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Guardians of Atlanta’s Future Thought Leadership

How JLA’s Little Black Dress Initiative is Charting a Positive Path Forward while Bringing Awareness to Generational Poverty

2020 LBDI Chair Edwina Robinson sharing her story during a video filming to create a call to action for JLA members and community leaders in Atlanta

By Melissa R. Brogdon, MS.Ed, CFRE

The pursuit of equity in Atlanta has remained perpetually elusive. Leaders from every nonprofit and many corporations have continuously convened and collaborated to provide solutions that bring us steps closer to helping all Atlantans truly access the promise of our resurgent city.

The problem is big and for the individual looking to make an impact, the path to get involved can feel unclear. For members of The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. (JLA) the Little Black Dress Initiative (LBDI) keeps this pursuit ignited. For the last 6 years, JLA has invited community members, neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends to increase awareness of the generational poverty problem our city faces and learn how we, as a community, can provide promising solutions.

JLA’s 2020 LBDI campaign for calls to action

JLA members like the 2020 LBDI Chair, Edwina Robinson have illustrated how a pathway out of generational poverty is possible.   As a native Atlantan, she was able to purchase a home in the same area that was once known as the housing project, Perry Homes, where her father grew up. Edwina’s trajectory to disrupting generational poverty however is not the norm.

She also shared that Atlanta has the worst upward mobility of any major metro in the country. Only 4% of Metro Atlantans born into the bottom 20% of income earners ever make it to the top 20%.  Struggling families across the region now face an additional barrier to economic mobility: the persistent Covid-19 pandemic which is now compounding and escalating this economic crisis.

Early research has highlighted the disproportionate impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on women and women-led households. In particular for women of color, school closures, limited access to affordable childcare, job loss and lack of affordable healthcare will serve only to further widen the gaps that the pandemic will leave in its wake.

2020 LBDI Chair Edwina Robinson and her son posing for a social post to raise awareness about generational poverty

LBDI is an awareness campaign hosted by JLA each year with one primary goal: to equip more children and families with the support to access greater opportunity just like Edwina. In reflecting on her role this year, she shared that, “I became involved with LBDI for the same reasons I joined the League…I wanted to apply my passion for community engagement to make a real difference.”

During the week of October 19-23, more than 50 JLA members , known as LBDI advocates, matched Edwina’s enthusiasm. For 5 days they donned the same black dress in an effort to start conversations that made people think about their privilege and hopefully share their resources with their neighbors facing formidable odds.

Advocates championed awareness building, as well as fundraising during LBDI week. With many of their likely donors indoors practicing social distancing, LBDI Advocates got creative and implemented all sorts of digital engagement strategies to encourage engagement with the initiative. They refreshed their personal pitches, activated the power of influencers on social media, and leveraged financial matches from their own pockets. Many shared video messages with their friends and community to explain their personal “Why” for becoming an advocate and asking for support even as so many may be facing hardship themselves.

JLA member Veronica Crenshaw, serving as a 2020 LBDI advocate and posting a call to action for fundraising in her community

Early results indicate that their efforts are working. Though the inability to connect with supporters in person has somewhat impacted the way information about LBDI is shared, the initiative is clearly on its path to raise more $85,000 to support families and children facing great challenges during this unprecedented year.

Once fully completed, the results of this year’s campaign will provide financial support and trained volunteers to dozens of JLA partners, like Mercy Care, Chris 180 and Agape, that offer direct assistance to thousands of vulnerable Atlantans each year.

For more than 104 years, JLA has forged a route toward a more equitable Atlanta through hands-on service and advocacy. In order to effectively spread awareness for JLA’s Issue Based Community Initiatives like LBDI, the tools that JLA members have been equipped with must be used for transformative conversations that generate results beyond political or religious preferences, zip code or ethnic background.  Members of the league have leveraged their unique life experiences for courageous conversations that expose our collective truth; we all have something to offer in the march toward a more equitable Atlanta.

JLA VP of Marketing Neha Negandhi creating a video for JLA members and social media influencers asking them to share personal stories on why generational poverty is such an important topic

Not only are they increasing awareness, they are encouraging people to see how LBDI connects to the current movement for social justice. Edwina has lots of faith in the LBDI Advocates, “The Junior League Atlanta women have never shied away from the tough challenges.” LBDI Advocates illustrate that even our biggest problems can be impacted by the action of one. When the initiative was first adopted in 2014 a quarter of all children living in Georgia were facing poverty and food insecurity. With the collective effort of many, like JLA’s partner Atlanta Community Food Bank, that figure has been reduced to 1 in 5.

JLA continues inviting community members to invest in the league’s work to transform communities and equip women to serve and lead.


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