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Mayor Randall Woodfin and TV personality Jeff Johnson on leadership

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By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

Adults should set a better example of showing young people how to settle differences to avoid conflict, said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, during a recent program at Samford University’s Brock Recital Hall.

Woodfin shared the stage with Jeff Johnson, a TV personality, motivational speaker and political activist who helped kick off Samford University’s Black History Month.

“I think children are watching us as adults and how we engage each other, not just in person but on social media and any other platform, and we suck at it sometimes,” said Woodfin. “I think children follow what we do as adults and if we have any expectations that we want the younger generation to talk about their disagreements, to get away from social media, I think, we, as adults need to be the example.”

Woodfin stressed that the community must find a way to invest in youth.

“I had a conversation [recently] with boys from Jackson-Olin High School — freshman, sophomore, juniors and seniors – and tried to listen to them and understand what goes on with them and . . .I ended up framing it around not necessarily the choices you make will put you in jail or put you in a casket, but more so do you want to see your mother cry,” said Woodfin.

“I had a problem when I left that room and the thought was ‘these are not the boys that Joe Clark put on the stage in [the film] ‘Lean on Me’, these are the ones that are actually in the classroom, doing the work, no problems. The question dealt with, ‘how do I reach the young people who are skipping school, been expelled from school, hanging out in the street doing things that lead them into trouble by hurting themselves or hurting other someone else’ and that’s what we deal with every day.”

Part of our conversation was not just around enforcement, the mayor said, but more so around prevention of “how do we get young people to make better choices so they don’t end up making bad choices that put them in the street, jail or worse, in the ground?”

The way to accomplish that is through partnership, the mayor said. “The city of Birmingham can’t be responsible for that alone, the school system cannot be responsible for that alone and as much as we want parents to do more for their children, all households are not created equally,” he said. “In the community and collectively we have to be more intentional about how we engage and offer different opportunities for our young people.”

Johnson said adults need to show young people how to have “courageous” conversations.

“Why do we expect our children to be prepared to have courageous conversations when they haven’t watched us do it? . . . I see young people often more willing to have courageous conversations than their parents because there is something about being a young person that says, ‘let me get into this,’” Johnson said.

The award-winning journalist and communications specialist said he loves when grandparents are on social media “because there are people who would not have conversations with their grandchildren if they weren’t on Instagram, but I also think we have to be intentional about storytelling,” he said.

“We have elders that have unbelievable stories in our families that we don’t know and so it’s crazy you talk about Black History Month but we don’t know the black history in our family.”

He encouraged people to get their phone and interview the three oldest people in your family and find out what their stories are and “start telling our own stories about our family trajectory.”