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Reporter’s Notebook: Morehouse College teams up with MTV to premiere MLK tribute video

A mural featuring Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King at Joseph E. Boone Blvd. and Sunset Avenue in Atlanta. (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Last weekend, metro Atlanta residents woke up to snow for the first time in several years. Granted, a snow day in the South usually means making a miniature snowman using the flurries collected on top of your car, but it was a snow day nonetheless. 

Some folks were hopeful that more snow could be on the horizon for this coming weekend, but current projections show that the chances are slim. There’s still a chance for flurries on Friday, though, so be on the lookout for a visit from Jack Frost.

On to other news from the metro area:

Morehouse College teams up with MTV to premiere MLK tribute video

Morehouse’s Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies (CTEMS) program recently collaborated with MTV Entertainment Group to showcase the short film, “Here We Are” to honor Morehouse graduate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Providing unique learning experiences outside of the physical classroom is imperative for a robust educational program,” CTEMS academic program chair Dr. Stephane Dunn said in a statement. 

Based on the HBCU’s expression “a candle in the dark,” the film focuses on the legacy of the 1948 graduate and links it to the present-day civil rights movement and how his teachings have helped guide progress for the continued movement for Black liberation.

“The team effort for this national brand allowed us to showcase the research and intellectual productivity as well as the professional experience and skill development possible at Morehouse,” Dunn added.

MTV Entertainment Group supplied their platform, resources and funds to give the institution’s next class of transformative storytellers the opportunity to celebrate the school’s most internationally beloved alumni. 

“This is an extremely talented group of up-and-coming filmmakers and they’ve created a powerful piece that we’re proud to air across all our channels,” Jason White, chief marketing officer for MTV Entertainment Group, said in a statement. 

The film is now being aired on MTV Entertainment Group’s nine channels including MTV, VH1, Country Music Television CMT and Comedy Central now and throughout February. 

— Allison Joyner

Sandra Thompson. (Photo from banking.senate.gov)

Federal Housing Nominee: ‘Black-white homeownership gap is wider than it was in the 1960s’

Even before Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff could ask a question, President Biden’s nominee to oversee the agency that’s to ensure access to safe and affordable housing crystallized the extent of the nation’s housing challenge.

“Today, the Black-white homeownership gap is wider than it was in the 1960s when lending discrimination that was based on race was still legal,” Sandra Thompson, Biden’s nominee to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said.

Ossoff secured Thompson’s commitment to help Georgians if she is confirmed.

“Will you work with me and community leaders in those cities and communities across the state of Georgia to identify solutions, particular to the needs of my state, to help bring more housing supply online, add units, and help folks afford homes?” Ossoff asked.

“[W]e are very much committed to working with you and all members of this Congress to try to do what we can to address this issue,” Thompson responded.

The exchange occurred at the Jan. 13 meeting of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Thompson has until Jan. 24 to respond to any questions senators may submit to the committee. The chairman indicated he expects the committee will endorse Thompson’s nomination.

– David Pendered

Georgia State University ranked no. 10 in the nation for research expenditures across all non-science and engineering field. (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Georgia State University sets institutional record for research spending

In the 2020 fiscal year, Georgia State University (GSU) dedicated $202.4 million to research-related costs, setting an institutional record. GSU also earned $150.2 million in external research funding during the same fiscal year.

The university has amped up its research spending by 150 percent in the past decade.

According to an annual survey by the National Science Foundation, GSU is ranked no. 10 in the nation for research expenditures across all non-science and engineering fields. The survey ranked the university’s research costs across multiple focus areas, and education was ranked 11th, and social work was ranked 13th. 

“We are proud to have set a new university record for expenditures, particularly during a year in which many institutions were negatively impacted by the pandemic,” Tim Denning, GSU vice president for research and economic development, said in a press release. “Beyond the numbers, it’s also rewarding to see our diverse community of scholars tackling global challenges that span disciplines.”

Hannah E. Jones

New Atlanta-based climate justice organization launches this weekend

Sustainable Georgia Futures, an advocacy group geared towards addressing climate injustice and systemic racism, will debut this Saturday, Jan. 22. 

The organization will tackle these issues by building power within communities of color — particularly Black communities — to help create a green economy, one that has a low carbon footprint and a socially inclusive system.

In an introductory email, Founder and Executive Director Adrienne L. Rice explained that she started the organization because “I was angry.”

She continued: “The income inequality plaguing Atlanta is painfully obvious, and the inequity falls hardest on Black people. The more I learned about the emerging green economy, the more clearly I saw the intersection of climate justice, the racial wealth gap and systemic racism. I was inspired to build a movement of people like me – Black, southern, working-class and fighting to build a sustainable future with our families.”

