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Historic Westside http://leadership.saportareport.com/historic-westside/ Thought Leader Thought Leadership

The More We, The More I Can Do

By John Ahmann, Executive Director, Westside Future Fund

Last Saturday, as I visited the different booths of the At-Promise Block Party, sponsored by the Atlanta Police Department (APD), the phrase “the more we, the more I can do,” sprung into my mind. As I walked the block of Cameron Alexander, closed for the celebration, I was struck by all the different organizations that had sponsored booths – CHRIS 180, Chick-fil-A, Boys & Girls Club, Georgia Power, Street Smart Youth Project, Waffle House, the Atlanta Hawks and, of course, the Atlanta Police (this is not a total list). Click to see pictures on my Facebook page: At-Promise Block Party 8-4-18 Photos

I was also struck by the Atlanta Police officers mingling with the youth from the neighborhood, both enjoying the party. Two years ago, this would not have happened.

At the August 3rd Transform Westside Summit hosted by the Westside Future Fund (WFF), we hosted Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields and Dave Wilkinson the President/CEO of APF for an update on the Westside Security Plan launched in 2016. The results? Crime is down 40%! Watch the video:

But as I walked the block party on the Saturday following the Summit, I noticed that something is up just as important as crime is down – trust, as I watched youth from the neighborhood dance with police officers and Hawk’s cheerleaders. Crime is down, Trust is up.

And who did this? When Dave Wilkinson and Chief Shields conceived the Westside Security Plan, I suspect it would have been easy if they had just said, “the more money we have, the more the Atlanta Police Department can drive down crime.” They did say that, but they also said it must be we, and most importantly a big we working together so that the at-risk youth on the Westside become “At-Promise.” And the we collaboratively working is delivering results! Crime is down, Trust is up!

To learn more about the At-Promise Youth Center and all the organizations part of its We, click here: http://atlantapolicefoundation.org/programs/community-engagement/at-promise/

I have been honored to lead the WFF since May of 2016, so I recently passed my two-year anniversary. And as a leader of an organization, I can often go to “I.” The more money I have, the more I can get done. The more power I have, the more I can get done. The more fame I have, the more I can get done. And while perhaps true in the short-term, the power of “we” engulfed me August 4th. The more we, the more I can get done. Atlanta native and Vine City resident Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it much more eloquently,

“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be,”

Dr. King penned these words in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written April 16, 1963. And while I am moved by the eloquence and profound insight of the words, I am deeply inspired by Dr. King’s courage: he wrote the letter from jail, not as a PhD thesis written from the safety of an academic sanctuary.

The WFF targets the four historic neighborhoods that Dr. King lived and grew up in: Morehouse College is in the AUC Neighborhood.  Booker T. Washington, where he attended high school, is in Ashview Heights, and the last home he bought in 1965 is in the heart of Vine City: 234 Sunset Avenue.

At the last quarterly board meeting of WFF, we adopted a new vision statement in honor of his legacy: helping to develop a community that Dr. King would be proud to call home.  I think he would have been proud of his community walking the block party last Saturday.

At the end of his life, after becoming the youngest winner of the Nobel Laurette and leading a movement that delivered passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Dr. King in his last years before he was assassinated focused on poverty and economic mobility.  He had traveled to Memphis where he was assassinated April 4th, 1968 to give a speech in support of its striking sanitation workers.  I am sure he had many invitations to speak from around the world that were safe and comfortable, and likely with an honorarium for him as well.  But none of those were the invitation he accepted. Dr. King so profoundly believed in the power of we he gave his life for it.  He could have said, the safer I am, the more I can get done.

So, while likely giving congratulatory words last Saturday on seeing that crime is down, and trust is up, he would no doubt challenge us to do more for the at-promise youth of English Avenue and Vine City.  

According to research sponsored by the Equality of Opportunity Project, the Historic Westside neighborhoods of the Westside over the last 50 years became some of the worst neighborhoods in the country to be poor and black.  Meaning, the odds are overwhelming that if you are born poor and black, you stay poor, with little chance of economic mobility. Click here to read the research: http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/

March 7th, 2013 Mayor Reed and Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank announced the location of the new stadium on the Westside and at the same time issued a collective call to action on behalf of the Historic Westside neighborhoods in the new stadium’s shadow.  They made a down payment on their call to action, each pledging an initial $15M to support neighborhood revitalization. Since then, millions more have been committed and spent (public and philanthropic) in a powerful demonstration of the Atlanta Way.   In the weeks ahead, look out for a weekly column by one of the partners/organizations in this collective effort, demonstrating “the more we, the more the Westside Future Fund can do.” And what we need to do is shift the economic mobility trajectory for residents from worst to first making this a community Dr. King would be proud to call home.



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