By Michael Halicki, Park Pride’s Executive Director Amidst the excitement (and stress) that accompanied the end of 2021—family gatherings, Mayoral Inauguration events, and the emergence of Omicron—the City of Atlanta issued a press release that likely flew under the radars of all but those whose job it is to pay attention to such matters. Posted on December 30th, the headline reads: City of Atlanta Adopts New Master Plan to Advance Parks and Recreation. This is big news! The City of Atlanta hasn’t had a comprehensive plan for parks since 2009’s Project Greenspace under Mayor Shirley Franklin. And the fact that COVID-19 is likely to be with us for some time only underscores how essential our parks and recreation system has become. Since 2020, Atlantans have taken to local parks, trails, forests, rivers, and creeks in record numbers. There, they’ve found refuge, fresh air, and sunshine. The parks they visited helped combat depression linked to social isolation, allowing them to connect with family and friends safely and at a distance. Parks and recreation centers further served essential functions as food distribution points, COVID testing sites, and distance learning centers. It is clear now that parks are critical urban infrastructure—cornerstones of our community—that contribute to the resilience of our city. And it is time that Atlanta began to fund them as such. Park Pride is optimistic that the adoption of Activate ATL: Recreation and Parks for All (as the plan is known) will prove an important step towards this end. Among the many recommendations that have come out of this comprehensive plan for parks and recreation (which will require increased funding to implement), below are priorities that Park Pride is particularly encouraged by: Improve the condition of our existing facilities and prioritize locations, based on identified needs. Foster excellence in daily maintenance of parks and recreation facilities through investments in human capital, training, and resources. Invest in natural areas in parks for the dual purpose of preserving and protecting Atlanta’s abundant tree canopy and wildlife habitat, while encouraging visitation for human respite and refuge. Acquire park land strategically through property donations, purchases, public / private partnerships, or similar means to ensure parks are available and accessible throughout the city—with the goal of providing a park within a 10-minute walk of the population now and in the future. The adopted Activate ATL plan can be viewed in its entirety here: https://activate-atl.com/pdf/Activate_ATL_FullDocument_FINAL_Pages_WEB.pdf According to the City’s press release, Commissioner John Dargle of the Department of Parks and Recreation stated, “Activate ATL is rooted in the belief that great parks and recreation systems make great cities.” For our part, Park Pride is in the business of supporting communities to activate the power of parks and create great greenspaces. Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to identify areas of alignment between Activate ATL and our strategic plan that can be leveraged for an even greater city-wide impact. Park Pride has been, and we will continue to be, collaborative partners with the Department of Parks and Recreation to achieve the ambitious goals for parks laid out in Activate ATL. This is sponsored content.
Authority Asks: Do You Want Your Bus to Go More Places or Arrive More Frequently? MARTA is seeking customer input on a possible redesign of its bus network. MARTA wants to know do you want the bus to come more frequently but go fewer places or go more places but arrive less frequently? Click here link to learn more about the two bus service options and then click here MARTA Bus Network Redesign Project Survey (surveymonkey.com) to tell us what you think. Participation in the survey will help MARTA create a more connected and efficient transit system that meets the needs of its customers. Once you take the survey, share it! MARTA wants to hear from as many riders and potential customers as possible. MARTA will take the feedback from the surveys and outline next steps in the process this spring. Questions and comments about MARTA’s Bus Network Redesign can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is sponsored content.
As we look back on the last two years, everyone has experienced challenges. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the negative mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue their impact through 2029. Families First knows the families we serve were already hurting, and their trauma has been made worse during the pandemic. “I’ve got a full team of people here working on my behalf. All I have to do is hold up my end of the bargain too.” Darrell B., Families First Client We are seeing exciting progress with our clients with our wrap-around services focused on building resilience and ensuring they feel safer, more stable, and have access to the social and community support needed to move from surviving to thriving. Our families now benefit from new behavioral health assessments and services that help them learn to build psychosocial resilience. We pair our clinical services with a Navigator – a family quarterback – who stays at our families’ sides. We are meeting our clients where they are and helping them navigate to stability during unimaginable hardships. From March 2021 to October 2021, the Families First Navigator Model has served more than 90 households and impacted the lives of 379 individuals. Most of the individuals impacted were children and youth under 18 years of age (61%), while 39% were adults 18 years of age or older. The program has served more female clients (66%) than male clients (34%) and has also predominately served communities of color (97%). Our team has helped families like Darrell’s build their resilience and create a support network. One of the first steps in our Navigator Model is the Families First Resiliency Needs Screener (FFRNS-14), a fourteen-item resilience screening tool that measures three main areas of psychosocial resilience including: Access to health and mental health services Connectedness – social health Future & goal orientation We understand firsthand the needs of clients today, but we want to be intentional in helping people combat the needs of ‘tomorrow.’ The learned skills of resiliency can be passed along for generations to come. Used as a first line of “Access” the Screener helps families and professional helpers understand their healthcare resources so that in time of need they can be connected and/or help others to access these essential resources. Access transcends socioeconomic status. Whether you have healthcare insurance or not, people usually do not dive deep into knowing all the services for which they are eligible. We tend to be reactive naturally because of shifting priorities in our day-to-today lives. Many become aware of some of these services once a crisis has occurred, but preventive care is nonexistent. Families First’s Navigators pair the “Access” score with a client’s assessment of the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) to customize a service plan that helps increase the scores in this area. “Connectedness” is a protective factor for stress related diseases. It is also a protective factor for suicidal ideation, and mood disorders. Connectedness, bonds, and alliance is one of the most (if not the most) fundamental survival mechanisms of humankind. Individuals who can master social growth are capable of significant achievements. Connection with others is the grounds for empathy and collaboration to achieve any goal. This concept is best known as social intelligence, which is the ability to connect with others, establish new relationships, and maintain them all in a healthy manner. It takes mental health support to increase scoring in this category. Between social coaching and psychotherapeutic services, the practitioner should see improvements in this category. This is where we have seen some of the most compelling increases with clients. We know this is a vital part of the social determinants of health and how our clients can build their resilience. When asked, “I know people who can connect me to the resources I need in the community, we saw the following increase in just four months: 11% to 54% agree that they now have these social and community connections 6% to 31% strongly agree that they now have social and community connections “Goal and Future Orientation” is a person’s ability to see their lives ahead. Ideally, future orientation is how a person views themselves in the future as achieving their aspirations or at least being on the right track to achieve their short and long-term goals. Next to connectedness, future orientation is a major motivator to making healthy changes in one’s life. A major barrier to psychosocial recovery is when the person has little to no vision or aspiration beyond what is currently happening in his/her life. The Practitioner can put together a customizable plan to foster the development of the client’s ability to establish goals and aspirations and prepare a plan towards the person’s goals and objectives. We are all ready for some normalcy. Emotional readiness however takes preparation and some planning. We have learned that events like natural disasters and health-related phenomena such as pandemics are factors that can reshape our lives. To help us prepare for what may come and cope better with changes you should consider checking your resiliency level and how you can increase your ability to handle tough challenges life brings. We work closely with community partners to achieve success within our Navigator Care Model. Community partners have access to our FFRNS to measure the resiliency of their clients and work with us to put together comprehensive care plans and community connections. One example of the importance of community collaborations is the ReCast Grant in Lawrenceville. Families First is part of a coalition of community partners including the City of Lawrenceville, Impact46 and Georgia Center for Opportunity. With the five-year, $5-million federal grant from the Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma (ReCast) program administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), this group is working together to increase access to mental health services and reduce trauma among high-risk youth and their families; increase access to social services; strengthen community relations; and increase diverse voices in city government. […]
Last week, the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) announced ATL Action for Racial Equity, a multi-year, multi-step action plan designed to help address the ongoing effects of systemic racism impacting the Black community. In just a few days since launch, 30 additional metro Atlanta-based companies ranging in size and industry joined the initiative – to-date totaling more than 180 participating organizations. These companies and leaders will leverage the size, scale and expertise of the region’s business community to advance racial equity. Invitations to the initiative remain open, and MAC is inviting all businesses across metro Atlanta to sign on. ATL Action for Racial Equity focuses on measurable actions across corporate policies, inclusive economic development, education and workforce development – critical areas in addressing the region’s immobility and inequity challenges. See quotes below from the region’s business leaders on why they chose to participate and why this initiative is important, now more than ever. Reach out to email@example.com to learn more. Ed Bastian, CEO Delta Air Lines and 2021 Board Chair, Metro Atlanta Chamber: “In metro Atlanta, our differences are our strength. We work together to make our community and the world better. We are not perfect, but we are committed to preserving and holding up this region’s legacy, especially now. As we tackle economic recovery, public health and the disproportionate impacts on our Black community, our business community must do its part. This is a moral and economic imperative as we work to grow our region’s competitiveness today and into the future.” Jimmy Etheredge, CEO North America, Accenture: “Accenture is proud to collaborate with the Metro Atlanta Chamber and business leaders across Atlanta to take action on building a more equitable future for our community. Together, we are acting, we are leading, and we are driving change.” Steve