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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Alabama

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Community Book Discussions Aim To Spark Conversations, Understanding Across Racial Divide

Local civic and social organizations are breaking racial, ethnic and religious boundaries by discussing Tanner Colby's Vestavia Hills-based book, Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America. Discussions begin Sunday throughout the metro area.

The effort is the brainchild of Bettina Byrd-Giles, chief executive officer of Bethesda Life Center Inc. in Ensley, who has worked with race relations efforts in Birmingham for more than 20 years. As Bethesda's CEO, she has seen the devastating effects of de facto segregation first hand. Byrd-Giles sought and received support in organizing the community discussions from the Community Affairs Committee of REV Birmingham and U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance.

"One of the many lessons we have learned from the tragedy in Ferguson is that communities have to be unafraid to talk openly about the difficult and sometimes painful issue of race," Vance said. "Open discussion can diminish the lack of racial tolerance and understanding," she said. "I am proud to be part of a community where so many people, from so many walks of life, are willing to come together with people they don't know in order to build better relationships and, ultimately, a stronger community."

"The doors are open; let us continue to dialogue truthfully. It is about more than just color, it is how and why people see what they see in others," said CAC Co-Chairwoman Alice Westery. At the pilot discussion Feb. 4 at the CAC Race Relation Round Table on Some of My Best Friends are Black, "the group that I facilitated continued to bring up the need to understand that black people, and all minorities, can feel it when they are not accepted or properly acknowledged as a human being with human rights," Westery said.

This year's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast, where Colby was the keynote speaker, kicked off the February community book discussion. Participants have two avenues to get involved with the discussion. The first option is to organize a discussion in which one group invites a similar group or organization of a different culture to participate. The plan is for groups to have as much in common as possible, and facilitators will assist the discussion. The expectation is that these discussions will yield specific action steps to address de facto segregation. These matched group discussions are taking place Sunday through Feb. 21, and at least 20 are registered.

Some of the pairings include Sisters Chaverim, which is a group of Jewish and African American leaders. The Birmingham Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Sorority Inc. is hosting The Junior League of Birmingham. The Rotary Club of Birmingham is hosting several African American civic leaders at a discussion at Taj India restaurant. The Vestavia community is also planning a discussion.

A second option is for people to join an open discussion in one of several metro area locations Feb. 22 - 28. The events will be led by experienced race relations facilitators who were former Anytown, AL, or National Coalition for Community Justice staff. There are two discussions targeted to the under-40 crowd. For locations and times, please visit Birmingham Magic City Crossings at this site: There is no cost for participating, but it is requested that participants read at least Parts I & II of Some of My Best Friends are Black.

The anticipated outcome is to discuss how the community remains segregated, despite the strides of the Civil Rights Movement to eliminate legalized racial segregation. Participants will be asked what they can do, personally and collectively, to address de facto segregation in the Birmingham metro area. The results will be collected by the facilitators and discussed to see what the next steps will be.

For more information, please contact Bettina Byrd-Giles


Updated March 19, 2015