Category Archives: guest

Regarding the City of Birmingham and Feeding the Homeless

EDITOR’S NOTE: There has been a great deal said recently about the food truck ordinance passed late last year and how it’s affecting outreach efforts in the City of Birmingham. Matt Lacey, the senior pastor of downtown’s Church of the Reconciler,  has written this piece and shared it via social media and email. I felt it needed another, more openly accessible, place to reside. Links have been added by me where they seemed appropriate. As usual, comments are welcome and his contact information is below (though his email inbox was full as of this posting). ACN

One good way to make kind-hearted folks mad is to tell them it’s illegal for them to show that kindness.

Over the past couple of days here in Birmingham you may have heard reports in the media about the City of Birmingham threatening to arrest people for passing out food to the homeless in public parks and other gathering places.

The Mayor and City Council have said that they didn’t intent to create this type of environment by passing the food truck ordinance last year. Let me take some time to debunk that right away. This text is taken from page 9 of the aforementioned ordinance passed by the City Council:

“No person or business entity, including religious or charitable organization, shall operate a mobile food vehicle and/or pushcart upon the public rights-of-way within the city without a permit.”

Why would someone think to include religious and charitable organizations in the ordinance? More than likely they were attempting to bury legislation similar to other cities such as Raleigh, NC and others who have cracked down on public feedings in parks. In short: I think they knew what they were doing when they passed it.

To the issue of feeding at public parks: do churches, organizations, and volunteers need to have a conversation about the effectiveness of public feedings and the need for more permanent and ongoing help for the homeless? Absolutely. Is simply feeding at parks the best way to offer care for the homeless? Well, one could argue that you could do a lot more to offer more comprehensive care.

Organizations like ours-Church of the Reconciler-and the Firehouse Shelter, One Roof, and many others, frequently preach the need for more comprehensive services above and beyond just feeding the homeless. And there is certainly a lot to talk about. But is threatening to arrest people for feeding in public places a way to open up and have that conversation? Absolutely not.

Simply put: I’m not a public policy expert or a politician, but this isn’t going over well for the City of Birmingham. There are better ways to address this issue and have this conversation.

Mayor Bell, who in full disclosure was gracious enough to address one of our fundraising events several years ago, said that this is an effort to consolidate and organize services for the homeless through One Roof. That sounds really good, and One Roof does a great job of coordinating all these efforts currently.

Case in point: when police told Bridge Builders Ministries that they couldn’t serve the homeless outdoors any longer, we had a conversation with their leaders and opened our doors to create a more coordinated effort.

But if the Mayor and the City (and State of Alabama for that matter) are serious about this, it’s time they start providing more resources to care for those on the streets. Simply put: it’s time for Birmingham to stop talking and start doing.

I would like to issue an invitation to the Mayor and City Council members: come down to one of our organizations where, day after day, we offer care to those who need it most, rather than just bury something in an ordinance somewhere. Come and visit with those who suffer with mental illness and tell them, as we do, that there is little to no help we can offer because the State of Alabama lacks the resources (and will) to adequately address the issue. Come and argue, which I do on a weekly basis, with the drug dealers who prey on our population and help keep them in the cycle of addiction.

If we are going to talk about the need for more comprehensive help for the homeless, it’s probably best to not intimidate those attempting to do something about it, even those who might be well-intentioned but need to be more educated.

If the City wants to talk about the homeless in Birmingham, and ways they can help with the community my door is always open, as it has been.

Maybe this is the spark this City needs to starting talking about the issue of homelessness and poverty, which we have only treated with Band-Aids in the past, when in reality it needs comprehensive, holistic, and preventative care.

Rev. Matt Lacey
Senior Pastor, Church of the Reconciler

Fred Lee Shuttlesworth, 1922 – 2011

FL_Shuttlesworth_portraitMartin Luther King came to Birmingham in 1963 at the invitation of Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Collegeville and the local leader of the civil rights movement. Shuttlesworth said the people of Birmingham had prepared for this moment for years and they were ready. Dr. King was welcomed to join them, but Birmingham was going to take on “Bull” Connor and Birmingham City Hall whether Dr. King came or not.

