By Michael Halicki, Executive Director at Park Pride Typically, December is a time to reflect over the last year and take stock of what we have done. This year is turning out to be quite different, however. With three major wins for Atlanta parks occurring in the past few weeks, Park Pride is now fully focused on the opportunities that lie ahead. Let’s break each of these wins down in turn: Andre Dickens will be a Greenspace Champion for All of Atlanta Last week, Councilmember Andre Dickens prevailed in his grassroots campaign to become the 61st Mayor of Atlanta. While addressing crime and affordable housing are at the top of his priority list, Dickens understands and appreciates the important role parks have played throughout the pandemic and how parks, greenspace, and Atlanta’s tree canopy are foundational for a strong and resilient city. “We know the power of greenspace,” Dickens said in recorded remarks provided to Park Pride during the campaign. “It not only improves the physical and mental health of our residents, but it improves the necessary gathering space for our community; it brings people together and makes them healthier. We know the benefits, we just have to choose to make it a priority at City Hall, and that’s what I plan to do when I’m Mayor.” Within his remarks (which can be viewed in their entirety on Park Pride’s website), Mayor Elect Dickens acknowledges greenspace as vital urban infrastructure. He emphasizes his belief that it is not enough to simply have a park within ½ mile of all residents, but that it must be a quality park. He is also committed to ensuring equitable investment across the park system: “As Mayor, I want to use the weight of the office to fully fund our parks and demand a more equitable allocation of our funds for park maintenance… That is going to require us to think differently about what an equitable distribution of money looks like.” I am optimistic about the future of Atlanta’s park system under a Dickens administration, and Park Pride looks forward to working with him to make quality parks within every neighborhood a reality. 2. Adoption of Activate ATL, the Comprehensive Plan for Atlanta’s Parks and Recreation As Atlantans cast their ballots for a new Mayor in last week’s runoff, Atlanta City Council’s Community Development / Human Resources Committee was simultaneously voting to adopt Activate ATL: Recreation and Parks for All, the Department of Parks and Recreation’s comprehensive plan that will guide the growth and development of the parks and rec system over the next ten years. Among the many priorities that have come out of this plan, below are recommendation highlights 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. Foster a system-wide, sustainable trail network that guides user access to parks and enables connections across the city. 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. These recommendations provide just a snapshot of the full list and the accompanying implementation plan. If approved by the full Council, it will be the first comprehensive plan for parks and recreation that the City has adopted in more than a decade (since 2009’s Project Greenspace under Mayor Shirley Franklin). Park Pride looks forward to working side-by-side with the new administration to advance this ambitious plan for parks. 3. $2M Secured from City of Atlanta for Capital Park Improvements In October, Atlanta City Council unanimously approved legislation introduced by Councilmember Matt Westmoreland to commit $2 million to Park Pride’s Grant Program for capital improvements and upgrades to greenspaces in underserved neighborhoods. This unprecedented contribution of public dollars will be matched in equal measure with support from Park Pride’s philanthropic partners. As a result of increased public and private investment, a greater number of community-led projects in Community Development Impact Areas (neighborhoods where more than half of the population is at or below 80% of the Atlanta–area median income) will come to fruition in the neighborhoods that need them most. Everyone, regardless of zip code, deserves to enjoy a great greenspace and natural area close to home. Over the coming year, Park Pride will work with our partners—City, nonprofit, philanthropic, and community—to ensure these dollars are leveraged to the greatest extent in neighborhoods throughout the city. Three cheers for these three significant wins for parks! We appreciate those who contributed to these efforts and give thanks to all the local leaders who have stood side-by-side with Park Pride through the years advocating for a stronger park system. Our voices are being heard. These events offer hope and promise for more and better parks as we look to 2022 and beyond, and it would not be possible without each of you and your belief and commitment to the power of parks. See you in 2022! This is sponsored content.
