By Guest Columnist W. IMARA CANADY, vice president of programming and strategic partnerships for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights
Last month, as a result of an invitation by the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, I was able to experience one of the most powerful and transforming moments of my life.
Through a program called “Celebrating Success”, I joined a small, but diverse group of concerned Atlantans for a lunch-time session, where, broken up into small groups, we listened to formerly homeless individuals tell the story of their successful, but difficult road to self-sufficiency.
This moment in time transformed my life. As a young, middle class African-American male that grew up in Atlanta, prior to that Friday afternoon lunch, I never felt my inter-connectivity to the numerous men and women that we see walk our streets each and every day.
As a former staffer of Mayor Shirley Franklin, I vividly remember, in 2002, this visionary leader call our city’s immediate attention to the vital need to take a hands-on, collaborative approach to combating the issue of homelessness.
Quite honestly, I wasn’t quite sure she would be successful in dealing with this battle even with her convening local leaders to strategize on this issue (later to become the Regional Commission on Homelessness).
On that Friday afternoon this past April, as I sat filled with emotions, and listened to Lloyd, a formerly homeless man, I was confirmed in the power of one visionary leader’s voice, filled with commitment and passion, ability to transform a community.
Now, by no means am I suggesing that homelessness is no longer an issue in our beloved “Gateway to the South”. However, the ground work that Mayor Franklin laid — in collaboration with the United Way, Horace Sibley and countless business and civic leaders in our community — has created a powerful ripple effect that has transformed the lives of thousands and can not be forgotten.
Atlanta, we have come too far to give up now.
Yes, increased public safety and opening recreation centers are important. And assuredly Mayor Reed and his team will continue to work hard each and every day to accomplish these goals.
But we must also continue to embody that living humanitarian spirit that has so deeply defined the very essence of what Atlanta is as a community, and rally with our new mayor, to not forget the important voice of the voiceless by keeping the elimination of homelessness at the forefront of our community agenda.
At the recent annual luncheon of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, the theme was “The Journey Begins Here…”
Even now, this theme resonates in my mind, because every day thousands of men, women and families move to our great Mecca, in order that their journey may begin! Now, for most, the journey is successful, but still for some, the journey is the beginning to the end.
Mayor Reed has expressed his willingness to continue the legacy that was reinvigorated by the former administration to tackle Atlanta’s toughest challenges, and homelessness is assuredly one of them. For that he should be applauded!
However, if Atlanta is truly to continue to shine on the national and international scene as the world class city that we portrayed in 1996 as we grandly hosted the Centennial Olympic Games; and if we are moving forward to be a caring and leading city as committed by Mayor Reed in his recent state of the city business address, than we as individuals and as a collective community must reignite our inner spirit to guarantee that Atlanta is always a city filled with optimism, openness and opportunity for all.
So Atlanta, I challenge you!
Tomorrow, when you stroll through the urban oasis of Woodruff and Centennial Parks, or open the doors of Midtown and Buckhead’s renowned restaurants and boutiques, and you encounter someone currently struggling with homelessness, open your eyes and recognize that the face of disparity that stands before you is a mother’s child, a brother’s sister, a nephew’s uncle or a husband’s wife, and direct them to the Gateway Center. The Gateway Center has aided over 7,000 individuals yearly.
Or you can direct them to the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency that every day, through their New Beginnings program, provides job search support and direction to individuals who have been identified as homeless and assists participants in jump starting their journey back into the workforce.
Atlanta, we can do it…we have all the elements in place to make that blueprint to end homelessness a reality in the “city too busy to hate,” in the city that’s filled with possibility!
Note: Click here for more information on the Atlanta Regional Commission on Homelessness.