It was not exactly blackmail, but it was close. The style was a perfect example of Shuttlesworth’s approach to civil rights change – activist, aggressive, and nonviolent – in “America’s most segregated city.”  King, fresh off a tactical defeat in Albany, Georgia, had little choice. He could either come to Birmingham or risk losing his new-found voice as the spokesman for the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Everyone in America knew that Birmingham would be the major test of King’s nonviolent strategy. If he succeeded in Birmingham, he could succeed anywhere.

King did succeed in Birmingham, and his success lasted until his death by assassination in 1968. Shuttlesworth also succeeded in Birmingham. Ironically, the fiery “Lion of Birmingham,” as Shuttlesworth was called at the time, lived another four decades until he died quietly in bed in Birmingham on October 5 at age 89.

No one in the civil rights movement during the 60s seemed less likely to die in bed of old age than Fred Shuttlesworth. If Shuttlesworth had himself described his own death, he would have called it yet another example of God’s will at work. He had been convinced in 1956, when the parsonage in which he lived was destroyed by a Klansman’s bomb on Christmas Day, that he was God’s anointed. The parsonage was in shambles, the mattress on which he had been sitting was torn apart, glass from the mirror in his bedroom had flown across the room just above his head and stuck like knives in the opposing wall. Yet Shuttlesworth and his family walked out of the rising dust of the ruined parsonage relatively unharmed. To Shuttlesworth, nothing could explain his escape on that Christmas Day except that God had called him to take on the Klan and the injustice of segregated Birmingham. If he did, his actions would be divinely protected.

And so it seems. Shuttlesworth went on to confront segregation fearlessly. The next day in 1956 he led a small group of Negro citizens to sit in the front of a Birmingham bus. Two years later, he was beaten to the ground with chains and brass knuckles when he tried to enroll his children at all-white Phillips High School. His church was bombed again. He met in a strategy session with the Freedom Riders after they were attacked in Birmingham. In 1963, he was knocked off his feet and rolled down the street by the fire hoses during the demonstrations in downtown Birmingham. That fall, he walked with Dwight and Floyd Armstrong, only 9 and 11 at the time, as they became the first black students to desegregate Birmingham’s schools. He was arrested at least thirty-eight times. He taunted “Bull” Connor, calling him up on the phone to announce where he was next going to demonstrate and when. He did everything he could to enrage the entrenched segregationists who governed and controlled Birmingham by law and by force. Yet more than forty years later, he died peacefully in bed. Who is to say that he was not an agent of God’s will?

Dr. King was a powerful writer, an urbane preacher, and a skilled theologian. He was a reluctant activist. He sat down and talked with the forces that were aligned against him. Fred Shuttlesworth was his ally and opposite – a rousing country preacher, a firebrand, a man apparently born into his role as a leader during the Birmingham demonstrations.

History books will record Reverend Shuttlesworth as a fiery and outspoken civil rights activist. What they will miss is that he was also a quiet soft-spoken man devoutly committed to nonviolence, who could sit down and listen intently to both those who agreed with him and those who strongly did not. He loved children. He had a remarkably droll and mischievous sense of humor. That sense of humor will be lost as we canonize him in the history books.

Why did Birmingham succeed when Albany did not?  Quite probably, it succeeded because of Fred Shuttlesworth. He was a total and overwhelming strategist who used every method at his disposal. He attacked segregation in the courts, in the mass meetings, in the streets, in strategy sessions with Dr. King and the other SCLC leaders, in the “selective buying” boycott, in the mass arrests, in the creation of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights when the NAACP was outlawed in Alabama, even in sit-down negotiations with Birmingham’s white leadership. His death, even though it came more than four decades after his greatest achievements, is a great loss.

Photo: Courtesy of Birmingham Public Library.

UPDATE, 10.8.2013: An earlier version of this piece included a photo we’d been given recorded verbal and written permission to use in October 2011. The photographer has since asked us to remove it and we’ve chosen to honor her request.

Editor’s Note: This remembrance was shared by Wade Black, the executive director of the Birmingham Pledge Foundation. Shuttlesworth in 2000 became the first recipient of the foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Respect all that use the roads, including bikes

NOTE: We got this letter in earlier today and thought it was appropriate with all of the talk about transportation. Daniel Tenpas reminds us that we need to be aware of what’s around us.

