By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin held his first “State of the Community” address at A.H. Parker High School on Monday in an auditorium filled with citizens of all ages.
Woodfin, a former Birmingham School Board member, made a number of education-related announcements during the hour-long meeting which included audience questions.
He said that the city wants to launch the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Opportunity Scholarship, which will provide debt-free tuition for every graduating student in Birmingham City Schools who wants to attend a community college in the Jefferson County area.
“None of us can leave it up to Dr. Lisa Herring, our superintendent and our nine school board members,” said Woodfin as the city and country observed Dr. Martin Luther King Day. “… It’s not fair and it’s not right. You have the full support of the mayor. We can move opportunities at a faster rate for our children.”
He also talked about creating a network of early childhood learning centers, expanding pre- k and summer reading programs and engaging the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the city’s growing technology sector.
He also said he wants to establish a school to startup pipeline for high school juniors and seniors “who want to pursue careers in science or become entrepreneurs in the technology sector.”
He also returned to a theme he often spoke about while he campaigned for mayor.
“We need to do a better job in cleaning up our city,” he said. “An effective public works department is a critical component in real community development.”
The mayor said he wants to promote long-term sustainability of our neighborhoods by expanding housing options and providing incentives to attract neighborhood-based businesses and commercial growth.
There will be a focus on neighborhood revitalization, he added.
“We’ll be working in areas of the city to reduce crime, eliminate blight and increase the safety and security of all of our citizens and all 99 neighborhoods and all 23 communities,” Woodfin said. “We will devote the dollars necessary to pave streets, fill potholes, repair sidewalks throughout the city of Birmingham. My goal is for every neighborhood in the city of Birmingham to become a choice neighborhood.”
What is a choice neighborhood?
“That means a place where people actively choose to live,” he said. “They choose to live there because it has all the things necessary for a good, quality of life. All of our neighborhoods can be places where people have immediate access to goods and services, where education and entertainment options are readily available.”
Residents were allowed to write questions for the mayor. “What can the city do immediately to reduce teenage crime and adult crime in Birmingham?” one question read.
Woodfin, who sat on a stool in front of the room talked of two teenagers who were recently killed.
“We have to find a way for our children not to exercise this option of getting into crime,” he said. “They should only be choosing workforce, military or college. Too many of our children are choosing these options of the graveyard or a jail cell. For me that’s a community crisis.”
Too often the parents are unfairly blamed in these situations, he said.
“There are some hardworking parents out there,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to wrap our arms around our young boys and our young girls at a very early age.”
Other questions included addressed environmental injustice in North Birmingham.
“I don’t have any plans yet because … part of what I’m doing is collecting information on what’s happening, and where are we in the process if there are any lawsuits,” he said. “Not just individual but collective… environmental justice in Birmingham.”
Staying true to his open-door policy, Woodfin gave the audience his email address and asked those whose questions did not get answered to contact him. After the meeting, a line formed for people to meet, talk, and take pictures with the mayor.