By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham civic leaders joined with their international counterparts Friday morning to kick off the 2023 International Peace Conference (IPC) at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
The IPC, modeled after inaugural 2016 Rotary World Peace Conference in Ontario, California, brings people from around the globe to discuss ways to create peace across numerous sectors of life and society, including education, environmental security and public safety.
This year is Birmingham’s first year hosting the two-day conference which began Friday.
Peace is not just “the absence of war,” said International Rotary President Jennifer Jones from Ontario, Canada, “peace is the absence of want, the want for clean water, the want for fair access to food and medication, the want for moms and children to be able to have fair opportunities in their lives.”
Jones spoke during an opening ceremony that also featured Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin; founding Birmingham Civil Rights Institute President Odessa Woolfolk; and University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) President Ray Watts, among other leaders.
“We get to focus now, for the next two days, on how we can take steps forward to be our very best,” Jones said during her remarks. “That is the challenge. That is the call to action for all of you, and I wish you an abundance of the most beautiful conversation over these days as we collectively find ways to take steps forward to make our world a better place.”
The IPC only lasts two days but peace must be promoted year-round to combat the “full-on effort” to promote hate that can be seen all over the world for the other 363 days, said Woodfin.
“There is no hate conference. There is no hate panel, but it’s intentionally promoted. It is promoted with TV and news. It is promoted in radio and talk shows. It is promoted in things we see every day. It’s ingrained in not just Americans’ culture but internationally,” Woodfin said.
“What I admire about these two days, although we’re on the short end of the stick related to time, the intentional effort of promoting peace,” he added.
Woodfin also pointed to the 60th anniversary of 1963, when mass demonstrations in Birmingham helped bring attention to racial discrimination in the Jim Crow South and lead to passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The city has provided a “blueprint for promoting peace,” the mayor said.
Woolfolk was teaching history and government at the former Samuel Ullman High School in Birmingham, during the famous Children’s March of 1963, which saw thousands of high school students fill downtown Birmingham.
That march happened 60 years ago this week, perfect timing for the IPC, said Woolfolk, who in her opening remarks, pointed to the non-violent and peaceful Birmingham protests, highlighting the example set by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Watts, who has served as president of UAB since 2013, said addressing the root of strife can help advance peace.
“If you think about conflict, it comes about when people in communities do not have opportunities, and conflict is the opposite of peace, so [at UAB] we believe in promoting education, research, health care, community service, and economic development to help our community, our nation and our world be a more peaceful place,” Watts said.