Koonin, CEO, Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena: “We proudly support ATL Action for Racial Equity and promise that our franchise will continue taking the steps and supporting the causes that lead to equity for all in our city.” Rohit Malhotra, Founder and Executive Director, Center for Civic Innovation: “The Center for Civic Innovation mission and day to day operations are designed to fight for an equity-centered Atlanta. The business community in Atlanta has a long and complicated history with equity in our city— we’re glad to see the Metro Atlanta Chamber call on companies and institutions to take measurable actions that align with their publicly stated values and sentiments. It is in this city’s best interest for this effort to succeed.” Jenna Kelly, President, Truist Northern Georgia Region, Truist Bank: “At Truist, we firmly believe in building more just, inclusive, and equitable communities by standing for social justice, denouncing racism in all forms, and partnering with people and organizations who are as committed to equity we are. As we continue to have intentional dialogue around the role we can play in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, we’re excited to join the ATL Action for Racial Equity to do our part in making a positive difference throughout Atlanta.” Mary Schmidt Campbell, President, Spelman College: “If metro Atlanta is to close the region’s stark wealth gap, we all have to commit to bold innovative solutions. Spelman College, committed to the educational excellence of the 2000 Black women who attend the College, is also committed to the educational excellence of students in our neighborhood schools. For the past three years, our students have enjoyed major success in improving the reading scores of students in our neighborhood Washington Cluster Schools. We intend to launch a program that will accomplish improvements in math proficiency. This commitment to the improvement of K-12 education is aligned with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce’s business and community imperative to advance racial inclusion. We are proud to partner with MAC in their strategic approach to advocating for equity.” Kyle Porter, CEO, SalesLoft: “The social justice and equity issues facing our companies, city, and nation are complex and intense. At SalesLoft we are committed to the necessary introspection, self-reflection, and action to be a more inclusive company because we believe it’s the right thing to do for our team, customers, and marketplace. SalesLoft is joining the ATL Action for Racial Equity because our internal efforts will be magnified and our progress accelerated through collaborative community work. Our community will become our ally and accountability partner providing the space to heed best practices, share wisdom, and generate ideas that will positively impact us all. Russ Torres, President, Kimberly-Clark Professional: “At Kimberly-Clark, we believe racial equity and justice are moral issues that must be addressed through comprehensive actions to enact meaningful and sustainable change. We are moving with urgency. Therefore, we are proud to partner with ATL Action for Racial Equity in this mission. Their disciplined, multi-year plan leverages the collective strength of metro Atlanta employers to support focused corporate policies that foster inclusive workforce and community development. With more than 1,500 Kimberly-Clark employees in the metro Atlanta area, this initiative is uniquely personal to us. We believe the success of our company depends on creating workplaces, communities, and experiences where inclusion and diversity are evident and thriving. Together with ATL Action for Racial Equity, we look forward to creating a vibrant and more inclusive region that offers opportunity, growth, and long-term value for all.” Elie Maalouf, CEO, Americas, InterContinental Hotel Group: “We applaud the Metro Atlanta Chamber on this initiative and stand with our peers in the Atlanta business community to advance diversity and inclusion. This commitment and collaboration reflect IHG’s values and inclusive culture, and builds on our own efforts to bring lasting, sustainable progress for the region and our colleagues.” Paul Bowers (Chairman and CEO) and Chris Womack (President), Georgia Power: “At Georgia Power, we deeply value the diversity of our team and the communities we serve. That’s why we are committed to creating an environment where employees and customers feel a sense of belonging and can be their true authentic selves. We’re proud to be a part of the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s ATL Action for Racial Equity efforts to do the same here in Atlanta. We believe businesses working together to ensure equality is how we can make a collective impact, and we’re …
By A.J. Robinson Last week, Atlanta lost one of its finest business and civic leaders, Brad Currey. Brad’s unwavering love for this City and its institutions was inspiring and meaningful to so many who observed and worked with him throughout his career. It seems he was a colleague, benefactor, and friend to just about everyone who had a cause or sought his advice and counsel. He was both interested and interesting…and relentless in his desire to get things done. In 2012, Central Atlanta Progress presented Brad with the Dan Sweat Award, which is given in memory of the past CAP president who led the organization and Downtown through tumultuous times in the business and political environment of the city’s growth. The full award presentation can be viewed here. Brad proudly accepted the award, stating “Dan Sweat was one of Mayor [Ivan] Allen’s principal hard workers who became a good friend of mine. He added, “I like being associated with anything with Dan Sweat’s name on it. He was a good citizen and I have tried to be a good citizen. He had a public spirit and got results. When the mayor told him to go do something he was on his feet and used whatever resources he had, including knees and elbows, to get things done. I have always respected him, and I have tried to emulate some of his qualities.” We will all miss Brad dearly in the years ahead, but we will take great comfort in what he accomplished while among us. This is sponsored content.
