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Georgia Forward hopes new governor will adopt its vision

Amir Farokhi and Kris Vaughn

Amir Farokhi and Kris Vaughn

By Maria Saporta

Macon, GA – Nothing like a hurricane to bring the state closer together.

Eight years ago, Georgia Forward launched its first forum to unify the state by convening leaders from every corner of Georgia.

It also happened to be a gubernatorial election year, and both candidates for governor – Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes – participated in the forum via a video teleconference.

Georgia Forward

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert with Andres Villegas of the Georgia Forestry Association at the Georgia Forward Forum (Photo by Maria Saporta)

That forum took place in Macon – and the hopes and expectations were high. We could unify the state if we brought diverse leaders and engaged citizens together to explore different issues with a spirit of consensus.

Fast forward to 2018.

Georgia Forward once again convened its forum in Macon on Oct. 10 – just as Hurricane Michael was hitting the shores of the Florida Panhandle and making its way across Georgia right over Macon.

The forum was held in the Georgia Farm Bureau, which was at the center of the storm worries.

Jeffrey Harvey, director of public policy for the Georgia Farm Bureau, who explained the eminent damage to the state’s crops.

“We have got 38 percent of the peanuts harvested,” Harvey said. “With cotton, we are only about 12 percent.” He went on to say pecans and peaches also could be impacted by the hurricane, and that all these products were very important to our state’s economy.”

Throughout the day’s discussion, the cloud of Hurricane Michael loomed over the forum as the 100 people who had convened in Macon worried about the threat of the hurricane on their communities. The forum also finished about an hour ahead of schedule so people could get out of Macon before the weather got worse.

Cathy Cox Kris Vaughn Georgia Forward

Former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox after delivering a keynote speech stands with Kris Vaughn, executive director of Georgia Forward (Photo by Maria Saporta)

That took away some of the disappointment that both candidates for governor – Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp – completely ignored Georgia Forward. They had both been invited to be the guest speakers during a lunch talk titled “Future of  Leadership in Georgia.”

It would have been a smart, strategic for both candidates to attend Georgia Forward ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

A.J. Robinson, chair of Georgia Forward and president of Central Atlanta Progress, sugarcoated the snub with hope for a good relationship with the next governor in the future.

“I think we are well positioned with both candidates to raise the profile of our efforts,” Robinson said at the forum. “We invited them. But they had more pressing things. We tried getting videos. We just couldn’t pull it off.”

At past forums, several of Georgia’s hub city mayors would participate – including the mayors of Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah. To the best of my recollection, the mayor of Atlanta has never participated in a Georgia Forward event. To really unify the state, it would take the participation of all the major cities in the state as well as many of the towns and counties.

The launch of Georgia Forward nearly nine years ago was with the best of intentions.

Georgia Forward

Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi shares a laugh with Georgia Forward Chairman A.J. Robinsons

“In 2010, many of us were growing tired of the rhetoric of two Georgias, three Georgias, 10 Georgias,” Robinson said. “A colleague of mine, Amir Farokhi, and I believed our state needed an organization that could bring the state together in conversation.”

The host mayor in 2010 was Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, who is still mayor today. And Macon is a great example of the evolution of a community.

“We are the newest consolidated government in the state of Georgia,” Reichert told the forum’s participants. “On Jan. 1, 2014, the city limits were extended to the county lines. We are still a county. We are still a city. Because of consolidation, we became the fourth largest city in the state of Georgia After Atlanta, Columbus and Augusta.”

But Reichert also told Georgia Forward participants that the organization has never been more important with the dramatic changes occurring in communities throughout the state.

That’s why Georgia Forward has been focused on its signature program – Young Gamechangers. It is a leadership action program that brings together 50 of Georgia’s bright young people under the age of 40 to help solve persistent challenges of one Georgia community. Each class works for six to eight months to generate big ideas and present them to the community at the end of the program.

Amir Farokhi Kris Vaughn

Georgia Forward’s two executive directors, past and current– Amir Farokhi and Kris Vaughn (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“We now have about 300 alumni,” said Robinson, who credited executive director Kris Vaughn for Georgia Forward’s recent success. “We’ve become a leadership development organization.”

The focus of the 2018 forum was to work on ways to cultivate the next generation of leaders – especially millennials. But the highlight of the trip for me was seeing veteran Georgia leader George Berry at a reception on the evening before the forum.

Berry held pivotal roles in Atlanta and Georgia – head of the Atlanta airport and the state’s economic development commissioner – helping set a tone of public service and working for the common good of the whole state.

Given our splintered political environment, our next governor should adopt a unifying message for the state. One step would be to endorse the efforts of Georgia Forward as a way to bring civic, business and government leaders from every  corner of the state to work on a common agenda.

After all, we should not need a hurricane to bring us together.

