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As the first male and minority national president of Mothers against Drunk Driving, Glynn Birch isn’t your average advocate. Nevertheless, he works tirelessly on behalf of the organization to help other families avoid the tragedy he experienced May 3, 1988.
It was on this day that Birch’s 21-month-old son, Courtney, was struck and killed instantly by a drunk driver. The driver–who was traveling at 70 miles per hour through a residential area–had a blood alcohol concentration of .26 (three times the legal limit in Florida), three prior DUI convictions, and a revoked license.
The accident, 50-year-old Birch says, not only claimed the life of the youngest of his three sons, but affected the stability of his family as well. Soon after, Birch and his wife, Lena, divorced.
“It was unbelievable, the pain and agony of not having your son and then realizing it was destroying your family,” recalls Birch. “Just trying to keep the family together was like a nightmare for me.”
Birch’s attorney encouraged him to reach out to MADD (www.madd.org) for help and support. Since its inception in 1980, the Irving, Texas-based organization has been instrumental in passing more than 2,300 laws to stop drunk driving and has helped save 330,000 lives via its prevention and awareness initiatives.
“MADD helped me through the court system,” says Birch. “The support they gave was so valuable, I wanted to assist others going through this.”
Birch began volunteering with the organization five hours a week as a speaker. This allowed him to share his story with audiences on a local, state, and national scale.
“What [audiences thought] was unique was a black guy talking about MADD,” recalls Birch. “But as we know, drunk driving affects so many innocent people; it doesn’t matter what race or color you are.”
Birch would go on to become a MADD victim advocate trainer, serve on its national board, and be elected national president in July 2005.
In addition to buckle-up safety, MADD focuses on advocating impairment prevention technology such as ignition interlock systems and offering age-appropriate programs to combat underage drinking. Of course, Birch says there’s still plenty of work to do, especially in the underserved communities of color.
“The minority population is not [as] aware of what MADD is, and I want–and MADD wants–to change that.” Among their approaches are African American faith-based initiatives.
Despite his accomplishments, Birch never loses sight of why he started this journey in the first place. “It’s been almost 20 years, but this doesn’t go away. This is not something that you put behind you,” says Birch. “[My work with MADD] gives me a vehicle to give a part of my life in honor of [my late son]. I share my pain with people so that they don’t have to experience it.”
B.E.’s Successpert Speaks:
Rev. Arlene Churn, a Philadelphia-based ordained Baptist minister, certified grief counsel specialist, and author of The End is Just the Beginning: Lessons in Grieving for African Americans (Harlem Moon; $12.95), advocates that rather than trying to get over the death of a loved one, people should