After a week in West End, we spent a week in Woodlawn on the other side of town. Here is a taste of what our first few days were like.
On Monday, January 16th, the team attended the Martin Luther
King Junior Unity Breakfast at the BJCC. While the overall focus of
the event was, of course,the work of Dr. King and all the others who
strived for the reconciliation of black and white in Birmingham, it was
wonderful to hear language encouraging the eradication of racism in
all its forms. In particular, the keynote speaker Reverend Clarence
Williams delivered a clear message that to exclude certain races from the
equality enjoyed by a few is wrong, just as placing a single race above
all the others was wrong fifty years ago. To further celebrate Martin Luther
King Day,the team toured the Civil Rights Institute. Predictably, the museum
was packed. It was my first time through the museum and I found it an
enlightening if somewhat surreal experience. It takes some effort for me to
imagine the Jim Crow system as the status quo of so relatively recent a time
period. I have difficulty picturing people simply being filtered by color,
sorted into their respective places by signs and the thinly-veiled threats
behind those signs. We spent the rest of the week working in Woodlawn and
hearing from members of the various organizations active there. On Tuesday,
we learned about Main Street Birmingham and the Woodlawn Foundation from one
of the AmeriCorps Vistas working there. Main Street Birmingham is an
organization that has adopted a holistic approach to community revitalization.
In Woodlawn, they are working on economic development via an arts district.
We also toured Cornerstone Schools of Alabama,a high-performing Christian
private school in Woodlawn. We ate lunch with students of various ages(from
second graders to middle schoolers) and some of us even danced with a
kindergarten gym class.
We also got better acquainted with the YWCA this week. We learned a little
more about the struggles many families in Birmingham face in making ends meet,
specifically the difficulty of budgeting on a meager income and common
problems associated with Food Stamps. We toured their Interfaith Hospitality
House, which offers wonderfully livable transitional housing for families as they
work toward a more stable housing situation. This is practically unheard of—
standard procedure among homeless shelters is to bar male children above the
age of ten out of concern for the safety and consideration of the former
circumstances of their female clients. We helped members of Redeemer Church
(affectionately known to the residents as “the church that comes on Tuesdays”)
prepare a meal for the residents and then ate with them.
On Wednesday and Thursday, we painted several rooms in the home of Mrs. Bennett,
a Woodlawn resident, through The Carpenter’s Hands. The Carpenter’s Hands is a
home repair ministry of Canterbury United Methodist Church. We were happy to have
another chance to flex our painting muscles and spruce up a home for someone in
the process. I have never been so confident in my ability to edge ceilings,
electrical outlets, light switches, you name it!
Thursday afternoon, we were given a tour of Woodlawn High School by one of the
members of its staff. He seemed enthusiastic at the prospect of Birmingham City
Schools adopting an academy system and was eager to show us the new Promethean
boards each teacher now boasts. He was not so eager to discuss what I think for
many of us was the elephant in the classroom, Woodlawn’s staggering dropout rate.