Opinion | Why Devyn Keith’s arrest divided Huntsville

By DAVID PERSON

I want Keith to get the second chance that we all want when we get in trouble. Whether innocent or guilty.

Last week Thursday, a friend in Birmingham texted me about the arrest of Huntsville City Councilman Devyn Keith. His message was a link to a news story followed by this well-known acronym: WTH?

Lots of folks in Huntsville undoubted felt the same way. Keith – young, charismatic – scored a political upset by beating long-time District 1 councilman, the late Richard Showers, in 2016. His re-election in 2020 suggested he was on his way to building a political legacy that could rival the one Showers had.

But political insiders knew last Thursday’s arrest wasn’t the end of the story. They had warned me more was to come.

Early Wednesday morning, Keith was arrested again for more misdemeanor thefts. All are alleged to have happened at various Walmart stores.

Many black Huntsvillians have responded to Keith’s plight viscerally, even personally. In our community, we are instinctively protective of those who achieve success.

With our history in this nation – which revisionists such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis want to deny and erase – can you blame us? Keith is one of only three black persons to have been elected or appointed to Huntsville’s city council since Reconstruction. The other two are Showers and current councilman John Meredith.

We have to go back to 1901 to Henry C. Binford and Daniel Brandon, the last blacks to have served on the council prior to Showers’ election in 1981.

That’s 76 years.

Which is why some black people were defending Keith vigorously. Not only did they not want to believe it, they could not.

Could not allow themselves to consider his guilt. Not this gifted young man.

Not one of Huntsville’s own.

Keith was born here. Raised here. And he came back with high hopes for himself.

He was the youngest person ever elected to serve on the city council. Four years later, after his re-election, he and his co-owners opened a hip coffee shop in his district. Dark Side Coffee, now closed, seemed to draw business from around the city.

His bio on the city of Huntsville’s website says he attended Samford University on a football scholarship. He also started a nonprofit called Brothers of 1 Voice while in Birmingham. Its mission was to educate, empower and advocate for young people who are no longer eligible for state support services because of their ages exceed the state limits.

Keith graduated from the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, which earned him he rank of assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Alabama A&M University. He’s also on the board of directors for the Cap & Gown Project, a local nonprofit whose mission is to provide opportunities and mentorship for underrepresented secondary school students who want to go to college.

In case you haven’t noticed, a theme has emerged. Keith seems to have an interest in mission. And service.

To be clear, my contact with Keith has been casual. I doubt we’ve talked more than twice.

And I don’t live in his district.

But I have watched him closely. He seems to have modeled himself on some of the most successful black politicians of recent times. When he gives speeches, he connects and persuades like Barack Obama.

He seems to try to engage with his constituents like Cory Booker, going as far as to move into some of the most challenged neighborhoods in his district during his first term.

Booker did the same thing when he was the mayor of Newark, NJ. Dr. Martin Luther King did it before Booker, moving into a roach-infested apartment on Chicago’s West Side in 1966.

In short, regardless of what Keith has or hasn’t done – and what awaits him as he faces serious criminal charges – he can’t be dismissed a just another crooked politician. Or even a thug.

Time – and the court system – will reveal the truth. Hopefully.

In the meantime, speaking for myself, I’ll continue praying for Keith and his family. Of course, I want justice to be done — even if that means Keith must face consequences.

But more than that, I want Keith to get the second chance that we all want when we get in trouble. Whether innocent or guilty.