Authority Recognized for Support of Hispanic Construction Businesses, Creating Equal Opportunity MARTA has been named “Government Partner of the Year” by the Georgia Hispanic Construction Association (GHCA). Partners since 2016, MARTA supports the GHCA and its membership in a variety of ways, including posting construction job opportunities and other materials in Spanish and hosting Spanish-only workshops on MARTA property. “MARTA is honored by this award and proud to partner with GHCA to advance opportunity within the Hispanic community,” said MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker. “Our Offices of Diversity & Inclusion, Recruiting, and Procurement work to ensure minority members of the construction community in this region have equal access to our varied projects and that MARTA’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) goals are not only met, but exceeded.” “For many years, MARTA has been a true partner of GHCA and its members, affording opportunities and always having an open-door policy to the needs of the Hispanic construction community in Georgia. We are celebrating our 10th anniversary, and we could not be prouder to have this strong and synergetic alliance with MARTA. MARTA is the recipient of the “Government Partner of the Year” Award, not only because of the history we’ve built together but because of the growth that both entities will continue to build by working side by side,” said Rafael Villegas, Executive Director – Georgia Hispanic Construction Association. MARTA regularly sends job and procurement opportunities directly to GHCA’s members, flagging positions that require a bilingual candidate such as Customer Service Representative. These items, along with MARTA project news, are placed in GHCA’s newsletter and on its membership message board. This fall, MARTA collaborated with GHCA to present a “Doing Business with MARTA” webinar to mark Hispanic Heritage Month and held a successful workshop for GHCA to educate members on how to become DBE certified. Additionally, GHCA has held Spanish-only safety workshops for members at MARTA headquarters. “Partnering with GHCA has allowed MARTA to further expand diversity in the public transit industry through both employment and contracting opportunities ensuring that our workforce and practices reflect the communities that we serve,” MARTA Executive Director of Diversity & Inclusion Paula Nash. This is sponsored content.
The words resilience and adoption go hand in hand. The birth parent, adoptive parent, and child, all build resilience during their adoption journey. From supporting birth mothers and adoptive families through the process to the providing a post-adoption support network through the Georgia Center for Resources and Support (GACRS), Families First serves as first point of contact to keep families on track. The Georgia Reunion Registry, another division of Families First, post adoption, strengthens adoptive families by providing adopted persons and birth families a chance for a reunion. Families First partners with families every step of the adoption journey. Each November we celebrate National Adoption Month. For over two decades, National Adoption Month has been celebrated across the county. National, state, and local agencies—as well as foster, kinship care, guardianship, and adoptive family groups—join to educate their communities through programs, events, and activities that celebrate the forever families brought together through adoption and helps raise awareness about the thousands of children who are waiting for their own permanent, loving families. “With our adoptive families, we work to ensure they have the tools, support, and network to build a resilient and strong family. By focusing on building resilience, we can help these families navigate the joys and challenges they encounter during their adoption journey,” shared Brenda H Gillespie, Program Manager, GACRS. “Our partnership with The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services helps us support our families across the state and continue to come up with new and innovative ways to meet their needs.” GACRS, run by Families First since 2002 and contracted by the Georgia Department of Human Services in partnership with The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, provides Georgia adoptive families the opportunity to celebrate each year with our National Adoption Month Celebration. Families First also supports all our families including those brought together by adoption with our new navigator care plan which focuses on building resilient families and communities. Our family approach is grounded in strengthening resilience so that families can better cope with the stresses of everyday life and have the tools and resources to pick themselves back up when life’s challenges come their way. This year’s program brought together more than 150 caretakers and children to celebrate forever families. Our theme for this year’s event was “Resilience Forever” and celebrated the families grown through adoption, as well as bringing awareness to the 275 children in Georgia in need of adoption. During the Adoption Celebration, the Favors’ family shared their adoption journey. Cassandra talked about the power of her support network to help her with her four adopted children and Jammal, the youngest of the four shared, “I love my momma because she is so helpful, and she helps me every day. I love you so much!” “The last 18 months have shown us the strength and resilience of our adopted families. We have seen our families pivot in beautiful ways. From the challenges of getting to know each other virtually to having their lives interrupted to the complexities of school and working from home, our families have been creative in meeting these challenges and getting to know each other to create family bonds,” shared Evangel D. Wicks, Adoption Program Manager, Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. “Looking forward, we want to really hone in on what it takes to foster a spirit of resilience for families. We want our families to feel strong and prepared to be a family.” This is sponsored content.
