Patrick Bradford is a native of Birmingham, Alabama who studied art at Berea College and earned a Master of Journalism from Florida A&M University. He served as an AmeriCorps member with the YWCA Central Alabama and now works as the Media Manager.
I’m a Birmingham native, and like any resident that’s been here prior to recent revitalization successes, I’ve witnessed challenges and struggles that have punctuated the city’s reality. So, like other residents, I am thrilled for the city’s progress but also sometimes cynical about how things will actually play out. When I heard Birmingham would host a TEDx conference, I thought it was progressive and exciting, but I had questions: Will this event really be Birmingham? Will it truly represent the city—good and bad? Will it actually affect our perspective or will it just be a trendy flash, left to fizzle out?
Despite concern that the event would overly promote current successes in Birmingham, with little regard for current challenges, I decided to attend. Remarkably, several speakers shared stories that included hardships and struggles, and through this drew allusions to Birmingham’s identity.
Growing up in Alabama, speaker Jordan Reeves found the South stifling and set early goals to escape to a region more progressive toward the LGBT community. Jen Barnett talked about her popular grocery store, Freshfully, and its recent failure and closing. Dr. Pat Hymel spoke of how a missed observance early in his medical career cost an ER patient his life. These clearly weren’t the sugarcoated pro-Birmingham stories I’d both feared and expected.
As they continued, the speakers described progression and growth through their experiences. Reeves, migrating from the South to the East Coast, was still met with discrimination. He found that any real change is not inherent with a location, but must personally happen within people. In Freshfully’s failure, Barnett found a wealth of learning and empowerment that would take her into her next venture in life, stronger and more fearless. Later in his career, Hymel had been lauded for his wisdom after saving a life—a direct result of viewing failures as learning opportunities, rather than seeing them as shameful. These speakers found success, but through struggles, failures and renewed perspective.
To me, that’s Birmingham. That’s what Birmingham’s story has often been—hardships, missteps and failures, and finding new perspective through these trials. It is not known as the premiere southern city of impossible growth, that neighboring Atlanta has become. Our state is not known as a go to tourist destination like bordering Florida. We’ve largely been known for our dark, complicated past. Yet we’re also known for how we’ve responded to it—and that’s something to be proud of. Something to build upon.
With the YW, every day I get to work with great people, for a great organization, with a great mission. And while I would love for the struggle for women’s empowerment and eliminating racism to be over, realistically, it won’t end soon. But this allows us to collaborate, do great work and help others.
As Birmingham continues to transform and progress, we will still have plenty misstepsand challenges to overcome and this won’t be easy. In fact, it will be hard. But what a great opportunity this affords us to play a part and be participants in making a positive change in our city.
To look further into TEDx Birmingham, check out Katie Reed’s post or check out the video of the event.
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