Georgia Stand-Up at 15: Trading up, Showing up, Building up — together
By Maggie Lee
Deborah Scott can name a lot of needs for metro Atlanta’s working families: affordable housing, transit that connects the region better, job training.
It’s a lot to work on. Which is why for 15 years, Deborah Scott and the nonprofit she leads, Georgia Stand-Up, have never tried to go it alone.
She said Georgia Stand-Up is something like a gas station: it’s a place where communities can get fuel and supplies for their own journeys.
The fuel might be academic research on house prices around the BeltLine, it might be a connection into a union apprenticeship program, it might be an understanding how policy gets made and the jargon that gets used.
Just after its 15th anniversary, Scott shared some reflections with SaportaReport. Remarks have been condensed for length, but a full version is here.
Q: What are some of the highlights of Georgia Stand-Up’s first 15 years?
A: … Back in 2005 we started our Policy Institute for Civic Leadership. Which is our community leadership program, where we train community members on understanding how policy gets made in the city and in the state, and where their levels of influence are, and how they can work to solve some of their community problems or the issues that they’re working with.
It’s an intensive course, about six weeks. And over the course of 15 years, we’ve graduated over 300 people … What we find is those folks that have gone through our policy institute are already leaders, are working in their community, but they need to know that there are other people working on different campaigns or different angles of the same issue.
So we may have community folks in there, we’ll have activists and organizers, but we’ll also have academics in there as well as … policy folks that just care about a single issue.
But what we try to share with them is we’re stronger together. And so even though that’s not something I’m working on, it affects me whatever you’re doing over here to impact the community, so we should work together …
We get our instructors from Georgia Tech, Dan Immergluck has taught, we had in our class Michael Dobbins, Emory University instructors, Clark, Atlanta University instructors, so we use, we partner with academic institutions to actually bring those experts.
So those tend to be the best advocates out there at these meetings because they, they have a deeper dive of information than a lot of people.
And then they have this continuous network of other allies that they can depend on. (The network has been great, we have couple of marriages.)
We’re very, very proud of that. And that’s kind of work that most people don’t see … I see ourselves as part of that engine and that behind-the-scenes. Like: Let’s think about these policies and practices in a different way, understanding race, class and politics in Atlanta, in Georgia, and how decisions get made and why. And who are some of the decision-makers that you may not realize? Whether it’s Central Atlanta Progress or or the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda. What what kinds of organizations are out there, and how — outside of just your elected officials — how do you influence and impact policy?
Q: Georgia stand-up is it is “a think and act tank for working communities.” Can you elaborate on what that means and why Georgia needs an organization doing this work?
A: We’re not a traditional think-tank, we do research and make sure that we connect community participatory research and academicians that are doing research that is going to help community.
So whether it’s understanding the impact of the BeltLine on legacy communities that could be encroached upon, or could be seen as in the way of progress, because they just have been there. But now the property values are changing. And now our neighbors are changing. We commissioned a study with Dan Immergluck back in 2007 That really highlighted that, even with the notion of the BeltLine [before construction,] the property values had changed.
Those are the kinds of think pieces we do.
Another piece we did with Michael Dobbins and the Georgia Tech students, we had the Fort Mac study, where we actually taught the Georgia Tech students how to really listen to the community and understand what their asks are so that they can then do the research to help them better articulate what they want and need and even put the data that goes along with it.
So it goes something like this: Mrs. Jones says, “My neighborhood we really don’t have a grocery store where we can buy a fresh tomato.”
The students went back and said, “OK, well that’s called a food desert. And these are some things that can mitigate that: you can have community gardens, you can ask grocery stores to carry more groceries.”
So they did the research based on what Mrs. Jones would say. That’s why we always call it “community participatory research,” because we wanted research that doesn’t sit on the shelf, that they can then take in and know what they’re asking for when they go to meetings. To say, look, we need healthy grocery stores, we need to not be a community food desert. We need to have to have access to transportation.
So to help them kind of codify what they need in the verbiage that the policymakers understand … That’s the “think” part of what we do or some of the “think” part … And then of course, the “act” part is activism.
We’ve had interns since we began, we probably had over 200 in terms of the course of the organization. So we always work with students and community so that the students, when they graduate, they’re more responsible when they go out in the work world because they have this community relationship. And they understand that what they’re learning and what they do in their real work life has real consequences on people’s lives …
The other thing I’ll say, is we have always been an organization that has changed and shifted based on the realities of the day. In the beginning, we were working a lot on the BeltLine and a lot on what would happen if the BeltLine was really realized without progressive policies attached like community benefits, and we helped to start the Tax Allocation District Advisory Council.
So those kinds of things, we can work inside community, but we also can work with other stakeholders that have different interests around the same issues. So we work a lot with coalitions … Where that was very successful was within the MARTA campaign for for transit in Clayton County. You know we really pulled together a couple of different organizations and really formed a strong coalition during that campaign in 2014.
We opened an office, we worked together as a coalition, we door-knocked, we called. We have a lot of events around transit, but we really broke it down as to how and why transit is important to communities.