So, I’m riding my bike to the grocery store down Crestwood Blvd. As I was turning left onto Oporto Way behind 2 cars-the driver of the car in front of me makes eye contact with me in her rearview mirror-then promptly slams on her brakes. And I promptly ran into her passenger side rear fender-with my body and my bike. I go over the handle bars, slide on my back in the middle of the intersection of Crestwood Blvd. and Oporto Madrid. I’m a little shocked as she drives away. Thankfully, the car behind me stopped, waited for me to get up and leave the busy intersection and to make sure I was okay. I was then asked by two other drivers who witnessed the accident if I was okay. Which, I am-barring a couple of scrapes, strains and bruises.

Aside from the fact that the driver in front of me left the scene of an accident-I would just like your readers to be conscious of cyclists on the road. I am a son, a brother and a husband and I don’t want to lose my life in this city or any other because of reckless and careless drivers. Traffic law warrants that cyclists ride on the road (not the sidewalk.) Because of our state’s lack of bike lanes, drivers should use due diligence and share the road. Life is too important and too short. Can we have some respect for our fellow citizens?

BTW – you have a letter or an editorial you want to share? Send it into

With apologies to Mr. Dylan…

Editor’s note: Today’s my Birmingham guest blogger is Barry Copeland.

Barry Copeland - Bob Farley/f8PhotoWhen Bob Dylan’s famous lament on the nature of hypocrisy first made the charts, those of us who are now called Baby Boomers memorized all the words. Positively 4th Street pretty much laid it all bare and Dylan’s words seemed to capture what we in the 60s thought typified the hypocracy we saw all around us – in the media, in the government, in any institution with authority. What could sum up the youthful, disillusioned attitude of those watershed years better than, “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend. When I was down, you just stood there grinning!”

Those who observe the passing scene on 20th Street in downtown Birmingham today could make an effective case that we’ve just rolled back the clock 40 years. It’s 1968 all over again, and it seems as though everything that has been happening in my town is bad. Not just bad, in fact, it’s awful. It’s almost as if you could pick an issue – any issue – and bet safely that it’ll be the subject of conversation somewhere in some forum in the coming week. The issue could be elected officials, or proposed projects, the actions (or inactions) of any legislative body, our environment, our schools, our businesses, our infrastructure. The list of negative things to cuss and discuss is endless. I think, in fact, that we may be at the point now where an alternative view is not only a pleasant change – it’s becomming essential for the maintenance of our collective regional sanity.

So, with apologies to Mr. Dylan – and consistent with a move up to 20th Street (the most important street in Alabama, I would offer) – here is Vol. 1, No. 1 of Positively 20th Street. And let the emphasis be on the word Positively for that’s what this little blog will be about. What’s good in Birmingham.

I like the idea of the city’s “Believe in Birmingham” web site, and I like what Mayor Langford says on the site. “We can’t expect anyone to believe in us until we believe in ourselves.” Amen! Admittedly my view is limited, but I’m convinced there are many great things happening in Birmingham these days that deserve a forum, and that is the intended purpose of “Positively 20th Street.”

Here’s one such conversation starter, with the promise of more to come in future posts. Do you know that the UAB community is now about the size of the city of Gadsden? Actually, on any given day, UAB now claims approximately 17,300 students and another 18,000 faculty, staff, physicians, etc. Add to that about 786 patients a day, on average, and their families, and you have Gadsden. It’s a very fluid population, but the economic impact is hard to ignore – and we ignore it at our peril. UAB’s economic impact is now about 12-to-1, meaning, In layman’s terms, that for every dollar the state invests in UAB, roughly $12 will be returned into Birmingham and Alabama’s economy. So when the state invests $50 million, as it agreed to do last year, the impact of that investment in our region and state, over time, is something in the neighborhood of $600 million. What’s not to love about that?

UAB – and so much more – is good for Birmingham. And to that point, you may expect more – later.

Barry Copeland is executive vice president of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce. Check out his blog over at Positively 20th Street, where this entry was originally posted on April 14. Head on over there and share your comments on this first post (or you can let him know through our comments section).