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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Birmingham Is Dying!

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on November 18, 2022

An Editorial Opinion

I regret to inform you that Birmingham, Alabama is dying. I delayed this depressing announcement until after the celebrations and parties were over from the 2022 Magic City Classic football weekend.

Birmingham’s population is bleeding out. Those who are left are the victims of gross institutional mismanagement by the city’s governing officials. If you voted for them, you got what you deserve. If you did not vote for them, you must find a way to rescue yourself from a sinking ship.

The city’s public schools are failing their students, year after year. What is more, the students they are failing are black. There is no excuse for this catastrophic failure of leadership and stewardship.

Violent crime in Birmingham is skyrocketing. No effective solution has been offered by city officials to curb this out-of-control and deadly violence. City residents have a greater chance of becoming the next murder victim than they do of getting a high paying job.

Birmingham’s mayor and council are play-acting their roles in city government. In reality, they don’t have a clue about what’s going on or what they can do to save a dying city and its failing public school system.

At this juncture, Birmingham public officials are merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic after it has struck the iceberg.

A Rapidly Declining Population

In 1960, Birmingham’s population was 340,887 people. Today, the city’s population is 197,575 people.

In 1960, blacks in Birmingham numbered 135,113 people, or 39.6% of the city’s population. Today, this number is 141,464, or 71.6% of the city’s population.

In 1960, whites in Birmingham numbered 205,620 people, or 60.3 % of the city’s population. Today, this number is 48,603, or 24.6% of the city’s population.

Whites in Birmingham started their “white flight” in the 1960s in response to Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement. Their numbers dropped to 173,729 in 1970, 124,729 in 1980, 95,655 in 1990, 58,457 in 2000, 47,258 in 2010, and 48,603 today.

Birmingham City Schools are Failing Their Students

The Birmingham school system has a $378 million annual budget to operate 42 public schools that serve 22,000 students, 99% of whom are black. Thirteen or 31% of the system’s schools are on the State Department of Education’s 2022 list of failed schools.

Two of the schools on the list of failed schools -- Huffman and Woodlawn High Schools -- are “magnet schools.” A magnet school is a public school with specialized courses that are not available at other schools. These schools are supposed to attract the best and brightest students in the school system. How in the hell two magnet high schools wound up on the list of failed Birmingham city schools is beyond my comprehension.

Birmingham school students have a reading proficiency of 24% (versus the Alabama public school average of 45%) and math proficiency of 21% (versus the Alabama public school average of 47%).

This level of performance by any public school system is unacceptable in the modern world.

Birmingham is Ranked as One of the Most Dangerous Cities in the World

Birmingham is number 51 on the world’s list of the top 54 most dangerous cities. It is one of five U.S. cities on the dreaded list.

As of September 2022, Birmingham, Alabama was leading a surge in the nation’s violent crime. The city’s murder rate increased by 40%, from 73 murders by September 2021 to 102 murders by September 2022.

In 2021, 132 people were murdered in Birmingham. This number is expected to be exceeded by the end of 2022.

Against the backdrop of a rapidly decreasing city population and a soaring murder rate, Birmingham’s mayor flew to Washington earlier this week to plead with Congress for help. Mayor Randall Woodfin did not seek additional funds to fight the surging violent crime in his city, which is on its way to becoming the “Murder Capital of the World.”

Instead, Woodfin pleaded with Congress to decriminalize the sale and possession of marijuana in Birmingham and the rest of America. This was Woodfin’s answer to the drastic increase in murders in his city – make it easier for residents to get “high” from smoking “weed.”

Meanwhile, Birmingham residents are afraid to leave their homes, for fear of gun play and being murdered.

Who’s To Blame for the Death of Birmingham?

Birmingham’s City Hall, the city’s school board, and other city boards and agencies became majority black between the late 1980s and early 1990s. Blacks have enjoyed rock solid control of the organs of city government in Birmingham since the 1992 municipal elections.

African-Americans officials are presiding over the slow and painful death of Birmingham. They are the ones who are failing the city's 99 neighborhoods, its adult residents, and its school children.

Today’s black elected officials in Birmingham City Hall are an embarrassment to themselves, their constituents, and the entire city. They are essentially administering hospice care to a dying city.

The mayor and council have no plan of action to combat the runaway problems that are killing Birmingham. These officials typically spend nearly all of their time on symbolic gestures, feel-good photo ops, and attending sports games and entertainment events with the free tickets given to them by event promoters and sponsors. They have important-sounding titles and ceremonial appearances, but they offer no real substance in the performance of their duties.

Their collective failure as Birmingham city officials to provide effective leadership in government has nothing to do with “white racism,” which is the tired excuse they love to whisper in my ear in private settings but never say out loud in public.

For whatever reason, these city officials are either too lazy, disinterested, or distracted to (a) perform the hard work that is necessary to save a dying city and (b) give the students in Birmingham’s failing schools a fair chance to succeed in life. All these officials want to do is party, look important, and play-act at running city government during council meetings on Tuesday.

Meanwhile another man, woman, or child will experience a violent death in Birmingham today or tomorrow at the hands of a murderer.

Serving as a Guardian Ad Litem in the Political Arena

If it seems like I am being unusually hard on the mayor, council, and school board members, I am. THEY ARE FAILING THE CITY OF BIRMINGHAM, ITS ADULT RESIDENTS, AND ITS SCHOOL CHILDREN.

I do not hand out praise, accolades, awards, trophies, or certificates of appreciation to failed public officials. I do not participate in circular back-slapping ceremonies for failed leaders. I publicly spank these failed officials and so-called "leaders" on behalf of adult citizens who have no voice in government and young school children who depend upon them to do the right thing.

In my book, the greatest sin for a public official is his/her failure to (a) keep a child safe in school and (b) properly educate this child. Going forward, I will serve as the guardian ad litem for the school children of Birmingham in the political arena until they are old enough to vote. I have already awarded college scholarships to 32 of the most deserving ones. I do not mind holding city officials accountable for every child who is trapped in the city's failed school system.

By the way, I do not smoke "weed" and I will not keep my mouth shut about the things that matter in life. This is literally a "life or death" matter on so many levels.

Related Articles:

"Open Letter to Birmingham's Black Community," dated May 1, 2019.

"Feedback From Open Letter to the Black Community," dated May 2, 2019.

IMAGE: Crime scene in Birmingham, Alabama where a 7th grade girl was killed in a shooting on October 16, 2022.

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