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Reporter’s Notebook: Okefenokee Swamp recognized as place of “unrivaled beauty”

The Okefenokee Swamp offers refuge for threatened and endangered species. (Photo by Carlo Lisa, Unsplash)

Happy April Fools! With the day almost upon us, let’s take a look at the history of this somewhat strange tradition. And don’t worry, this isn’t an April Fools joke. The day of trickery may be tied to the spring equinox, according to HISTORY, a period where Mother Nature fools us with unpredictable weather. The tradition eventually spread throughout Britain during the 18th century and in Scotland, April Fools became a two-day event where people were sent on phony errands. 

Some pranks have gone down in modern history — like Taco Bell’s announcement in 1996 that the company was buying the Liberty Bell and renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Let’s see what’s in store for this year.

On to other recent news:

The Okefenokee Swamp. (Photo by Joe Cook)

Georgia House urges protection of Okefenokee Swamp

The Okefenokee Swamp was recognized Wednesday by the Georgia House as a place of “unrivaled beauty” worthy of protection.

The resolution has no legal bearing on the pending proposal from Twin Pines Minerals, LLC to mine heavy mineral sands from a site 2.9 miles from the southeast edge of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The resolution does put the House on record as endorsing “the importance of the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia.”

“Symbolically, this is a great first step for our legislators on the path to protect the Okefenokee in the future,” Rena Ann Peck, executive director of the Georgia River Network, wrote in a text message. “It shows an emotional will and demonstrates consensus.”

After nine clauses establishing the significance of the swamp, the resolution concludes: “Now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Representatives that the members of this body recognize the importance of the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and encourage efforts to protect the Okefenokee Swamp and promote it as an international tourist destination.”

Read House Resolution 1158.

— David Pendered

The program received a 2019 Governor’s Award for the Arts & Humanities. (Photo courtesy of Hal Jacobs)

Common Good Atlanta: A film following the journey of incarcerated students

“Common Good Atlanta: Breaking Down the Walls of Mass Incarceration” is a recently-released film that follows incarcerated students who find growth and freedom through education. The film was created by Hal Jacobs, a local documentarian.

Back in 2008, Georgia State Ph.D. student Sarah Higinbotham wanted to teach a literature class in a Georgia prison, but she couldn’t find a state prison that offered college programs. So, she started her own, called Common Good Atlanta.

A program that started small has now grown into a substantial operation, with over 70 faculty from six universities, reaching over 700 incarcerated students in four prisons. 

The film will be screened several times over the next few weeks, with showings either free to the public or for a small fee.

Click here for more on the documentary and the story of Common Good Atlanta.

Hannah E. Jones

EON Reality Awards Clark Atlanta University $11.8 million grant to establish Knowledge Metaverse Hub

On Monday, augmented and virtual reality company EON announced a grant awarded to Clark Atlanta University (CAU) to bring the Knowledge Metaverse to the HBCU community. 

The grant, totaling $11.8 million, will enable CAU, the first Historically Black College or University to receive this award, to offer training to their faculty and students augmenting traditional in-person and online instruction. 

“As we accelerate our momentum, these essential partnerships support our efforts to step into the future of interactive teaching and learning through relevant and future-focused innovations,” said Dr. George French, president of CAU.

Knowledge Metaverse, a digital grassroots movement, amplifies access and engagement in learning by combining the real world with digital information and extended reality (XR) similar to immersive experiences that have become increasingly popular in arts, gaming and entertainment. The global network of more than 1.4 million users is building the Knowledge Metaverse in more than 100 locations and has created the world’s leading XR library for education and industry with over 2.16 million 3D assets and counting. 

— Allison Joyner

Fulton sheriff: Talks about using Atlanta city jail getting down to details

Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat says talks with Atlanta about using its city jail for county detainees are in a detailed phase that makes him “very, very hopeful” of “substantial movement” on a deal within a month.

