The Birmingham Pledge turns 15

It has been 15 years since a Birmingham attorney named James E. Rotch authored the Birmingham Pledge and offered it to the attendees of a Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast in Birmingham. His personal statement of commitment to end prejudice has now been signed by more than 115,000 people, including Desmond Tutu and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

“What happened then was that a small group of citizens of Birmingham set out to eliminate racism from the world, one person at a time,” Rotch explains. He describes his words as a “focal point for bringing about discussion.”
These are the words he wrote:

The Birmingham Pledge
I believe that every person has worth as an individual.
I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color.
I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as to others.
Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions.
I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity.
I will treat all people with dignity and respect; and I will strive daily to honor this pledge, knowing that the world will be a better place because of my effort.

The language of the pledge is simple. It is not filled with superlatives or soaring rhetoric, though it is reminiscent of a statement of faith (the repetition of “I believe,” specifically, is similar to the traditional Nicene Creed). The repetition of “I will strive daily” is a reminder that stomping out prejudice requires a daily commitment. But the pledge makes only a few simple assumptions: that prejudice exists, that eliminating prejudice is necessary and that doing so requires effort.

“We’ve had 10 years to accomplish our goal, and we haven’t accomplished it because unfortunately racism still exists today,” Rotch says. “It exists in a different form than it did in the ‘50s and ‘60s when we had people in the streets standing up for their rights, but it still exists.

“As an example you can look at Anniston, what happened in their mayoral race,” Rotch says, referring to newly elected Anniston Mayor Gene Robinson, who admitted that he paid to get Anniston blacks to go to the polls for him. “And clearly, it’s an undercurrent — that’s probably not the right word, it’s a current — in the presidential race. It’s being talked about in very, very, very, careful terms.

“We’re going to keep on pursuing our mission until it doesn’t exist anywhere.”
One person that has helped Rotch in his mission is Carolyn McKinstry, a local minister, a board member of the Birmingham Pledge Foundation and the President of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Foundation.

“The first time that I read the pledge, I thought it was one of the most wonderful documents that I’d ever seen,” she says. McKinstry has a special appreciation for the Birmingham Pledge, as she is a survivor of the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing.

“I lived through what we sometimes call ‘the dark days of Birmingham,’” McKinstry says. She found that the pledge’s emphasis on a daily effort fit easily into her ministry, which focuses on reconciliation.

“The Birmingham Pledge, I think, represents where we could be,” McKinstry says. “Birmingham has come a long way since the ‘60s, but it certainly still has work to do. I think all cities would agree that there’s always a way to improve what they have. I think that the pledge is one of the best expressions of how we can arrive at our destination.”

People from other parts of the United States — and even around the world —might be surprised that this pledge would originate in Birmingham. The images of the four girls killed at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, or Eugene “Bull” Connor and his dogs and fire hoses are strong ones — all too often, they are the images most associated with Birmingham and the Civil Rights Movement. But McKinstry thinks the pledge can change that image.

“People of the United States look to the city of Birmingham so much in the way of leadership,” she says. “They know Birmingham has arisen from kind of a city of darkness now to a city of light. When they come [to Birmingham], they want to hear the story, they want to know how we’re getting along. One of the things we say to them is that every day we make a conscious effort, every day we consciously remind ourselves of the Birmingham Pledge.

“I think it is a document worth carrying all over the world,” McKinstry says.
McKinstry is called upon frequently to address civic groups throughout the state and around the nation, and she brings the pledge with her, as part of her message, wherever she goes. Due to her efforts and those of others, including Rotch and Pledge Foundation board member Wade Black, the Birmingham Pledge has spread far and wide. Black says that schools or civic groups in all 50 states and dozens of countries have used the Birmingham Pledge in their curricula or meetings. The annual Birmingham Pledge Teen Summit draws students from 40 area high schools every year (the ninth annual summit begins Monday, Sept. 15).

The image broadcasted to the thousands of pledge signees throughout the world is of a city that acknowledges its history and is committed to learning its lessons. Even when that image is paired with those from the civil rights protests of the early 1960s, it suggests healing, and a step forward for our Magic City.
The Birmingham Pledge was placed in the national spotlight in January 2000, when Congress passed a joint resolution recognizing the Birmingham Pledge, which President Bill Clinton signed into law. President George W. Bush followed up on that initial recognition when he declared National Birmingham Pledge Week. Unfortunately, that proclamation was filed with the Office of the Federal Register at 9:02 am on September 11, 2001. The first National Birmingham Pledge Week was understandably lost amongst orders to put flags at half-mast, declarations of a national emergency and a national day of prayer (there have since been other Birmingham Pledge weeks).

