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Reporter’s Notebook June 26: Another week of COVID, and reflecting on inclusion and fairness

Maggie Lee
Taking COVID-19 precautions at an NAACP march downtown on June 15. Cases are going up in Georgia. Gov. Brian Kemp said Friday he has no plans for any new limits on gathers, or for a mask mandate. Credit: Kelly Jordan

COVID-19 continues its rampage. The case count continues to rise in Georgia — part of it is better testing compared to March, but part of it is people resuming shopping, dining, partying, protesting and the like. Organizations are experiencing the pain too, from the new challenges to nonprofit fundraising to libraries that can’t open.

On to some of the events and people making news this week in metro Atlanta.

Tull Foundation names Gabrielle Sheely as its new leader

One of Atlanta’s largest philanthropic foundations – the Tull Charitable Foundation – has selected a new leader.

The Foundation’s board has selected Gabrielle K. Sheely as its next executive director, beginning on Aug. 3.

Sheely, a longtime civic leader, will succeed Barbara T. Cleveland, who will retire July 31 after serving as the Foundation’s first executive director for more than 33 years.

Bobbi Cleveland of the Tull Charitable Foundation

Bobbi Cleveland ,outgoing executive director of the Tull Charitable Foundation

During her tenure, Cleveland and the foundation’s trustees continued J.M. Tull’s legacy of commitment to the community. Also, Cleveland has been the leader who collaborates with others to tackle large-scale issues, leaving a lasting impact on every facet of metro Atlanta life.

“Bobbi Cleveland’s impact on this community will be celebrated by our Foundation at a time when we can gather our community’s leaders together without threat to health and safety from the coronavirus,” said Sylvia Dick, chair of the Tull Charitable Foundation. “In the meantime, we extend to Bobbi our congratulations, along with our deep gratitude and our lifelong friendship.”

Sheely joins the Foundation with 25 years of leadership, policy, and capacity-building experience in the public and nonprofit sectors, most recently as a consultant with GKS Consulting. Sheely has worked with Together Georgia on recommendations for the child welfare system, served as a judge for the Emerson Collective’s XQ Super School Project and played a key role in the reform of the New York City Public School System as both executive director of the Office of Youth Development and chief of staff to the Senior Counsel for Policy and Planning.

Gabrielle Keely soon to be with the Tull Charitable Foundation

Gabrielle Keely, soon to be executive director of the Tull Charitable Foundation

“As we welcome Gabby Sheely to our Foundation, we know that her background and broad community-based experience will serve our Foundation well as we collaborate with other foundations, understand evolving needs and issues, and make grants that have a meaningful impact in metro Atlanta,” Dick said.

“Gabby’s previous work has prepared her for the complexity that we are facing,” Dick continued. “One of the many complicated projects that Gabby has successfully managed is the co-authoring of the Georgia Department of Family & Children Services recommendations for the implementation of the Family First Prevention Act. We’re very excited and look forward to introducing her to everyone who has not met her.”

Sheely holds a J.D. degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law (at Yeshiva University) and a Bachelor of Science in Business from Skidmore College.

In preparation for this transition, the trustees of the Tull Foundation reviewed its 68-year history and clarified its strategic direction, The Foundation, with an endowment of $80 million, assists nonprofit organizations, primarily in metro Atlanta, to leverage their capacity to have greater impact on priority community needs.

By Maria Saporta

Arthur Blank and the Center for Civil and Human Rights

In a philanthropic gesture, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank has pledged to donate the proceeds from his upcoming book, GOOD COMPANY, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.

In the book GOOD COMPANY, Blank will shares his vision and roadmap for values-based business – first as a co-founder of the Home Depot and as a philanthropist and businessman. The book will be published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, on Sept. 15. It is available now for pre-order at www.arthurblank.com. Blank’s proceeds will go to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in perpetuity with an initial contribution of $300,000 to celebrate the memoir’s publication this fall.

Blank and his family foundation was one of the initial investors in the Center, which connects the civil rights movement to today’s struggle for global human rights.

“The Center stands for everything I personally believe in as it relates to educating, building community and fostering the principles of inclusion and fairness,” Blank said in a statement. “It is not only important to Atlanta, but for our entire world and our support of the Center from the beginning has been a natural extension of our family foundation and family of businesses. At this time, it is abundantly clear the Center’s mission remains important and imperative to the ongoing challenge of achieving equality, justice and the very ideals of freedom for all. I’m honored to support that mission in any way I can.”

Jill Savitt, president and CEO of the Center, said the honor is mutual, and she thanked Blank for “this most generous, lasting gift” to the Center.

“This support is the latest example of Arthur’s long-standing commitment to the Center – which began when we were just an idea more than a decade ago,” Savitt said. “Arthur and his family enabled us to build our museum and create its programs – which for six years have been inspiring visitors to tap their own power to promote rights and justice for all.”

–  By Maria Saporta

Westminster takes steps to be more inclusive

One of Atlanta’s most prestigious private schools – The Westminster Schools – sent a letter to its stakeholders outlining the steps it’s taking “to become a more equitable and inclusive community.”

Westminster engaged about 800 people associated with the school in conversation over the past three weeks – including its Black students, parents, alumni, past parents, faculty and staff, who offered insights about the school, including some who shared painful stories about their own experiences with racism.

Joel Murphy, chair of Westminster’s board and CEO of Preferred Apartment Communities

Joel Murphy, chair of Westminster’s board and CEO of Preferred Apartment Communities

“Sharing these distressing and heartbreaking stories has required great courage,” the letter stated. “We have listened and will continue to do so.”

