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Democracy matters: Thank you, Atlanta Hawks. APS: rename Grady – Midtown High

State Farm Arena was transformed into the largest early voting precinct in Georgia (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

Voting on election day has been a lifelong tradition for me.

Going to the polls and casting my ballot on election day always has given me a first-hand look as to how a particular election is going. I have become friends with my precinct’s poll workers, and I always ask them about turnout and how things are going. They in turn ask me if my kids are going to vote.

State Farm Arena has been transformed into the largest early voting precinct in Georgia (Photo by Maria Saporta)

But for this general election, I threw tradition to the wind.

(Part of the reason I decided to make the change was because of my experience during the primary, when I had to wait for about two hours to vote at the Park Tavern despite showing up at 7 a.m.)

So this past Thursday (10-22), my son, David Luse, and I decided to go vote at State Farm Arena so we could experience the largest early voting site in Georgia. David is a huge Atlanta Hawks fan. And he had been told by some friends who had already voted that Hawks players and personnel actually were working at the arena.

To my fellow Fulton County residents, we are so lucky to have State Farm Arena and the Atlanta Hawks organization to turn over the arena, which is publicly owned, to voters during the Coronavirus pandemic.Early voting at the arena continues through Oct. 30.

My son, David Luse, in front of State Farm Arena after we went to early vote on Oct. 22 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

We can thank Steve Koonin, CEO of the Atlanta Hawks, for coming up with the idea to use the arena as a way to ease the problems of voting that Fulton County has experienced for years.

We parked (for free) at the CNN parking lot, crossed the street and were greeted by volunteers who practiced all the safety precautions during the voting process. The floor of the arena was filled with voting machines. There was no line, and we were done within 15 minutes.

As we finished voting, we ran into Amy Phuong, former parks commissioner for the city of Atlanta who is now working with the Hawks. We also met up with Thad Sheeley, my fellow Leadership Atlanta classmate who is chief operating officer of the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena.

Amy Phuong and Thad Sheeley of the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena made us feel welcome during our voting experience (Photo by David Luse)

As an added bonus, David got to meet Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, who was standing in the corridor talking to Garin Narain, who heads up communications for the Atlanta Hawks.

This is the way democracy is supposed to work – it should be easy, accessible and enjoyable. We were able to perform our civic duty and have a blast at the same time.

That experience is in stark contrast to the ongoing saga about the renaming of Grady High School, a topic I have weighed in on more than I ever would have imagined.

But the latest development once again shows how tone deaf the renaming committee has been to the desires of the various constituencies of Grady High School.

Grady High School 2020 (Photo by Maria Saporta

The naming committee, headed by APS board member Leslie Grant, sent out a survey with five choices for a new name for Grady High: Midtown, Ida B. Wells, Piedmont, Freedom and Thomas Adger.

But the naming committee totally ignored the results of survey. It voted 4-to-3 to rename Grady in honor of Ida B. Wells, a Mississippi born Black journalist and civil rights leader who died in 1931.

So, what name did the 1,619 survey respondents prefer?

By a 2-to-1 margin, the top choice was Midtown High (see chart below). In fact, 70 percent of respondents preferred a generic name after a location or theme rather than after a person.

A new name for Grady:
Freedom:              124 (7.66 percent)
Ida B. Wells:         348 (21.49 percent)
Midtown:              692 (42.74 percent)
Piedmont:             317 (19.58 percent)
Thomas Alger:      138 (8.52 percent)
Total:                     1,619

It begs the question, why did the committee even ask for public input if it was going to ignore the results of the survey and the public’s preferences?

The good news is it’s not too late for the Atlanta Board of Education to do the right thing. The full board must approve a new name, and it is expected to vote at its meeting on Nov. 2.

Ideally, the Atlanta Board of Education be more democratic than the naming committee and listen to the people who overwhelmingly preferred the “Midtown” name for Grady High.

This is not an-anti Ida B. Wells sentiment. She was a fine journalist, but she had no ties to Grady, Atlanta or Georgia.

I find it a shame the naming committee recommended honoring an out-of-state journalist when Atlanta has had so many nationally-recognized journalists.

As one of the founders of the Atlanta Press Club’s Hall of Fame Committee, I know we have a long list of homegrown premier journalists who have called Atlanta home at some point in their career, including Tom Brokaw, Judy Woodruff, Ted Turner, Xernona Clayton, Monica Pearson, Celestine Sibley and Pat Mitchell, to name a few.

By the way, the Atlanta Press Club will hold its 10th Hall of Fame on Nov. 19, when it will be televised on Georgia Public Broadcasting at 7 p.m.

The Atlanta Board of Education has an opportunity to heal the wounds created by the emotional angst that divided the community over the summer and fall. Hurt feelings still remain because of the way the naming committee decided to rename Henry Grady High School

So, APS board members, please respect democracy and follow the wishes of the greater Grady community. Vote for Midtown High.

Maria Saporta

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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  1. Audrea Rease October 27, 2020 10:11 pm

    Ms. Wells has been one of my personal heroes since I was a child, but I disagree with the committee’s recommendation to rename the school after her. As a renowned Black woman journalist born in the 1800’s, she could function as a foil for Henry Grady, but she shouldn’t be diminished to that. Most importantly, the recommended renaming does not reflect community feedback, which overwhelmingly supports a location-based name.

    I (and many others) want the Atlanta Board of Education to VOTE NO on Nov 2nd to the committee’s renaming suggestion. Please show your support for the community and the school by signing and sharing this petition!

  2. jb vick November 6, 2020 9:30 am

    When will the name change for Grady Hospital begin?Report

    1. Greg Allen Hodges November 10, 2020 11:32 am

      Very likely by the first of this coming year if not sooner. Once the re-naming juggernaut amongst Atlanta politicians and government bureaucrats gets rolling, it’s pretty hard to bring it to a halt.Report


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