What does the next 50 years hold for Birmingham? National Public Radio affiliate WBHM wants members of the community to come together for a discussion over how local leadership can impact Birmingham’s future.
The “Issues and Ales” discussion, Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at WorkPlay, is free and open to the public. The event will be facilitated by WBHM’s news director Rachel Osier Lindley and Morning Edition host Andrew Yeager and will feature panelists including Randall Woodfin, recently elected to the Birmingham Board of Education, and Weld Publisher Mark Kelly.
“While we were putting the panel together for this event, someone that I spoke with said something that really struck me,” said Lindley. “They told me that Birmingham has been always been more of a ‘followship’ city as opposed to a leadership city.”
Lindley, who moved to Birmingham two months ago, said that she has already noticed the strong community ties that hold Birmingham together. She noticed something else. “There is this new energy to move beyond [smaller communities] and to create more of a citywide and regional community that is not just limited to the smaller neighborhoods. This is more about the idea of going beyond just the neighborhoods and bringing everyone together,” Lindley said.
In order for this to happen, Lindley explained, building upon community leadership is key. “There definitely seems like there is this energy and desire for there to be young leadership bringing new life and energy to the current leadership. I think there is a lot of potential for that here,” Lindley said.
The first Issues and Ales event took place last year, and as a forum for discussion it has been gaining momentum ever since, according to Audrey Atkins, WBHM’s marketing manager. “Our first Issues and Ales event focused on the issues surrounding education in Birmingham. It was very well-attended — we were very surprised by the turnout — so we decided to have another one. That event was also very well-attended, so we just kept going,” Atkins said.
WorkPlay will have beer and other refreshments available to purchase while Cantina on Wheels will be providing food, Atkins said. She hopes the turnout for this discussion will surpass the attendance of previous events.
“Each time we are so pleased to see how many people decide to come out and talk with us and meet us and share their opinions and views. This event is a great way for us to reach our community and our listeners and hear what they have to say,” Atkins said, adding that they have overflowed the last three venues.
As for the topic of discussion at this Issues and Ales event, Atticus Rominger of REV Birmingham — an organization aimed at developing economic growth in downtown Birmingham — agreed with the notion that Birmingham has, for too long, been a “followship city” and needs to address the challenges of local leadership.
“We’ve talked a lot in the past about Birmingham’s challenges, but I feel like we are at a place now where the focus is more about Birmingham’s opportunities. For the first time I feel like the leadership in Birmingham is on the same page,” Rominger said.
Tuesday’s discussion will consist of three different sections, all addressing the challenges of leadership and the future of Birmingham, according to Lindley. “We’re going to be talking first about government and how you get people involved in the political process and how do you get people interested in running for office. The second conversation will be focused more towards nonprofits like REV, the Birmingham Business Alliance and United Way and how those groups are investing in the community. And the third section will focus on where do we go from here,” Lindley said.
Over the last decade Birmingham has benefited from quality civic planning and is now on the verge of unprecedented growth, according to Rominger. “I think that now we’re starting to see implementation of the plans set forth over a decade ago. We see it in Railroad Park, we see it in the new Regions stadium. This is all part of that vision. And now we need to make sure we have leaders in place who are moving forward with those goals.”