Column: After 15 years, Project Grad passes the torch to Achieve Atlanta
By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on June 26, 2015
Atlanta’s Project Grad is celebrating its 15th anniversary by ceasing to exist.
The nonprofit that has been instrumental in providing college scholarships to students attending Atlanta Public Schools will be joining forces with the new initiative — Achieve Atlanta.
It could be seen by some as a bittersweet moment for a nonprofit that received its first strong endorsement from the late George Brumley Jr., who died tragically in an airplane accident along with several family members in 2003.
Project Grad has been providing $4,000 scholarships to APS students–especially those who are the first in their family to go to college. They are called the Brumley-Grad Scholars.
Jim Bostic, a former executive of Georgia-Pacific and chairman of Project Grad, remembers when the idea was first being presented to Atlanta. He, along with former UPS Foundation executive Gary Lee, are the only two current members of Project Grad who were there from the beginning.
“I don’t feel any sadness because we worked our butts off to do the best for APS students, and we did that every year for 15 years,” Bostic said. “I don’t feel sad about at all. I just look forward to Achieve Atlanta doing an even better job in the future.”
Achieve Atlanta is an initiative of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation and the Atlanta Public Schools to work with high school students on their post-secondary education.
The program is novel because it will follow students after they graduate from APS and help make sure they complete their post-secondary education. The Whitehead Foundation has committed $20 million to the initiative, and Achieve Atlanta has hired Tina Fernandez as its executive director. The program is supposed to begin this coming school year.
Project Grad held a 15th anniversary celebration June 25 at Atlanta Metropolitan State College’s Easely Pavillion, where Fernandez was a special guest.
“We were giving $4,000 scholarships,” Bostic said. “Achieve Atlanta is going to be able to add on to what we were able to do. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Looking back, Bostic said Project Grad was able to enjoy “pretty good success,” but he said too many students still were left with heavy college debts because of the limited scholarship funds available.
“It was time to give a new group an opportunity to take it to another level,” Bostic said. “This group has the ability to take a tremendous step forward for APS students.”
Bostic, who has worked in the education space for decades, said in the end he has learned one basic truth. “You still do this work one kid at a time,” he said.
Center for Civil and Human Rights
It has been exactly one year since the Center for Civil and Human Rights opened its doors — and the attraction has helped define and redefine what Atlanta is all about.
Deborah Richardson, the Center’s interim CEO, said the June 23 anniversary has been an opportunity to reflect on how visitors have experienced both the history and the current events that are woven throughout the attraction.
“The last 12 months have clearly demonstrated the relevancy of the Center as issues of intolerance, discrimination, conflict and injustice dominate national headlines.” Richardson said. “Now, more than ever, we need places where our communities can come together for civil dialogue on difficult issues, with respect and appreciation for our differences. The Center was created for this very purpose.”
Richardson, however, stopped short of saying how many people have visited the Center during its first year. Its business plan that included a break-even budget anticipated about 350,000 visitors a year.
When asked about the attendance figures, officials with the Center said that Visitor Services is closing out the year and that they could not provide a number at this time. Once they have that number, they would first share it with the board before making it public.
“Once we have it, which will be in a few weeks, we will share it,” said Judith Service Montier, who is head of communications for the Center.
Richardson, however, said the Center’s special events and corporate engagement activities have outperformed their expectations.
“Our economic bottom line is good,” she said. “We will be ending the year, budget-wise, in very good shape.”
In the past year, the Center has reached more than 50,000 students and 1,200 educators. It also has established partnerships with more than 25 education and community partners, and it has launched five public-private school partnerships.
The Center also has hosted more than 100 discussions and programs as well as 250 events and meetings focusing on a variety of issues — human trafficking, gender rights and other human rights struggles.
The Center also launched three significant initiatives in its first year: an International Human Trafficking Institute (IHTI), a LGBT Institute and the John Lewis Fellowship.
Doug Shipman departs in style
Just before the Center celebrated its one-year anniversary, a farewell reception was held for departing CEO Doug Shipman on June 17.
Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who chairs the board of the Center, thanked Shipman for devoting nearly 10 years of his life to the cause.
“There are no words to tell you what you have meant for the Center,” Franklin said at the event — held in the main entrance of the attraction. “Your commitment to this project is without parallel. It was almost self-less. You were flexible. You were patient. You knew how to push and when to step back.”
When he got a turn to speak, Shipman said: “All I wanted to do was build an institution that was worthy of the people we are honoring in the Center.”
Several civil rights icons and long-time Atlanta leaders were present at the Shipman reception.
Shipman will become CEO of Bright House LLC, a purpose-driven consulting firm founded by Joey Reiman, an Atlanta marketing professional. Shipman’s former employer — Boston Consulting Group — is buying BrightHouse from Reiman, who will remain as chairman of the firm.
Johnnetta Cole and Carlos museum
For Johnnetta Cole, it was a lot like coming home. As director of the National Museum of African Art for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., Cole was in Atlanta June 18 for a special partnership with Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University.
The two museums had collaborated on a reception called a “Final Look” for the Smithsonian traveling exhibition: “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts.” The exhibition was closing a few days later.
But Cole, the former president of Spelman College, made full use of all her Atlanta friends and associates and invited them to be part of the event.
Co-hosting the event was former Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough, who recently stepped down as secretary of the Smithsonian.
Other notable members of the host committee were Arthur Blank, Shirley Franklin, Renee Glover, Ingrid Saunders Jones, Dr. Louis Sullivan and Ginger Sullivan, John Wieland and Sue Wieland, and Andrew Young and Carolyn Young.
“To have our two museums collaborating like this is pretty sweet,” Cole said before the event. “Wayne Clough was truly a beloved leader. One of the things he encouraged was collaboration. It’s so easy for us to operate in silos. To me, collaboration is the hallmark of his leadership.”
Cole, who was joined during the interview by Carlos Museum director Bonnie Speed, said she would love to have more opportunities to partner with the Emory institution.
Danita Knight and the Atlanta Women’s Foundation
For the past 10 years, Danita Knight has served on the board of the Atlanta Women’s Foundation as board chair and most recently immediate past board chair. But all that is coming to close on June 30.
But Knight could not leave without a sweet send-off — and what better way that to be a catalyst for change in the lives of women and girls dealing with poverty in this community.
So on June 23, she and her friend Judge Glenda Hatchett held a reception to announce the formation of a long-term fundraising initiative — a giving circle, initially comprised of women (and enlightened men) who are committed to the Atlanta Women’s Foundation.
“My dream is for giving circle participants to raise a total of $150,000 over the next three years — to expand AWF’s impact, and thereby invest more dollars back into the community for women and girls in poverty,” Knight said. “Glenda has already committed to writing the first check for the circle. I hope you will join us in making this dream a reality, by also agreeing to become a part of the circle; thereby committing to at least a $1,000 gift to AWF for each of the next three years.”
Now that is nice way to say good-bye.