Click here to RSVP for the official launch, where folks can learn more about their mission. 

Hannah E. Jones

False claim about unearthing Atlanta’s historic locomotive is derailed by fact-checkers

We here at SaportaReport were scratching our heads as to why a six-year-old story about the historic locomotive the Texas was getting a ton of traffic this month.

Turns out the Texas was the subject of a bizarre Facebook post claiming the 1856 engine had recently been dug up like some Indiana Jones artifact. The falsehood was spread more than 39,000 times before finally being debunked by journalists on the other side of the planet and sparking much Googling of Atlanta media stories along the way.

In reality, the City-owned locomotive was removed in 2015 from its decades-long display at the old Cyclorama building in Grant Park for restoration, and, in 2017, was moved to a new exhibit at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead. To get the locomotive out of the Cyclorama building, it was rolled out of a tunnel and excavated area, then hoisted by a crane. 

The false story came on Jan. 4 from one Tod Riebow, the administrator of a Facebook group for fans of steam-powered vehicles and devices. He posted 2015 photos of the Texas sitting in its excavated area awaiting the crane, along with the claim: “An amazing find in Atlanta! They’ve uncovered the remains of a Civil War era steam locomotive in pristine condition on the grounds of the Atlanta Cyclorama.”

The story steamed around the globe before it was derailed by the “Anti Fake News War Room” at the news magazine India Today, which proved superior at Googling and published a story about how the post led people “down the wrong track.”

The History Center on social media thanked India Today “for formally debunking the myth.”

The Texas is a heavily refurbished relic of Atlanta’s origins as a railroad city and also played a role in a famous train chase during the Civil War. Read more about it on the History Center’s website or go check it out for yourself.

— John Ruch

City seeks ‘African-American Heritage Coordinator’ to help save Black history sites

The City of Atlanta is taking another big step toward diversifying historic preservation by seeking an “African-American Heritage Coordinator.”

Posted Jan. 7 by the Department of City Planning, the job entails supporting a variety of plans, policies and divisions, “all with a focus on the City of Atlanta’s African American cultural and physical heritage.” 

The coordinator will report to Doug Young, the assistant director for historic preservation in the department’s Office of Design – a.k.a., the City’s chief preservationist. Young notes that the position was a key recommendation of the Future Places Project, the City’s recently created historic preservation policy guide, “and its goal ‘to ensure that Atlanta retains its historic identity as the city moves forward.’” He says it also “fulfills some of the principles” of the Atlanta City Design, the City’s planning vision.

Part of the job involves identifying properties and neighborhoods for historic district or landmark designations. The City has already made deliberate moves to better recognize African American history over the past year, including with the landmarking of the Old Fourth Ward’s Fuller-Freedom House, a Civil Rights organizing site, and the Capitol View Masonic Lodge, which was home a federal union that fought racial discrimination. 

It’s all part of a national trend to diversify historic preservation beyond traditional white-and-wealthy people and places. Another local effort in that vein is the private nonprofit Historic Atlanta, which has a Special Committee on Black Heritage involved in some effective preservation efforts.

For details of the African-American Heritage Coordinator job, see the City’s job posting.

 — John Ruch

Ella Blumenthal

Faith and Fortitude event featuring Holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal

On Sunday, Jan. 23, Am Yisrael Chai will host its annual Holocaust Remembrance event, Faith and Fortitude. The event is a precursor to the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27. 

Ella Blumenthal, a Holocaust survivor living in Cape Town, South Africa, will join the virtual event as a keynote speaker. 

Blumenthal is a survivor of the Auschwitz, Majdanek, Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. She recently celebrated her 100th birthday. 

Am Yisrael Chai is a local nonprofit that provides Holocaust education and genocide awareness to bar prejudice and genocide, creating a more just world.

Click here to find more information about the Holocaust Remembrance event on Sunday.

Hannah E. Jones

Community Foundation awards $1 million in grants to local art organizations

The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has announced that $1 million in grants will go to 29 local small and mid-sized art organizations. The recipients cover a vast array of artistic pursuits, including dance, design, music, live performance, film, visual arts and journalism.

The grants are offered through the Foundation’s Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund and will range from $10,000 to $90,000, depending on the organization’s annual operating budget. The funds are distributed in one or two-year timeframes. 

Among the recipients is Dad’s Garage, Hammonds House Galleries and Georgia State University’s Rialto Center for the Arts

“As we continue to struggle with impacts of the COVID pandemic, we aim to lift up those organizations that bring the light of the arts to our region and provide access to much-needed creative expression of the time at hand,” President and CEO Frank Fernandez wrote in a press release. “The arts can create indelible moments in time as well as bring together communities around a common story. Our arts sector is strong and holds promise for a bright future ahead.”