By Jared Teutsch, Executive Director Despite lingering concerns over the pandemic, 2022 is shaping up to be a great year for Georgia birds. At Georgia Audubon, birds are our catalyst for conservation—easy to see and hear wherever you are—and they provide an entry point into appreciating nature and understanding the challenges we all face to protect our parks and greenspaces, in Atlanta and across the state. Georgia Audubon is building places where birds and people thrive. Building off of our three pillars of Conservation, Education, and Community Engagement, we use science-based, bird-focused programs to build a conservation ethic in individuals, landowners, businesses, partner organizations, policy makers, and communities throughout the state. Here are some of our focus areas for 2022: Habitat Restoration: Over the past six years, Georgia Audubon has worked across metro Atlanta to create a model of bird-friendly habitat restoration at urban greenspaces, such as Deepdene Park, Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, Friendship Forest, and more. Recently, we have expanded our work to state-managed lands, such as Panola Mountain State Park, and to other public nature areas such as Sams Lake Bird Sanctuary in Fayette County and Cooper’s Furnace at Lake Allatoona. We know that Georgia’s birds rely on healthy habitat to find the resources they need during migration, the nesting season, and for overwintering. In 2022, we’re excited to continue our work in Atlanta while expanding our bird-friendly restoration work to Georgia’s coast, beginning with maritime grass restoration on Jekyll Island in collaboration with the Jekyll Island Authority and other partners. Migration Forecasting: Last fall, Georgia Audubon launched a new conservation tool to predict nightly migration of birds over the state, allowing us to send alerts across the state for nights of high migration intensity in order to provide safer passage for our migrating birds. When spring migration begins in a few months, we’ll be sending out alerts and encouraging individuals and businesses to reduce outdoor lighting to ensure safe passage for our migrating birds. Making Birds and Birding Accessible for everyone: In 2022, we’re strengthening our partnership with the accessible birding organization, Birdability. Through a series of Virtual Birding Field Trips hosted via Facebook Live with guest leaders from across the country, we’re showcasing how individuals with mobility challenges are exploring their local greenspaces and enjoying the birds around them. We’ve also launched Georgia Audubon’s first series of in-person Adaptive Birding Trips to accommodate people who experience mobility challenges in the outdoors. Finally, our Bird Beyond Initiative is enabling us to prioritize our engagement in communities that have previously been underrepresented in avian community science. We’re working with local organizations, leaders, and community groups to engage our resources in ways that are relevant for each community—in places like Adams Park, Historic Washington Park, and Grove Park. Connecting Students with STEM Through Birds: After a brief pandemic-related pause, Georgia Audubon has resumed its successful Connecting Students with STEM through Birds program, adding three more Title I Atlanta Public Schools to the program. Heritage Academy (elementary), Crawford Long Middle School, and South Atlanta High School have all been added in the past year and additional schools are in the works for 2022. As part of this program—provided at no cost to each partner school—a bird-friendly STEM garden is installed on campus with the help of students and teachers. At each of the three schools, more than 100 students participated in the installation of a bird-friendly native plant garden on the school campus, transforming areas of dirt and turf grass into wildlife habitat. In addition, each school receives training for teachers to provide lesson ideas and curriculum resources to enhance their use of the new outdoor classroom, and this spring, as the gardens are beginning to bloom, we will return to deliver a class set of binoculars for the school and provide another hands-on day of learning for students. In metro Atlanta and across the state, Georgia Audubon is working to create healthy spaces for birds and people, too. Healthy habitats, including parks and greenspaces, that support birds and other wildlife create healthy communities that we all can not only enjoy, but that we need for our own survival. This is sponsored content.
You’ll often hear me say that America is not just a place. Instead, she’s an idea. Although many people listen to me, not many really hear what I’m saying. America, as we know her, was founded with progress and achievement in mind. She’s a testament to the inherently resilient nature of humanity and our undying will to improve our condition and way of life — not for ourselves only, but also for each succeeding generation. With all of her flaws and dark histories, America is still the most incredible place on the planet to be born, live, and exercise the opportunity for growth and change. Dr. King understood this intimately. That’s why he gave his life in the pursuit of helping her realize her full potential. Being a prophetic visionary of epic proportions, Dr. King saw her beauty and wanted to preserve the powerful symbol of hope and uplift that America had come to symbolize to people around the world. He knew that America is the product of a dream in which ALL citizens should be welcome to participate. While the dream was in and of itself good, it was also fractured and fundamentally flawed. Capitalism had exploited those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. The rich were getting richer, while the poor were only becoming poorer. Our nation’s citizens were not allowed equal access to the American dream for reasons as shallow as skin color and ethnic origin. As this new idea of equality drew global prominence, Dr. King used his right as a human being as well as his privilege as an American citizen to call for the nation to wake up from its slumber, realize its shortcomings, and collectively begin to dream again, with the truth of love centered at its core. Then, and only then, could we all participate and make the dream a reality. As a dreamer who embodied the heart and soul of America, Dr. King offered an upgraded and improved version of the American dream, which called for equity, economic opportunity, financial literacy, and empowerment to be offered to all, without prejudice. He didn’t just talk about the dream; he lived it. Toward the end of Dr. King’s life he began to redirect his attention from civil rights to what I call “silver rights,” or economic freedom. His commitment to a vision of financial wellness and generational wealth for Black families is part of the impetus that led me to embark on two different, yet similar, journeys that have affected me greatly and are celebrating major milestones this year. First, Dr. King’s work is a major inspiration to me launching Operation HOPE nearly thirty years ago. Both then and now, we forged ahead with the mission of eradicating poverty through financial literacy. The second was my acquisition of The Promise Homes Company, which helps empower families to begin their generational wealth building journey with the most important purchase a person can make — real estate. Today, I am living out my purpose, actualizing the dreams of my forefathers, realizing the promise of America, and proving that her original ideas are not without merit. Because of Dr. King’s enduring legacy, I’m afforded the opportunity to actively participate in the economy, and my company, The Promise Homes Company, celebrates the historic close on a $200 million institutional debt facility from the global investment management firm Barings, making it one of the ten largest capital raises for a Black-owned company over the last decade. These types of investments and wealth creation opportunities allow me to pay it forward and positively affect the world around me in order to bend the universe’s moral arc towards justice. I am blessed and honored to follow in his footsteps, lead with moral integrity, and demonstrate that you can “Do well by doing good.” When we embrace and live out the dream, as Dr. King did– and apply his vision for moral leadership and equity to the American dream– we come closer to creating a better world, cultivating a more just society, and empowering lasting change in our communities. Dare to live the dream, and begin to live your own. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and may we all continue to embrace and embody his spirit of radical change and generosity– one day at a time. John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE This is sponsored content.
