By Michael Shackel, Casey Fellow

Operation HOPE had the pleasure of attending the Cities United Conference in Birmingham, Alabama. We were pleased to hear from mayors and community leaders on violence reduction strategies, as well as get to know Operation HOPE Casey Fellows, Jamell Sowell, Janirah Scott, Bronson Woods and Kandice Hulguin. It was a joy experiencing the city of Birmingham for the first time.

I took notes during two sessions: Social Media for Social Change and Our Rainbow Family. The first session focused primarily on using social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Periscope to engage in dialogue on social issues. One takeaway from the session was the importance of using data generated through social media activity to inform strategy. Using data analytics, we can see where people are most actively discussing a particular issue and plan accordingly. The second session focused on including the LGBTQ community in violence reduction efforts. This community is the target of much violence and discrimination, and the panelists advocated for making LGBTQ issues a bigger part next years’  conference agenda.

The conference included a march to Birmingham’s Civil Rights Museum, which sits across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church. A press conference was held in front of the museum, where the phrase “nothing stops a bullet like a job” was used multiple times to promote youth employment. It was extremely exciting to see the Silver Rights Movement being discussed in a location steeped in Civil Rights history!

On the final day of the conference, we had the chance to meet Antoinette Malveaux, Managing Director of Strategic Engagement and Initiatives with Casey Family Programs. We highlighted our experiences regarding our work with Operation HOPE – work that Casey Family Programs help make possible. Many thanks to Operation HOPE and Casey Family Programs for providing us with this experience.