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I’m a black man from Chicago who moved to Alabama, and here’s what I found

Ron Brown with his wife and children (Courtesy R. Brown)


(Opinion) When I began attending Birmingham School of Law in early 2013, my wife was pregnant with our youngest son, Jaxson, and she utterly refused to move to Alabama.

Let’s be honest, Alabama has a dirty past when it comes to the treatment of African-Americans.

We both are northerners. I’m from Chicago, she’s from New Jersey and we met in Atlanta.

I lived in Atlanta for 12-years and loved it. It was the first city of its magnitude that I have ever lived in. African-Americans are the majority there and it was great to experience black excellence on so many fronts –politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, and athletes. Blacks also control the music and movie scene. You have blacks living in sprawling mansions, and they drive Bentleys and Rolls Royces alongside you in traffic daily. When you go to eat at fine dining establishments in Atlanta, there may be two or three white couples in the room.

I say all of this to paint you a picture of what my life was like in Atlanta, and I experienced little to no racial tension while living there.

Then here I come with this dream to be a lawyer … and it required a move to Alabama.

My wife wasn’t having it.

So it was clear: If I wanted this dream I would have to completely step out of my comfort zone and commute to Alabama.

I probably could have put my foot down and made her move, but truthfully I was uncertain of this place, too. I had never heard anything good about Alabama. I knew they had a great college football team but that’s about it.

My only interaction with an Alabamian was with James Bushnell, dean of Birmingham School of Law. He is a good man. I came over for a visit and he personally gave me a tour of the school and talked with me a few hours about the program. I never felt anything less than human kindness and sincerity. After that meeting I made the decision that I would have to drive three nights a week from Atlanta to Birmingham to make this work.

I was treated great during my first year. There were a few hiccups but I was in a new place. I quickly decided to align myself with as many black students as I could because that was my comfort zone. So, in that moment, I prejudged white people who I never met.

Fast-forward three-years later as I graduated from law school – my family was living in Vestavia, a suburb of Birmingham, my son was attending Vestavia East Elementary, my wife was singing at Mountain Top Church every other Sunday … and, basically, all of my friends were white.

I went to many ‘Bama tailgates at the ranches, homes and businesses of white classmates and associates. I was absolutely in awe. My family was well adjusted and they loved our move to Alabama.

This only happened because we opened ourselves up to the possibility of something different. I chose to be authentic, transparent and willing to put myself “out there” and that opened my life to endless opportunities and possibilities.

Moving to Alabama has been the single greatest decision I have ever made in my life.

The people of Alabama are God-fearing, loving, supportive, open and willing to embrace change. I have white friends who I eat dinner and lunch with multiple times during the week. We talk about our goals, wives, kids and future endeavors. We discuss racial matters, politics and religion without being disrespectful or crude. I even have an Arab friend here, and he’s cool as a fan!

I have never been called a n*gg** or anything racially derogatory. I have been loved on, treated with respect and dignity and always felt comfortable. Does racism exist in Alabama? Yes … but this isn’t the same Alabama it once was.

So, no, you can’t move to Alabama from up north and say the word n*gg** on your social media, Harley Barber. It’s no longer the customary vernacular here.

We live in a different time and space, so please rise against ignorance like eagles. Open yourselves to something different, be an ambassador of change, and open your heart before you open your mouth. Let’s love people for the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

The moral of this story is this: Black people, get you some white friends, and white people, get you some black friends.

Trust me, life is a lot more fun this way. We are all stronger together!

God wouldn’t have it any other way.

(Ron Brown now lives with his wife and children in Hoover, Alabama.)


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