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 protected] 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 Matthew Gore, Projects and Programs Manager, Buckhead Community Improvement District CIDs are well known for the large, often transformative infrastructure projects we implement. Those projects are critical to our mission, but they’re not the only thing we do. We also carry out small day-to-day items that combine to make a big difference, even to those who might not notice the details. These initiatives are typically focused on what we like to call “being intentional.” These are little touches that often don’t get noticed as individual items, but that taken together display the care and work that go into making the CID area an inviting, clean place to live, work and play. They are the small things that we do on purpose, not to stand as individual “wins,” but as part of the larger program of making Buckhead an area we love. Landscaping is perhaps the largest part of the “being intentional” approach. Buckhead CID funds a landscaping maintenance program that includes regular mowing, weeding, edging and clean-up on the major corridors throughout the CID. In addition, we maintain several flower beds that are rotated spring and fall with seasonally appropriate flowers. We also maintain the trees along the streetscapes throughout the CID. This means that we monitor the trees for health, both to keep up their aesthetics and to ensure the trees don’t create safety hazards near our sidewalks and roadways. As part of our tree work, we also periodically trim and “limb up” the trees. This helps keep them looking orderly and prevents them from crowding one another or our roadways and sidewalks, as low-overhanging limbs can make the sidewalks feel uninviting and create safety issues for both pedestrians and motorists. There are also general maintenance items that come up from time to time, which are too numerous to fully list here, but are still critical to the look and feel of the CID area. Over the last year, this has included everything from repainting light poles to removing/covering up graffiti to addressing small safety issues like missing utility covers on sidewalks. We pride ourselves on reacting quickly to these issues and getting them addressed as soon as possible. These small things can also complement the big things. For example, Buckhead CID is currently in the process of retrofitting old, failing pavers adjacent to the sidewalks on Peachtree Road from Peachtree Dunwoody to Maple Drive with modern concrete. This is a large, multi-year project, but we noticed a small thing along the way that could be implemented quickly and make it even better. As the new concrete went in along the existing sidewalks, we saw that the existing sidewalks and curbs needed to be freshened up to match the newly installed concrete. To help create a better overall look, the CID pressure washed the sidewalks and curbs on the entirety of the retrofit project, which both improved the existing concrete and emphasized the progress we’ve made replacing the pavers. Pressure washing is a small task, but it was a great way to support the big project – the retrofit. As you can see, Buckhead CID is active in all sorts of ways, making sure that we help keep up the quality of life we all expect from Buckhead. The last time you walked down Peachtree Road, you probably didn’t stop to individually note the small things – the clean sidewalks, trimmed trees, freshly-painted light poles and flowery medians. However, on some level, you probably did notice the difference – the inviting streetscapes and well-maintained environment that are an integral part of the Buckhead experience. 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 Dr. Kashef Ijaz, Vice President-Health, The Carter Center, and Sarah Yoss, Associate Director of Special Health Projects, The Carter Center When The Carter Center partners with a country to eliminate a disease through its disease-specific programs or otherwise improve health, a related goal is to strengthen the overall health system of the partner country. Strengthening health systems aligns with the Carter Center’s core belief that people can improve their own lives when provided with the necessary skills, knowledge, and access to resources. The Center’s Public Health Training Initiative has helped improve the preparedness of health professionals in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Sudan, while our Mental Health Program has assisted in the building of a mental health care system in Liberia by supporting the training of hundreds of clinicians. Even beyond those focused initiatives, there is an element of health systems strengthening in all of our disease-specific health programs — Guinea worm eradication, river blindness elimination, trachoma control, lymphatic filariasis elimination, schistosomiasis control, and our efforts to eliminate malaria and lymphatic filariasis from Hispaniola. Each of our health programs work closely with ministries of health and local communities to strengthen public health capabilities and improve health services. Health systems strengthening, as defined by the World Health Organization, consists of efforts to achieve sustained improvements in health outcomes through the improvement of the six “building blocks” of a health system: Service delivery – Health services and interventions are effective, safe, and high quality, and are delivered to those who need them. Health workforce – Health workers are present in sufficient number, equitably distributed, competent, responsive, and