With more than 3,000 homes in rural Alaska lacking piped water systems, sanitation remains a serious challenge in many remote communities. As COVID-19 reached Alaska, residents in these unserved communities became even more vulnerable to the spread of the virus. “Those communities that lack basic services have higher rates of skin infections, infectious diarrhea and acute respiratory infection among children and elders,” said Troy Ritter, water subject matter expert for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “There is a striking difference in health outcomes between served and unserved communities.” In coordination with CDC, the CDC Foundation approached the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) to see how they could help. As a nonprofit agency with deep ties to Alaska Native and American Indian communities across the state, ANTHC began exploring ways to address the critical sanitation needs. The answer was the Mini Portable Alternative Sanitation System (PASS). Comprised of a simple gravity fed 20-gallon handwashing station and ventilated toilet, the Mini PASS is an iteration of a larger PASS unit designed by ANTHC engineers and used in rural homes across the state. Smaller in size than the original PASS system, the Mini PASS was ideal for smaller homes and easier to transport to remote Alaskan communities. The newly designed unit also has a low-flow faucet that enables household members to use fresh water, rather than reusing water from a basin—a critical improvement in sanitation. Because it uses no seepage pit, which requires digging in summer months, the Mini PASS can also be installed at any time of year. “With these CDC Foundation funds, there was flexibility, so we could use the funding to provide systems that were a bit different than what had been used in the past,” Ritter said. “We had this unique infrastructure sitting on the shelf, and we knew it worked.” Working first with tribal regional health associations who chose the most vulnerable communities, ANTHC then coordinated with community elders to identify the residents most in need. Once the homes were identified, ANTHC staff visited the homes to make sure the units would fit, and to educate the homeowners on proper use of the system. “The project can only be successful if the homeowner embraces the technology,” said Jacqualine Schaeffer, community development manager for ANTHC, who conducted the home visits. “If it’s too difficult, chances are that system is going to fail because we didn’t use the correct communication method.” Though the initial target was to provide 100 Mini-PASS units in 10 selected communities, ANTHC staff looked carefully at the costs and logistics of the project and determined the target might be better lowered to 75 homes. Wanting to reach as many homes as possible with the funding available, they looked hard at solutions. “We went to the CDC Foundation with the issue, and they asked how much we would need to hit that 100 mark,” said Charissa Williar, sanitation facilities program manager for ANTHC. “They were able to come through with additional support, so at that point we were full steam ahead.” Through CDC Foundation funding and the generosity of a private CDC Foundation donor, ANTHC was able to install 100 Mini-PASS units within six months. The funding also provided for the hiring of a local champion in each of the 10 communities to support the unit recipients and troubleshoot any problems that arise. Another 32 units will be installed by late 2021 with additional funds from the CDC Foundation and a contribution by an Alaska-based nonprofit. While the Mini-PASS system is still an intermediate solution, because it doesn’t solve the bigger challenge of piped water and sewage, the unit does create a far healthier environment, a critical point in homes often crowded with extended family in unsanitary conditions, said Schaeffer. “Imagine 10 people living under one roof without running water or any sanitation,” Schaeffer said. “They use a 5-gallon bucket for human waste, so there is a risk factor there that communities live with every day. But this system helps alleviate that risk.” This project will serve as model for other hard-to-reach communities. “Our work with ANTHC and CDC highlights how innovation supports the needs of communities,” said Ramot Adeboyejo, MPH, emergency response officer for the CDC Foundation. “The Mini-PASS unit is an example of one mechanism that can be scaled to serve many other communities who face unique challenges similar to the recipient families in Alaska. It has truly been an honor to work with ANTHC and CDC on this project.” This is sponsored content.
