BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Cities United is hosting its annual meeting in Birmingham Tuesday and Wednesday.
The theme of this year’s meeting is, “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” as it pertains to violence against African American males.
Early Tuesday evening, Birmingham Mayor William Bell, joined by several other mayors and leaders from cities across the country, marched from the Sheraton Hotel downtown, past the city’s historic landmarks, to the steps of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
“There’s a new sense of urgency to give our kids the sense of hope, to give them the tools to survive and thrive,” Bell said to a crowd at the BCRI.
Founded in 2011 by the mayors of Philadelphia and New Orleans and several non-profit organizations, Cities United now has participants from more than 80 cities nationwide.
The network shares ideas on how to make communities more peaceful.
“Birmingham is a model for police-community relationship,” Bell said. “Birmingham can learn from other places, that we create opportunities for individuals, it gives them that sense of hope. That sense of opportunity also allows them to take care of their family, take care of their communities, take care of their cities.”
Many ideas and success stories come straight from those impacted the most by violence.
Aaron Kirkland, 27, grew up in west Philadelphia.
Kirkland believes problems in African American communities begin in schools, and endure through a lack of opportunity.
“The public school I went to, every day was like prison,” Kirkland said. “You’ve got to wait an hour to go through the metal detectors, you can’t take the textbooks home, the teachers aren’t teaching. They don’t even feel safe in the schools.”
Kirkland said he was 19 when he went to prison, where he had a moment of clarity after his grandmother’s death.
“I felt like my life was just being thrown away, but my mama always told me, ‘Aaron, if you spill a glass of milk, clean it up and get another glass,'” Kirkland said.
Thanks to a jobs program in Philadelphia, Kirkland said he turned his life around.
He now works for the city’s water department, and remains involved with Cities United.
He knows that if City Hall can hear his message, there’s hope for those who feel they have none.
“Hope is all you have. And if you don’t have hope, you don’t have nothing,” Kirkland said.
Copyright 2016 WIAT 42 News