Interestingly, Bush’s proclamation of National Birmingham Pledge Week contained many words and phrases that our nation would hear often in the months and years following 9/11. The document called for a “continued vigilance” against hatred (which is echoed twice in the text of the pledge itself, “I will strive daily…”) and recognized the way we can unite despite the “different religions, cultures, ethnic groups, and backgrounds” of our citizenry. And Bush’s proclamation recollected one of our “darkest days,” – in September, no less – when four girls were killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing, an event that “ultimately demonstrated the tragic human costs of … intolerance.”

The fact that those two acts of terrorism evoked similar rhetoric is no fluke. Proper reactions to both include a sense of righteous struggle — a courageous fight for ideals that one believes to be valuable — backed up by a united movement.

Birmingham’s movement will make itself clear in this coming week. The Pledge Foundation has planned its 10th anniversary events so that they coincide with the 45th anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. That event is the seminal one in Birmingham’s civil rights history, and it is one that helped tag our city with the moniker “Bombingham.” The Birmingham Pledge Foundation will honor the girls by presenting them with a lifetime achievement award. The award will be accepted by Sarah Rudolph, who was blinded by the blast and lost her sister, Addie Mae Collins, in the Sunday morning attack. The Pledge Foundation will also present a lifetime achievement award to former Auburn history professor and author Wayne Flynt, who will offer a historical perspective on the church bombing.

“We’re honoring Wayne Flynt for the many contributions he’s made for the cause of equality among people,” Rotch says. “If you’ve ever read any of his books, like Poor But Proud, you know that he’s known as the conscience of Alabama and that he’s taken a stand at times when it wasn’t popular to take a stand, and the cause was equal justice for people and equal treatment for people.”

The event, which begins at 5 p.m. Monday at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church will also include McKinstry’s testimony about the events of September 15, 1963, and attorney Doug Jones (who prosecuted two of the church bombers) will speak on the happenings of the last 45 years.

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is also hosting some events this week, as the church has just completed major renovations funded largely by donations. The church will host a memorial service Sunday at 11 a.m. and an open house at 3 pm.

“This is not a victory celebration,” Rotch says of the 10th anniversary of the Birmingham Pledge. “This is just the beginning. We’ve spent 10 years laying foundations, building relationships all around the world in this struggle to eliminate racism.

“And this struggle’s going to continue as long as necessary.”
To learn more or to sign the Birmingham Pledge, visit


In search of surrealism in a Cuba Libre

libreI really thought I had jinxed everyone after my last trip to Cuba in July. I came back and wrote in the “Weekly Day Tripper” that if you can get into Havana you ought to go to the new hotspots on the Malecon, Vida Via and Café Neruda.

That suggestion emerged in print just about the time I arrived in Cuba for my second trip this summer, just one step ahead of Hurricane Gustav. When I walked out on the

Malecon on the most recent trip, however, both places I wrote about were empty. I mean stripped clean. All the tables were gone. Even the glass façade from Neruda was gone, sold at a Cuban bankruptcy sale no doubt. Some travel writer I must be I thought. As soon as I write about a place, two places even, they are out of business.

I also promised in last week’s “Tripper” that when I got to Cuba I was going down to Pinar del Rio to visit the Cuban wineries. I had to change that plan, too, however, after the hurricane went through leaving a path of destruction 50 kilometers wide. I thought maybe they aren’t doing wine tours today.

In July, Leydanis’ cousin Yunior drove us around in my car. But this time Yunior disappeared with the car the day of the hurricane. He showed up next day with the car all dented in and covered in mud. I asked Leydanis how it got so messed up. “Just out on the street in Havana during the storm,” she purred. I got in and asked why the full tank of gas was empty. “Just from driving around Havana. That car consume mucho.”  What about the extra thousand kilometers on the odometer?  “I don’t know anything about that. Yunior told me he stayed home all day.”

So after three years with no problems the jinx of this trip hit and she all of the sudden turned aprovechista on me, finally taking advantage. I didn’t have time to go round and round to find out how or why. I just had to leave Leydanis and Yunior in a cloud of dust when I peeled out, but that was tough in all the mud after the hurricane.

It turns out one strange consequence of Yunior’s thousand kilometer joy ride (on a day all the roads were closed because of the hurricane???) is that it passed 40,000 on the odometer. In the strange rental world of Cuba, that means the customer has to find a Cubacar maintenance shop, wherever you may be, and stop to have the oil changed and do other maintenance. It doesn’t cost anything, but if you don’t take the car to their shop and have the maintenance done, you have to pay a $120 fine. In what country on earth does a rental car company ask its customers to take a half day of their time to go and find a maintenance shed on the far side of the city and wait while the oil is changed?
I thought such surrealismo could only occur in Cuba. So I picked up Ariadna, the only person who might find the whole adventure amusing, and we went and found the Cubacar shop.

