Reading “Poverty and Public Health,” a great article by colleague Mark Kelly in his Weld for Birmingham newspaper, was bittersweet for me.
It made me think of my friend Rev. Ronnie Williams. He should have been in it.
At the time Mark was interviewing and writing his story, Ronnie was battling the cancer that had spread from his lungs to his brain and other parts of his body. The cancer grew as the result of a severely addictive cigarette habit that gripped this public health advocate’s life for 45 years. Ronnie was 56 when he lost his battle and died on Sept. 23, the same day Mark’s article came out.
From the time that I met him two years ago, Ronnie began explaining to me the intricate connection between poverty and public health. Now, public health itself is a deep, multi-disciplinary field of preventative medicine. It requires a mind that can connect health with a broad spectrum of social factors, environmental conditions, political decisions and public policies — the “determinants of health.” It’s a lot to take in.
For years, Ronnie, a military veteran with a work background in IT, had immersed himself in this field, particularly as the former executive director for Congregations for Public Health. The community-based nonprofit came together under a grant to the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health. He was also instrumental in bringing the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies‘ Place Matters initiative to Jefferson County.
In these capacities, he came to understand that the real root causes of health disparities among the poor, especially African Americans, was the nature of poverty itself.
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The last item on Dr. Martin Luther King’s agenda was economics. He spoke about it the day before he was assassinated.
As a young reporter many years ago, I asked Harry Belafonte after this MLK Unity Breakfast speech, what would have been the next phase of the Civil Rights Movement had Dr. King lived. He said the economic agenda.
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Fifty years ago today, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, the last one delivered on August 28, 1963, the day more than a quarter million supporters of civil rights converged in the nation’s capital for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Alas, I did not get to D.C. for the 50th year commemorative events. Instead, I lived vicariously through the stories of friends who did. I enjoyed news accounts of those who returned 50 years later to marvel at far the country has come since the historic march, and how much further we have to go to realize the powerful words in Dr. King’s speech. Continue reading →
Since George Zimmerman’s acquittal on all charges stemming from his fatal confrontation with unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin last year, Black American parents are holding their sons particularly tight. Continue reading →
The Nation of Islam’s Minister Louis Farrakhan sure can pull a crowd. And controversy.
His appearances in Birmingham and other Alabama cities last week with the National Coalition of Leaders to Save Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act drew at least 200 people to Kelly Ingram Park. Of course, this hallowed ground was the site of the famous dogs-and-hoses confrontation between nonviolent protesting children and Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor.
Social media was aflutter with arguments about whether it was appropriate for Farrakhan to be associated with Birmingham’s powerful civil rights heritage, which is centered on Christian principles of love and nonviolence. Continue reading →
Fifty years ago yesterday marked the beginning of what historians call “The Children’s Crusade,” when several thousand African American students took to Birmingham’s streets during the 1963 Birmingham Civil Rights Campaign. Continue reading →
Martin Luther King, Jr. began writing his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” 50 years ago today. He wrote it as he sat in the city’s jail, arrested on Good Friday – April 12, 1963 – during one of the street protests and boycotts that his national Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth’s Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (an SCLC affiliate) organized to actively oppose racial segregation and its evils.
Locked in solitary confinement, the good reverend doctor had a lot of time on his hands. His aides brought him a newspaper, where he read an article by eight white clergymen of Christian and Jewish faiths. The Birmingham ministers criticized the Movement’s mayhem in the city, calling on King to stop the “untimely” protests.
The letter he wrote in response – scribbled around the edges of newspaper and on toilet tissue, then later transcribed by his aides into a formal document — is considered one of the most brilliant piece of protest literature. It powerfully and clearly demonstrates Dr. King’s intellectual discipline and moral authority on the issue of racial injustice. His famous “Letter” is read and studied around the world. Continue reading →
On this day in 1963, the Birmingham Campaign, “Project C,” officially began. What happened here over the course of six weeks literally changed the world.
Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, executive director of the Southern Leadership Conference under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said the first day of direct non-violent action was aimed at the heart of Birmingham’s economy.
So the first groups of demonstrators headed for the segregated lunch counters at Woolworth’s, Loveman’s, Pizitz, Kress and Britt’s, all located on 19th Street North. Instead of serving their African American customers, the managers closed the counters for the day. Continue reading →