up the wounds of the past. I saw it as a win for everybody.

  • It was a wonderful teaching opportunity for the world and for young Birmingham students who haven't been exposed to this part of history in school or in their community. Working with teenagers in the church, I've learned that today's youth are not taught how a race of people survived and thrived despite insurmountable odds stacked against them.
  • All across the world in 1963, the media showed the sins of Alabama- children being trampled in the streets by water hoses and dogs handled by the same police officers who were supposed to be protecting them. But now we can say that in 2013, TBN and MSNBC among other news outlets showed multi-ethnic audiences discussing the current significance of Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail. They also showed the 16th Street Church bomb victims' families receive the Congressional Medal of Honor by our 1st African American President Barack Obama.
  • There is a reason American and world history is taught in school. There is a reason why people research their genealogy and none of those reasons are deemed unproductive. How can celebrating 50 years of a city's progress be seen as unproductive either?
But we can't let it end in 2013. There is still progress to be made. There is still reason to celebrate. How can we continue the dialogue, discussion, and reconciliation that happened in 2013? This isn't a question just for Alabamians but for the nation and the world also. The media is still watching and our children still have to study history.


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