- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Andrea Taylor, the newly appointed president and CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, plans on using technology to grow the institute’s audience and hopes to forge partnerships with industry leaders, nonprofits and newcomers to the city as the institute’s 25th anniversary year approaches.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. Officials say more than 2 million people from around the world have visited since the institute opened in 1992.

Taylor began in her new role in early September after working as the North American director of citizenship and public affairs for the Microsoft Corp. In an interview with The Associated Press, Taylor outlined some of her plans.

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PRIMARY GOALS FOR THE INSTITUTE

As the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s 25th anniversary year approaches in 2017, Taylor says she’s focused on strengthening and expanding its funding streams and attracting new audiences.

“If we can think about how technology can help us expand our reach, I think that’s another opportunity for us,” Taylor said.

She hopes to make information and educational resources available to people who can’t physically be in Birmingham but would like to experience what the institute has to offer. BCRI officials say the institute currently reaches more than 140,000 people annually through teacher training and curriculum development.

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SHAPING ONGOING DISCUSSIONS ON CIVIL RIGHTS AND RACE RELATIONS

Part of the institute’s role as a museum and research center is using programs and special events to provide historical context and insight on how civil rights era struggles are linked to current events, Taylor said.

Taylor was one of many visitors for a ceremony Tuesday at the 16th Street Baptist Church observing the 52nd anniversary of a bombing that killed four young African-American girls. The institute, which is across the street from the church, was chosen to house the Congressional Gold Medal that was posthumously awarded to the girls.

“Sadly, what we know now is even today there are attacks on churches, on the black church and this is a recurring problem. We need to understand that and we need to be diligent about helping people learn about different communities to help suppress hate,” Taylor said. “These are not new phenomena. There’s history there, there’s unfortunately precedent there in some cases, and often young people don’t know that history.”

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BUILDING STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS

Aside from her work with Microsoft, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute officials say Taylor has also generated and led national grant programs for several foundations, serves on the board of The HistoryMakers, a vast collection of African-American oral histories, and is a Boston University trustee.

Taylor said she sees opportunities to build on experience forming strategic partnerships to ensure that the institute is also considered a community resource among local industry leaders and organizations that specialize in a variety of subjects, including education and the arts.

“Almost everyone enjoys the arts. You can use that as a tool to engage people in dialogue and education,” Taylor said, adding that she hopes to form a partnership with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, which is also based in Birmingham.

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SUSTAINING THE INSTITUTE AND SHAPING ‘THE NEW BIRMINGHAM’

Taylor said she’s excited to work with a talented and driven group of staff and volunteers to continue strengthening the institute for its next 25 years.

“To achieve that goal, we’re going to need everybody’s support in whatever way they can engage,” Taylor said, later adding that she also hopes to build connections with the city’s young professionals.

“They’re perhaps new to the community and they have not yet found organizations that they want to give their time and talent and treasures to,” Taylor said. “We also see potential for crafting a new generation of volunteers and people who are committed to the new Birmingham.”

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