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Reporter’s Notebook: Financial aid reinstated at Morris Brown after 20-year absence

The iconic Atlanta skyline, as seen from the Jackson Street Bridge. (Photo by Emilia Weinrobe)

Anyone looking to ring in the new year in the heart of the city is in luck — the iconic Peach Drop at Underground Atlanta is back this year after a three-year hiatus, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Atlanta-based hip-hop group Goodie Mob and singer Ashanti will headline the iconic New Year’s Eve celebration. 

More local news from the week: 

Morris Brown students can now apply for financial aid. (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Financial aid reinstated at Morris Brown after 20-year absence

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education reinstated the Federal Financial Aid program at Morris Brown College (MBC) after being canceled almost 20 years ago. 

The announcement followed the HBCU being granted accreditation candidacy by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) earlier this year. 

“Students can now pay to attend MBC which happens to be one of the most affordable colleges in the entire state of Georgia,” Dr. Kevin James, president of Morris Brown, said in a statement.

Students who attend the college can now apply for financial aid including pell grants, scholarships, work-study jobs or student loans. 

“Morris Brown is now a viable option to everyone as we are historically a haven for all hungry souls,” James added.

Allison Joyner

Atlanta City Council’s LGBTQ representation gets a boost

LGBTQ representation on the Atlanta City Council is getting a boost following the November elections.

Winning LGBTQ candidates set to take office include Liliana Bakhtiari in District 5, Alex Wan in District 6 and Keisha Sean Waites in the Post 3 at-large seat. 

Meanwhile, District 3 Councilmember Antonio Brown is on the way out after an unsuccessful run for mayor. Brown was the city’s first gay Black councilmember and the only LGBTQ member of the current council.

Wan is returning to the seat he first won in 2010, when he became the first openly gay man to serve on the council. Waites, who is lesbian, was a state representative in House District 60 from 2012 to 2017, serving as one of the few openly LGBTQ Georgia lawmakers.

Bakhtiari is queer and will be one of the few elected officials in the country to identify as nonbinary and genderfluid. That means a person who does not fit traditional, rigid definitions of male and female genders and who experiences different genders at different times. Bakhtiari prefers to use the pronoun “they.”

According to the Victory Fund, a nonprofit that trains LGBTQ candidates and attempts to keep count of those in office, there are 10 nonbinary or genderqueer people holding elected offices in the entire country. The only current nonbinary elected official in Georgia and the entire South, according to the Victory Fund, is Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Jesse Houle.

John Ruch

The Empty Stocking Fund and YMCA of Metro Atlanta will provide holiday gifts for 30,000 local kids. (Photo by Mariana Rascão, Unsplash)

YMCA and Empty Stocking Fund distribute 30,000 gifts for holiday season

For the second year in a row, the YMCA of Metro Atlanta and The Empty Stocking Fund have teamed up to ensure that 30,000 local children have a gift with their name on it this holiday season. 

The Atlanta-based Empty Stocking Fund provides free toys and other goods for kids, and fifteen YMCA locations around the metro area have been converted into toy distribution centers. 

The process is simple — parents fill out an application showing proof of benefits, and once they’re approved they can select a gift from Stocking Fund’s online inventory and collect it by Dec. 21. Registration has now closed.

Allison Toller, chief social impact officer at the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, says the initiative is a step towards “getting outside the walls of the Y to meet the needs of the community.”

“A big part of our focus over the next five years is shifting our focus to helping the community understand the Y as a true community resource center,” Toller told SaportaReport. “The Y is a convener and can bring different partners together to bring resources closer to the community.”

If you pass by your local YMCA this month, you might see a bustling group of volunteers, or as Toller puts it, “holiday community elves.” 

Hannah E. Jones

“It’s just silly,” says Kevin Green, the president and CEO of the Midtown Alliance, about the idea of a “Midtown City.” (Photo by Emilia Weinrobe)

A ‘Midtown City’ to follow Buckhead cityhood?

An anonymous website popped up this month claiming to be a group that will seek a “Midtown City” if Buckhead cityhood is approved. 

But are they serious? 

“Anybody with 50 bucks and a computer can create a website,” says Kevin Green, the president and CEO of the Midtown Alliance, a nonprofit business and community association. “It’s just silly.”

The website, midtowncity.com, claims a “Midtown City Exploratory Committee” is considering the hypothetical city to include “at a minimum” the neighborhoods of Ansley Park, Midtown, Morningside and Virginia-Highland. It also cryptically claims to be paying particular attention to “David Perdue’s advocacy for self-determination,” an apparent reference to the Republican gubernatorial challenger’s support for a Buckhead cityhood vote.