And when I returned to Havana I found I was not as unlucky as I thought. Café Neruda and Vida Via had not gone out of business. They had only cleared out in advance of the storm. I went to eat there, but this time it was horrible. Leydanis showed up at my house that night to ask me for 50 pesos convertibles for her rent. I gave her the 13 in my pocket just to get rid of her.

The trip back, just ahead of Hurricane Ike, seemed like it was going very smoothly. You go through US customs in Nassau, which is much better than doing it in Atlanta, where they are really rude to you returning from Cuba even if you have a congressional delegation in tow. This time I got through US customs without a hitch. No one so much as asked me if I had a cigar, much less glower and try to intimidate me.

When we got to Atlanta a little Delta employee with a pocket protector would not let us off the plane and onto the concourse. He said we had to go through Customs. Of course, every Delta flight from Nassau, three times a day, goes through Customs in Nassau, but Charles in Charge insisted that was not so and made us go through Customs. So there I was, back at Customs in Atlanta. One of the passengers tried to burst his way through the cordon, insisting, correctly, that we had already been through Customs, and insisting, not so correctly, on his right as an American to go where he pleased.

Maybe the search for surrealism is not so simple. Maybe you don’t even have to go in search of it.

War On Dumb

On the surface, it’s one of those stories too juicy to ignore. Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford wants to build fountains. And not just those penny-ante faux wishing wells they used to have in all the malls. Mayor Langford wants to build serious fountains, enormous fountains of class and distinction. Mayor Langford wants the kinds of fountains you see in National Lampoon’s European Vacation.

He wants them all over Birmingham, even in Northside. Never mind that whole swaths of the city lack a decent place to shop for groceries. Never mind those folks in Collegeville whose only access to and from their neighborhood is blocked for hours every day by trains parked on the tracks. We’re going to build fountains, instead.

And not just fountains — we’re going to build public squares to go with them. Mayor Langford wants squares bustling with people. Never mind those two city blocks of Linn Park outside his office window. Never mind the fountain and reflecting pools there that work only half the time. Never mind that instead of actual water in the Linn Park reflecting pool, we’ve painted the concrete blue. Whoever wanted to congregate in Linn Park but homeless people, anyway?

Mayor Langford wants serious squares like Trafalgar Square in London, England. He wants the kinds of public squares you can see from outer space.

And all this must be news, right? After all, it’s splashed across The Birmingham News — front page above the fold, complete with art of the sugarplums dancing in the mayor’s head. Online, there’s even video of the mayor Googling away like a fifth grader putting together a research project.

It’s the easy story. And why not cover it? After all, when Mayor Langford told the world he would bring the 2020 Olympics to Birmingham, we treated that like serious news. The mayor spent thousands of dollars redecorating City Hall. Now he wants to spend millions of dollars redecorating the city.

On the surface, it’s one of those stories too juicy to ignore. But that’s just the problem, isn’t it? It’s the sort of story that keeps you looking at the surface — and not at what’s going on beneath. And this week there was a lot going on beneath the surface at Birmingham City Hall.

Why no no-bids?
“People don’t think we can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time,” Mayor Langford told the city council Tuesday. He was complaining about the people complaining about his lack of focus and inability to begin, much less finish, one project before dreaming up another.

Indeed, the mayor is a multi-tasker. While he was wowing everyone with his fountains plan with one hand, he’s handing out no-bid contracts with the other.

However, on Tuesday, the city council delayed one such contract after the proposal failed the smell test.

The mayor’s office had proposed to give a computer consulting firm, Tech Providers Inc., a $3.2 million contract to install software and train city employees how to use it.
That’s a pretty steep price to pay to install some accounting software. But wait. There’s more.

As it turns out, last January the City of Birmingham already gave the same company a $1.3 million contract to do essentially the same thing. That contract, according to the Jan. 2 council agenda, was supposed to last 12 months. However, Mayor Langford and the company’s president, Claude Estes IV, told the council that unless the company receives more money, its ability to do things like run the city’s payroll system could be in jeopardy. According to the mayor, if the council doesn’t approve this contract, the company could up and leave.

Sound screwy? Oh, we’re just getting started.

The company, Tech Providers Inc., has a peculiar address — an office on Magnolia Avenue. As it turns out, that’s the same address as another tech company, Ion Interactive.

Earlier this year, the city gave Ion Interactive a no-bid contract to provide camera surveillance work to the Birmingham Police Department. The city doesn’t actually own the surveillance cameras or operate them, as that would get Birmingham tangled up in silly things like public bid laws. Ion Interactive’s contract was neatly packaged as a “professional service” contract, making it exempt from the bid law, even though there were other companies around the country that had done similar work in other cities and offered similar products and services.