Labat and the City have been in negotiations since last year, starting under former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, about the use of the Atlanta City Detention Center at 254 Peachtree St. as both governments faced different kinds of jail-related pressure. Fulton’s jail on Rice Street in Atlanta is overcrowded and likely to grow more so as Labat and others bring a crackdown-oriented approach to policing. Bottoms, on the other hand, sought to shutter the city jail and convert it to use as a social program center as a move away from mass incarceration and toward alternative treatments and support.

Amid a spike in crime, Labat and the Bottoms administration last year began talks about a mixed approach, where Fulton sought 500 beds for its prisoners while retaining space for diversion programs. At the March 24 meeting of the Buckhead Public Safety Task Force, Labat said talks have continued under new Mayor Andre Dickens, who took office in January, and he characterized them as more productive.

Labat said he and the mayor have spoken three times this year, “which is more than I had at this time last year.” He said the “relationship has improved… The mayor and our new COO [chief operating officer] for the City, Lisa Gordon, have both been very active in that conversation.”

“We’re getting down to the minutiae” of a possible agreement, said Labat.

The City’s press office did not respond to a comment request.

Labat said he is making other deals to reduce county jail overcrowding. That includes recently sending 200 prisoners to Cobb County and discussion of transferring another 100. Fulton also last year commissioned a feasibility study for building its own new jail, the report of which Labat said is expected in nine to 12 months. 

— John Ruch

Marilynn Davis

Clark Atlanta’s Marilynn Davis has joined HR&A Advisors

After nearly seven years in executive positions at Clark Atlanta University, Marilynn Davis is joining New York City-based HR&A Advisors as a senior advisor. HR&A specializes in urban issues, real estate development and economic development.

But the good news is that Davis will be staying in Atlanta to help expand the firm’s presence in the Atlanta region and beyond.

Most recently, Davis has been chief real estate officer for Clark Atlanta University, helping manage the HBCU’s (Historically Black College and University) portfolio of more than 50 acres of prime property, including the nationally significant, yet decaying, historic Gaines Hall and Paschal’s Restaurant and Motor Lodge.

“CAU is successfully leveraging the booming real estate market in Atlanta to create economic opportunity and prevent displacement of our neighbors,” Davis said in an interview with HR&A. “As we see in Atlanta, universities, cities and real estate professionals are uniquely positioned to develop projects that meet financial metrics, but also provide avenues for economic and social uplift. Joining HR&A enables me to advance these opportunities across the country as part of a firm operating with equity as an intrinsic part of the solutions it proposes to clients.”

Davis’ career has placed her in significant leadership roles across several different sectors. She was assistant secretary of administration at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the administration of President Bill Clinton. She served as managing director of the New York office of the real estate development firm, IMC Octave. She also served as CEO at the landscape architecture firm of Martha Schwartz Partners and other roles at FleetBoston Financial Corp. — now part of Bank of America — American Express Corp. and General Motors Corp.

Davis has an MBA from the Harvard Business School, a bachelor’s in economics at Smith College and a master’s in economics from the University of Michigan, as well as a master’s in economics from Washington University in St. Louis.

Maria Saporta 

Ellyn Cochran

Quality Care for Children’s new CEO steps in next month

Quality Care for Children (QCC) has named Ellyn Cochran as its new president and CEO. She will assume the role on April 11. She’s stepping in as the organization’s fourth president and CEO, following the retirement of Pam Tatum who held the role for 18 years.

QCC is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that works with children and families while advocating for quality child care and affordability.

Cochran currently serves as the associate vice president of Early Learning and Development for United Way of Greater Atlanta. 

“I have admired her accomplishments and gotten to know her as a very capable leader and a strategic innovator with a gift for bringing people, organizations and ideas together on behalf of Georgia’s children,” Tatum, current president and CEO, wrote in a press release. “QCC is poised for exponential impact, and Ellyn has the vision, commitment and leadership skills to move QCC forward.” 