“We prefer Buckhead and Midtown to remain in the City of Atlanta,” says the website’s mission statement. “Should Buckhead City vote to incorporate, our objective will be to enable Midtown and surrounding immediate neighborhoods to quickly take advantage of this emerging opportunity and create another independent city to improve the lives and wellbeing of its residents.”

According to state records, an LLC called A Midtown City Group was incorporated in June, but the filing does not show whether it has anything to do with the purported cityhood movement. The LLC’s registered organization could not be reached for comment.

John Ruch

City of Atlanta marks the start of Light Up the Night program

Earlier this week, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Councilmember Andrea Boone hosted a ceremony to mark the start of the city’s Light Up the Night initiative.

In April, Bottoms announced plans to install 10,000 additional street lights throughout the city to reduce crime and car crashes. 

The city will now begin installing the streetlights citywide. The Atlanta Department of Transportation teamed up with industrial engineering students at Georgia Tech to determine the locations. 

The team estimates that increased lights in neighborhoods could decrease crime by 20 percent. 

Hannah E. Jones

The 2021 edition of the Georgia Water Coalition’s “Dirty Dozen” report.

‘Dirty Dozen’ report includes three waterways in metro Atlanta

Three waterways in metro Atlanta are listed in the annual “Dirty Dozen” report on endangered rivers, released Tuesday by the Georgia Water Coalition.

The Chattahoochee is listed twice. One listing cites algae blooms attributed to nonpoint source pollution. The other is for coal ash to be stored in place, in unlined pits, at Georgia Power facilities in Cobb and Carroll Counties.

The Flint River is cited for the pollution running into the river from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Whitewater Creek, near Fayetteville, is cited for runoff from developments including Trilith Studios, formerly Pinewood Atlanta Studios, and nearby developments.

The Georgia Water Coalition has released “Dirty Dozen” reports annually since 2011. The coalition states it represents more than 285 entities with an interest in protecting rivers in Georgia.

David Pendered

Site of arrest that led to infamous Supreme Court LGBTQ rights case to get historic marker

The Atlanta house where a gay man’s arrest for sodomy led to an infamous U.S. Supreme Court case will get a state historic marker next year, a pioneering recognition of LGBTQ history.

The marker is part of an LGBTQ history effort from the nonprofit preservation group Historic Atlanta and co-sponsored by the civil rights organization Lambda Legal. The Georgia Historical Society, which administers the state marker program, approved the site earlier this year for installation in 2022. 

The marker at Ponce de Leon Place and Greenwood Avenue in Virginia-Highland will note the location of the arrest that led to the 1986 case Bowers v. Hardwick. Historic Atlanta says it will be the first state marker about LGBTQ history.

The marker is one of six statewide approved by GHS this year for 2022 installation. Another notable Atlanta site getting markers are Techwood Homes and University Homes, the pioneering public housing complexes near Georgia Tech.

There are over 2,100 state historical markers in Georgia. GHS has erected over 300 since taking over management of the program from the state in 1998. 

“This is the first directly dealing with LGBTQ history and the gay rights movement,” said Elyse Butler, the GHS’s marker manager, about the Bowers v. Hardwick marker.

In 1982, Michael Hardwick, who worked at a gay bar called the Cove, was cited by Atlanta Police Department Officer Keith Torick for public drinking. Hardwick settled the matter, but after confusion about a missed court date, the officer went to Hardwick’s home with an invalid arrest warrant. Torick entered the home, where he saw Hardwick and another man engaged in oral sex, which under Georgia law at the time could be prosecuted as felony sodomy. Torick arrested both men for sodomy, but the case was thrown out. 

Hardwick then sued the state, represented by Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers, to have the sodomy law declared unconstitutional. In a landmark decision, the court upheld the sodomy law as constitutional in a narrow 5-4 vote. The decision is now regarded as bigoted and poorly reasoned, and was overturned by the court itself in the 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, making it an unusually short-lived precedent. The Supreme Court of Georgia acted even earlier, declaring the state sodomy law unconstitutional in 1998.

Hardwick left Atlanta and died of AIDS-related complications in 1991. Bowers went on to become a high-profile opponent of “religious freedom” laws aimed at restricting LGBTQ rights.