By Ashley Bell Amid the widespread racial justice movement that emerged last year following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, many large corporations were lauded for their work combatting the racial inequities that have plagued our nation since its inception. While these companies have certainly helped advance the cause, their efforts have fallen short of truly addressing the deeply entrenched inequalities in Black communities across the country. To be truly effective in this effort, we need companies and organizations of all shapes and sizes to step up to address the pressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and provide resources to accelerate this much needed change. While this can seem like a daunting task, there are fortunately many groups that are already engaged that can provide a roadmap for those looking to get involved. Arguably one of the most well-known organizations taking up the mantle is the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, which is refinancing the construction loan for the team’s Emory Sports Medicine Complex with a syndicate of Black-owned banks. The $35 million loan, which was facilitated with the support of the National Black Bank Foundation (NBBF), marked the first time that a professional sports franchise took out a significant loan that was underwritten exclusively by Black banks. To understand the significance of this loan, it is important to know the state of Black banks in the country today. Black banks are often the primary source for fair, non-predatory lending within the African American community, yet since 2001, their numbers have fallen by more than half. In 1976, there were 50 Black banks spread across the country, but according to the FDIC’s latest count, that number is now just 18. The loan taken out by the Hawks not only helps Black banks as it allows them to compete with the major commercial banks, but it is also a win for the Black community. The dearth of access to basic financial services in many Black neighborhoods has forced underserved populations to rely on predatory businesses like check-cashing and payday loans. But by supporting the health and growth of Black banks, the Hawks are not just helping these vital financial institutions but are ensuring equitable access to capital for underserved communities of color and helping close America’s racial wealth gap. It is not just professional sports teams and household names, however, that are working to upend racial inequities. There are many cases of less well-known organizations making a big impact in Black communities throughout the country. For example, there is the Atlanta-based real estate firm Ornstein-Schuler Investments (OSI), which has donated $25,000 to the NBBF to help modernize the Black banking sector. While OSI has contributed for the past two decades to improve the lives of the people in the communities they operate in, this particular donation could not come at a more opportune time. In 2019, 49 percent of Black households were underbanked or completely unbanked compared to just 15 percent of white households, according to the Federal Reserve. A large reason for this is the sad fact that the Black community has very few trustworthy banking options at its disposal. Investing in Black banks – whether it be by introducing new digital tools or expanding the number physical branch locations in minority neighborhoods – means also making an investment in Black-owned businesses and Black neighborhoods. That is why the Hawks’ and OSI’s contributions to the NBBF are so important to help modernize the black banking sector and ensure Black-owned businesses not only survive but thrive. The Atlanta Hawks and Ornstein-Schuler Investments are two great examples of organizations of different sizes doing their part to combat structural racism and inequities in Atlanta and beyond. But they can’t be the only ones. To make a real and lasting change, businesses and organizations large and small need to step up, speak out and make a difference through their voices and their donations. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” so do not be silent. Ashley Bell is a partner at the global law firm Dentons and co-founded the National Black Bank Foundation, which facilitated a first-in-professional sports deal between the Atlanta Hawks and 11 Black-owned banks. This is sponsored content.
Westside Future Fund (WFF) is excited to be supporting thought leadership in the SaportaReport on Atlanta’s Historic Westside. At the October 15 Transform Westside Summit we announced the Westside Future Fund (WFF) PRI Program! A program-related investment (PRI) is low-cost capital that not-for-profit organizations can use to spur community development. Thanks to charitable support from Truist and PNC banks, WFF will provide low-cost loans to small, minority-owned businesses based in or serving the Historic Westside. This program builds on a pilot initially funded by AT&T and the Beloved Benefit. Our goal is to mobilize people with current, historical, or aspirational ties to the community to organically support the Westside’s economic development. The October 15 Transform Westside Summit highlighted the importance of economic empowerment of African American entrepreneurs with three special guest panelists – Courtney Smith from PNC Bank, Paul Wilson, Jr. from the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (RICE), and Keitra Bates of Marddy’s Shared Kitchen and Marketplace. A common theme from the panelists was the need for equity in access to capital for Black business owners. Keitra Bates noted that white startups have access to $100,000 from family, on average, while for black startups, it’s only $11,000. In June 2020, PNC Bank announced its bold $1 billion commitment to playing a role in combatting racism and discrimination. During the Summit, Courtney elaborated on PNC’s commitment to the Westside by helping end systemic racism by donating to WFF for program-related investments. Keitra Bates is a recipient of a WFF PRI that she used to renovate and expand her shared kitchen. Marddy’s focus is on economic inclusion, business development, and growth opportunities for local food entrepreneurs with their primary service groups of people of color, women, and other marginalized populations. With the help of RICE, the PRI recipients will have access to resources to innovate, grow, create jobs, and build wealth. Part business generator, innovation lab, and museum, RICE invests in African American entrepreneurs, strengthens businesses, and creates community. We have many miles to eliminate the wealth gap between white and black startups. Thanks to our panelists and the organization they represent, we are making progress and hopefully serving as models for others! Check out our newsletter to learn more about the October 15 Summit. This is sponsored content.
