Chick-fil-A CEO: Inaugural Beloved Benefit brings together ‘incredible tapestry of one Atlanta’
By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on March 29, 2019
The inaugural “Beloved Benefit” brought together Atlanta’s top CEOs together with community residents from the low-income Westside neighborhoods – a night inspired by the late Martin Luther King Jr. who dreamed of creating the “beloved community.”
The March 21 event could only happen in Atlanta – King’s hometown. Among the guests attending that night were King’s youngest daughter Bernice King, and his oldest sibling Christine King Farris.
“It was an incredible tapestry of ‘one’ Atlanta,” said Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A who first proposed the event last year. “Atlanta has decided we are going to defy the odds. We choose to love each other and create a beloved community. For that moment in time, we had about as wide a net as you could throw in Atlanta – people from Bankhead to Buckhead, people from the entire political spectrum. There were young and old, black and white, rich and poor. I can’t imagine a greater spectrum of people. If Martin Luther King were alive, he would be smiling on Atlanta.”
Bernice King, CEO of the King Center, agreed. But she added that her father’s dream of creating a beloved community is still a work in progress.
The dinner was held on the field of Mercedes-Benz Stadium – a $1.5 billion facility that is adjacent to some of the poorest communities in Atlanta – namely Vine City and English Avenue.
Bernice King said that when the groundbreaking occurred in May 2014, it led to “a major shift on the Westside” – a challenge to welcome development without displacement of the long-time residents in the community.
“Let’s build the beloved community right here in Vine City and English Avenue,” she said.” This is very personal for me. I grew up in the Vine City community 54 years ago.”
Then she reminded the 1,800 people attending the dinner that her father’s goal was not to get rid of wealth. Rather “the goal is the elimination of poverty.”
The dinner raised more than $5 million for philanthropic endeavors on the Westside. Five organizations received the bulk of the proceeds: the At-Promise Youth and Community Center, City of Refuge, Grove Park Foundation, the Westside Future Fund, and Westside Works.
Another 10 organizations each received $25,000 Beacon Awards: the Atlanta Music Project; West Atlanta Watershed Alliance; the Good Samaritan Health Center; Quest Community Housing; Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation; Antioch Urban Ministries Inc.; Veterans Empowerment Organization; L.E.A.D.; Raising Expectations; and Beloved Atlanta.
Rodney Bullard, president of the Chick-fil-A Foundation, said Cathy was inspired to create the event after seeing the success of the Robinhood Foundation dinner in New York. Cathy and the other key partners (namely Arthur Blank, majority owner of the Atlanta Falcons) committed to put on the event for its first three years as a way to support the rejuvenation of the Westside.
“We hope this event goes on in perpetuity. It might not always be to benefit the Westside,” said Bullard, who added Atlanta has many communities in need of support.
In planning for the event, Bullard said they were “continually mindful of having diverse leadership.” The host committee included black and white business leaders as well as Christians and Jews and members of the LGBT community. Tickets for the dinner were $1,000 apiece, but 21 percent of the attendees were members of the community who were invited to come for free. Shan Cooper, executive director of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, helped coordinate the dinner.
Among some of the dignitaries present were The Home Depot Inc.’s CEO Craig Menear; The Coca-Cola Co.’s CEO James Quincey, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Raphael Bostic, philanthropists Liz and Frank Blake, Georgia Power Co.’s CEO Paul Bowers, WestRock Co.’s CEO Steven Voorhees, former Post Properties CEO Dave Stockert, philanthropist Stephanie Blank, Congressman John Lewis, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
The Beloved Benefit also had top performers Steve Harvey, Bruno Mars, Jeff Foxworthy, CeeLo Green and several other entertainers, including dance and singing groups from the community.
The layout of the dinner showcased long tables where members of the community sat next to the paying guests. It was reminiscent of the another momentous dinner held on Jan. 27, 1965, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. receiving the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
That dinner, held at the now-demolished Dinkler-Plaza Hotel, was the first integrated dinner in Atlanta with blacks and whites sitting next to each other at long tables that gave a spirit of equity among the guests. In the weeks leading up to that dinner, ticket sales were slow. That led to the Coca-Cola executives at the time saying that if Atlanta did not properly honor King, it could locate its headquarters in another city. That led to the dinner quickly selling out.
Mother Mamie Moore, a key community leader in English Avenue and the Westside, was pleased to show up at the dinner, but she emphasized it was not enough.
“Work still needs to be done in the exercise of equity in the community with the investment of resources needed to build healthy, sustainable communities,” Moore said, adding the community-based land-use plan still needs to be funded and implemented.
Then harking back to the Bible, Moore said resources must be channeled to keep the spirit of Nehemiah alive to build the city on the hill and give to the poor “lest we find ourselves in the position of Lazarus and the rich ruler,” she said. “It’s important for them to be reminded of Dr. King and the beloved community and the need to change hearts relative to economic equity.”
Richard Dugas, chairman of the Westside Future Fund, called it a “wonderful celebration that brings us together as people with heartwarming stories of hope and redemption.” He added that he thought the annual dinner was here to stay.
Bernice King described the dinner as a beautiful sight, but she too said more work needs to be done to fulfill her father’s vision.
“We have an opportunity as brothers and sisters to work together and build the beloved community with dignity and love,” she said.
“In order to intentionally build the beloved community, we must be more people-oriented than thing-oriented,” she added, saying the goal should be “inclusion rather than exclusion so that on one is left out or let down… Atlanta can never be what it ought to be, Mayor Bottoms, until Vine City and English Avenue are all that they ought to be.”