Brian T. Murphy's Birmingham Night Skyline, April 1, 2008.

Today’s Discussion on Birmingham Leadership

I mentioned last week that The Birmingham News would host a roundtable discussion about leadership in Birmingham with local leaders and the community.

Well, that discussion is taking place today at The News, where seating is limited. It will be streamed live from But those who want to join the discussion can take part via the online chat with columnist Eddie Lard. The event is from 12:15 p.m. to 2 p.m.

The “Reinventing Our Community Leadership Roundtable” will feature panelists:

  • William Bell, Mayor, City of Birmingham
  • David Carrington, President, Jefferson County Commission
  • Merika Coleman, State Representative
  • Scott Douglas, Executive Director, Greater Birmingham Ministries
  • Johnny Johns, Chief Executive Officer, Protective Life Corp.
  • Kate Nielsen, President, Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham
  • Tony Petelos, Mayor, City of Hoover
  • Donta Wilson, President, BB&T Alabama

I will be in the audience at The News. Now you know, I am full of questions and opinions. But I plan to do some serious listening to see just where the heads of our leaders are and their vision for the area.

As you probably could tell from the piece last week, I have been doing a bit of research on the history of Birmingham’s civil rights movement. But in doing so, I am coming across material that suggests to me our city’s problems are deeply rooted in the mindset of its people (I’ll have more to say about this in another piece). This mindset has been around for at least 60 years. It is the major reason why Birmingham is the way it is.

For our leaders who are Birmingham natives, moving the city and region forward means they have to rise far above the thinking and actions of their forbearers. If there is to be a paradigm shift for Birmingham to progress, it must start with leaders who have four characteristics:

  • Vision, people who see where we need to go;
  • Passion, people determined to get there no matter what;
  • Wisdom, people who know how to put knowledge to work effectively;
  • Character, people whom others trust and will follow as they all work collectively to make the vision reality.

There are no Lone Rangers anymore. No one is riding on the white horse to save the day. If Birmingham is ever to live up to the potential of its “Perpetual Promise,” now certainly is the time.

This time, there are no pipe-wielding, cross-burning Klansmen terrorizing our city, no hang-ups about eating in the same restaurants or sitting together in the same movie theater. The very real threats of violence, economic retribution or social ostracism don’t exist on those pre-1963 levels anymore. None of that foolishness will ever hinder our progress again.

However, the psychological scars and social blemish on our city remain. We have some healing still to do. But I believe this is, finally, a real new beginning. Time will tell if we are ready to take advantage of it.

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