Carolyn Maull McKinstry, Avila University’s 2016 Harry S. Truman Distinguished Lecture speaker, spoke before a full auditorium October 20th about her life’s journey from a young witness to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, to now, a sought-after public speaker spreading the message of racial reconciliation.
McKinstry said that after the bombing in 1963, which coincided with the Civil Rights movement, she descended into a depression. “I realized what color I was would be more important than anything else I could do,” she said.
McKinstry married and started a family, but spent 20 years fighting a depressed state of mind. She said she wanted her children to have more in life. “To do so, I would have to take on a major role,” she realized. Her role took shape when the 25th anniversary of the bombing drew much attention from the media.
“I made up my mind that God had given me a story,” she said. She believed that God’s primary message in her story was that of reconciliation. “Forgiveness,” she said.
As she began spreading her message with speaking engagements, she was encouraged to put her story in book form. “When you’re not here the book can keep talking,” a friend had told her. McKinstry wrote the book While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement.
Most of the audience at the lecture were students from Avila. Many were first year students required to read the book for a First Year Common Reading Seminar.
Prior to the lecture, a town hall discussion was held featuring a local panel. It focused on “Peace and Civil rights in Kansas City: Past, Present and Future.” The panel consisted of Alvin Brooks of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, Diane Burkholder of Kansas City Freethinkers of Color, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, Sister Rosemary Flanigan, author Miguel Morales and Mary Sanchez, columnist for the Kansas City Star.