Cochran added, “I have long admired the work of QCC to ensure every child in Georgia has access to high-quality early childhood experiences that build a solid foundation for future success. QCC has been the leader in working to ensure a strong early childhood system exists in Georgia for over 40 years and I am excited and honored to work with such a talented and experienced team to continue that charge.”

Hannah E. Jones

Atlanta and Fulton D.A. to revive judge-pressuring ‘Court Watch’ program

A program to have citizens show up in courtrooms to pressure judges into giving tougher sentences to repeat offenders is being revived by the City of Atlanta and the Fulton County District Attorney’s office.

The “Court Watch” program will launch in late April to “specifically target repeat offenders” on sentencing and bond hearings, Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis said at the March 24 meeting of the Buckhead Public Safety Task Force. “We’re going to make sure that citizens are in the courtroom,” she said, adding she “knows for a fact” that sentences are tougher when there is such pressure.

The D.A.’s office for many years had a similar program called Citizens’ CourtWatch that involved a staff liaison who notified the community about high-profile cases or those involving repeat offenders. But under D.A. Paul Howard, Willis’s predecessor, the program was often decried as ineffectual and the liaison position was vacant for months at a time

Current District 8 City Councilmember Mary Norwood, who filed the legislation to create the Buckhead task force, is a longtime supporter of the court-watching idea. In 2019, in her former role as chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, she launched a similar volunteer effort called “Adopt a Judge.”

Willis said the new Court Watch will train citizens in court procedures on a quarterly basis and will ask for a six-month commitment from those who volunteer. She said Mayor Andre Dickens is a supporter of the idea, but the City’s press office did not respond to a comment request.

— John Ruch

The 1K and 5K races are on Sunday, April 3 at Brook Run Park. (Courtesy of Am Yisrael Chai/The Daffodil Project)

This weekend: Am Yisrael Chai’s Daffodil Dash 

Lace up your tennis shoes this Sunday, it’s time to walk, run or roll for a good cause. 

Atlanta’s Am Yisrael Chai, a Holocaust education nonprofit that promotes awareness and justice for humanitarian crises, is hosting its annual Daffodil Dash at Brook Run Park. The 1K and 5K races will honor the 1.5 million children who lost their lives during the Holocaust.

Participants are encouraged to bring new or gently used clothes, towels, blankets, medical supplies and non-perishable foods, which will be donated to Ukrainian refugees.

The funds will support the nonprofit, along with “Kids for Kids,” “Raising South Sudan” and “Agahozo Shalom,” organizations helping children and families in remote villages in Darfur, South Sudan and Rwanda. The proceeds will also go to the Atlanta Holocaust Survivor fund to provide medical, dental and home care for Holocaust survivors.

Click here to register and find more details on the Daffodil Dash, hosted on Sunday, April 3.

Hannah E. Jones

Nathaniel Smith

Nathaniel Smith receives significant award from Bank of America

Bank of America has announced its inaugural honorees of its “Neighborhood Builders: Racial Equality Award,” a new recognition that honors individual leaders who are advancing racial equality and economic opportunity in Black, Hispanic-Latino, Asian American and Native American communities.

The award is part of Bank of America’s $1.25 billion commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity by honoring five leaders in the United States.

One of the five honorees is Atlanta’s own Nathaniel Smith, founder of the Partnership for Southern Equity.

Smith will be directing $200,000 of flexible funding from Bank of America to the Partnership for Southern Equity, which helps local communities of color advocate more effectively for themselves on relevant state, local and federal economic issues, including energy policy through its “Just Energy” program. 

“Through this program, we are recognizing the impact of inspiring leaders in our country who are creating real change,” said D. Steve Boland, Bank of America’s chief administrative officer. “Supporting nonprofits and their leaders has been core to our approach of investing in the local communities we serve. We are proud to honor these brilliant leaders and empower nonprofits with resources to continue their work in support of communities of color.”

