Climate change likely will be more than an abstract concept in metro Atlanta. Higher taxes and an influx of residents are among possible consequences as people move to escape problems elsewhere, two planners contend.
By Rob Brawner, Executive Director of Atlanta BeltLine Partnership Over the past 15 years with the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, I have witnessed the Atlanta BeltLine transform from concept to concrete—both figuratively and literally – and the momentum has never been stronger. As our partners at Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) have captured in this year-end video, significant accomplishments were made in 2021 to move the full Atlanta BeltLine vision forward, including delivery of three new trail segments, the opening of Westside Park, the launch of the Legacy Resident Retention Program, substantial affordable housing production, and more. Like all BeltLine progress, these milestones could not be accomplished without robust public, private, non-profit, and community partnerships. The most important milestone, though, has been the commitment by Atlanta’s leaders and the community to complete the full 22-mile BeltLine trail corridor by 2030. Before 2021, funding for completion of the BeltLine’s backbone had been uncertain due to early litigation, recessions, the COVID-19 pandemic, and other funding challenges. Catalyzed by passage of the Special Service District (SSD) in March, more than $300 million of the $350 million needed to finish the trail corridor has been secured from local, federal, and philanthropic sources, and the remaining funds are being aggressively pursued. With every new section of the BeltLine improving connectivity, quality of life, and Atlanta’s economic competitiveness, the importance of locking in these funds cannot be overstated. A few key things made this possible, and they provide learnings that can be helpful for other components of the BeltLine and other city projects. Outcomes for people. While tempting to focus on the 15 miles of trail corridor that will be completed, the BeltLine and other infrastructure projects are ultimately investments to improve people’s lives. As Atlanta charted its course for an equitable economic recovery from the COVID-induced recession, our leaders recognized the BeltLine could create a stronger future for our residents. In addition to the clear health and wellness benefits, completion of the corridor will spur: A projected $10 billion in economic impact ($7.9 billion in private investment has been catalyzed through 2020) 50,000 permanent jobs (approximately 23,300 forecasted for 2019) 5,600 units of affordable housing (2,666 already delivered) $12 million in funding to support small businesses Up to $150 million in construction funds targeted towards minority-owned contractors Urgency. It has been difficult at times to elevate the BeltLine amid other competing civic priorities, as people tend to think there will always be enough time to finish a multi-decade project. That has changed. A major shift occurred when ABI and funding partners recognized that continuing a piecemeal approach to completing the corridor – which was necessary when the BeltLine was in a proof-of-concept phase – would not deliver the full 22-mile loop and its myriad benefits before the BeltLine’s main funding source, the Tax Allocation District (TAD), expires in 2030. Equally important was the understanding that the sooner we could provide certainty the trail corridor would be completed, the faster it would spur new development that, in turn, will increase the amount of TAD funding to deliver all BeltLine components, including affordable housing, transit, parks, art, and equitable economic development. Clear implementation and funding plan. Investors – including taxpayers, elected officials, federal agencies, and philanthropists – needed a clear roadmap to completion. Acknowledging there is uncertainty in any multi-year plan, BeltLine development is far enough along that ABI and its partners were able to set a clear schedule and budget based on their experience building the (very complex) BeltLine trail corridor. The $350-million funding plan, anchored by ABI’s $100 million commitment of TAD funding, was vetted and validated with key investors to build alignment that has resulted in multiple funding sources being committed. Public and private leadership. Many leaders across multiple sectors have come together to co-invest in this plan. Then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta City Council led by passing the Special Service District (SSD) in March, matching ABI’s $100 million commitment. The seeds for the SSD had been planted years ago through the leadership of key commercial and apartment property owners who advanced it as a mechanism for those benefiting financially from the BeltLine to invest in its completion. Leadership from Georgia’s senators and congressional representatives, the Atlanta Regional Commission, and state agencies have helped secure critical federal funding, including the recent $16.46 million RAISE grant as well as Transportation Improvement Program grants. The philanthropic community has responded with an $80 million leadership gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation through the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership that – together with other gifts being pursued as part of a broader campaign – will yield $100 million for corridor completion while also supporting new BeltLine parks, resident retention, and BeltLine programming. There is still much work to be done. Collaborative leadership from Mayor Andre Dickens and the new Atlanta City Council will be critical as ABI moves aggressively to complete the corridor in partnership with the PATH Foundation and others. At the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, we continue to connect with new and longtime BeltLine donors to raise the remaining philanthropic funding needed to complete the BeltLine trail corridor and other BeltLine projects. For these donors, the Atlanta BeltLine is recognized as a proven investment that drives jobs, economic impact, and community well-being. Now is the time to be part of bringing the BeltLine vision to life for our city. Want to be part of Advancing the Vision? Contact Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 404-446-4404 to find out more and how you can help. This is sponsored content.
