“One of my favorite sayings, when I think about how people or teams can’t work together, is ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand’ — and Birmingham has been a house divided against itself,” said Brother Fernandez Sims, pastor of Charis Community Church and candidate for mayor of Birmingham. “So what do we do? We start at the foundation and we work hard.”
Sims entered a crowded race when he announced his candidacy late last month. Sims joins educator Patricia Bell, activist Carlos Chaverst, Jefferson County deputy sheriff Randy Davis, entrepreneur Ervin Philemon Hill, contractor Chris Woods, and school board member Randall Woodfin in the race against incumbent Mayor William Bell.
Sims believes that Birmingham needs a “community-centric” approach that ensures that the neighborhoods outside of the city’s commercial centers are cared for.
“We have 99 neighborhoods and 96 are uncared for, so we’re going to do a neighborhood-by-neighborhood assessment and we’re going to meet those needs of those neighborhoods,” Sims said. To ensure that the city’s funds go where they are needed, Sims has made the institution of a “forensic audit” of the city’s finances a key platform of his campaign. “We need to find out where this money is going, who’s spending it, whose pockets it’s going into. … That way, we we’ll be able to allocate the resources to where they’re needed most,” he said.
In addition to promising to identify and deal with the challenges specific to each neighborhood, Sims outlined the steps he would take to deal with the community’s “common needs.” Sims said he wants to build “world-class community centers” that will bring together citizens of different ages and backgrounds and that he planned to work with UAB and other local healthcare providers to open clinics throughout the city’s neighborhoods.
His administration, Sims promised, would also pay to institute anger management, conflict resolution, and domestic violence prevention programs across Birmingham, which he described as vital to reducing the city’s crime rate. These programs would be “not just for the adults — I want to work with the Birmingham school system … and bring these in and start our children off in the third or fourth grade, learning how to resolve their problems,” he said.
Sims remarked repeatedly on his desire as mayor to work closely with the city council and the Birmingham School Board to find the best solutions for citizens, especially students.
“This is not a me effort, it’s a we effort. The only way it can happen is together: we pull together, we break down those barriers that have prevented us from working together,” he said. “The mayor has to work with the school board. He can’t be a hands-off mayor, and he has to be able to work with the school board in such a way that we progress together.”
Beyond working with other departments of the city government, Sims wants to partner with the business and faith communities to support Birmingham’s schools. As mayor, he would ask faith communities and local businesses to “adopt” individual city schools, providing material support and having members volunteer to serve as crossing guards or hall monitors. “We want to mobilize everyone for this effort because we can’t do it alone. We have to work together, every strata in our society,” he said.
For Sims, ensuring that the city has an educated workforce is a vital tool toward combatting the high levels of poverty in the city.
“We’re going to have to re-educate our workforce. We’re going to have to provide for those who have exited the Birmingham City School system and can’t read or write,” he said.
“Part of what I want to do is start a program for the communities that [will provide a job in which] a person can work cleaning up the abandoned lots and dilapidated buildings,” he said. “They do that part-time, and they go and get their GED or literacy program while they’re doing that. You’ll get paid 20 hours a week, and you spend the other 20 hours getting yourself educated so we can have an educated workforce again.”
Sims proposed a similar plan to help former inmates, who often struggle to find work after they are released from prison. Sims said he wanted to see a program that would offer individuals with criminal records work cleaning run-down areas around the city while also offering them the opportunity to make up any gaps in their education. Such a program, Sims argued, would help those coming out of prison successfully reintegrate into society and lower the recidivism rate.
Sims said he is crafting the plan in conjunction with community organizations like the Offender Alumni Association and the Prison Fellowship that work to help current and former inmates. Sims said he sees partnering with nonprofits and community groups as being critical in tackling the city’s issues, especially poverty, which he described as the greatest cause of crime in Birmingham.
“Violence in this city is driven by lack: it’s either a lack of love, a lack of resources, or a lack of training, or a lack of discipline, or a lack of hope,” he said. “We have to address the issues of poverty, and they’re wide and they’re deep and they’re complicated, but we can’t just sit to the side and not address any of it. We have to address what we can in the best way we can. And we have to involve the whole community, especially community organizations whose boots are on the ground and who are working to provide those services. The city needs to provide for those community organizations, not by just giving them a plaque, but by giving them the funds [that will allow them] to continue to do this. We would be funding grassroots community organizations and organizations that work. … We need to be in that game playing alongside the other team and bringing our city forward.”