A formal unveiling ceremony for the marker at Hardwick’s former home is expected around June of 2022, according to Charles Lawrence, Historic Atlanta’s board chair. Historic Atlanta was founded to focus on underrepresented history. The group has an LGBTQ history committee that, among other things, is working on a study of Atlanta’s historic sites.

John Ruch

Morehouse, Spelman, other HBCUs share $2 million gift from Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation

Yesterday, Morehouse College announced new scholarship opportunities courtesy of the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation. 

“Students represent the best of the human spirit– passion, curiosity and boundless dreams,” Ralph Lauren, executive chairman and chief creative officer of the Ralph Lauren Corporation said in a statement.  

Morehouse along with neighboring Spelman College and ten additional Historically Black Colleges and Universities will receive a $2 million contribution over a five-year period. 

“Through educational investments, which help elevate the creativity and professional competence of talented students of color, we today empower the innovations who will develop the fashions, products and services the world will demand tomorrow,” Dr. David Thomas, president of Morehouse College said in the statement. 

The scholarships will be circulated through the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and will be rewarded to the institutions that meet several criteria including currently unmet funding needs, enrollment rates, proximity to Ralph Lauran Corporation’s U.S. operation centers and institutions that have disciplines and curricula that foster careers in the retail industry. 

“African American communities remain disproportionately impacted by the lack of resources needed to go to and through college. The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation is fueling our ability to move the needle further for deserving, talented students who want to earn degrees, but just lack the resources to do so,” Dr. Michael Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF also said in a statement.

Allison Joyner

The express lanes along I-75, north of I-285, were built under an Alternative Contracting Method. (Photo by David Pendered)

GDOT to set new rules for private sector partnerships

Georgia spends about $1 billion a year on road construction and maintenance, according to its budget. The public has through Dec. 20 to comment on a proposed shift in how the state funds and builds transportation projects.

The proposed regulations would set terms for a process the state has used in recent years to build and fund projects including the express lanes along I-75, north of I-285, and the reconstruction of the interchange at Ga. 400 and I-285. 

Express lanes around the northern arc of I-285 are the next project planned under this method. The state is negotiating with potential private sector partners to design, build and finance the toll lanes. The new wrinkle is for the partner to maintain the lanes for 50 years.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has posted details for public response to the proposed Alternative Contracting Method here. The Transportation Board is to consider adopting the proposals at its meeting on Jan. 20, 2022. All comments must be received by GDOT by 5 p.m. on Dec. 20.

David Pendered

Atlanta Preservation Center archives head to GSU Special Collections

The Atlanta Preservation Center’s (APC) archives are headed to the Georgia State University Library in a deal announced this week that will include a graduate student internship.

The library’s Special Collections & Archives will be the official repository for 42 years’ worth of documents of the historic preservation nonprofit’s work, from maps to photos to electronic records and beyond. The student intern from GSU’s historic preservation program will work with APC on transferring the records and digitizing them for online research.

“This will ensure that what we have done (and continue to do) will be available to everyone interested in the culture and identity of Atlanta through our mission of advocacy and education by the craft of historic preservation,” said APC Executive Director David Yoakley Mitchell.

“This partnership is a natural fit with GSU’s goals and mission to provide opportunities for real-world learning and experience for our students while also serving as a true community partner,” said Christina J. Zamon, the head of Special Collections & Archives.

Zamon noted that GSU is also working with APC on the renovation of the historic Bell buildings on Auburn Avenue. GSU in 2015 proposed demolishing those buildings but reversed course after outcry from preservationists. The buildings are slated to become the home of GSU’s National Institute for Student Success.

John Ruch

(L to R, top to bottom) Paige Martin, Evonne B. Lapsey, Mary Anne Lanier, Laurene Hamilton, Ellen Miller and Scott Porter

Georgia Audubon announces new Board Chair and board members

Early next year, Georgia Audubon will welcome a new Board Chair and four additions to the Board of Directors. 

Paige Martin, who works as the global director of development, science and ocean protection for The Nature Conservancy, will step into the role of Board Chair next month.

Mary Anne Lanier, Laurene Hamilton, Scott Porter and Ellen Miller were elected by current board members for three-year terms. One board member, Evonne Blythers Lapsey, was re-elected for a second term. 

Georgia Audubon is a non-profit that combines conservation, education and community engagement to enjoy and protect the wild bird population.

Hannah E. Jones

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Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native who recently graduated from Georgia State University, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah is excited about the opportunity to serve the City of Atlanta and its people. Hannah can be reached at hannah@atlantaciviccircle.org.

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