Advanced Training, Social Service Partnerships, & Collaborative Police Work Among MPD’s Accomplishments in 2021 The MARTA Police Department (MPD) ensured MARTA remained a safe, secure system for another year, accomplishing a significant reduction in violent crimes in 2021, providing additional training and certification for officers, and partnering with social service organizations to improve the customer experience. In 2021, MPD reported a 17 percent reduction in Part 1 crimes (violent and property crimes) compared to 2020, specifically a 32 percent reduction in robberies and 20 percent reduction in aggravated assaults. Additionally, the department boasted an almost 100 percent clearance rate for aggravated assault cases and an 87 percent clearance rate for robberies, meaning a criminal was arrested, charged, or turned over to the court system for prosecution. In the past year, MARTA police officers responded to over 100,000 calls for service from customers using 851 or MARTA’s See&Say app. New technology such as handheld fare readers and RapidID monitors, along with new weapons, and upgrades to the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) robot helped officers better handle crimes from fare evasion to a suspicious package. Officers underwent advanced training in crisis intervention, de-escalation techniques, and implicit bias, further assisting them in navigating situations where emotions and stress levels are high. MPD’s partnerships with fellow law enforcement agencies in the past year provided additional officer visibility and security to the MARTA system and surrounding communities. Last July, MPD’s Central Precinct partnered with the Atlanta Police Department and Georgia State University law enforcement on a joint crime suppression detail where an officer from each agency patrolled the Georgia State rail station and nearby neighborhoods. A similar detail consisting of MARTA and Atlanta bicycle officers patrolled the Lindbergh/Morosgo area and reported a seven percent reduction in crime. “These joint details are important community-style policing efforts that ensure people feel safe and that their property is secure whether they are riding MARTA or working and living near a rail station,” said MARTA Police Chief Scott Kreher. “I truly believe there is no more noble profession that law enforcement and I am proud of the work our officers are doing during a challenging time as the pandemic enters its third year.” MARTA Police Department Field Protective Specialists remain an integral part of the Authority’s MARTA Hope Program. These trained, unarmed specialists accompany social service professionals from HOPE Atlanta as they assist and support homeless individuals on the MARTA system. The program, started in August 2020 as COVID-related homelessness increased, is designed to find solutions that safeguard customers and employees, minimize the need to involve MARTA police in non-criminal activities, and treat everyone with dignity and respect. Since its inception, the program has engaged over 3,000 individuals and in many cases connected them with resources and support services. MPD’s accomplishments in 2021, that included certifying 19 new Tactical Field Officers and improving regional law enforcement partnerships with updated memorandums of understanding, earned the department an important recertification of state and federal accreditation standards. 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 Ellie Hensley, Editor and Producer at Midtown Alliance New year, new things to experience at street-level in Midtown. Over the past several decades, we’ve seen the district transform into a thriving place. With guidance from the City of Atlanta and the help of our partners, we’ve worked to build an exceptional urban experience through public improvement projects such as bike lanes, public art installations, public safety patrols, virtual and in-person events. Already in 2022, we’ve hit the ground running, building largely off our work plans from previous years. We also have exciting new initiatives planned throughout the year that we can’t wait to share with you. The best place to truly experience the positive transformation in Midtown is on the street, preferably on foot. Here’s a peek into three things you can expect to see in Midtown this year: – Expanded Homeless Outreach Efforts: Midtown Alliance is funding a full-time caseworker to spend time in the district via Intown Collaborative Ministries (ICM), a non-profit whose mission is to prevent and reverse homelessness and hunger. ICM’s goal is to get