productive. Information – The health information system includes the production, analysis, dissemination, and use of reliable and timely information on health determinants, health system performance, and health status. Medical products, vaccines, and technologies – The health system ensures that resources are high quality, safe, effective, and cost-effective, and that people have equitable access. Financing – Adequate funds are raised for health to ensure people can use needed services and are protected from impoverishment caused by having to pay for health services. Leadership and governance – Strategic policy frameworks are combined with effective oversight, coalition-building, regulation, and accountability. Health systems strengthening is also key in promoting global health security, as has been apparent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as well as previous events such as the Zika virus outbreak in Latin America and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Increasingly, national and global public health organizations, including the WHO, are framing health systems strengthening as integral to health security, promoting an approach that can build and maintain essential health services alongside the resources and capacities to prevent, detect, and respond to health emergencies, including epidemics and pandemics. This concept was summed up by Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO: “Quality health systems not only improve health outcomes in ‘peacetime,’ they’re also a bulwark against outbreaks and other public health emergencies. Universal health coverage and health security are two sides of the same coin.” The Carter Center’s efforts focus on strengthening the capabilities, processes, and resources of ministries of health, national public health institutes , health training programs in academic institutions, the primary health care system, and community-based health workers, so that countries and communities will be equipped to stand on their own with robust domestic systems and will not have to rely on outside assistance. Health systems strengthening promotes health security within the particular country and around the world by improving the country’s ability to identify and mitigate future outbreaks before they become pandemics. That alone should be incentive enough to support the effort. This is sponsored content.
By Aixa Pascual A new development of Craftsman-style micro-cottages one block from downtown Clarkston is giving some a shot at home ownership. Cottages on Vaughan, a neighborhood of eight one-bedroom homes – each under 492-square-feet built – sold out quickly earlier this year at prices that ranged from $120,000 to $200,000. None was subsidized. Cottages on Vaughan is a collaboration between the City of Clarkston and the MicroLife Institute, a local developer that advocates for zoning policies that foster connecting community. The innovative project aligns with the city’s 2040 goal of providing more home ownership opportunities and with the desires of its residents expressed in the Clarkston Speaks survey. “Social equity is inherently built into the Cottages on Vaughan,” said William Johnston, executive director of the MicroLife Institute and a Cottages resident. “These homes create an opportunity to accessible home ownership for anyone looking to either downsize their way to happiness or buy their first home.” Cottages on Vaughan is the winner of ARC’s 2021 Regional Excellence Award for Innovative Development. Read on at What’s Next ATL. 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 United Way of Greater Atlanta While recovery is underway in many parts of the community, and federal funds have provided temporary emergency assistance to thousands of families and individuals, many others were left further behind or more severely affected by the pandemic. A disproportionate number of these people are Black and brown people, and particularly women – a fact that impacts the well-being of our entire community. The 2021 Atlanta Regional Commission Metro Atlanta Speaks survey showed that two of three respondents believe that high levels of income inequality have a negative impact on the economy; and more than three in four say that ensuring racial equity is essential to maximizing economic growth in our region. Prominent economists have shared data supporting those beliefs. Equitable recovery is the path to improving well-being and prosperity for everyone in the community. United Way and our nonprofit partners have identified six areas requiring our community’s urgent attention. Unaddressed, these areas of need will hold us back from achieving truly equitable recovery from the pandemic and arresting the disparities that predated it. But if we unite to tackle these challenges, we can power greater Atlanta’s potential to be the thriving, equitable region we know it can be. Children living in families that lacked the technology and support to keep up with their schoolwork need summer learning opportunities and emotional support to address the extreme stresses of disconnection during the pandemic. Young adults whose paths to employment were interrupted by the pandemic need new connections to job networks, reopening the pathway to financial stability. Families who lost their homes and are living in limbo in motels need access to permanent housing to stabilize their lives and livelihoods. Families and individuals who lost income during the pandemic and incurred oppressive financial and medical debts need relief from those debts to get back on track. Children, youth and adults whose mental health was damaged by the pandemic need accessible mental health services restoring their ability to thrive in school, careers and in the community. Nonprofits called upon to step up to unprecedented levels of demand now need the training and resources to continue to meet more complex and high levels of demand in the future. Alongside strong partners and the generous support of donors, we are confident that together we can make 2022 a year of equitable recovery. We have a unique opportunity, post-pandemic, to launch targeted interventions to permanently solve for the persistent inequities that our region has long suffered.” 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 …
