The Freedom Walk in Birmingham

I am just back in, briefly, from a trip down to Birmingham, where I stood on Wednesday evening, as the sun set over Magic City, in silent witness to the images of my youth. How wild it was, to stand in front of the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young girls died in 1963, or to walk through the parks where men, women and children, who had gathered to fight for their rights had water cannons and dogs turned on them.

But it was equally compelling to meet with the leaders of non-profits who had gathered, from throughout the state, in the hope of finding a new path towards freedom.

I was honored to be invited to give the keynote speech yesterday, and I must admit, I found the city and those assembled to be one of the warmest I have EVER encountered. I also think it’s important to say that Birmingham, although still mired in the same issues EVERY America city is, is further down the road to openly talking about race and equality than just about ANY other city I’ve visited.

We had a great conversation…about unity versus self interest, about vision versus doing the same thing, about the future of our sector and about energy that’s here and energy that’s coming–and how to use ALL of this to create a new Poor People’s Campaign.

I must admit, I was humbled to speak about the future of a movement that began in Alabama over 40 years ago, particularly when some in the audience LIVED it. But I tried to talk, with true conviction, about picking up that flag…that one that was left in the mud of Resurrection City, here in Washington in the summer of 68, and unfurling it again.

But I also wanted them, and ALL my non-profit colleagues to understand that, if we are to start again, and this time capture that prize, then WE must be prepared to lead.

If not us…then who? Government…are we not the best of civics made manifest. Religion…do we not embody the best of spirituality? Business…more and more we are leading the way on how to make philanthropy HOW you make money, not how much you give at the end of the year. We, and we alone, bring ALL these segments to bear in our communities everyday.

No, Brothers and Sisters, we are the ones who can lead this country back onto the road that Martin Luther King started down when he began the march to Birmingham…but we have work to do before we are ready for the task.

Let’s get to it.

More soon.