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Birmingham Urban League Kicks Off Nonviolence Tour in City Schools

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William Barnes, president and CEO of the Birmingham Urban League, speaks to sophomores at George Washington Carver High School. (Ryan Michaels, The Birmingham Times)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Otterial Brown, a representative with Amazon, stood before about 50 George Washington Carver High School 10th graders in Birmingham this week and asked questions.

Inside the school’s auditorium, she told students to close their eyes and stand in response to one particular question. “Have you lost someone close to you, due to violence?” Brown asked. That brought almost all students to their feet.

Brown was one of a several individuals at Carver as part of the Birmingham Urban League’s (BUL) kickoff day for a 100 Days of Non-Violence initiative.

BUL will visit each of Birmingham’s seven public high schools through November 10 to speak with and listen to students about gun violence.

According to Birmingham City Schools, nearly a dozen students were killed since the start of the calendar year.

“[Some of them were] killed in their car, sitting in their car, innocent bystanders, but more importantly, there have been some that have been involved in gang activity,” said BUL President and CEO Williams Barnes.

BUL and other community organizations have more to offer young people in the city than the gangs, said the CEO.

“I’m here to tell you, that whatever the gang got, we got your back too; I’m here to tell you that whatever they’re offering, we’ve got something better; I’m here to tell you that we care about your life, and there is a future for you,” Barnes said.

Tereshia Huffman, student outreach coordinator for Birmingham Promise, said she viewed education as her way out of the struggles she saw her mother and those around her go through.

“I grew up in a community with heavy gun violence. My dad was in prison most of my childhood. My mom was college educated, but she worked three jobs, and I saw my mom struggle,” Huffman said.

Before Wednesday’s session, Barnes emphasized that listening to students is a key part of the citywide tour.

“We think it’s extremely important that we sit down and talk with [students] but not talk at them. This is a listening tour, so we want to be sure the community understands that we want to listen to our students because I guarantee you, they’re the ones that know exactly what’s happening,” he said.

Jacob Woods, a tenth grader from George Washington Carver High School, talks about how programs like the Birmingham Urban League’s anti-violence tour to local schools can help young people in the city. (Ryan Michaels, The Birmingham Times)

Jacob Woods, a Carver sophomore, said he was happy to see the program.

“I think [the initiative] can help us because you tend to see younger Black men in crimes, and a lot of them start at a young age, and if you stop it at a young age, you kind of stop it from going on in the future,” he said.

Antiviolence pushes are needed both for children and adults, he added, but getting the information to people earlier in life can help it stick more.

In May of this year, representatives of the city and the school system also visited Carver and Arthur Harold Parker High Schools to discuss violence in the city.

Woods said he has learned to simply walk away from some conflicts.

“You don’t always have to respond when someone says something to you,” he said. “Sometimes, the best thing is just walk away or just ignore or say something to someone with more power than you that can handle the situation, and keep it calm, where it doesn’t have to go to a level that it doesn’t need to be at,” Woods said.

Here’s a schedule of the tour:

Oct. 14: Ramsay High School, 2 p.m.

Oct. 18: A.H. Parker High School, 10:30 a.m.

Nov. 2: Wenonah, 2 p.m.

Nov. 3: Huffman, 10:30 a.m.

Nov. 10: Woodlawn, 1 p.m.

For more, visit Birmingham Urban League (birminghamul.org)

Updated at 7:22 a.m. on 10/14/2022 to correct the name of a student pictured in the story.