By Guest Columnist MICHAEL HALICKI, executive director of Park Pride

Monday, Jan. 18, is the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, an occasion that calls on us all to honor the legacy of Dr. King and to consider whether our individual actions follow in his example.

Michael Halicki
Michael Halicki

In line with the spirit of the day, I want to provide a few updates on Park Pride’s efforts to deepen our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion since we first made public our efforts to engage in these issues last year. These highlights are part of a larger body of DEI-related work that began in 2020 and will continue in 2021 and the years ahead.

Park Pride Grant Program

Last summer, Park Pride announced structural changes to its Grant Program to make it more accessible to low-income communities. Among other changes, Park Pride committed to deploy one-third of the Legacy Grant Program dollars through awards that waive the matching requirement for Friends of the Park groups in low-income neighborhoods in the City of Atlanta.*

Following this announcement, we increased outreach efforts to engage communities that previously had struggled with the Grant Program’s matching requirements and provided tailored support as they moved through the grant application process. This month, we announced the grantees for both Legacy Grants and Community Building Grants. I am pleased to report that the one-third commitment has been exceeded, with more than 56% of total grant dollars awarded to support parks in low-income neighborhoods (an achievement that has been reached in part thanks to matching support provided by the City of Atlanta).

turkey foot creek, Cascade Springs Nature Preserve
The Friends of Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, traversed by Turkey Foot Creek, received a Park Pride grant for improvements including a more welcoming greenspace with an ADA-accessible pedestrian entrance, more places for people to gather, and increase safety with lighting. Credit:

These grants will fund a wide variety of exciting projects in Atlanta and unincorporated DeKalb, including new and innovative playscapes, ADA-accessibility improvements, walking and biking trails, new dog parks, a new nature center, and more. You can view the full list of awards and project descriptions on our website.

Park Pride believes that everyone deserves access to great parks, trails, and greenspace. We’ve set new benchmarks to ensure that resources are distributed equitably and have removed barriers to entry. We plan to build upon this effort in the year ahead. In this work, we will be supporting efforts by local community groups to build capacity to affect positive change in the world around them. This is certainly something to celebrate this MLK day.

Increased Board and Staff Diversity

Last year, we also expressed a desire to diversify our board and staff. While still a work in progress, our recent new board member announcement is a step in the right direction. These individuals bring leadership, expertise and perspective that will help Park Pride advance our mission with an eye on equity. With their support, the support of Park Pride’s DEI Committee, and the support of the entire board of directors, Park Pride is better equipped to navigate complex challenges that impact our work and the communities we serve.

Additionally, Park Pride will fill two open positions this year, and we will take advantage of this opportunity to diversify our predominantly white staff. We understand the importance of representation and will continue to expand our recruitment efforts and broaden our candidate pool moving forward. Addressing staff diversity is a priority area of improvement for the organization.

In support of these efforts, we will continue to work with an external DEI consultant to support efforts to engage the full board and staff in advancing the culture change that is underway.

“A Day On, Not a Day Off”

But, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is about more than reflection. It’s about action! Like so many other nonprofits across the country, Park Pride recognizes this holiday as “a day on, not a day off.” It is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.

Michael Halicki (left), Park Pride executive director, and his family (Harrison, Rosemary and Jennifer) gear up for a volunteer service project at Grant Park on MLK Day. Other Park Pride staff are also volunteering at other small scale, socially-distanced park volunteer projects throughout Atlanta and DeKalb this MLK Day. Special: Michael Halicki

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to forgo our traditional large-scale, all-hands workday beautifying and improving a public park, there are so many ways for you to make a difference in your neighborhood greenspace and in your community – such as volunteering in a park (solo or with your pod), supporting parks from home, or visiting parks and trails significant to the occasion. Today, I am volunteering in a park with my family (a longstanding family tradition). Additionally, Park Pride staff members are dispersed in parks across Atlanta cleaning up litter, spreading mulch, removing invasive plants, keeping a safe distance (and wearing masks) with small groups of dedicated Friends of the Park volunteers who haven’t let the pandemic derail their commitment to beautifying their neighborhood greenspaces (while staying safe). I’d like to thank these groups for their passion and dedication to their communities during a time when parks are needed most.

I’d also like to thank park workers, who work on the front line day in and day out to maintain our parks for all to enjoy. Your efforts have been essential to upholding the quality of life for residents during this pandemic, and it does not go unnoticed. Thank you.

In closing, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service calls on you to give back, today and every day. It’s not too late to get involved. Check out Park Pride’s website for ideas and guidance on ways to commemorate MLK’s legacy through service to your park and community.

Footnote: The neighborhoods defined as Community Development Impact Areas are where at least 51% of the population are at or below 80% of the Atlanta area median income.

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