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9 September 2023

"We have so much work to do, and we can use the trip to Alabama as an inspiration for us in Wales."


To mark 60 years to the month since four children were killed in a racist attack on a Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama; on Sunday, September 10, Emily Pemberton, Equality, Diversity and Anti-Racism Co-ordinator at the Coleg Cymraeg will be among a Welsh crew who will embark on a trip to Alabama as part of the Urdd’s 2023 Anti Racism Peace and Goodwill Message to meet some of the city's young people, to show their support, and to hear about their experiences there today.

We caught up with Emily to find out more about the connection between Wales and Alabama, and her hopes as she looks forward to the journey.  

What is the connection between Wales and Alabama?

When the Church was bombed in 1963 by members of the Klu Klux Klan, there was a furious response across the world, and when the news reached Welsh glass artist John Petts, he decided to design a glass window portraying a black Jesus Christ as a gift of support for the church and its people. This is an act of solidarity that we should all remember, and the fight towards equality is still underway here in Wales. Since then, the partnership has been strong between Wales and the community in Alabama, and this has been strengthened thanks to the Urdd's recent work. The trip is important not least because the theme of the Urdd's Peace Message this year is 'anti-racism', and the Coleg Cymraeg supports good practice in the equality and anti-racism field. We have so much work to do, and we can use this journey as inspiration.


What will you do there?

We'll be visiting a number of important locations and I've arranged to speak to a number of different people who will be sure to inspire me in my current work as an Equality and Anti-Racism Coordinator with the Coleg Cymraeg. I will be attending a memorial service at the church that was bombed where four young girls were killed; I will visit Rosa Parks' house, Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the university in Alabama.


How do you feel about the trip and the locations you will be visiting?

I'm really looking forward to the trip, and I'm sure I'll feel very emotional visiting the church and seeing the ‘Wales Window’ as it's known. I'm a little concerned about the difficult themes – we'll be discussing racism and inequality on the trip and although I work within the equality field it's not easy to deal with these themes every day. But, I'll be there with a group of people so we can support each other.  I'm also looking forward for the fun things, including going to see an American football match! I've been monitoring the weather and it's boiling there at the moment, so I'm not looking forward to the heat! But I hear that air conditioning is on everywhere all of the time, so while we are inside I will be able to cope!


What would you like to learn from the trip?

I would like to see how things in Birmingham have changed since 1963, if at all. I know problems remain, but to what extent, and can they be reversed? I'd also like to see who really leads the effort there for equality? Is it political leaders, activists, young people, students, or perhaps others? 

On a general level, Birmingham is fairly often seen for its association with the Civil Rights Movement, is this problematic? I would also like to know how the residents feel about the city. Do we need to not define Birmingham based on its history and let the people who live there define the city in their own terms? I have so many questions to ask, and I look forward to learning on the journey and using my knowledge back in Wales to work towards an inclusive future. My role at the Coleg is to try to make Welsh-medium post-compulsory education available and accessible to everyone regardless of background. Learning more about the major events in the history of the Civil Rights Movement will contextualize that work and inspire me.