The author of the Birmingham Pledge encouraged citizens of Danville Thursday night to embrace the pledge’s statement of principles first introduced in 1998 in Birmingham, Ala., as part of a grassroots effort to eliminate racism and prejudice.
The pledge is a 116-word statement that includes declarations such as "I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful.”
Speaking at the kickoff meeting of the Danville United Community Relations Coalition, Jim Rotch said, “If everybody in this room, everybody in Danville and everybody in the world woke up tomorrow morning and said, ‘I’m putting racism out of my life forever. I am not going to be a racist and I am going to discourage racism wherever I see.’ If everybody did that every day, and committed to it, then what I view as one of the biggest problems in our society would vanish.”
He continued, saying, “Now, I am not naive enough to think that is going to happen tomorrow morning or any time soon, but you have to start somewhere. So in Birmingham, we started that journey one person at a time with the Birmingham Pledge.”
Rotch, an attorney at law in Birmingham, wrote the pledge in November 1997 during a return trip to Birmingham from a Leadership Alabama meeting in Mobile, Ala. It was introduced publicly at the 1998 Martin Luther King Unity Breakfast in Birmingham. Since then, the pledge has spread worldwide. Programs using the Birmingham Pledge have been reported in all 50 states and more than 20 countries.
Because of the interest in the pledge, Rotch was invited to deliver the keynote address for Thursday’s kickoff meeting of Danville United. The meeting was attended by more than 125 people.
“When we first adopted the Birmingham Pledge, we adopted a motto. Our motto is ‘Sign It, Live It,’” Rotch said. “It does no good to sign it, if you don’t live it every day. The most difficult part of it to live is the part that says, ‘I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity.’ That will challenge you daily.”
Rotch also encouraged citizens to “Share It,” and he said citizens should widen their circle of friends.
Several individuals and organizations announced upcoming events and activities designed to engage the community in making Danville a more tolerant, friendly, and welcoming community to all regardless of race, gender, religion, creed, ethnicity, nationality, or economic status.
Those events and activities included a community book read that will be carried out by the Danville Public Library, public showings of the film “The Grace Card” that are being offered by Danville Regional Medical Center, and a community breakfast that Averett University will hold on Jan. 20 to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
The Rev. Avon Keen of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference invited the community to participate in the next annual “Stop the Killing” march scheduled for Jan. 19.
The kickoff meeting opened with a tribute to Bishop Lawrence Campbell, a local minister and civil rights leader who earlier this year requested that Danville City Council form a race relations coalition. In recognition of his leadership and service, Mayor Sherman Saunders presented to Campbell a ceremonial “key to the city.”
City Council voted unanimously in October to create the coalition, which will be known as “Danville United.” The coalition provides a means for networking, information sharing and strategy development. Membership is open to all individuals and organizations.
For more information on Danville United, visit www.danvilleunited.org.