We Are Not Alone
This morning, instead of sitting down to write my weekly notes from the minister as I normally do, I was honored to participate in a Civil Rights Roundtable at the office of the US Attorney in downtown Birmingham. Begun by the now-outgoing US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, Joyce Vance, these roundtable discussions have been a way for the Attorney’s office to reach out into the civil rights community, get to know the local players, and build relationships that can have an impact in our community and beyond.
Through these relationships, the Attorney’s office has pursued cases that have brought better voting access for the disabled in Jefferson County, as well as better access for the disabled to the educational opportunities provided at UAB. They are currently working on rights restoration for former inmates, voter ID, and a number of other civil rights cases that have an impact on a broad swath of lives throughout our state.
The groups that were in attendance were indeed a rainbow coalition: the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Jewish Defense League, representatives of the Hispanic community, the Black community, the LGBTQ community, and the disabled community. There were attorneys, organizers, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and Greater Birmingham Ministries. And me. And what became clear after everyone had introduced themselves, and talked a little about their organizations and what they had to share, was that there are a lot of folks out there who are scared right now. But I think that the most important thing we came away with is that none of us is alone.
One thing US Attorney Joyce Vance made clear to us is that no matter who heads her office, they are not going anywhere, and they are there to help us. They want to help us, and will not only be glad to work with us as groups or a coalition, but they are also there for individuals who feel their rights have been violated. So if you are a person of color who was treated shabbily during what should have been a routine traffic stop, or a Muslim who was denied employment or a place to live, or an LGBTQ person who was denied service at a public business, I urge you to let the Attorney’s office know. If it looks like our legislature is about to cook up a bill that violates your civil rights, don’t wait until it’s a law to get busy, call the Attorney’s office. They want to help.
Some of you may wonder what a Unity minister is doing in the middle of all this. We were reminded today that our history as Birminghamians includes the organization which Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (for whom our airport, among other things, is named) was president of, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). 60 years ago, that group formed to promote equality, and adopted a 7-point “Declaration of Principles”. The first one says, “As free and independent Citizens of the United States of America, and of the State of Alabama, we express publicly our determination to press forward persistently for Freedom and Democracy, and the removal from our society any forms of Second Class Citizenship.” That principle is as noble today as it was 60 years ago, and its pursuit will be a part of my ministry until every last one of us enjoys the safety of equal justice under the law.
Many of you may not be inclined to become involved in human rights, or in civil rights at the organizational level, and you may never contribute to that sort of cause. But what I would ask you to do today is this: don’t let your neighbors feel alone. If you see someone being bullied, intervene. If you see someone being discriminated against, speak up. If you see someone who is being singled out simply because they are different, stand next to them. Don’t look away. It is only when the people of good heart stand idly by that the evil may ravage the weak. Now, especially now, we are called to stand in Unity with all of our fellow children of God. And, as the seventh of the ACMHR’s principles proclaims, we will “march to Complete Freedom — with unbowed heads, praying hearts, and an unyielding determination.”
And we will thank God that we are not alone along the way.