people who are experiencing homelessness into permanent housing. It also has established connections with shelters, medical facilities, mental health facilities and resources to help people with documentation to find jobs and housing. Bringing on a case manager who focuses daily on Midtown will better assist our Midtown Blue personnel in reaching those we haven’t been able to help in the past, and we’re excited about the impact this pilot partnership can have on our district. – An Invitation to Safely Reconnect: Several of Midtown’s public open space projects are poised to come online this year, building out the community’s aspirations that predate the pandemic to create small outdoor public spaces throughout the district. Construction is underway on the Peachtree Street at Peachtree Place Public Plaza, which will yield a small plaza with flexible use spaces, landscaping, lighting and art elements at a historic Midtown corner. We’re wrapping up maintenance on the southwest and southeast corners of Arts District Plaza, and we plan to add new street furniture early this year. Next up, we’re breaking ground on enhancements to 10th Street Park that include a dog park, play area and activity zone. After two years (and counting) of a public health situation that has kept many people indoors, spaces like these provide not only fresh air, but a place to safely reconnect with others. We aim to get them completed as soon as construction and supply chain timelines allow. – New Places to Discover: More than 50 small businesses opened in Midtown over the course of the last year, including a number of new additions to the restaurant scene. These included BK Lobster, Nagomiya, Cathy’s Ice Cream Sandwiches, Steak Market, Taste of Greece, and more than a dozen restaurants and food stalls at the reimagined Colony Square, which unveiled its food hall concept Politan Row last summer. And there’s more to look forward to this year, including Fin & Feathers, a “Nu American Soul” restaurant on Crescent Avenue, T’s Brunch Bar on Peachtree Street, and Fit For a Queen, an apparel shop opening this month. Find a list of ways to support these businesses here. We enter this new year with a lot of uncertainty and another spike in COVID-19 cases that is causing new disruption. But there is a lot to look forward to experiencing in Midtown in 2022. Onward! Check out our newsletters to stay up to date on what’s happening in our district. This is sponsored content.
by Natasha Dowell, Lending Associate, Southeast, Reinvestment Fund The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor in 2020 sparked a racial reckoning within our country and across the world. For Reinvestment Fund, the deaths of these and countless other Black people were painful, poignant reminders of our need to continue calling out and addressing the systemic causes of inequities in our society. We committed to expanding the focus of racial equity in our work, be anti-racists, and fight for justice and freedom from oppression. As a part of this commitment, Reinvestment Fund has awarded grants to five nonprofit organizations in Georgia and Pennsylvania for their work in criminal justice reform. For more than 35 years, Reinvestment Fund has disrupted inequitable investment practices and worked in places underserved by traditional capital sources. Part of this work includes our annual Community Champion Awards: a small grants program that recognizes nonprofit organizations aligned with Reinvestment Fund’s mission. Awardees are selected by an appointed staff committee that makes its choices from a pool of organizations nominated by staff. This year, the Community Champion Awards focused on criminal justice reform – the first time in the award’s history that it targeted a specific social issue. The award focused on nonprofit organizations that are effective change agents in criminal justice reform, recognizing that mass incarceration and inequities in policing and the justice system have significant impact on the communities we care about and its repercussions are far reaching. To demonstrate our commitment to supporting organizations that advance criminal justice reform, we increased this year’s award to four times the amount awarded in previous years, allowing us to donate to five organizations instead of one or two. The 2021 Community Champion Awardees are three organizations in Georgia and two organizations in Pennsylvania, where Reinvestment Fund has a main office: Georgia Justice Project Gangstas to Growers Southern Center for Human Rights Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project