BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute celebrated its 31st anniversary Friday, kicking off its new campaign “They Live Among Us,” which will honor the everyday activists in our lives.
The BCRI hopes after Friday, people will realize that civil rights activists and justice warriors could be our next-door neighbors and how important it is to stop and let their stories be told.
“We want to give people an opportunity to remember that their voice and their moment matters,” said DeJuana Thompson, president and CEO of the BCRI.
At the BCRI’s 31st anniversary celebration, the first group of “district heroes” was honored to include one Birmingham native who was one of the students in the children’s crusade in 1963.
“When I went to jail with Dr. King in the 60s in this town, I never imagined that I would be president of a predominantly white university,” said Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President Emeritus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “That’s how far we’ve come.”
The BCRI enters its 31st year as many notable civil rights events were commemorated in their 60th year, such as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the children’s crusade and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
“It is the year that so many seeds were planted in the ground for what we ultimately know became the Civil Rights Act,” Thompson said. “And so I do believe that celebrating our 31st anniversary, sort of on the heels of a historic year in itself is befitting. It allows us to have a moment to breathe, to reflect and to know we still have a great work to do.”
Some of the work the BCRI says is still left to do includes fixing disparities in education, housing and pay.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that each and every individual that comes through this door knows that they have a part to play in the overall success of our communities,” Thompson said. “We have voices that we should be using, hands that we should be raising whether it is in solidarity, or it is in protest as it relates to the conditions of our communities.”
“When people say we shouldn’t have hope, oh yes, we must have hope more than ever. We must have resilience. We must have faith because we can do this,” Hrabowski said. “That we as a people, meaning as Americans, we can do all of this. We can come back together, and we will.”
Everyone at the BCRI celebration had their picture taken to be part of a “living wall,” reminding everyone there’s a way forward but only together.