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Say good-bye to “The Bluff” and hello to Westside on the rise

Lindsay Street Park

The Lindsay Street Park, in English Avenue, opened in 2015 as part of the effort to improve the English Avenue Neighborhood. File/Special: Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation

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.

Howard Beckham Frank Fernandez

Rev. Howard Beckham and Frank Fernandez – partners in Westside Works program (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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.

Lindsay Street Park

Lindsay Street Park – English Avenue’s new park – a symbol of a Westside community on the rise (Special: Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation)

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.

Rev. Howard Beckham

Rev. Howard Beckham

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.


  1. Chad Carlson December 21, 2015 7:25 pm

    Ugh. Hot air and a name change don’t revitalize a community. We already have a West End, a Westview, and a West Midtown. Vine City and English Avenue should be callefd out with pride. Better to provide tax incentives for urban home pioneers to fix up existing housing stock than give out more tens of millions of tax payer’s hard earned to corrupt church groups and dubious non-profits. Where were you all when Friendship Baptist was destroyed, when Morris Brown went up in flames, and when the stadium was dumped in the middle of MLK, cutting off SW Atlanta from downtown??Report

  2. guest December 21, 2015 8:46 pm

    http://www.gq.com/story/atlanta-strip-club-magic-city  Hope you all can address this while you’re fixing everything. Godspeed.Report

  3. The Svelte Group December 21, 2015 10:13 pm

    Help us bring educational change to English Ave. http://www.thesveltegroup.com/cause-for-coffee/Report

  4. James Smith March 27, 2017 1:50 pm

    The Bluff’s are still as Dangerous as ever. Three people have died in the Bluffs from Heroin just in March 2017. I am tired of hearing how the area is improving. The City of Atlanta does not do anything to improve the area. The Police Department is scared to clean the area up. There is to much money in the Bluff”s. I hope Arthur Blank stops wasting money providing education to these people. That is not the problem. I wish Arthur blank would provide Bulldoziers to mow this area down. That would clean up the area.Report

  5. Shelley June 22, 2017 2:05 pm

    The medium need to know where the bluff is located , The Bluff only consider as 2 streets and the streets are ECHO AND D’ALVIGNEY , Vancity is nowhere near the Bluff , the crimes they are talking about is nowhere in the Bluff , when the news people show what’s going on in the bluff they are nowhere near the BLUFf , before you start talking about the bluff is bad learn where it is really isReport


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