Press Release - Detail
Birmingham Public Library
For release Tuesday, April 20, 2010
CONTACT: Linda Wilson
Staff Development Coordinator, Public Relations Department
Birmingham Public Library
Phone: (205) 226-3746

Tree Planting Heals Wounds of Intolerance and Injustice

Birmingham, Alabama—It was a perfect spring day for an outing in the park. Yet, the gathering in Kelly Ingram Park on Sunday, April 11 was no ordinary excursion. A diverse cross section of Birmingham gathered to dedicate a horse chestnut tree symbolic of the one a Jewish teen, Anne Frank, saw from her hiding place during the Holocaust. The inspiration for the project came from community leader Joel Rotenstreich. In June 2009, he learned that the Anne Frank Center in New York was giving eleven saplings from the original tree to cities in the United States—locations that had known discrimination and intolerance. Rotenstreich quickly assembled a committee to apply for a grant feeling that Birmingham was the perfect choice.

Though Birmingham was not selected to receive an original sapling, Joel and the committee were not deterred. On Sunday, April 11, 2010, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Birmingham Holocaust Education Committee, the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee, the Birmingham Public Library and Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, with support from the City of Birmingham Parks and Recreation Board, dedicated their own horse chestnut tree. A plaque with Anne Frank’s words, "how wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,” marks the tree’s location in the park.

Odessa Woolfolk, Founding President and Chair Emerita of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, welcomed the audience and facilitated the event. Survivors of both the Holocaust and the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church participated in the ceremony. In his remarks, Holocaust survivor Max Herzel reflected on the significance of the park where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—along with many others—preached and led demonstrations during the turbulent times of the Civil Rights Movement. Herzel stated, “what better place than here, Kelly Ingram Park, to remind all of us forever of our responsibility to never allow the darkness of hatred, bigotry and discrimination to be repeated. Let us work hand in hand for a brighter future.”

The horse chestnut tree is a symbol of not only the courage and hope through which the Jewish and African American people persevered through adversity and survived, but also a symbol of change. Carolyn McKinstry, a survivor of the 1963 bombing, challenged Birmingham in her remarks to “change the course of history; it will record the story of those of character and courage who challenged the evils of racism—and won. Let us lay claim to our inheritance, our legacy of hope and reconciliation, and the promise of “never again.” Sarah Collins Rudolph, who was blinded by the blast at the church that took the life of her sister Addie Mae Collins, was also on hand for the event along with many Holocaust survivors.

In conjunction with the dedication of the tree, a poetry competition was held for eighth grade students throughout Jefferson County focused on the program’s theme “Roots of Courage; Branches of Hope.” Sidni Smith, a student at Phillips Academy, wrote the winning selection which she read before the audience of more than 150 gathered for the program. The Karen Entman Nomberg Legacy Fund of the Birmingham Jewish Foundation sponsored the competition and provided a cash award for the winning entry. Sidni’s poem, titled “The Roots in You,” is listed below. In addition to several of Sidni’s family members and teachers, Principal Mark Sullivan of Phillips Academy was also on hand.

After nearly ten months of planning, committee members were pleased to have such pleasant weather for the occasion. Planning committee members included Chair, Joyce T. Spielberger, Donna Berry, Renee Blalock, Barbara Bonfield, Priscilla Hancock Cooper, Angela Fisher Hall, Max Herzel, James E. Horton, Jr., Carolyn McKinstry, Melvin Miller, Ann Mollengarden, Kaye Oden, Dr. Lawrence J. Pijeaux, Jr., Rev. Arthur Price, Joel Rotenstreich, Ahmad Ward, Phyllis Weinstein, Wallace C. Williams and Odessa Woolfolk.

The Roots in You
By Sidni Smith
Phillips Academy—a Birmingham City School

Why do we always dream big but it seems we’re barely achieving
What helps us to keep strong and to stay believing
Why do we reach for the stars knowing they’re too far away
What keeps us on our positive road day to day

You know what it is, it’s a good foundation
Find that land and sow a seed of inspiration
Watch your roots of courage grow big and strong
Let your hope branch out fifty feet long

But don’t set a limit to your abilities
Grow big, branch out, be your own standing tree
You might be alone the first few steps
It’s OK; just keep the motivation you’ve always kept

Your roots let others know that you’re here to stay
Your vast trunk is a symbol that nothing stands in your way
Your branches stretch and continuously grow
Your shiny green leaves is your final result you show

Let no one tear down your sturdy tree
It’s only standing because of you, not me
Your tree should still be standing an infinite tall
For it was not meant to be there temporarily to fall

Our past and present remarkable leaders never backed down
They never let anyone turn their smiles into frowns
It’s all because they saw a bigger picture
For each and every one of us to have a brighter future
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