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Social justice takes center stage during panel at 2021 Birmingham Freedom Fest

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Clockwise from top left: Denise E. Gilmore, Senior Director of the Division of Social Justice and Racial Equity for the city of Birmingham; Mayor Randall Woodfin; Chloe Cheyenne Rogers, the founder and CEO of COMMUNITYx; Dr. Molina Abdullah, professor of Pan African Studies at Cal State Los Angeles, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. (FreedomFest Screengrab)

By Haley Wilson

The Birmingham Times

As the city of Birmingham observes its 150th anniversary and many important milestones since its founding, Social Justice In America was one of the featured panels during the virtual 2021 Birmingham Freedom Fest held this past weekend.

The third annual Freedom Fest celebrates the triumphs of Birmingham and its commitment to forging a united future. The event featured numerous musical performances from local artists such as Victoria Jones, Halo Wheeler, Translee, and five times Stellar Award winner Pastor Mike Jr. and empowerment panels on health care, youth advocacy, Black women’s experiences in America, media representation, and social justice.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin was on the social justice panel that included Dr. Molina Abdullah, professor of Pan African Studies at Cal State Los Angeles, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and Chloe Cheyenne Rogers, the founder and CEO of COMMUNITYx.

The panel was moderated by Denise E. Gilmore, Senior Director of the Division of Social Justice and Racial Equity for the city of Birmingham.

“I have to participate in the movement of social justice for the betterment of Black people, not only in Birmingham, not only in the state of Alabama, but all across the country,” Woodfin said. “. . . And I like to remind people Birmingham, set the blueprint for how to resist change, fight for change and actually to allow change to win out for the betterment of Black people.”

Rogers said she was on a tech career track until the shooting death in 2014 of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer that sparked national unrest.

“I graduated from Howard University with a full time offer to work with [tech giant] Google and I spent the first several years of my career in tech,” she said. “… and then after the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, I really decided that it was time for me to leave and create my own company that stood by, and demonstrated, all of the values that are really important to me.”

Rogers said her company is completely Black led and Black owned. “That’s how we’re building our company because we want to make sure that the people who benefit from our success are the people from our team,” she said.

Abdullah said the social justice movement did not begin with fatal shootings by police of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky and George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, among others.

“Black people have been resisting our oppression since the moment that we were stolen from the shores of Africa so we could go all the way back and talk about the abolitionist origins of Black freedom struggle,” she said. “. . . we have to talk about the anti-slavery movement, we have to pay homage to Nat Turner and Gabriel Prosser and Mama Harriet Tubman and the anti-lynching work of women like Ida B. Wells . . . “

The panelists spoke about the importance of education and as a means of social justice.

“I have a social media company that has been built by us,” Rogers said. “My real job is to create a space that is safe, . . . [but also] from the angle of I have to be really particular about the causes that are represented on our platform, and about the kinds of people that come to our platform, and make it clear. . . It’s a space for people who want to collaborate and unite to do good.”

Woodfin said his administration has established a program called Birmingham Promise that allows high school seniors in the city limits, many first-time college attendees to attend a two- and four-year colleges tuition free.

“All they have to do is fill out their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®),” he said. “The other thing . . . those students graduate as juniors and seniors can leave high school early, receive high school credit hours for working and actually make $15 an hour doing an apprenticeship program, partner with employers here in our city. . . Many may not see that in the social justice movement standpoint, but I do because a livable wage, as well as the opportunity to continue to educate yourself and be able to afford to be educated is a is a part of social justice.”

Abdullah said a lot of people think that being involved in Movement means “having to hold a bullhorn . . . it doesn’t mean that, it means bring whatever gifts, talents and resources you have to the Movement,” she said. “It means baking pies . . . it means teaching, it means doing everything that we can to get to Black freedom. This is Freedom Fest. So what does freedom mean? And let’s all work towards that.”