Let’s go deeper, shall we?

Not only do Ion Interactive and Tech Providers Inc. share an address. They also share at least one owner — Claude Estes IV. When questioned by the council, he said Tuesday that he is a stockholder in Ion Interactive. He’s also listed in the company’s incorporation documents.

But this gets even better.

This isn’t the first time Tech Providers Inc. has received no-bid contracts from the government. In 2001, the company drew scrutiny after it received millions in no-bid contracts from the state during Gov. Don Siegelman’s administration. To be fair, the company received contracts from Gov. Fob James’ administration, too.

However, Tech Provider’s annual no-bid contracts nearly tripled under the Siegelman administration — at the same time it hired an Alabama lobbying and political consulting firm closely associated with the Siegelman administration called the Matrix Group.
Here’s a little piece of political trivia: The Matrix Group has a connection to Birmingham City Hall, too. It managed Mayor Langford’s 2007 campaign.

Tech Providers and its previous no-bid contracts were no secret. In fact, they were reported thoroughly in 2001 by The Birmingham News. After reporters Brett Blackledge and Kim Chandler shed light on the deals, the Siegelman administration became so embarrassed that it began putting these kinds of contracts out for public bid.

There used to be a time at the News when working the words “no-bid contract” into a story won praise from on-high, at least when laying into a Democratic governor. But not this week.

Langford’s fountains: 32 paragraphs.

Mysterious no-bid tech contracts: 0.

At least the city council paid attention, referring the contract back to committee.

RIP regional cooperation

Only minutes before the council heard about the no-bid tech contract, it finally made the inevitable vote to end the biggest and best experiment in regional cooperation — the Storm Water Management Authority.

For more than a decade a coalition of municipalities and Jefferson County has monitored pollution from county storm sewers, reporting violations to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Federal environmental law requires local governments to monitor storm sewer pollution.
It was regional cooperation at its best. When the group first formed in 1997, then-mayor Richard Arrington estimated that it would save the city more than $1 million a year. The agency was an even better bargain for smaller municipalities that could barely afford police and fire protection, much less environmental police.

However, the agency did its job too well, making big developers follow the law and not muddy up the county’s rivers and streams with their runoff. When SWMA’s membership came up for renewal two years ago, a coalition of developers, landowners and a local engineering firm began lobbying member cities to withdraw from SWMA. The engineering firm, Malcolm Pirnie, pitched its services in SWMA’s place and also made substantial campaign contributions to many of the politicians making the decisions to break with SWMA.

This year, Birmingham’s contribution to SWMA would have been about $775,000. That’s nearly 40 percent of the agency’s budget. Without those funds, it is unlikely that SWMA will be able to provide sufficient service to the remaining members. SWMA might have finally sunk.

Instead, the city has decided to go it alone with Malcolm Pirnie. The $540,000 contract will save the city money, according to the mayor’s office. However, the contract seems to say that the firm will train city employees to monitor storm water runoff. Where these employees will come from, how much the city will pay them and how long it will take the Jefferson County Personnel Board to approve any new positions is unclear.

In actuality, the proposal seems to put the onus of environmental responsibility on the ADEM. If you want to shirk responsibility for enforcing the law and make sure developers stay happy, the city couldn’t do much better.

The SWMA story might not have the sex appeal for the broadcast news. By the time the issue came up on the agenda, the TV cameras had another story for six o’clock — a pipedream proposal from City Councilor Steven Hoyt to have the city buy the county’s sanitary sewer system.

Public bids and environmental protection — what do those things matter when we will soon have massive public plazas and world-class wishing wells?

Mayor Langford is no fool. He knows how the media works, and he knows if you give them something outrageous enough, something juicy enough, the rest they will ignore.

5 Koozies Ever Alabamian Should own

Koozies are a part of Alabama tradition as much as barbeque or football. here is a collection of koozies that everyone from Alabama should have in their drawer!

1. The Football Koozie

football-koozie This koozie is shaped and feels like a real football! The roll tide koozieball is one of our favorites and is great for games!







2. Born in the South koozies

southThe Born in the South koozies  from Volunteer traditions is a great addition that shows your southern pride.




3. The Chevron Pattern

chevronThe Chevron Pattern is as south as you can get! A stitch above the the rest has these amazing Alabama Chevron koozies that I absolutely adore!



4. The Custom Koozies

There is Nothing better than to have a koozie say what you want it to say! koozies custom printed from brings your ideas to life on their custom koozies and they only cost a fraction of the cost of pre-printed ones.





5. The Crimson Tide Knit Koozie

crimson_tide_knitA gift from that grandma can give that you will actually use! The knitted koozies actually make your drink classier! A koozie for a gentleman