Terrance Lewis Liberation Foundation Georgia has the highest rate of people under correctional control in the country, which includes people who are incarcerated and on probation and parole. Georgia Justice Project, Gangstas to Growers, and Southern Center for Human Rights are each working to help Georgians affected by the criminal justice system. We talked with each organization to get an idea of the work they have done to advance criminal justice reform and the plans they have for the future. Georgia Justice Project Since 1986, Georgia Justice Project (GJP) has served Georgians impacted by the criminal legal system. GJP approaches social change in three distinct ways. First, GJP’s legal and social services span the entire criminal justice system: holistic criminal defense, reentry representation for incarcerated individuals, early termination of probation, criminal record clearing, and other reentry legal and social services – all provided free of charge to clients. Second, GJP advocates for a better Georgia and our policy work has resulted in 21 changed Georgia laws. Third, GJP works statewide to educate individuals and communities on criminal justice and reentry issues. Together these three approaches connect to achieve GJP’s overall goals to lower the number of people under correctional control and reduce barriers to reentry. “One mistake should not mean a lifetime without opportunity,” said Georgia Justice Project Executive Director Doug Ammar. “This support from the Reinvestment Fund will help GJP expand its commitment to Georgians impacted by the criminal justice system. The Reinvestment Fund’s support helps marginalized people get a second chance and furthers our mission to reduce crime and recidivism in our communities by empowering individuals to make positive changes in their lives.” Gangstas to Growers The second organization that received a Community Champion Award this year is Gangstas to Growers (G2G), the first program from The Come Up Project. The Come Up Project is a multi-faceted organization based in Atlanta that focuses on providing employment opportunities to formerly incarcerated people in marginalized communities. It provides a ‘come-up’ by developing the current and potential skill set of participants, while offering a pipeline into a viable career through placement or entrepreneurship. In 2016, the G2G program was launched. The program provides paid entrepreneurial internships for at-promise youth and formerly incarcerated individuals, to offer them a chance to participate in the legitimate economy. The overarching goal is to create a self-sufficient system that provides jobs, food manufacturing, paid education opportunities, selling power, and more for young people and their community. The Come Up Project and G2G founder Abiodun Henderson spoke about the intentionality with which the program works to achieve its vision. Henderson says: “We are proud that we are in this Pittsburgh Yards building, on ancestral land, and this is a historically Black neighborhood created by enslaved Black people. This land was used by Clark College before it became Clark Atlanta University for a farm in the early 1900s. Everything we do is with intention.” G2G has developed a robust curriculum with community partners where participants learn a wide range of life skills, including courses on communication, parenting, environmental responsibility, business development, political science, writing, finances, and repatriation. A key part of G2G’s work is centered on fostering entrepreneurship in agriculture and food. The program’s trainees developed a hot sauce called Sweet Sol that they make, package, market, and sell online and at Wadada Healthy Market and Juice Bar in West End, Atlanta. The program partners with many local urban farms like Truly Living Well and rural farms such as Wilburn farms and G4 Farms for their sauce ingredients and their bamboo operation. In September 2020, G2G won a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award for their work in keeping formerly incarcerated youth out of prison through jobs raising crops for their own communities. Southern Center for Human Rights Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) also received a Community Champion Award this year. In 1976, ministers and activities founded SCHR in response to the Supreme Court’s reinstatement of the death penalty as we as the horrific conditions in Southern prisons. Since then, SCHR has worked for equality, dignity, and justice for …
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.
