The U.S. Coalition of Cities against Racism and Discrimination was launched on 12 September 2013 in Birmingham, Alabama (United States of America) at the occasion of “Empowerment Week” activities surrounding the 50th anniversary of the tragic events which marked the civil rights movement for equality in Birmingham (Alabama).
50 Mayors representing a wide array of medium and large cities in the United States of America, UNESCO and USA Department of State officials, and local community leaders participated in the events. In her speech, the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Head of the Bureau of International Organizations, Ms Nerissa Cook, mentioned the importance of this programme for the USA and also as an example of close cooperation between the USA and UNESCO.
An initial session was held for Mayors, USA and UNESCO officials to clearly explain the Coalition. This provided an opportunity for mayors to directly express and exchange their points of view on what they expect from the Coalition. In cities, the mayors indicated that they want to promote inclusion and tolerance and help integrate immigrants into communities. Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joseph Riley Jr., past President of the United States Conference of Mayors, said he hoped the plan would gain wide support and make a difference in U.S. cities. "I would think that eventually a few hundred mayors will sign on, because it's something that mayors of all political persuasions are committed to," Riley said. "We're right there with the people, our work is not in the abstract."
Later, the most important and public part of the event was held at the very site of the Birmingham bombings and birthplace of the Civil Rights movement, the 16th Street Baptist Church. The Mayors took part in several panels and discussed, including with the audience, issues such as race, economic justice and tolerance.
Among the main recommendations were
- Continuing efforts to speak out against racism and other forms of discrimination;
- Advocating for inclusion and non-discrimination language in all federal laws and policies;
- Improving the ability of people released from prison to reenter their communities by supporting legislation that eases barriers to reentering the workforce;
- Using the city's bully pulpit to lead conversations and speaking out against hate crimes and discrimination;
- Facilitating the integration of immigrants into the community.
They agreed that issues of crime, poverty and educational underachievement are national problems plaguing cities that require creative and multi-level responses.
At the launching, over 50 Mayors representing cities from across the USA signed on immediately to the Coalition and its 10 Point plan of action and many more are scheduled to do so in the upcoming weeks.