By Guest Columnists REV. HOWARD BECKHAM and FRANK FERNANDEZ, leaders working to revitalize Atlanta’s Westside
The Bluff is despair. The Bluff is drug infested. The Bluff is hopelessness.
The Bluff is not the residents of Vine City and English Avenue. It does not, cannot and must not define the entire historic Westside community.
The term is an affront to those who really love the neighborhood, for those who with steadfastness and resolve have committed themselves to working, fighting, and sacrificing to make the English Avenue and Vine City areas vibrant, beautiful and safe places to live, work and worship.
How can that name – with all of its negative images – express the history and heritage of the people who lived and fought for our nation’s civil rights and struggle for integration, or represent the courage of residents who stayed and built their lives in these neighborhoods?
It’s time for all Atlantans to help us reframe the narrative. We’re asking you to leave that negative name in the past and join us in creating the positive story of the Westside communities.
There is no consensus among residents, or the public at large, on the moment, incident, or reason “The Bluff” became the defining term for these historic Westside neighborhoods that once stood tall amongst giants, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maynard Jackson, and Julian Bond.
So why do we carelessly continue to taint the community with one broad brushstroke?
It minimizes – and even dismisses many times – the good that is happening in the community. Those who live and serve on the Westside are very proud of the community’s heritage. They are very optimistic about the future.
We see first-hand what putting the Westside back to work is doing for these communities. As partners at Westside Works, we experience it every single time a resident reaches out or applies to commit to the program. They are putting their faith and trust in us; in the opportunity we are offering them to create a better future for themselves, their families and their community.
Nearly 250 graduates and gainfully employed residents later, we hear and feel the impact. These graduates are standing on the precipice of self-sufficiency and pride—not decline.
We see what a foundation of support and empowerment for our young people can do to help them excel academically, socially and civically with groups like Raising Expectations.
They enable young people from these communities to become the first in their families to go to college, attending storied institutions like Morehouse and Spelman Colleges, and ultimately help them become the next leaders of our city.
We see what breathing new life into a once vibrant community health center like Neighborhood Union Health Center with Dr. Charles Moore can mean to residents seeking to improve their health. To let the residents of these communities know that someone cares enough about their well-being to walk alongside them through check-ups, illness, or the birth of new family members.
Today marks a unique point in the history of the Westside for all of us – the residents of English Avenue and Vine City, the media, civic leaders, funders and the broader public – to move forward. Let us challenge ourselves to do away with “The Bluff” in designation and identity, and acknowledge the resilience and pride embedded in the historic Westside communities of English Avenue and Vine City.
We cannot move forward, we cannot transform, if the Westside community continues to be defined by its challenges or liabilities instead of its assets.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “the time is always right to do what is right.” The time is now for all of us to bear witness to the hopes and aspirations of the people living, working and fighting for their homes and families in historic Westside communities by saying that it is “The Bluff” no more.
Change is happening. Westside on the rise.
Note to readers:
Rev. Howard Beckham is the senior pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church and executive director of Integrity Transformations CDC as well as a Westside resident.
Frank Fernandez is vice president of community development for the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.