The City of Atlanta’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, known as OEDI, is on a mission to leverage the combined power of government, private and non-profit partners, and communities to dismantle systemic inequities and barriers to opportunity. The newly codified executive office is harnessing the power of aligning strong leadership with collaborative action to build an affordable, resilient, and equitable city. On November 19, 2021, Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms’ administration announced the City of Atlanta’s inaugural Child Savings Account program which was spearheaded by the OEDI team. The Child Savings Accounts (CSAs) are long-term savings or investment accounts designed to help children build savings for the future. These savings accounts can be used for students to pursue post-secondary education or career-ready vocational programs. “The Child Savings Account and Youth Entrepreneurship programs are two of our Administration’s proudest achievements,” said Mayor Bottoms. “When I took office, I had a vision for a more affordable, equitable and resilient Atlanta – and that vision began with our children. These programs are another major investment in the future of our young people and the future of our city. ” PAACT envisions a city where all children starting at birth, are healthy, learning and developing so that they enter school ready for success, thrive once in school, and are prepared to reach their full potential as residents of our city. Local governments play a key role in spurring investments that protect the future of our youngest residents. Brittany Collins, Director of PAACT: Promise All Atlanta Children Thrive, sat down with Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim, Chief Equity Officer & Executive Director of One Atlanta, and a PAACT advisory board member, to learn more about the CSA program. Brittany Collins (BC)How is the City of Atlanta planning to use the Child Savings Accounts program to advance equity? Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim (QAR): As a long-term savings account, the program is poised to encourage financial literacy and build savings for post-secondary education. The city has partnered with Atlanta Public Schools (APS) and Operation HOPE to offer qualifying APS kindergarten students a new savings account, along with an initial $50 deposit. Operation HOPE will provide the seed money for the savings accounts and offer low-income kindergartners and their families additional financial resources. The City of Atlanta is donating $2 million to Operation Hope to administer the program. Accountholders will have the opportunity to add additional funds throughout their academic careers by participating in financial empowerment and educational programs. BC What sparked the idea for the CSA program? QAR: While running for office, Mayor Bottoms had a clear vision for Atlanta. She established the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion with a mission to collaborate with the City’s internal and external stakeholders to find ways to make Atlanta a more equitable place to live and work. Mayor Bottoms envisioned the CSA program during her campaign as an opportunity to drive equity for children living in communities that have not historically been invested in. BC How has research informed the decision to create the CSA program? QAR: According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center, in 2019, 35% of Atlanta’s children were living in poverty. Atlanta ranks in the top 5 cities for highest child poverty rate. The research shows that children that have a savings account with $500 or more are five times more likely to graduate from a post-secondary institution. BC What role do community partners play in making this program a success? QAR: Atlanta’s philanthropic community has a huge role to play in this program in terms of matching dollars the City and Operation HOPE have invested. The historical Gulch development deal provided necessary seed funding, and we would love to see public and private entities match the dollars going into the savings accounts of Atlanta’s children. In addition, nonprofit organizations such as GEEARS, through initiatives such as PAACT, and others can assist by raising awareness about the program. BC When will families be able to enroll in the CSA program? QAR: Enrollment is scheduled to open before the end of the year. The program will launch with three cohorts of eligible participants, approximately 2,800 students, from 45 Title I schools. We estimate that an additional 400 students are eligible who are not currently attending a Title I school will also qualify for the program. To learn more about the City of Atlanta’s Child Savings Accounts program, review the official press release or visit the city’s webpage. This is sponsored content.