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Column: Super Bowl week is big for National Center for Civil and Human Rights

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Feb. 1, 2019

Super Bowl week has been a game-changing experience for the Atlanta-based National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank chose the Center to be the site for highly-exclusive NFL owners annual dinner when the host NFL owner shows off his home city.

Blank called the Center “the ideal place” to portray Atlanta to the 32 NFL franchise team owners. The Jan. 31 dinner also included local VIPs and other out-of-town guests.

Civil and Human Rights (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

“Atlanta was the cradle of the civil rights movement and home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others who took the lead in the cause for civil and human rights and serves as the ideal place to reflect on the past, transform the present and inspire the future,” Blank said.

The move also was an important statement for the NFL, which has been dealing with several racially-charged issues, including its controversial response to professional football players kneeling during the singing of the national anthem as a way to protest police brutality and racism.

“I’m proud of the steps our league is taking to do its part in these important causes, and I look forward to welcoming our partners from around the league for a special evening in a special place.”

The Center also received a $1 million grant from The Coca-Cola Co. and another gift from NFL sponsor FedEx so it could provide free admission during Super Bowl week through Feb. 28.

It is symbolic that the Center was the local recipient of corporate generosity. Interestingly enough, there were not similar gestures to open up admission to the World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium or the College Football Hall of Fame.

““We want our visitors to understand what a special place this is,” said Helen Smith Price, president of the Coca-Cola Foundation, when announcing the gift to the Center.

Lastly, the Center also named its new CEO on Jan. 30.

Jill Savitt

Jill Savitt

Jill Savitt, a human rights expert for the past 20 years, will begin her new role on March 11, succeeding Brian Tolleson, who has been serving as the interim CEO for nearly a year.

Savitt actually has been involved with the Center from its inception. From 2010 to 2014, Savitt curated the Center’s human rights exhibition – the Spark of Conviction – in a gallery that tells the contemporary global human rights story.

“I think the center is a sacred place,” Savitt said in a telephone interview. “In our times right now, we need people to understand how civil society operates. The center tells that story in a compelling and dynamic way.”

Savitt, 51, is a genocide prevention expert who has been working in the human rights field for 20 years. Most recently, she has been serving as acting director for the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“Jill Savitt has the distinct caliber and experience to lead the center,” Shirley Franklin, former mayor of Atlanta who serves as the center’s board chair, said in a statement. “Over the last year, Brian has helped catapult the operational and financial health of the center, and Jill begins her tenure at a fantastic moment for us.”

Stephanie Blank

The Rotary Club of Buckhead gave its top annual award – the Rev. Robert Ross Johnson Humanitarian Award – to philanthropist Stephanie Blank on Jan. 28.

Blank was honored for her years of service to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, early childhood education and to the United Way of Greater Atlanta – and its “child well-being” agenda. CHOA CEO Donna Hyland and United Way’s Milton Little both introduced her at the lunch.

Stephanie Blank David Williams

Stephanie Blank with her husband, David Williams at Buckhead Rotary (Photo by Maria Saporta)

For Blank, it was a true coming together of friends and family. Her three children – Joshua, Max and Kylie – were there, as were her parents – Bill and Glenda Howard. She also was joined by her ex-husband, Arthur Blank, and her current husband, David Williams.

“The book of my life…is filled with chapters of change and growth, heartache and healing, miracles and gratefulness, and most importantly people,” she said. “ I’m sure some of you in the room may have been a bit surprised to see an earlier chapter in my life at the table with me. Arthur has been a part of my life story for 27 years, and together we did some good things in this world. Most importantly, we created three amazing children who bless our lives every day.”

And then speaking directly to her ex-husband, Stephanie Blank said: “You gave me the opportunity to learn what good philanthropy and civic leadership look like.”

Then she addressed her current husband. “David, I thank you for your enduring kindness and gentleness, your generosity of spirit and your patience with me. I know it’s not easy being married to a stubborn, strong-willed redhead.”

Stephanie Blank then spoke of the need for more kindness in our world.

“True kindness is a way of being,” she said. “It is not the same as nice. Nice is about superficial acts…, whereas true kindness, built upon compassion and empathy, leaves an indelible impression that lifts up rather than tears down and is never indifferent or blind. I want to clarify that kindness isn’t weak or wishy-washy. It doesn’t condone bad behavior.”

Later she added: “In this world we live in today, filled with such bitter and hateful divisiveness, I find myself struggling at times. So I return to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said: ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’”

By the way, this is second time in the past month where Stephanie and Arthur Blank have been together at a Rotary event.

At the Jan. 14 Rotary Club of Atlanta luncheon, Stephanie Blank introduced the program with Arthur Blank and Doug Hertz about the upcoming Super Bowl. Both of them spoke lovingly and respectfully of each other during that program.

Wesley Woods

The Foundation of Wesley Woods has selected a new president – Diane Vaughan, an experienced fundraising and development professional.

Atlanta-based Wesley Woods offers housing and supportive services for older adults throughout North Georgia. The Foundation serves as the connection point between the generosity of supporters in the community and the practical, life-changing work of Wesley Woods.

Diane Vaughan

Diane Vaughan of Wesley Woods Foundation

Vaughan has more than 32 years of experience in the field. Prior to joining the Foundation of Wesley Woods, she has spent much of her career at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation. She last served as the development director for the Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center.

“Diane has a long history of making connections with the Atlanta philanthropic community,” Rev. Glenn Ethridge, board chair of the Foundation of Wesley Woods, said in a statement. “As an active United Methodist, she knows Wesley Woods’ history of empowering seniors to age with grace. We are excited about our work together.”

Terry Barcroft, president and CEO of Wesley Woods Senior Living, said Vaughan has been described as “a tireless role model,” who leads by example.

“The work of the Foundation of Wesley Woods is especially important considering the number of Georgians who are becoming more aware of their need to explore new living options,” Vaughan said in a release. “The Foundation has a wonderful reputation as an organization working to ensure that all older adults, regardless of income, can live and thrive in health and wellness. I am looking forward to playing a part in those efforts.”

Vaughan will join the organization February 2019 following the departure of Tracy Crump, the Foundation’s current leader. Crump will remain involved as a loyal supporter of Wesley Woods and the Foundation.

“Tracy has done a wonderful job leading the Foundation’s fundraising efforts, including raising record-setting amounts for Wesley Woods,” Barcroft said. “Her contributions and leadership will have a lasting impact on the Foundation and the people it serves.”

The Foundation will hold its signature annual fundraising event – Heroes, Saints & Legends – on March 28 at Flourish. Business and civic leaders – J. Neal Purcell, Ray M. Robinson and Lyn and Bob Turknett – will be honored at that event.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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