Man Takes Top Post of MADD

Glynn Birch is the new president of the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). He's the first man to head the organization, and the first African American.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Today Glynn Birch officially begins his new job as president of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. He's the first man, and also the first African-American, to take the helm. Earlier Mr. Birch spoke with me about his upcoming three-year term and about how the death of his son has inspired him to become a leader.

Mr. GLYNN BIRCH (President, MADD): First of all, I'm honored to be the first male president. It pretty much validates the fact that drunk drivers do not discriminate, that it can affect anyone.

GORDON: And, unfortunately, part of your ascension to head up this fine organization is coupled with the fact that you lost a 21-month-old son to a drunk driver.

Mr. BIRCH: Sadly to say, that's true. My son went out to get ice cream with two other cousins. As they were about to cross the street, a car came barreling across, driving over 70 miles per hour, striking my son, dragging his body over 150 feet before the car came to a stop. My son did not have a chance. The driver of the vehicle was not only drunk, but had three previous convictions, a high BAC of .26--that's a blood alcohol content level twice the legal limit at that time--and he was also driving on a suspended license.

GORDON: I'm curious how you look at this, Mr. Birch. Obviously, this nation has a love for children, and those of us who are parents understand, but there is also, quite frankly, a love for alcohol in this country and the consumption of. And I'm curious; when you wage this war, quite frankly, how problematic is it in knowing that you're up against a formidable opponent?

Mr. BIRCH: Obviously, I--we all believe that our children will outlive our lives. To have a driver take my son's life away from me after a senseless choice, I have to tell you--it is a shock that I don't want anyone to have to endure. It's a pain and agony that has taken me now 17 years to try to prevent this from happening. Ed, we all know that this is something that can be presented simply by--it's OK to drink; if you have that passion to drink, have your drink, but don't get behind the wheel after you've had that drink. You're impaired and you may cause death or injury to someone else.

GORDON: Mistakenly--and I'm curious how you see this--I think the African-American community ofttimes sees drunk driving as someone else's problem; particularly when you talk about teens and drunk driving and the like, they often see it as a white suburban problem that does not affect the inner city. But this kind of incident, this kind of tragedy, does not discriminate.

Mr. BIRCH: It does not discriminate. And it's important that our community also realize, you know, it is a problem that affects everyone. One thing that we have to make sure that we do more so in the black community is buckle up. We don't buckle up those safety belts as often as we need to, and that's your best defense against a drunk driver.

GORDON: When you go around the country and, as you will officially now, advocate the idea of an understanding of how important knowledge is to safety, do you think that America is listening, or, to some degree, do you believe it falls on deaf ears? We celebrate the 25th anniversary of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and sometimes, frankly, when organizations have been around, people tend to believe, `Oh, yeah, I know that message.'

Mr. BIRCH: It's funny you should say that, because it's as if America has become complacent. Twenty-five years--you know, as we look back at the lives that MADD has saved, we're approaching 300,000 lives that we've saved since the inception of MADD. But is it enough? No. Seventeen thousand people are still dying per year. That's too many. That's one every 30 minutes. And there are still half a million that are being injured. And the important thing that I stress is this is 100 percent avoidable, preventable. It doesn't have to happen. Just think about it.

GORDON: Your son passed in 1988 and, obviously, throughout life, we learn that the adage that time heals is true, but I'm curious--it doesn't always heal all. Do you think about that day, that incident?

Mr. BIRCH: Ed, there's not one day that goes by that I don't think about the joyous times that I spent with my son. You know, it's been over 16 years, and I'll always remember him as a 21-month-old toddler because that's the last time I saw him and enjoyed the hugs and the family attitude that was--that I chose to have. So that's one thing that I'll always remember as I go through my presidency. And again, it's a great opportunity for me--for the public to hear my story and realize that, hey, it affects, fathers, mothers, sons, brothers--it affects everyone.

GORDON: Well, Glynn Birch, congratulations again, and thanks for your time.

Mr. BIRCH: Thank you, Ed.

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