Average U.S. credit scores climb to 695 according to Experian’s State of Credit report and new HOPE Financial Wellness Index As we end the second summer since the arrival of COVID-19, Experian® today announced key findings from its 12th annual State of Credit report. This year’s report also serves as a launch for Operation HOPE’s all-new HOPE Financial Wellness Index, which will help shine a consistent light on the current state of consumer credit. Despite a challenging year and a half, the new data shows consumers are managing credit well with average credit scores climbing seven points since 2020 to 695 – the highest point in more than 13 years. “While consumers on average are managing their credit histories well, we know there are many communities in critical need of more financial education and resources” Tweet this According to Experian’s report, many consumers were managing credit well before the pandemic’s arrival and the accommodations afforded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act may have helped consumers protect their financial health. At the same time, stay-at-home orders and record savings levels1 may have contributed to lower unsecured and total debt levels, lower credit utilization rates and fewer missed payments. This year, Experian is partnering with Operation HOPE – the nation’s largest nonprofit dedicated to improving financial literacy – to launch the HOPE Financial Wellness Index, which highlights the average credit score in every state and city. According to the index, consumers in Minnesota have the highest credit scores with an average of 726, followed by Vermont (719), New Hampshire (718), Washington (717) and Massachusetts (716). States with the lowest credit scores were found in the south, including Mississippi (666), Louisiana (669), Alabama (672), Oklahoma (672) and Texas (673). The HOPE Financial Wellness Index will be updated regularly and will be used to develop programming and identify communities most in need of financial education and resources. “We believe credit education plays an important role in driving financial inclusion and helping consumers reach their fullest potential,” said Alex Lintner, President Experian Consumer Information Services. “While these findings are positive, we recognize they do not tell the full story and many consumers face financial obstacles due to a limited credit history. We are committed to working with consumers, as well as our partners like Operation HOPE, to improve financial equity and access.” Given the unique circumstances of 2020, this year’s report compared credit trends over the last three years. While consumers took on more mortgage and auto debt, score improvements were supported by fewer missed payments, lower credit utilization rates and reduced card balances and total debt levels year-over-year and prior to the pandemic’s arrival. Highlights of Experian’s State of Credit report include: 2021 State of Credit Report 2019 2020 2021 Average VantageScore® 2 682 688 695 Median VantageScore 687 697 707 Average number of credit cards 3.0 3.0 3.0 Average credit card balance $6,494 $5,897 $5,525 Average revolving utilization rate 30% 26% 25% Average number of retail credit cards 2.50 2.42 2.33 Average retail credit card balance $1,930 $2,044 $1,887 Average nonmortgage debt $25,057 $25,483 $25,112 Average mortgage debt $210,263 $215,655 $229,242 Average auto loan or lease debt $19,034 $19,462 $20,505 Average 30–59 days past due delinquency rates 3.8% 2.4% 2.3% Average 60–89 days past due delinquency rates 1.9% 1.3% 1.0% Average 90–180 days past due delinquency rates 6.6% 3.8% 2.5% “While consumers on average are managing their credit histories well, we know there are many communities in critical need of more financial education and resources,” said John Hope Bryant, Operation HOPE founder and CEO. “By helping people raise their credit scores, we are empowering them to take advantage of one of our nation’s most democratic tools. From housing and employment to healthcare and education, credit worthiness can be leveraged to improve our overall quality of life. We’re committed to using the HOPE Financial Wellness Index as a force for good in the communities we serve.” Understanding generational differences State of Credit also spotlights how each generation is managing their debts, showing scores have improved for every generation year-over-year. This trend is attributed to declining utilization rates and fewer missed payments. Credit utilization rates have declined for nearly every generation since 2019 except Gen Z who saw a slight uptick year-over-year. Similarly, credit card balances decreased for consumers of all age groups except Gen Z who increased their balances by $115 year-over-year. Across the board, consumers are missing fewer payments, with notable improvements seen among the youngest consumers. Gen Z decreased their 90 – 180 days past due delinquency rate by 29 percent year over year to 1.73 in 2021. This is a 72 percent decrease from the same period in 2019. Millennials also decreased their 90 – 180 days past due delinquency