By Milton J. Little, Jr., President and CEO of United Way of Greater Atlanta “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. Yesterday, we honored Martin Luther King, Jr. for his life of service to the Civil Rights Movement, his power to strengthen communities, address social problems, bridge barriers and move us closer to his vision of a beloved community. And while we honor his legacy the third Monday in January of every year, the following Tuesday each year marks another important day for our community – the National Day of Racial Healing. Today, January 18, 2022, marks the sixth year of the National Day of Racial Healing – a day dedicated to healing from the effects of racism. It is a day to acknowledge the stains in our country’s history and bring ALL people together in their common humanity to take collective action and create a more just and equitable world. At United Way of Greater Atlanta, our longstanding commitment to remove racial barriers deeply impacting communities in our region remains stronger than ever. Our mission is to engage and bring together people and resources to drive sustainable and equitable improvements in the well-being of children, families, and individuals in the community. Simply put, our work is grounded in equity for all and is core to our mission to improve Child Well-Being. In July of 2020, we launched our United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund. The fund was created to address the racial disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and to build on the new momentum from 2020’s civil unrest to address racial inequities and to advance deep and widescale changes. This fund invests in structural solutions that address the root causes of racial inequity. Across the Greater Atlanta community we have seen immense support for the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund. Donations to-date of $3.1M have enabled us to provide multi-year grants to 19 partners. We have also seen a widespread commitment to learning about racial equity and healing through our 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge. Through the challenge, we were able to engage more than 4,500 people across 36 states representing more than 1,200 organizations. Douglas, Cobb and Gwinnett Counties participated in the challenge with a variety of public sector partners such as school districts, county commissioners, corporate partners and Chambers of Commerce. Last year, Gwinnett County officially proclaimed the Tuesday after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day the National Day for Racial Healing in Gwinnett County. The breadth and depth of insights that have informed our work in racial equity could not have happened without the convening of a diverse and talented group of volunteers, advisory board members and thought leaders. Healing is an integral part of the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund’s title. According to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, racial healing is a process we can undertake as individuals, in communities and across society as a whole. In healing, we recognize our common humanity, acknowledge the truth of past wrongs and build the authentic relationships capable of transforming communities and shifting our national discourse. As we reinforce the mission of achieving the promise for a more equitable Greater Atlanta, to improve Child Well-Being, healing is top of mind. United Way of Greater Atlanta recently provided grant awards to 8 nonprofits who not only have a racial justice lens but are also focused on healing and restorative practices that are rooted in place and grounded in community. In order to have both thriving and resilient communities, we must respond and invest in solutions that transform the systems that have disrupted so many lives in Black and Brown communities. Through these grants, we are committed to learning alongside our partners to better understand the role “healing” plays in creating a brighter future for children, families and communities and inspiring collective action. Examples of funded partners are as follows: Sistercare Alliance – SisterCARE Alliance is a network of professionals, mothers, sisters, entrepreneurs, activists, self-care advocates, and leaders who believe that protecting Black women and their well-being is fundamental to ensuring family and community. Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiatives(PAD)- is an initiative born out of the work and vision of Atlantans directly impacted by policing and incarceration and committed to a new approach to community safety and wellness. Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective – is a network of healers, health practitioners, and organizers in the U.S. Southeast, began using the term “healing justice” as a framework to identify how communities can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence. JustGeorgia Coalition – was formed in 2020 by the Georgia NAACP and the Southern Center for Human Rights to form a racial justice advocacy coalition following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. In honor of National Day of Racial Healing and beyond, we honor these organizations and their leaders for their longstanding commitment to advancing racial equity and healing for our region. Together, we can do MORE to achieve the promise to be an equitable Greater Atlanta for all. For more information on the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund, click here. This is sponsored content.
A team of six Emory computer science students are helping to usher in a new era in artificial intelligence. They’ve developed a chatbot capable of making logical inferences that aims to hold deeper, more nuanced conversations with humans than have previously been possible. They’ve christened their chatbot “Emora,” because it sounds like a feminine version of “Emory” and is similar to a Hebrew word for an eloquent sage. The team is now refining their new approach to conversational AI — a logic-based framework for dialogue management that can be scaled to conduct real-life conversations. Their longer-term goal is to use Emora to assist first-year college students, helping them to navigate a new way of life, deal with day-to-day issues and guide them to proper human contacts and other resources when needed. Eventually, they hope to further refine their chatbot — developed during the era of COVID-19 with the philosophy “Emora cares for you” — to assist people dealing with social isolation and other issues, including anxiety and depression. The Emory team is headed by graduate students Sarah Finch and James Finch, along with faculty advisor Jinho Choi, associate professor in the Department of Computer Sciences. The team also includes graduate student Han He and undergraduates Sophy Huang, Daniil Huryn and Mack Hutsell. All the students are members of Choi’s Natural Language Processing Research Laboratory. “We’re taking advantage of established technology while introducing a new approach in how we combine and execute dialogue management so a computer can make logical inferences while conversing with a human,” Sarah Finch says. “We believe that Emora represents a groundbreaking moment for conversational artificial intelligence,” Choi adds. “The experience that users have with our chatbot will be largely different than chatbots based