GBM was founded in 1969 by far-sighted faith leaders in response to the challenges posed by the freedom movement’s transformative moment in Birmingham, Alabama, the South and the nation. Black and white, women and men, clergy and laity, GBM’s founders sought to establish a credible model of overcoming the decades-weight of racial oppression so severe that Birmingham was once called the “Johannesburg of the South” and “Bombingham.”
Three denominations each launched new ministry efforts to respond more effectively to people in need and to seek a faithful community of peace and justice in Birmingham. These three efforts, begun by the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church and the United Presbyterian Church (now Presbyterian Church USA), merged in 1971 and set the pattern for GBM’s work as shared, ecumenical ministry. In the years since, an additional 17 faith communities have joined in this shared work, representing Christianity, Judaism and Islam, making GBM a multifaith and multicultural organization.
GBM is an expression of the commitment to social justice and to mercy and compassion for all, held in common as core beliefs of each of these diverse faith communities. The faith, prayers and generosity of these communities, along with the support of many other groups, congregations and individuals, makes it possible for GBM’s initial focus on responding to poverty and building faithful community relationships to continue to guide its work today. As a result, GBM’s volunteers and staff have assisted thousands of area residents, by providing for countless immediate needs, such as food and clothing or financial assistance, to help with a wide range of expenses including rent, power, gas, water, medicines, transportation and others.
Meanwhile, GBM has worked consistently on the hard, slow work of systems change, particularly in the realm of state constitutional reform, seeking to make the social networks of the community open and fair to all, especially to those with little economic and social power. At the heart of this commitment is a belief in human dignity, which connects us all to one another, regardless of our relative economic or social position.
Some of GBM past accomplishments include preventing the destruction of 900 units of public housing targeted by highway construction; stopping the sale of a local non-profit hospital to a for-profit healthcare giant; establishing Alabama’s first statewide interfaith social justice organization; creating the Birmingham Center for Affordable Housing; building Birmingham’s first non-sectarian homeless shelter for men (you don’t have to pray to stay out of the cold) and Birmingham’s first homeless shelter for women; winning the first bond issue initiated by citizens and dedicated to affordable housing in the City of Birmingham; stopping the construction of an environmentally damaging sewer system funded by inner-city rate-payers for the benefit of suburban developers; creating the Women-of-Strength program to help single mothers work toward sustainability; creating Alabama Arise, a statewide anti-poverty advocacy organization; preventing the complete shutdown of an already tenuous local public transportation; building a faith-based movement of resistance to Alabama’s draconian anti-immigrant law; and publishing a book documenting the role of faith leaders in resisting this law.
A Seedbed for New Organizations
GBM works in partnership whenever possible to respond to emerging needs. At times, there is a vacuum where no organization exists to meet an emerging need, and a new entity is created. GBM has created/incubated twenty local organizations or local affiliates of national institutions including: The Crisis Center, Meals on Wheels, the Firehouse Shelter for Men, Partnership Assistance to the Homeless (PATH shelter for women and children), Direct Services Network, the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast, Alabama Arise, Bethel Ensley Action Tasks, Alabama Organizing Project, Birmingham Center for Affordable Housing (Birmingham Homeownership Center), and the Alabama Faith Council. The Coalition for the Homeless and the Birmingham VOICE, the street paper written by and for the homeless, have recently been housed at GBM.