Leadership Atlanta 2020 – the 50th anniversary class

By Maria Saporta

I have joined a cult – in the best sense of the word.

This past weekend, I attended the opening retreat of Leadership Atlanta’s 2020 class, and I will add the mandatory – best class ever.

Our weekend experience has shifted my whole attitude about my decision to apply and participate in this nine-month-long adventure – from trepidation to excitement.

The trepidation was multifold.

I was concerned (still am) about the time commitment involved and whether I would end up short-changing all my other obligations,  Leadership Atlanta or both. That’s one reason for this column. I wanted SaportaReport readers to be aware of what was going on in my life and be patient with me as I attempted to juggle this new obligation.

Leadership Atlanta’s 2020 class (Photo by Kenneth Ashley, class of 2014)

Also, I was worried that as a journalist my presence would be intimidating to my fellow 80 classmates, who deservedly expect confidentiality from our gatherings. It was an issue I openly discussed with the group, and I pledged that I would not write about what class members said in our program sessions so they would be able to speak freely.

Sometimes it’s difficult to separate oneself from what one does professionally. That’s especially true in my professions. Journalists are constantly listening, learning and asking questions. It’s our way of digesting information before we share it with others. But in my nearly four decades as a journalist, I have learned how to respect people’s confidentiality and to know when something is on- and off-the-record.

So, for the record, our Leadership Atlanta sessions will be off-the-record.

Yet I hope to be able to share with my readers elements of our overall experience and write about the role Leadership Atlanta has played in the past 50 years. Being in the 50thclass makes it extra special. Eric Barnum, class of 2014, is the 2020 program chair. And the message for this year’s class is: “A vision of leadership. A vision of love.”

Eric Barnum, program chair of Leadership Atlanta’s 2020 class (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Certainly I hope my readers will benefit from what I will learn throughout the year and from the new relationships I am forming with my classmates.

Since it was announced earlier this year that I would be in the 2020 class, the most frequent comment I’ve gotten is: “I can’t believe you haven’t already done Leadership Atlanta.”

My stock answer is that I never had the money or the time to do it. And then I admit that I still don’t.

So when David Rubinger, the publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, found out I had never done Leadership Atlanta, he offered to pay half the cost. It was such a generous offer that I couldn’t turn it down. He also has advised me to make the most out of the year – even if it means having to cut back on some other parts of my life. Thank you David for your generous support – personally and professionally.

The other comment I get is: “You could teach this class.” Well, in full disclosure, I have made numerous presentations to Leadership Atlanta and LEAD Atlanta (the program for younger leaders) over decades.

Theme of Leadership Atlanta’s 2020 class

But as a journalist, I know the search for knowledge is a lifelong quest. Leadership Atlanta will be yet another opportunity for me to learn. Getting perspectives from a diverse group of leaders will certainly broaden my own horizons and perspectives.

The opening weekend at Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, Ga. reassured me that this will be a worthwhile experience. It will challenge all of us to get out of our comfort zones and to strive for deeper levels of engagement as we seek to improve the city and the region we all love.

Camp Twin Lakes is case in point. The idea was birthed by Doug Hertz, CEO of United Distributors, and the initiative was adopted by his 1990 Leadership Atlanta class. Thanks to the connections made during the year and to the relationships Hertz developed, land was secured and money was raised so that the camp opened in 1993.

So it certainly is appropriate for the opening class retreat (sponsored by Delta Air Lines) to have been held at Camp Twin Lakes for the past two decades.

Welcoming sign at Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Perhaps the most amazing part of the weekend to me were the 150 Leadership Atlanta alums who served as volunteers – making sure we were welcomed and doing much of the heavy lifting of all the weekend activities.

And that’s where the cult comes in. There were volunteers from classes dating back to the 1980s to as recently as last year’s class. They all proudly identified the year of their class followed by the mandatory: “best class ever.”

The other universal comment they shared was that Leadership Atlanta had changed their lives.

Then it dawned on me, Leadership Atlanta is not just a one-year deal. Quite the opposite. Your class becomes part of your life, and you all become part of the Leadership Atlanta alumni cult.

Welcome aboard. Our journey has just begun.

A Facebook post from Ricky Steele, class of 1986, showing me in the act of trying to catch a water balloon – one of the team-building activities of Leadership Atlanta’s opening weekend (Photo by Ricky Steele)

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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