rates to 1.73 percent in 2021, down from 4.4% in 2021 and 10.6 percent in 2019. Additional 2021 generational findings from Experian’s State of Credit report include: 2021 findings by generation Gen Z Gen Y Gen X Boomers Silent Average VantageScore® 660 667 685 724 730 Median VantageScore 674 678 699 755 741 Average number of credit cards 1.7 2.7 3.3 3.4 2.7 Average credit card balance $2,312 $4,569 $7,236 $6,230 $3,821 Average revolving utilization rate 31% 30% 30% 21% 13% Average number of retail credit cards 1.6 2.1 2.5 2.5 2.1 Average retail credit card balance $1,125 $1,819 $2,214 $1,887 $1,329 Average nonmortgage debt $12,524 $28,317 $32,898 $24,136 $11,725 Average mortgage debt $192,276 $255,527 $259,100 $198,203 $163,254 Average 30–59 days past due delinquency rates 2.1% 3.1% 3.0% 1.8% 1.1% Average 60–89 days past due delinquency rates 1.0% 1.3% 1.3% 0.8% 0.5% Average 90–180 days past due delinquency rates 1.7% 3.2% 3.4% 2.0% 1.3% A strong credit history and responsible credit management can help consumers save thousands of dollars over a lifetime. For example, a person with a low credit score may pay close to $3,000 more in interest to purchase a $10,000 used car3 and a person with a subprime credit score may pay $241 more per month or $86,503 more over the life of a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan than a person with a score of 760 or above4. …
By Charles Redding, MedShare CEO & President El Salvador, like other Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries, faces significant challenges due to its fast-growing, aging population. In a recent article of ReVista – Harvard Review of Latin America, it was highlighted that the population over 60 years of age in El Salvador will represent 17 percent of the total in 2030, and 20 percent of the total population in the region by 2050. Unfortunately, for many very poor and elderly people, access to quality social services such as education, health and drinking water must be improved— measures that impact directly in the human and economic development of a country. Organizations like MedShare are working to improve access to quality healthcare for these marginalized communities, often by providing very low-tech donations that have profound impact on improving the overall quality of life. One of MedShare’s longstanding partners, Food for the Poor, brought to our attention a number of neglected elderly communities in El Salvador that developed a series of health-related issues due to the environment, diet and improper skin care. We partnered to deliver petroleum jelly to address a number of skin related issues that were leading to serious health issues. Sister Ana Beatriz, of the St. John of the Cross Health Clinic, shared that poverty remains very high, especially among the “peasants”. Though tourism helps to stimulate the economy, it has very few direct beneficiaries. Despite some advances, the residents of Laguna have not achieved much improvement in their living conditions over time because most of the La Montañona land is not suitable for subsistence agriculture. The elderly supports the very life of the community through subsistence agriculture. They leave their homes at 4 a.m. to take advantage of the morning freshness. They leave barefooted or at best in rubber flip flops. They reserve their shoes, if they have any, for going to church or official business in the town. The result is a rash of foot related skin diseases. Sister Beatriz also notes how the poor diet and excessive use of carbohydrates and sugar contribute to a rate of diabetes that is in excess of the national average. By 10 a.m. the sun is at its peak strength and the elderly suffer a loss of fluid in their bodies, which leads to dry skin on their legs, feet, elbows, and other areas. Dry skin can crack, causing infection. This is particularly dangerous to people with diabetes that have neuropathy. They may not realize they have a wound that has become infected. “Fortunately, with the donation of skin moisturizers from Food for the Poor and MedShare, we have been able to prevent these problems from happening by practicing good skin care habits,” said Sister Beatriz. In the department of Cabanas, the soil is acidic and volcanic. With more than 55 percent of the population being impoverished, the department ranks second in the country for poverty. Cabanas is home to cement production in El Salvador and the workers suffer from constant dry skin problems. Dry skin develops microscopic cracks which can cause more water loss from the skin. These cracks also allow irritants and bacteria to get into the skin. This small issue has often resulted in a serious one such as skin cancer or psoriasis. During the treatment of elderly patients, the Monsignor Rivera Damas Clinic staff noticed a higher rate of skin cancer in the past three years. According to the staff, the cement workers just did not pay attention to simple cracks in the beginning which changed to major life threatening situations. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in El Salvador and the least likely to be detected. While not an exclusive solution to melanoma, skin moisturizers, like petroleum jelly, have helped to prevent incidences of cancer in rural communities. Often, simple donations such as petroleum jelly or shoes, can lead to lifelong health benefits, specifically in neglected communities with aging populations. We have witnessed the life-changing effect in El Salvador and in other countries dealing with skin diseases. The challenge we continue to hear is that the very poor do not value the health care made possible by a donation of something as simple as skin moisturizers and the temptation is to sell a bottled product in the market or not use it at all. However, these simple solutions can often prolong life. The petroleum jelly provided by MedShare were non resalable samples equal to a single day’s use. The clinics often gave a 2 – week supply to patients whom required skin care treatment. MedShare is grateful for partners, like Food for the Poor, that continue to fight to improve the conditions of marginalized communities by providing food, water, quality healthcare and hope. 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 Nikonie Brown, content and social media associate, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta “The disability community is the largest minority population in the country (20%, 1 in 5 people) and is the only minority group that anyone can join at any time. It crosses all ethnic groups, genders, nationalities, races and socioeconomic groups,” says Myrna Clayton. “There are 1.3 billion people with a disability worldwide.” Myrna Clayton, a professional singer and United States Cultural Ambassador, founded SHOWAbility in 2009. Formerly known as ABEL 2, SHOWAbility is designed to bring opportunities and accessibility to performing artists, audiences with disabilities and their networks. One of SHOWAbility’s goals is to be for the arts and entertainment industry what the Paralympics and Special Olympics are for the sports industry. Its work with people with disabilities in performing arts and creative enterprises illustrates arts at the intersections of health, workforce development and community engagement. Over the past year and a half, the organization has displayed the talent and excellence of performers with and without disabilities and worked as an advocate for social change. Some of the programmatic highlights include: To meet the needs of its target audience during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, SHOWAbility successfully pivoted to virtual programming for self-care and encouragement by creating a two-week, twice-daily virtual arts initiative program. The organization expanded in 2021 by introducing a monthly Virtual Arts Masterclass Series, which honed and fulfilled the artistic needs and interests of people across the diverse disability spectrum (blind, deaf, intellectual, etc.) during the pandemic. SHOWAbility’s newly formed Talent Booking Agency is breaking new ground as it responds to requests from casting agents seeking authentic actors on the disability spectrum. This hard-to-find talent pool is missing from national casting agencies, and SHOWAbility’s coveted database of talented performing artists with disabilities fills that need. Since March 2021 (despite COVID), SHOWAbility has facilitated the hiring of 10 people with disabilities for jobs in Georgia’s film and television industry. On December 2, the Inclusive Chorus, a program made up of singers with and without disabilities, performed for Coca-Cola’s This-Ability BRG for International Day of Persons with Disabilities. As an advocate for social change, SHOWAbility is a thought leader in the space of performing arts and disability. Most leaders in arts and disability focus on the audience, but SHOWAbility insists on the need for venue accessibility for the artists. This persistence led to a National Endowment for the Arts-funded Feasibility Study through Fulton County Arts & Culture. The first of its kind, the study focuses on performing artists with disabilities, while previous disability-oriented studies only focused on audiences with disabilities. This study will assess the accessibility of stages, green rooms and tech areas in Fulton County area theatres. SHOWAbility seeks $50,000 to expand its operating budget to employ staff to support its growth strategy and extend its programming to reach underserved communities throughout metro Atlanta and Georgia. “Like all people, no one wants others to focus on their weaknesses. We all want to be known by our strengths. Yet weaknesses are what we pay attention to for people on the disability spectrum. Even their assigned label – “disability” – highlights what they cannot do rather than what they can do,” Clayton said. “People with disabilities are not broken or sick. They are human beings with unique strengths and abilities. SHOWAbility seeks to highlight their talents by valuing differences, celebrating similarities and embracing oneness of all people and all abilities.” Photo credit: Shine Huang 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.