You have the world’s busiest airport and they have no bus service. You have, people walking along the side of the sidewalk, side of the highway … We try to translate these campaigns in a way so that on the elected official side, that they understand the impact of their decisions on real people.
But then we also work with the community to understand that that means you have to get out and vote for this thing …
Q: Your mission is described in four broad areas, labor unions, transit equity, affordable housing and economic development. Why those four? Are they connected in some way?
A : It’s all connected, because the thing about it is: if people cannot get to work … that’s their social mobility vehicle.
The jobs are on the north side. But the folks we work most closely with are on the south side. So how do you move people efficiently from the work that they’re trying to get to on a transit system that doesn’t necessarily connect …
On the workforce side, how do we live in a city and a region that appears to be prospering with beautiful, shiny buildings, where the people who actually live in these neighborhoods are still suffering in poverty?
And so what’s the schism that we have here in this region and how do we solve that?
We have to also, as we’re looking at trends, we also have to look at jobs and workforce training and understanding that there’s a gap between the educational system and the jobs that are available and the jobs that are coming.
And so how do we make sure we skill up these community residents so that they are prepared for the jobs that are coming and jobs that are there? What we did back in, I think was 2008, 2009 when we were really looking at the BeltLine, and the jobs that they said that were going to be created, particularly around construction, we realized that there wasn’t really a program that worked directly with the community to skill them up to get ready for these construction jobs …
And so translating the needs of the contractors and the needs of the community, we designed our training program, which is called Trade Up, where we took people from the community and took them through a six-week program. They earn three certifications, OSHA 10, CPR and first aid, and we give them basic construction skills, but we also give them the experience of going to a number of trades and trying them out so that they know what they’re good at…
And a few years after that, we started working with the city of Atlanta on cleaning up Vine City and English Avenue. They were boarding up and cleaning up a number of buildings and making parks and so we struck up a partnership and started doing work teams and those work teams are called Build Up … Most recently, when Vine City Higher Ground Empowerment Center, the church over in Vine City, they had a senior high-rise building that just opened, actually in the same day as our anniversary, November 15. Several of our workers over in Vine City got to work on that project. So that is 105 units as a senior high-rise.
And so it’s a beautiful thing when you can not only have workers to work on a project, and they can see it to its conclusion but also then have other people, community members, that we’ve worked with to actually get in and live there. And so we’d like to do more things like that, where it’s on-the-job training, and real work experience training that results in not only a better lifestyle for the person that’s working, but also for the community.
And then last year we created, created another one which is called We Show Up. And in that, we pipeline people into jobs in the film and TV industry, that are those supportive jobs, those infrastructure jobs. It may not be actually on the set and not as a PA but it’s the “below the line” jobs. Supplying the equipment, setting up …
Q: In the next 15 years of Georgia Stand-Up, what are working communities going to need to think and act on? What’s on the horizon?
A: One of the things that we know that is true is that we have a housing crisis here in Atlanta, in the region.
And so, as we’re pipelining people into construction jobs the best way we can, we also recognize that there’s just an affordable housing need that needs to be met.
And so as we look at partnering and really becoming experts in affordable housing, we’re looking at not just understanding policy around affordable housing, but how to build it, how to put a capital stack together so that we can actually acquire land or partner with folks and build the housing that people need.
It’s difficult to watch this homelessness go on, and continue to grow without trying to figure out a way to stop it or a way to stave it off or more help for it. And so we’ve been learning a lot more about how to build affordable housing. I’m on the advisory board of Enterprise Community Partners. Of course, we’re with the transit-oriented development group TransFormation Alliance. And part of the reason why we’re really focused in there is looking at transit stops and the affordable housing that needs to go around these transit stops, and making sure that there’s capital that could fund those projects …
Q: Now in 15 more years, in 2034, what do you want people to be saying about Georgia Stand-Up and working Georgians? How will things be different? And what will Georgia Stand-Up have done in getting there?
A: One thing I would like them to say is that we helped to creatively solve some of the pressing problems of the day, whether it was transit or affordable housing or workforce needs, that we were at the intersection and helped to create an ecosystem of organizations that were willing to work together in coalition to solve these problems.
We know we can’t solve these problems by ourselves. And we know that it takes partnerships with business, with elected officials, with government and other organizations. But most importantly, with the eye of: how do you help legacy residents and community residents that, if not for a Georgia Stand-Up, they would not have had the support, and would not have changed and supported and helped their communities like they did.
We want to empower those community leaders themselves. So we see ourselves as a gas station for those leaders. We don’t want to lead on the work, we want to support the communities in their work.
We see it as their work and we add value to their work. And sometimes it’s about helping them to get more data, or more skills, or more partnerships or more policymakers to understand.
But we see ourselves as a way to help and so that’s why it’s all of our ups: Stand Up, Trade Up, Build Up, We Show Up. Because we believe if we work together, the change will happen.
And so I don’t want them necessarily saying that “Georgia Stand-Up did this.” I want them saying, “I’m a member of Georgia Stand-Up and we did this.”