In less than 2 weeks, the American people will decide who should be the Commander-in-Chief of the United States for the next four years. During every presidential election, someone almost always says that this is the “most important election of a lifetime”. For many years, there was a segment of our population who were not legally permitted to vote – and when the law was changed – they cast a vote at the risk of losing their life.

R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA, NOMA, MBA

There was a moment where this was made very real to me about five years ago. Every since this interaction, my heart has never been the same on this topic.

My wife and I were traveling to Florida and the route we were taking put us in Birmingham, Alabama for an overnight stay. Less than 60 years ago, the racial tension in this city was so great, it was dubbed the name “Bombingham”. While there, as an interracial couple, we wanted to take a few hours to soak in the history that elders in our lifetime recall vividly. One landmark that we visited was the 16th Street Baptist Church.

This church was sadly enshrined in the pages of history on September 15, 1963. It was a Sunday morning where families and children were gathered inside for worship service. Five young African American girls, ages 14 and under dressed in their Sunday best, were in the restroom located in the church’s basement. Giggling and chatting about school, they were preparing to go upstairs for service. It was just before 11:00 in the morning.


A bomb that had been placed under the church’s steps by local Ku Klux Klan members detonated killing a mass number of people including four out of the five little girls. As my wife and I walked in this church, there was a small shoe encased in masonry rubble on display. It was real and not a recreation. It was the real show of one of the little girls who were killed in the bombing on September 15, 1963. The bomb lifted her out of her shoes and the shoe she left behind has become a reminder of some of our painful past.

This is one of many examples, where people were told their voice did not matter. Even if you were an innocent little girl, your voice nor life mattered. It was on this day that my eyes were truly awakened, and I realized it would be blasphemous to remain silent.

Our vote is our voice.

Make sure you use it. Do your research on the issues and support the candidate that you feel will provide the greatest America. Voting is the one way that all AIA Virginia members can participate in advocacy. Because of the many lives that were lost in the quest for equality, we all can partake in the inheritance provided by our democratic process.

See you at the polls.

R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA, NOMA, MBA
Executive Vice President