They’ve been at work in the community for 46 years. The organization is referred to as Mobile’s “problem solver.” Mobile United was created with an important and very necessary goal: to make the city a better place to live for all its citizens.
To accomplish this, Mobile United advances and supports a broad array of programs and activities. Leadership Mobile, Youth Leadership Mobile, and Connect Mobile are their very recognizable and noteworthy programs. Standing committees in such areas as education, government, natural resources, public safety and health services, to name a few, have positively contributed to the formulation and implementation of forward thinking and impactful action in these areas.
The organization, whose purpose is embodied in its name, has done much throughout its history to bring together a broad cross-section of Mobilians to address some of the community’s most pressing problems.
Mobile United’s current endeavor is an example.
They are promoting the community read of a bestseller said to be every bit as compelling and moving as “To Kill A Mockingbird.” The book, “Just Mercy,” is written by Bryan Stevenson, of whom author John Grisham noted, “Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South.” Mobile United has made free copies of “Just Mercy” available throughout the community and available for download via eBook or audiobook.
Also, Mobile United has arranged for Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, to speak at the Mitchell Center Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 7 p.m. Tickets are free, but registration is required.
Coincidentally, and quite fortuitously, “Just Mercy” was chosen by the University of South Alabama’s Common Read Selection Committee as the USA read for the 2018-2019 school year.
In an email conversation with Mobile United Executive Director Michele Rumpf and Director of Programs Christienne Gibson, I asked what compelling messages “Just Mercy” contains that would be of benefit to Mobilians. Their response was threefold.
First, they noted, mass incarceration is a topic which deserves attention. “The people currently incarcerated within the justice system are disproportionately people of color,” and with African-Americans making up a little over half of the city’s population, this topic “affects us an entire community [and] whether we pay attention to it or not … whether we think so or not … it weighs on the collective health of our city.”
Second, the concepts of justice and empathy are intertwined. Stevenson’s stories allow one to connect these two in a way that takes this topic out of the realm of the abstract to the personal. The power of justice and empathy being applied in tandem, and how such an approach can transform lives as well as communities, becomes real as one delves into the pages of Stevenson’s book.
Third, observed Rumpf and Gibson, “Our organization IS Mobile United; we strive to bring people together from all different walks of life, neighborhoods, and backgrounds to become proximate to each other in a unique way. The use of that term [proximate] throughout the book spoke to us because we think it is fundamentally important so that we can grow together as a city, as a community. It is a lot harder to condemn someone when we know them and that is a powerful message to acknowledge.”
Their response to a follow-up question really struck a chord with me. I asked what barriers to community cohesion and understanding they believe Stevenson’s book can shed light on.
They put forward three: 1) lack of awareness of just how broken our system of justice is in Alabama; 2) unequal treatment based on race and economic status continues today; and 3) family dysfunction and related issues MUST be addressed early on, before children get into the system.
These were profound observations for me because of the things I saw and learned as a local police officer. I cut my teeth as a patrol officer in Mobile’s Precinct 3, where some of our most challenged neighborhoods lie. Later, I served as a detective in the Juvenile Services division.
I had a front-row seat to witness the impact of addiction as a major factor in crimes, particularly property crimes. I saw up close how family dysfunction and related issues become powerful impediments to some of our community’s young people becoming positive, productive and thriving members of society.
Public safety is, and should be, a major focus of any community. “Just Mercy,” Rumpf and Gibson said, contributes in a quality way to our communal conversation about finding ways to eradicate conditions that lead to criminality. It does so by focusing on young people and the conditions that make them “susceptible to really bad decision-making.” These varied conditions, they note, can be addressed and made better through “intervention programs and mental health services in schools, churches and community organizations,” programs and services “Just Mercy” articulates.
Stevenson has facilitated such conversations across the nation, work that’s garnered him the title “America’s Mandela.”
I asked Rumpf and Gibson what outcomes they hope will materialize as a result of Stevenson’s visit and conversation with members of our community. The outcomes they stated point back to the organization’s name — Mobile United.
For starters, they hope to see an increase in civic participation by all ages and backgrounds, and more people intentionally getting to know folks different from themselves. Additionally, they want to see Mobilians stepping outside their comfort zones to create new connections they otherwise wouldn’t. And last, they hope to see action — in other words, people giving back and understanding they can make a difference, particularly on the front end of social justice issues, but on the back end, too.
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