Hannah E. Jones

The Promise Homes Company closes on a ​​$200 million debt facility

The Promise Homes Company, the largest Black-owned single-family rental company in the U.S., has secured a $200 million debt facility from Barings, a global investment management firm. 

The facility is part of the venture to grow Promise Homes’ portfolio of rental homes to an institutional scale, which will expand its financial incentive offerings to middle-class and working-class residents. The Promise Homes provides support for its residents by assisting residents transitioning from renters to homeowners and free-of-charge financial literacy education through a partnership with Operation HOPE. 

This transaction will also allow Promise Homes to provide more housing at affordable rates. The company currently has 663 homes in its portfolio, aiming to reach over 10,000 homes in the next two to four years. 

“This transaction provides an unparalleled proof point that Promise Homes’ mission of ‘doing well by doing good’ can, in fact, be profitable for all stakeholders,” Founder, Chairman and CEO John Hope Bryant said in a press release. “Now, Promise Homes is growing from an entrepreneurial concept to a scaled business.”

Hannah E. Jones

Proposed location of Brightmark plant. (Map by google.com, David Pendered)

Environmentalists say state should ensure planned plastics plant doesn’t pollute air

A dozen organizations on Tuesday asked state environmental officials to ensure a proposed plastics-to-fuel plant in Macon complies with legal air pollution limits.

The proposed Brightmark Plastics Renewal Georgia has the potential to emit large quantities of air pollution. Any air permits the state may award to Brightmark should set specific limits on materials the plant would be allowed to release, according to the comment submitted to the Air Protection Branch of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The Southern Environmental Law Center submitted the public comment on behalf of itself and 11 entities including Environment Georgia, Georgia Clinicians for Climate Action, Georgia Conservation Voters, Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, Middle Georgia Trout Unlimited Chapter 435, Mothers & Others for Clean Air, Save Oaky Woods, Save Our Rivers, Science for Georgia, the Sierra Club Georgia Chapter, and Southface Institute. 

The mayor of Macon-Bibb County cited public health concerns in his announcement this month that he now opposes the planned facility. Brightmark has not indicated any willingness to abandon the site in south Macon it announced in July with support from Pat Wilson, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development; Gov. Brian Kemp; and others.

– David Pendered

Historic gas station’s demolition heads to City review

An application to demolish a historic gas station in Cabbagetown is headed to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission (AUDC) next week, apparently with little hope of saving the structure.

The now vacant gas station at 600 Memorial Drive, at the intersection with Boulevard, was built in 1952 to serve the booming automobile era in general, and especially tourists headed to the then-new Confederate monument on Stone Mountain. The property is included in Cabbagetown’s historic district on the National Register of Historic Places but left out of a City Landmark District for the neighborhood, apparently inadvertently. That means it has no official historic protections. Preservationists have said that means there is little hope of saving it.

Reuse plans over the years have failed and the property is now the target of code complaints. The City’s permitting database shows no applications for a redevelopment of the property.

The AUDC, which reviews proposed changes to historic structures, is scheduled to hear the demo application at its Jan. 26 meeting

— John Ruch

Pam Tatum

Quality Care for Children President and CEO resigns, search for replacement

Pam Tatum, president and CEO of the Atlanta-based nonprofit Quality Care for Children (QCC), has announced that she will step down from the role and retire in March. 

Tatum has served in the role since 2004 and is the third person who has held the position since the organization was founded.

QCC provides resources for families and childcare professionals to help support healthy childhood development. Under Tatum’s leadership, the team has doubled its staff, tripled its operating budget and established the first statewide child care referral service, 1-877-ALL-GA-KIDS.

“Pam’s knowledge and experience in early care and learning are among the best in the entire country. Her impact on improving the lives of children in Georgia is immeasurable,” Jerry Boerner, former QCC Board of Directors Chair, wrote in a press release. “Because of Pam, the future of child care in Georgia is brighter, and the potential for the continued success of Quality Care for Children is greater!”

Tatum added: “It has been such an honor and privilege to lead this organization and to work on an issue I care about so deeply. My decision to retire comes after much thought and hand-wringing, but I know that now is the right time to welcome new leadership in order for QCC to positively impact even more Georgia families and children.”

QCC’s Board of Trustees has formed a search committee to conduct a national search for its next CEO later this month. 

Hannah E. Jones

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in Atlanta

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visited Clark Atlanta University to highlight the need for voting rights protection. Click here to check out Kelly Jordan’s photo gallery of their visit.

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Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native and Georgia State University graduate, 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 can be reached at hannah@saportareport.com.

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