The letter was signed by Joel Murphy, CEO of Preferred Apartment Communities who chairs the Westminster board and graduated from the school in 1976; and Keith Evans, president of Westminster.

“Our school community has a challenging journey ahead of us,” Murphy and Evans wrote. “We acknowledge that our words will ring hollow without tangible action that brings about change in our school. Black Lives Matter in our world, in America, in Atlanta, and at Westminster. We must resolve to envision the school we can become for every member of our community and the beacon we can be to others in this long-overdue transformation.”

The Westminster board voted unanimously on June 17 to designate a $5 million endowed fund to provide immediate permanent resources to support a long list initiatives and action steps.

They include:

  • Creating a new board committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that will be chaired by Dana Weeks Ugwonali;
  • Retain outside consulting support to conduct a comprehensive, objective assessment of Westminster’s climate, policies, and programs to identify opportunities to create a more inclusive school environment:
  • Establish a new full-time position reporting to the president to provide leadership, coordination, and community accountability of equity and inclusion initiatives across the whole school; and
  • Establish a Black Alumni Council to make recommendations regarding structure, leadership, and meaningful ways of engaging, mentoring, and supporting its Black alumni community.

Westminster’s leaders also pledged to effectively communicate to the entire school community about its commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. It also will explicitly state its intolerance of behaviors that compromise the experience of any community member.

Keith Evans, president of Westminster Schools

Keith Evans, president of Westminster Schools

The school will expand and deepen anti-racism education and cultural competency development for students, faculty, staff, administration, the board and parents. And it will integrate this learning as permanent parts of its curriculum and program of Westminster.

The school also will complete a thorough review and revision of the Pre-first to Twelfth Grade curriculum to incorporate the voices, experiences, history, and contributions of both Black and other historically underrepresented individuals and communities.

And it will review and revise its disciplinary policies in every division to ensure that neither racist nor discriminatory conduct is tolerated at Westminster.

Westminster also will create benchmarks and support systems for hiring and retaining Black and historically underrepresented faculty and staff.

And it will expand outreach and access to support the enrollment of Black and historically underrepresented students in all divisions of Westminster.

An interim progress report will be provided by Oct. 15, and the school will measure the Westminster’s community feedback for each initiative and provide annual reports on its progress.

By Maria Saporta

Hertz, Yates redouble Woodruff Arts Center efforts

The Woodruff Arts Center is turning to two veteran volunteers to guide the center through the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Woodruff Arts Center. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The top volunteer role – chairman of the Woodruff Arts Center board – has been assumed by Doug Hertz, chairman of family-owned United Distributors. He chaired the board about six years ago, and he stepped back in to fill the slot of Oxford Industries’ Tom Chubb, who had to postpone his chairmanship to focus on his business due to the coronavirus.

Morris, Manning & Martin Partner John Yates, who chaired the corporate campaign in 2018, has agreed to take on the chairmanship of the Woodruff Arts Center’s Development Committee, overseeing the center’s overall fundraising efforts.

“I can’t imagine anyone more well-respected than John Yates to lead this effort, especially given the challenges facing the arts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Woodruff Arts Center President and CEO Doug Shipman via press release. “He is a powerhouse in fundraising who is ideal to help us strategize, pursue our goals and rebuild.”

-By Maria Saporta and Maggie Lee

10 recommendations from Atlanta’s police use-of-force advisory council

It’ll take time to get to the root of the “cultural challenge” that results in Black males being disproportionately at the receiving end of police use of force, say the co-chairs of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ APD Use of Force Advisory Council.

It’s not a problem unique to Atlanta they write, but the Council did send the mayor 10 recommendations for the short term to improve things in Atlanta.

That includes things like ongoing officer assessments for mental health and implicit bias, deeper background checks for officers and immediately testing officers for drugs when a use-of-force incident results in serious injury or death.

Mayor Bottoms acted on three recommendations immediately. First, she asked the interim police chief to work on policies to get officers to wear body cameras more — the mayor’s office puts compliance with that rule now at about 94%.

Second, she asked staff for creation of a web portal where people can submit their own videos of use-of-force incidents.

Third, she asked some of her staff to help figure out ways to strengthen the Atlanta Citizen Review Board, the body that hears public complaints about the police. The ACRB can investigate those allegations and make recommendations to the police, but APD is not required to act on those recommendations.

The mayor’s advisory council is set to deliver a second report in about a month.

-By Maggie Lee

Fulton County Library to start curbside pickup July 1

A little relief is coming for Fulton readers who love physical books and scorn e-readers. The county library is going to offer curbside pickup of reserved material starting from July 1 at some libraries.

Gayle Holloman on stairs

Gayle Holloman, executive director, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, at the Auburn Avenue Research Library. File/Credit: Maggie Lee

The library director knows that’s still no help for folks who use library computers or love to attend in-person events, use meeting spaces or talk to staff.

“Please know library employees agree with you that it is not enough,” wrote system Director Gayle Holloman in an email to patrons.

She knows people want to come back into the libraries, “however for the safety of all of us, we will have to make that happen during a phased-in process.”

In the meantime, there are still virtual events, like online read-alongs for children. Check the system website for schedules.

And e-book and audiobook fans, please note: Fulton county recently spent about $838,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funding in an emergency procurement of library digital materials.

-By Maggie Lee

For your calendar:

July 19 – 21, various times: Some of Georgia has congressional runoff elections underway, and the Atlanta Press Club is hosting debates. Check the schedule for GPB broadcast and online livestreams. Archived video will be published on the Atlanta Press Club’s Facebook page.

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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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