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Looking at Birmingham through a mirror

04.16.2013 by André Natta · → Leave a comment

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NOTE: This is an annotated and edited version of a piece published in the current (April 2013) issue of B-Metro Magazine.


One of the unexpected results of watching the city as it reacts to increased media coverage during the commemoration of the events of 1963 is how it tends to look at itself. I spent 11 years of my life in Savannah, GA, including most of the quirky “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” era. I find myself shaking my head wondering what would have happened if Facebook, Google+, and Twitter existed back in 1994 and what a difference it would have made in the development of that city and its culture.

I’m getting to watch a similar era unfold in Birmingham, as we bask in recognition of our food and music scenes while piles of dirt are moved throughout the region showing signs of progress and growth. It’s fun to guess whether or not the person writing the article about our being a top vacation getaway or an up and coming city has actually ventured into Jones Valley.

Recent months have seen us recognized by several media outlets — via the web, print, and television — for various innovations and accolades. It’s been easy to point to any of these pieces as proof of progress when someone talks about how there’s nothing going on in the city. It’s also a welcome way to surprise locals and long–time residents alike when they learn how some outsiders view their fair city – positively. Nothing fights pessimism better than a good long look in a mirror being held up by someone who is removed from the situation.

It’s a funny world when you look at social media being treated and observed as “so me” (a useful abbreviation) and personally focused. It’s a requirement of sorts since it’s basically your journey through life as you engage those who have chosen to follow you via one or several of your digital profiles online. It is a window into who you are and what makes you tick. It can be molded by you to convey whatever you think is appropriate. It does make it tough to know what’s going on nearby, or even across the room.

Perhaps that’s why I enjoy those moments when we use it as more of a mirror to empower and engage a community to do better. Today Birmingham serves as a shining example of that approach towards social media, courtesy of the Birmingham Public Library. Universities, high schools, performance venues and cities across the country and around the world have already signed up and pledged to read an important document in the civil rights movement — Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Many who have learned of the efforts to invite as many people as possible to read on April 16 will participate as a way to elevate a discussion. This is mainly due to the complexity and difficulty normally preventing such an important conversation from happening in the first place. It’s also hard to tackle something folks try hard to lock away since “it’s history.”

2013 is as much about the need for Birmingham to tackle this conversation internally as it is to remind the world it still needs to happen. It’s an opportunity for the community to use these digital tools not just as a way to shine the light on itself, but as a tool to hold a mirror up to society to remind them we’ve got a lot more to tackle as humanity’s march continues. It’s a chance to paint a picture of the city’s future by embracing what’s happening now and questioning those things seen as messy and clunky.

Perhaps it’s fitting to think that “if not for Birmingham,” — and our digital present — we wouldn’t have this chance to continue to shape the future, for us and our fellow man.

Just think — we’ve still got just over seven more months to go, too.

Photo: untitled. Dustin Gilmore/Flickr.

André Natta is the stationmaster for

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Filed under: Birmingham