The event was organized to consider how communities, groups and individuals can break down racial barriers and Roper, chief of the Birmingham, Ala., police, was in attendance as a keynote speaker.
“When we talk about diversity and inclusion and human rights, why not yes?” said Roper, explaining that when someone brings an idea to a leader in a community or organization, consider all the reasons how it could work for the betterment of everyone rather than why it might not work.
“If you hear nothing else today, I want you to take that simple phrase home with you.”
Roper was one of several guest speakers at the daylong conference hosted by the Community Enhancement Association.
“When we talk about our societies, our cultures, our communities, we are facing serious challenges,” he said. “The challenges are too significant for any one person or any one organization to have a tremendous success.”
The police chief talked about Birmingham’s historic role in the early 1960s civil rights movement as African-American citizens fought for equality.
“I was born right in the heart of the movement so I don’t have any recollection of the 1963 major historical moments.”
But his grandmother, who raised Roper and his four siblings, shared firsthand stories of the protests, inequality and challenges African-Americans faced at the time.
The children did experience their share of discrimination growing up in Birmingham but their grandmother educated them to not let circumstances determine their future.
When he graduated high school at age 17, Roper set solid life goals, two of which were becoming a city police chief and serving in the military, the latter a career path in which he rose to the rank of brigadier general.
Roper said there were many obstacles to reaching his goals, but despite the odds he persevered.
He said it’s those experiences that have shaped his career and impact how he continues to serve the community.
Wayne Talbot, event co-chairman and moderator, said he was “deeply affected” by Roper’s presentation, which included photos taken in Birmingham during the sometimes violent 1960s civil rights movement.
“The history of it, knowing what Birmingham went through, and the fact that he didn’t dwell on it, but painted the picture of what we need to do now as individuals, as groups, as communities to move things forward,” Talbot said.
He said embracing change and diversity is important in all our communities.
“We all march to a different drum and I really liked what the chief said,” said Talbot. “You have to keep people in your circle who are different than you, with different life experiences, so if people start to do more of that I think we’d start to break down some of the walls that exist.”