on traditional, state-machine approaches to AI.” Last year, Choi and Sarah and James Finch headed a team of 14 Emory students that took first place in Amazon’s Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge, winning $500,000 for their Emora chatbot. The annual Alexa Prize challenges university students to make breakthroughs in the design of chatbots, also known as socialbots — software apps that simplify interactions between humans and computers by allowing them to talk with one another. This year, they developed a completely new version of Emora with the new team of six students. They made the bold decision to start from scratch, instead of building on the state-machine platform they developed in 2020 for Emora. “We realized there was an upper limit to how far we could push the quality of the system we developed last year,” Sarah Finch says. “We wanted to do something much more advanced, with the potential to transform the field of artificial intelligence.” They based the current Emora on three types of frameworks to advance core natural language processing technology, computational symbolic structures and probabilistic reasoning for dialogue management. They worked around the clock, making it into the Alexa Prize finals in June. They did not complete most of the new system, however, until just a few days before they had to submit Emora to the judges for the final round of the competition. That gave the team no time to make finishing touches to the new system, work out the bugs, and flesh out the range of topics that it could deeply engage in with a human. While they did not win this year’s Alexa Prize, the strategy led them to develop a system that holds more potential to open new doors of possibilities for AI. In the run-up to the finals, users of Amazon’s virtual assistant, known as Alexa, volunteered to test out the competing chatbots, which were not identified by their names or universities. A chatbot’s success was gauged by user ratings. “The competition is extremely valuable because it gave us access to a high volume of people talking to our bot from all over the world,” James Finch says. “When we wanted to try something new, we didn’t have to wait long to see whether it worked. We immediately got this deluge of feedback so that we could make any needed adjustments. One of the biggest things we learned is that what people really want to talk about is their personal experiences. ” Sarah and James Finch, who married in 2019, are the ultimate computer power couple. They met at age 13 in a math class in their hometown of Grand Blanc, Michigan. They were dating by high school, bonding over a shared love of computer programming. As undergraduates at Michigan State University, they worked together on a joint passion for programming computers to speak more naturally with humans. “If we can create more flexible and robust dialogue capability in machines,” Sarah Finch explains, “a more natural, conversational interface could replace pointing, clicking and hours of learning a new software interface. Everyone would be on a more equal footing because using technology would become easier.” She hopes to pursue a career in enhancing computer dialogue capabilities with private industry after receiving her PhD. James Finch is most passionate about the intellectual aspects of solving problems and is leaning towards a career in academia after receiving his PhD. The Alexa Prize deadlines required the couple to work many 60-hour-plus weeks on developing Emora’s framework, but they didn’t consider it a grind. “I’ve enjoyed every day,” James Finch says. “Doing this kind of dialogue research is our dream and we’re living it. We are making something new that will hopefully be useful to the world.” They chose to come to Emory for graduate school because of Choi, an expert in natural language processing, and Eugene Agichtein, professor in the Department of Computer Science and an expert in information retrieval. Emora was designed not just to answer questions, but as a “social companion.” A caring chatbot was an essential requirement for Choi. At the end of every team meeting, he asks one member to say something about how the others have inspired them. “When someone sees a bright side in us, and shares it with others, everyone sees that …
By Rebecca Parshall As we conclude yet another semester of school amidst this pandemic, Learn4Life reflected on this year’s bright spots and challenges across metro Atlanta through our annual State of Education report and event. While we believe these resources are helpful in summarizing our region’s educational data and charting a path forward, some of our most insightful lessons this year came from listening to students. L4L partnered with VOX ATL, a platform for authentic and diverse teen expression and journalism, to ask students what issues are most pressing for them. Students revealed many of their concerns and posed these questions directly to our region’s school district superintendents. The themes we heard all focused on building a more supportive, equitable world. Four main ideas emerged: Students want equity in their school systems “I would like to see more social equity within schools. Acts of homophobia, racism, and anti-semitism are still being tolerated and they need to start having consequences.” – Alexis, age 15 “Why would people at a school, in the same county as another school, not get the same privileges as people at the other school?” – Lenore, age 9 Mental health matters and needs more attention “As a current senior, I’ve been dealing with the stress that comes with college applications, scholarships, and planning for my future. This stress can aggravate existing mental health disorders, and even lead to the development of new mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression… How will [districts] commit to providing additional and adequate mental health resources to your schools that you aren’t doing already?” – Zariah, age 17 Students need support navigating postsecondary options “My peers have little to no support at home when it comes to graduating and pursuing postsecondary options. We need some type of accessible, widespread curriculum that provides students with proper enlightenment and guidance… What are the school systems’ plans for expanding career pathway classes and certification accessibility?” – Rachel, age 17 Students want opportunities for civic engagement “I would love to see more civic participation and teaching students more about democracy and civic engagement. How do you plan to incorporate civic engagement and education into school curriculum?” – Sanjna, age 16 Our region’s students are leading with a commitment to advocate for their own needs and for the needs of their traditionally underserved peers. At L4L, we take this guidance as a call to action to co-build a more equitable Atlanta, and we are eager to continue partnering with educators and parents, as well as our business, nonprofit, and philanthropic partners. We believe our region’s educational disparities are best solved through collective action. Here are a few ways to join us on this journey: Read and listen to more incredible student voices at VOX ATL Check out L4L’s full State of Education report and event Join an L4L Change Action Network. All are welcome: Early Literacy, 8th Grade Math, Postsecondary Success This is sponsored content.