By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
What better place than Birmingham, Alabama for leaders in academia, government, public safety, religion, business and community service to share ideas and propose solutions to some of society’s most complex challenges, says Mayor Randall Woodfin.
The 2023 International Peace Conference will take place May 4-6 in the Magic City and highlight ways toward peace at all levels of society with hundreds of visitors from around the globe.
“This is reminiscent of the gathering of preachers, creatives, journalists and activists who were here 60 years ago,” Woodfin told The Birmingham Times. “They had a mission to plot out a plan to redeem the soul of our nation. That mission has not changed.”
Woodfin has declared next week Birmingham Peace Week. The Birmingham Times asked the mayor about the conference, its importance and its commemoration during the 60th anniversary of the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham. Here are his responses:
The Birmingham Times: Last year there was the World Games. Next week, Birmingham has the Rotary-sponsored International Peace Conference. In 2025, there is the World Police and Fire Games. There appears to be a global attraction to Birmingham. How would you describe the appeal?
Mayor Randall Woodfin: Birmingham has been under the world’s gaze since 1963 when our city was a battleground for civil and human rights. Since then, I believe the world has been amazed by how we have grown and evolved into a city that now innovates in technology, medicine, banking, culinary arts and continues to maintain our pursuit of justice for all. We are an example of what can be accomplished when people come together for a cause. That’s teamwork, and why The World Games chose us. That’s peacemaking and why the International Peace conference chose us. And our first responders have transformed from being a tool of injustice to models of compassionate keepers of justice. We are a modern-day success story and people want to share in that with us.
BT: What is the importance of a Peace Conference at a time like this when there is a need for peace at all levels — locally, nationally and globally?
RW: “This is a critical gathering of peacemakers. Our country, and our world, are in desperate need of peace right now, and Birmingham is the best stage to provide meaningful conversations for change. This is reminiscent of the gathering of preachers, creatives, journalists and activists who were here 60 years ago. They had a mission to plot out a plan to redeem the soul of our nation. That mission has not changed. Today, we stand on the shoulders of icons like the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King and A.G. Gaston. They helped Birmingham become the blueprint for peace. The work continues today.”
BT: What do you hope people take away from the conference?
RW: Conversation is important, as is the empowerment of attendees. But this is a prime opportunity to make partnerships and to develop action items. This international gathering of thought leaders is the perfect opportunity to build coalitions and develop strategies to take back to the communities we all serve.
BT: The conference also comes on the 60th anniversary of the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham. As a native of this city, looking back, how do you see those courageous marchers?
RW: In a word, heroes. These were literal children who stood face to face with unimaginable evil and did not blink. And they didn’t do it just for themselves, they did it for their children, their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren. They did it for us. I am honored to walk streets upon which they marched and where their blood was shed.
BT: Birmingham made history in 1963 that forever changed the city and country. What’s it like to be Mayor of Birmingham 60 years later.
RW: It’s a high honor, but also an incredible responsibility. Sixty years ago, I wouldn’t be able to drink from the same water fountain as my white peers, but now I lead our city. It’s humbling. As mayor it’s my job to always remember the sacrifices made that led me to this position, as well as to continue the movement’s mission to battle injustice in all forms.
BT: What lessons can young people today learn from children of the Civil Rights Movement about being the catalyst for change?
RW: Courage. Unity. And that there is no age requirement to make change. Breaking the back of segregation seemed like an impossible task at the time, but the wide-eyed optimism of youth made miracles happen. It’s important that the youth of today know that they’re cut from the same cloth – 60 years ago is not that far removed from where we are now. There’s work to be done, and a child can lead.
BT: There’s a lot that will be going on over the two-day Peace Conference. Speakers, symposiums, breakout sessions. What are you looking forward to?
RW: I am looking forward to hearing success stories and making international connections that will benefit the people of Birmingham.
The 2023 International Peace Conference will be held May 4-6 at Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, 1160-1582 Richard Arrington Jr Blvd N, Birmingham, AL 35203. For more visit www.peaceconference2023bham.com.