As I segue into today's column, it is my hope that it is received in the spirit of unity. I can't speak for every city during the recent riots and protests, but I can tell you about my experiences this week in Downtown Birmingham and then Downtown Jasper....my two favorite districts in the world. On that sleepless Sunday night, I witnessed first-hand from 5
floor windows some of the rioting in Downtown Birmingham. It was frightening and sad because those are the streets where I grew up and lived within a mile of the district, went to school, worked, had meals, visited the Alabama Theatre often, shopped at the retail giants of Pizitz and Loveman's, and yes, even visited Linn Park.
In the last six years, Downtown Jasper is where we have re-created a beautiful community full of life and commerce, where we value experience and atmosphere over cookie-cutter businesses and lifestyles. Downtown Jasper is the heart of Walker County that continues to flourish with innovation even during a pandemic. Both are wonderful downtown districts that I hold dear.
However, after seeing the destruction left behind the next morning in Birmingham, I was disheartened and immediately texted Mayor O'Mary to meet with him to discuss contingencies for our own Downtown Jasper in case we had violent protesters. After meeting with him, I felt confident in our ability to protect the people and properties in Downtown Jasper. As that long and warm Monday (just 2 days ago) labored on, I realized that this confidence had less to do with the mobilization of multiple enforcement agencies present and poised to protect life and property and had more to with the collective and compassionate approach to the protesters from not only law enforcement, but also city leaders and church leaders.
|Protesters on the Downtown Jasper Square
For their protection, these peaceful protesters were escorted from the initial gathering point to Downtown Jasper and then to the Jasper Police Station. All along the route, and especially at the Square, they were met with people listening to their concerns, not judging, but listening. We in Downtown Jasper hear your concerns; we hear you, and you have our attention.
Let's all keep this in the forefront of our minds: remember that our Downtown Jasper entrepreneurs haven't yet recovered from the ensuing pandemic, and another challenge of potentially violent protesters was rumored to march down our streets. They were in fear for their property and livelihood. We can see how this could be a recipe for disaster if it weren't for the thoughtful and communicative approach that everyone took yesterday on the Square. We all have to take a step back, breathe, and listen to each other, and we did.