Leadership has chosen each and every one of us
We all have the ability to be leaders in our community, but we have to be in tune with the needs of our community.
That was one of the big takeaways from this year’s United Way of Greater Atlanta African-American Partnership Leadership Luncheon. This was our fourth year hosting the event, and it was the largest turnout we’ve ever had — we lined the event space at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta on Saturday with more than 1,300 people.
This year’s guest was Common, a hip-hop recording artist, Academy, Grammy and Golden Globe Award winner — he’s also the founder of the Common Ground Foundation. The organization focuses on nutrition and healthy living, financial literacy, character development and creative expression for inner-city youth in his hometown of Chicago.
He felt we all have to be activists in our community, and “be courageous and go outside some of the boundaries” that we have been raised with.
These are lessons we can apply to help further our mission with AAP. United Way of Greater Atlanta’s AAP is more than 1,000 members strong, all of whom support United Way at a leadership level. They give their time to make a difference in this community.
This group alone is responsible for raising $2.2 million annually for United Way. We are made up of donors with similar ideas in regard to giving, leadership and service. We were formed to bring together donors who were underrepresented, and in its first five years we saw a 75-percent membership increase because of partnerships with previously unreached groups.
AAP’s signature cause is to power the potential of African-American boys and young men toward academic achievement. Common spoke Saturday about things we can do in our community to accomplish this.
“In some shape, form or fashion, leadership has chosen us,” Common said. “No matter what your position is, leadership has chosen us.”
He went on to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from what is known as his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon from February 1968.
King said that, “If you want to be important— wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. But, recognize that he or she that is greatest among you shall be your servant. That is a new definition of greatness.”
Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.
“We don’t just have to serve the companies that we work for, you have to serve the people,” Common told the crowd Saturday. “One of the most important things you can do when it comes to serving people is to be an activist.
“To me, an activist is not just a person that may have stood on the frontlines — it’s a person that acts in love. A person that commits acts of love.”
As leaders in this community, we have to learn how to show love everywhere we go. We have to learn to love ourselves, we have to learn to get out of our comfort zones, we have to learn to give people a second chance, and we have to be in-tune with our people that are in our close proximity.
In our proximity — our 13-county coverage area— there are barriers placed on poverty, education, gender and especially race. There are opportunities and support structures that may or may not exist for young, African-American boys simply depending on their zip code.
We have to continue to remember the systemic, complex issues that we’re up against. The work we’re doing at AAP targets young men who are often missed by traditional social services. We have found that African-American boys and young men were falling behind with graduation rates, truancy and test scores. So, we developed the after school-type activities “Build a Library” program, which equips schools with fiction and non-fiction books, as well as books on finance and wealth management and all types of arts and science literature to schools.
In this way, we can be servants and help bridge the gap for young men in our close proximity.
Common quoted the late-great Muhammed Ali, legendary professional boxer, activist and philanthropist, before concluding his speech Saturday.
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,” Common said, quoting Ali. “Our rent is due, ya’ll.”
It’s our time to go out, serve and become leaders in Greater Atlanta. We have to do it for our country, for our community and we have to do it for our youth. Now is the time to do it. Our rent is due.
Bryan Vinson is the Senior Director, Corporate Strategy & Innovation at United Way of Greater Atlanta