Birmingham City Council

Birmingham’s Future “an Open Question,” Woodfin Says in First State of the Community Address

Mayor Randall Woodfin delivers his first State of the Community address. (Source: Sam Prickett)

Jan. 15, 2018 — Mayor Randall Woodfin shared a cautiously optimistic vision for Birmingham’s future during Monday night’s State of the Community address, highlighting several of his administration’s planned initiatives while also calling on citizens to take action themselves.

“The state of our community is an open question that only you and I can answer together,” he said. “I believe that we, as a city, can do great things — if we do the right things.”

Woodfin’s remarks the full text of which can be read here, reflected the collaborative tone of his Nov. 28 inauguration speech, emphasizing the importance of his relationship with the City Council and his focus on addressing education, poverty and crime, which he described as intrinsically interrelated.

“Solutions to our challenges — and the full realization of our opportunities — can only come from our ability to make and sustain and build on connections between every aspect of life in our city,” he said in the speech at Parker High School.

As he did during his campaign, Woodfin emphasized education as “the most important ingredient,” calling for greater focus on early-childhood education and making sure high school graduates have the ability to either enter the workforce, join the military or go to college after graduation.

Scholarships for Birmingham Graduates

To that end, Woodfin announced his plans to launch the “Fred L. Shuttlesworth Opportunity Scholarship,” which he said would provide “debt-free tuition” for every Birmingham City Schools student who wants to attend a community college in Jefferson County.

Woodfin confirmed after the speech that the scholarship remains hypothetical, with “no commitments yet” from any funding sources.

“It’s going to take some work, but that is definitely something I’m up to the task (for),” he said. “The bottom line is, we have to make investing in our children a priority. I think this is a simple down payment.”

During a question-and-answer session with the audience after the speech, Woodfin drew a connection between educational resources and Birmingham’s crime rate, pointing to two recent homicides — 14-year-old Reynold Bonner on Dec. 23 and 18-year-old Elie Jameel Miller on Jan. 3 — as tragic examples of youth violence. Woodfin said he would support after-school and summer programs to keep children off the street and teach them conflict resolution skills.

“We have to find a way for our children not to exercise this option,” he said. “Too many of our children are choosing … the graveyard or a jail cell. For me, that’s a community crisis. … We’ve got to figure out a way to wrap our arms around our young boys and young girls at a very early age.”

During his speech, Woodfin also emphasized the need for an active public works department, saying, “We need to do a better job of cleaning up our city and keeping it clean.” He reiterated his commitment to a more aggressive approach to blight, including demolishing dilapidated houses and clearing overgrown lots.

“I believe firmly that our city is only as strong as its most needful neighborhood, and with that as our standard, we’re working to address needs and accelerate the process of revitalization,” he said. He said he planned to work with Alabama Power to upgrade the city’s streetlights, and he added that he would “devote the dollars and resources necessary to repave streets, fill potholes and repair sidewalks throughout Birmingham.”

“My goal is for every neighborhood in Birmingham to become a ‘choice’ neighborhood,” he said. “That means a place that people actively choose to live, because it has all of the things necessary for a good quality of life.”

As he wrapped up his speech, Woodfin’s tone once again turned inspirational. “We can do this because, at the end of the day, we all want the same things, for our community and all of its citizens. We can do this because it is our time — time for Birmingham to fulfill its longstanding potential and take its place among America’s great cities,” he said. “Birmingham has an opportunity for greatness, and you and I and every person who loves Birmingham as we do have the opportunity to make some history of our own.”