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Thought Leadership Historic Westside

Drawing Strength from Diversity and Collaboration to Drive Impact for All Atlantans

Westside Future Fund

Introduction by John Ahmann, President & CEO, Westside Future Fund

After a short break, I am grateful to Venessa Harrison, President of AT&T Georgia, as the first guest op-ed of 2020!  And what better theme than Believe Atlanta!   To learn more about this AT&T sponsored initiative and how Believe Atlanta is making a difference on the Historic Westside, please keep reading! 

Venessa headlined a panel on westside entrepreneurship and innovation at the January 17 Transform Westside Summit.  If you missed Venessa’s remarks at the Summit, you can read a recap of the discussion here and here, or watch a replay of the Facebook Live Stream.  

Venessa, and the AT&T team she leads, have a deep commitment to supporting the collective revitalization efforts, contributing both time and treasure to organizations across the historic Westside. The Westside Future Fund is also blessed to have on its board of directors, Sylvia Russell, the wife of the late Herman Russell, one of the Westside’s greatest entrepreneurs!  I first met Sylvia when she served on the Atlanta Committee for Progress as the then President of AT&T Georgia, and then know as Sylvia Anderson (before she and Herman married).

To hear directly from some of those AT&T Believe Atlanta has supported, please click here to watch this testimonial video.  It features the principal of The Booker T. Washington High School, Dr. Coaxum-Young; Carol Hunter, Executive Director of Truly Living Well; and Calvin Rouse, a local chef.

AT&T, and its Believe Atlanta campaign, exemplify a core theme of this column series kicked off in August of 2018: “The More We, The More I Can Do!”  Thanks to AT&T and Believe Atlanta, we are getting more done while honoring the history and culture of the Historic Westside! 

By Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T Georgia

In the midst of our month-long celebration of Black History, it’s important to remember that we all stand on the shoulders of those who went before us.

Next, it’s important to ask – “how are we supporting a foundation for those who come after us?”

While I’m not an Atlanta native, all my life I have been impressed with the leadership role our city has played in striving for equal opportunity for everyone.

 Atlanta has a long history of being engaged in the Civil Rights Movement – as a focal point of struggle and, more importantly, of progress.

The life of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is entwined with the city of Atlanta. His birthplace, his home Church and a cultural center devoted to his service are among the many historic sites clustered near downtown.

Atlanta played a pivotal role in shaping civil rights in the United States, and our community continues to assess where we are and what we need to be doing today to ensure a future in which everyone has the opportunity to succeed and thrive.

I am proud to call Atlanta home – to be part of a community that represents our diverse world and is committed to giving back and empowering ALL people. And, as proud as I am to be a part of this community, I am equally as proud to work for a company that celebrates diversity and empowers us to serve.  

At AT&T, making a lasting impact for individuals, families and communities is part of our DNA. For nearly a century and a half, we’ve been connecting people with each other, with opportunities, and with the future.

Sure, the technology has changed a good bit over that time, from hand-cranked phones on a wall and party lines to gigabit connections and wireless devices.

But that commitment remains.

The most recent visible expression of that commitment is AT&T Believes.

These are local projects where we are engaging with community partners and mobilizing our employees to address a specific local need or issue, equipping our neighbors with the tools and education to break the cycle of poverty and secure better futures.

Through Believe Atlanta – we’re working to spur economic mobility for ALL Atlantans. We are helping pave the way to better futures by providing skills development, job preparation, and economic opportunity.

In January 2019, I was proud to join with my colleague John Dwyer to help launch Believe Atlanta. Now, a year later, I am humbled by how our employees and community have responded

Inspired by a commitment to equity of opportunity, we are standing alongside city leaders, community partners, non-profit associations, corporate citizens and, most importantly, Atlantans – rolling up our sleeves, believing in our community, and believing in the promise of our neighbors.

Skills for a sustainable career or the degrees and credentials to have a secure financial future are not things that only Atlantans from certain ZIP codes need or deserve. These are vital tools for everyone – tools that better prepare us to break the generational cycle of poverty and close the wealth gap in our community.

There’s a strong heritage in Atlanta of the public and private sectors working together – collaborating to secure resources and, then, mobilizing the energy to build that future. We are making great progress and creating opportunity, but much remains to be done. 

This city is great, in large part because of our cultural diversity and how we work together. As we celebrate Black History month and the immeasurable achievements of African Americans who have contributed to our community’s rich heritage, let us remember we all stand on the shoulders of those that went before us and rise – together – to effect positive change for those who come after us.

Our work and collective commitment to support and build a brighter future for all will help make Dr. King’s dream – and many of our own dreams for our lives and for this city – a reality.

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