It’s all the worst of Alabama stereotypes. It’s a cruel law…impossible to comprehend…It’s like dropping an atomic bomb on a Quonset hut.
That was one of Joey Kennedy’s opening salvos in what has become a very personal war against Alabama’s immigration law, also known as HB56. Approved by the Alabama Legislature and signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley last year, the law was derided by critics as the harshest anti-immigrant legislation in the country — and hailed by supporters for the very same reason.
Kennedy was appalled by the new law. Then an editorialist for The Birmingham News — along with colleagues Ron Casey and Harold Jackson, he had won the erstwhile daily a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 — he went to his bosses and asked to be assigned as the lead writer for staking out the paper’s position on its enactment. The result was a steady barrage of editorials about the law, its sponsors and the social, economic and image-related impacts it has visited upon Alabama and its people.
“There had been times in the past, most notably the Civil Rights Movement, when our paper didn’t take a stand,” Kennedy says. “I wanted that to be different this time. I wanted us to be on the right side of history.”
Kennedy has continued what can only be described as a crusade in his new position as a community engagement specialist for AL.com. Just two weeks ago, he took to task the law’s chief sponsor, state Senator Scott Beason, for continuing to defend it after a federal appeals court rendered much of it invalid.
[T]his is Alabama, Kennedy wrote, where we dare defend our wrongs, and we’re not about to give up a bad cause until we’ve spent millions on legal fees to prove how really bad our cause is. That’s our history….And now we’re doing it on a terrible immigration law that has done more harm to Alabama and its reputation in the past two years than most anything in decades.
“What bothers me is that we have a great state, full of people who are kind and generous,” says Kennedy. “I’m talking about conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, who think that the kind of pandering, red meat populism this law represents is just killing Alabama. You know, America is supposed to stand for independence and opportunity, and treating people with a sense of dignity. This law was created to solve a problem we didn’t have, and calling attention to bad laws and the injustices they perpetrate is supposed to be part of my job.”
For doing that job, Kennedy is being honored with the Incarnation Award, given annually by Birmingham’s Beloved Community Church. Established in 2010, the award honors “a person who embodies the values of justice and mercy in our broken world,” according to a statement provided by Rev. Angie Wright, the pastor of the Avondale congregation, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
“Joey Kennedy has taken a morally courageous stand, at some personal and professional risk and cost,” Wright said in the statement. She added that Kennedy is being honored “for his tireless and fearless advocacy on behalf of the immigrant communities of our state, and against the immigration law,” and said that his work has “brought attention to the damage these laws have wrought on all Alabamians, whether we know it or not.”
Kennedy describes himself as “profoundly moved and humbled” at being selected to receive the award. He says it is especially moving to be honored by a church led by Wright, who is active in ministering to the underprivileged through her work with Beloved Community and Greater Birmingham Ministries.
“Angie is a person who dedicates her life to giving a voice to the voiceless,” Kennedy says. “I want to be like her, so to be receiving this award means a lot. It’s the kind of significant encouragement that gives advocacy journalists the strength to say and write what we do. I’m completely blown away by it.”
Joey Kennedy will receive the Incarnation Award this Sunday, December 16. The award will be presented during the Sunday evening worship service at Beloved Community Church, beginning at 6 p.m. The service also will feature an Advent Concert by the Beloved Community Orchestra, God’s Chosen Ones, and Roscoe Robinson and the Birmingham Blind Boys. The church is located at 141 41st Street South in Avondale.