The other honorees were:

  • Edgar Villanueva, founder and principal of Decolonizing Wealth Project in New York, N.Y.
  • John Rice, founder and CEO of Management Leadership for Tomorrow in Bethesda, Md.
  • Luz Corcuera, executive director of Unidos Now in Sarasota/Manatee, Fla.
  • Manjusha “Manju” P. Kulkarni, executive director of the AAPI Equity Alliance

— Maria Saporta

Las Catalinas, in Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of TSW)

Congress for New Urbanism recognizes Charles Brewer, TSW for Costa Rica project

The partnership that devised the Glenwood Park mixed-use development was honored this week for its work in Costa Rica by the Congress for New Urbanism.

The Charter Award recognizes the Beach Town neighborhood in the Las Catalinas area of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The entire development covers 1,200 acres on a hillside facing the Pacific Ocean. The community is designed to be reminiscent of a Mediterranean town, with homes, shops and restaurants assembled in a walkable area.

Charles Brewer purchased the site in 2006. Brewer is the founder of an early internet service provider, Mindspring Enterprises. Brewer sold the business and began developing the mixed-use projects that follow the principles of new urbanism.

The Charter Award was presented to a team consisting of Brewer and his partner in the Glenwood Park development, Bill Tunnell, an architect and planner who was a founding principal of Atlanta-based TSW. The other partners recognized in the Charter Award are Douglas Duany, an architect and professor at the University of Notre Dame, and architect Sara Bega, the project’s in-house design staff.

— David Pendered

(Credit: Clayton County Library System)

Clayton County library system hosts events for national library week

As part of National Library Week, the Clayton County Library System will host activities at South Lake Mall in Morrow. 

Library card sign-ups, arts and crafts, database tutorial and virtual reality sessions starting on Tuesday, April 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesday, April 6 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Visit their website for a list of events.

— Allison Joyner

“A publicity photo of a motorcycle that will be part of the Fulton County Sheriff Office’s new Motors Unit.” (Photo by FCSO)

Fulton sheriff to debut new motorcycle unit, uniforms

The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) is preparing to debut a motorcycle unit and new uniforms for deputies.

The new “Motors Unit” is coming “soon,” according to FCSO Public Affairs Officer Tracy Flanagan, with the idea that motorcycles can maneuver through traffic. “Its primary function will be traffic enforcement, patrols and crime suppression support,” said Flanagan.

Flanagan provided a photo of one of the motorcycles, which appears to be black with various FCSO decals, including one with the name of Sheriff Patrick Labat.

As for the new uniforms, those are coming in the next couple of weeks and will “help change a lot of perceptions and attitude,” Labat said at the March 24 meeting of the Buckhead Public Safety Task Force. 

Labat said the new uniforms are modeled on those of the Georgia State Patrol and pointed to another FSCO command staff member in the meeting who was wearing one. The uniform appeared to be dark gray. FCSO’s current uniforms are predominantly brown. 

Flanagan said the uniform design has not been finalized and that the one worn by the officer in the meeting was a “prototype.” Because the design is not finalized, “the cost is not yet known” for the new uniforms. The cost of replacements will fall on the county as deputies do not pay for their own uniforms, according to Flanagan.

— John Ruch

Greenbriar Mall hosts Easter celebration with bunny, pet night

Greenbriar Mall is beginning its Easter celebration this weekend. Starting Friday until April 16, you and your family can take photos with the Easter Bunny Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Book your reservations here.

On Saturday, April 2, kids can enjoy free face painting, balloon art and lots of fun giveaways from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in front of the children’s play area. 

And don’t forget, “Pet Night with the Easter Bunny” will take place on Monday, April 4 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Dogs and cats are the only furry friends to attend and are required to be on a leash and can enter and exit through the Piccadilly entrance only. Book a reservation for your pet today. 

— Allison Joyner

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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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