See why Global Forum for Freedom and Justice could be huge for Birmingham

A rendering of the Global Forum for Freedom and Justice. Photo via the Global Forum for Freedom and Justice

An international forum focused on civic engagement, social justice and leadership development is in the works for Birmingham’s Civil Rights District. Here’s what we know. 

More about the Forum

The vision of the Global Forum for Freedom and Justice is to “create a place that empowers young people in particular and equips them to be leaders in their community,” said Wayne Reynolds, chairman of the Global Forum for Freedom and Justice. Reynolds leads the Academy of Achievement, a nonprofit foundation that connects young people to global leaders and is headquartered in Washington D.C.

According to the forum’s website, it will be “an international gathering place focused on leadership, education, innovation and understanding, placed upon the sacred soil that gave rise to the modern Civil Rights Movement.” That sacred soil is downtown Birmingham. 


The Location and Companies Involved

Birmingham Alabama
Four Little Girls statue at the entrance of Kelly Ingram Park in front of 16th Street Baptist Church. The proposed forum would be located across from the park. Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

The planned location for the forum is Seventh Avenue North across from Kelly Ingram Park. The property is owned by Alabama Power Company, which is aiding in the initiative, and the City of Birmingham. The forum’s local business co-chairs are Mark Crosswhite of Alabama Power, Johnny Johns, former CEO of Protective Life Corporation, and John Turner of Regions Bank.

“Birmingham is the birthplace of civil rights, and you couldn’t find a more inspiring place than the property adjacent to Kelly Ingram Park. The location is ideal.”

Wayne Reynolds, chairman, Global Forum for Freedom and Justice

The Programs

Programming for the forum will include lectures, performances and readings. According to Reynolds, the space will serve as a place for people to talk about civil and human rights—religious freedom, criminal justice reform, urban environmental justice, women’s empowerment and more. 

Another focus is literacy. 


“If young people are inspired to make a difference, it’s important that they read and write.” 

Wayne Reynolds, chairman, Global Forum for Freedom and Justice

To underscore the importance of literacy, Reynolds invited leaders of Birmingham’s public library system and school board to a meeting on Tuesday, December 17 at The Florentine where plans for the forum were unveiled. 

The Space

A rendering of the forum. Photo via the Global Forum for Freedom and Justice 

The architect for the space is Lord Norman Foster, who has an impressive resume to say the least. Steve Jobs personally tapped him to design Apple’s Cupertino headquarters. Foster’s other projects include the Hearst Tower in New York and Beijing Airport.

Proposed forum features include:


  • A Rotunda Theatre that serves as a Town Hall space for presentations and dialogue 
  • A bell tower to commemorate civil rights leaders and special events
  • Multimedia exhibits
  • An on-site recording and production studio

From Children to Graduate Students 

The forum will soon announce a partnership with a university for 1,000 graduate students to complete a master’s degree in civic innovation and public policy on site.

Reynolds also envisions a children’s museum component that teaches leadership skills to young children. 

Impact in Birmingham

Birmingham’s iconic 16th Street Baptist Church. Photo via REV Birmingham

The nonprofit forum project is expected to cost $40 million. Reynolds said that $10 to 20 million has already been committed. The project could be complete in three years.


Reynolds also sees potential for a larger project totaling $300 million with the addition of a boutique hotel, housing and retail in the area. 

Some are wondering if this project will take away from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Reynolds thinks it will draw more visitors. 

“I think [the project] will bring hundreds of thousands more tourists to the Birmingham area. It’s a great source of economic development and jobs for the local community.”

Wayne Reynolds, chairman, Global Forum for Freedom and Justice

Global Reach

The goal is for the forum to engage civil rights leaders from around the globe. Reynolds said there’s been interest from some big organizations and institutions, including the United Nations, the National Football League, the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. You’ll certainly recognize some of the names of the advisory council involved in the forum.


What do you think about the proposed forum? Let us know @BhamNow.