By Saba Long
A decades-long haven for international refugees, the City of Clarkston is easily the most diverse square mile of DeKalb County and the State of Georgia.
With a population of nearly 8,000, the Ellis Island of the South is in the midst of an interesting mayoral and City Council elections with the incumbent mayor, Emanuel Ransom, an African-American, facing two challengers – Ibrahim Awow Sufi, a Somali-American; and Ted Terry, a resident of Clarkston for the past two years.
Most recently, Terry, as a field coordinator of Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., successfully lobbied the Georgia Public Service Commission to expand solar power usage in the state. As a mayoral candidate, Terry’s campaign platform includes public safety and green energy, including the use of LED street lights similar to those in Sandy Springs.
Also important to watch are the responses and positions that the three mayoral candidates will have towards the international refugee community.
In a 2012 PBS documentary, Clarkston was called “the future of America on steroids.” Its nearly 8,000 population includes East Africans, Vietnamese, Iraqis, Bosnians, Sudanese, and Bhutanese.
In the same year, the federally operated Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report highlighting the need for local community stakeholder engagement in refugee resettlement. The report indicated, locals were “not initially consulted regarding the resettlement of thousands of refugees beginning in 1996, [and] described the flight of long-time residents from the town in response to refugee resettlement and the perceived deterioration of the quality of schools.”
In response to these concerns, local and state elected officials reduced refugee placements in Clarkston, only placing new refugees with relatives already settled in the city.
Notable nonprofits, including the International Rescue Committee and World Relief, partner with the local and state government to provide transition assistance and self-sufficiency services to recipients.
With a current budget just under $3.5 million, this small city will have to partner with the federal government, the State of Georgia, DeKalb County, the Atlanta Regional Commission and other entities to capitalize on the challenges and opportunities of its diverse community.