Otis White Cathy Cox

Conference facilitator Otis White greets Cathy Cox at Georgia Forward forum (Photo by Maria Saporta)

George and Jeannine Berry

Jeannine and George Berry at evening reception at Natalia’s in Macon (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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. Chris Johnston October 16, 2018 10:44 am

    If the Macon-Bibb County consolidation were successful, why is the population dropping? Population in the former Macon City peaked in 1970 and has dropped ever since. This is contrary to other larger Georgia cities.Report

  2. ATLpeace October 16, 2018 12:58 pm

    Greetings from Georgia: The Peace State.

    Maria, EXCELLENT ARTICLE, especially your closing ‘call’ to everyone!

    QUOTE: “our next governor should adopt a unifying message for the state. One step would be to endorse the efforts of Georgia Forward as a way to bring civic, business and government leaders from every corner of the state to work on a common agenda.”

    OPEN INVITATION: To our next GA Gov and especially GA Forward, please adopt and help our peace organization to develop a worthy and appropriate moniker for MANY future generations. This is our formal & public offering…


    FACT: Tourism is the world’s biggest peace industry, and peace is the virtue that Dr. King (the world’s most referenced Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) lived & died for. Since 2018 is the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s murder, now would be an ideal time for our great state & GA Forward to select this as a common agenda goal to focus on…

    TOURISM: The World’s Biggest Peace Industry

    “Georgia the peach state’ is an old and dated state slogan. It is time to respectively tell it “BYE – BYE”, right? Peach is a common fruit and not even our state’s top crop! These 2 words, peach & peace, are just 1 letter different. However, their potential to deliver a phenomenal windfall of economic, societal and spiritual reward to our state are WORLDS APART!

    According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, our tourism industry is currently the 5th largest employer in the state with a total economic impact of $59 billion. WHO can calculate the eventual phenomenal windfall to our state when TOURISM is the #1 INDUSTRY because it was officially linked with PEACE?

    “GEORGIA: THE PEACE STATE” (the actual state, plus its ideal brand-name) is one of the BEST positioned in the world to eventually inspire love, peace, justice, growth, healing and transformation to our entire Global Family; “ONE Tribe.”

    WARNING: Our state will never fulfill its historic & global service possibility IF we ignore the internationally respected peace legacy of Dr. King. We have a dream that civic, government and business leaders will continue uniting to build the global peace legacy of Dr. King and his birth state. “I Have A Dream” was authored here and it continues to inspire millions of leaders worldwide, and also thousands of organizations and dozens of nations.

    For example, many are now observing the 20th Anniversary of John Hume (“Ireland’s Greatest”) receiving his Nobel Peace Prize in 1998. His 20th anniversary documentary film shows how he was particularly inspired by Dr. King to mobilize Irish Americans and USA political leaders to halt years of bloody violence in Ireland, his birthplace.

    “In The Name of Peace: John Hume In America”

    The global economic contribution of the tourism industry (one of the world’s largest industries) is now over $8 TRILLION annually. “GEORGIA: THE PEACE STATE” is in a unique position to inspire GREAT growth in this global industry… especially when it excels in reminding our Global Family about the best definition of greatness. Dr. King proclaimed:

    “Everyone can be great
    because everyone can serve!”

    WHEN our great state becomes a global proof-of-concept and poster-child for SERVICE, Tourism, Peace, Love and great dreams becoming REALITY then other major cities of Earth will have an ideal example to emulate. It is also very important to reference that Dr. King made sure to direct light & credit to Mahatma Gandhi, the most globally-accomplished peace-builder of the last Millennium. Dr. King stated:

    “Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. WE MAY IGNORE GANDHI AT OUR OWN RISK.”

    Therefore, “GEORGIA: THE PEACE STATE” is directly connected with TWO of history’s greatest brothers of our Global Family. Our organization has termed this GREAT asset…


    Gandhi: Father of World’s Biggest Democracy, was killed 70 years ago (1948-2018), and he once stated:
    “The best way to find yourself
    is to lose yourself
    in the service of others.”

    “GEORGIA: THE PEACE STATE” is a worthy and appropriate moniker for MANY future generations. Now that our Georgia State Capitol has inspiring sculptures honoring two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (very unique in the USA) we can unite to celebrate that our state is already branded with PEACE in a formidable way. Let’s unite to further…

    “Be the Change & Dream to better celebrate Gandhi & King.”

    Summary: It is exciting to note that Amir R. Farokhi, founder of Georgia Forward, is also the Atlanta City Councilmember overseeing District 2 which includes the MLK National Historic Site. How amazing to know that District 2 now receives more annual tourists than practically every other city-district of the USA! It is also vital to reference that Mr. Farokhi was a special guest and speaker at Gandhi’s Anniversary Birth Celebration and that he already recognizes our city & state’s connection to Mahatma (‘Great Soul’) Gandhi.

    Article Link / Reference:
    ‘Mahatma’ remembered on his 149th Birthday at
    the Gandhi Statue followed by the launch of Inauguration of
    Gandhi @ 150 Celebrations at the Indian Consulate.


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