The week in local news.

Despite the weather not really cooperating, it’s officially summer! As of June 21, the season of water, sun and fun is upon us. If you’re looking for a way to welcome the new season, check out the Summer Soul-stice music series on Saturday, June 24, at The Works on Atlanta’s Westside. The event will feature live music from local bands and the shows are free and open to the public. Hello, summertime! 

On to other local news:

MARTA breaks ground on bus rapid transit line

On June 15, MARTA and the City of Atlanta celebrated the start of construction of MARTA Rapid — the region’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) line. The five-mile line will link downtown Atlanta to Capitol Gateway, Summerhill, Peoplestown and the BeltLine, with connections to MARTA’s heavy rail system at Five Points, Georgia State and Garnett Stations. 

“Investments in transit are really investments in our people, communities and future,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said in a recent statement. “I came into office with a long-term vision to assure that all our residents would share in Atlanta’s growth and prosperity, and transit equity is a huge part of that charge.”

The new transit line will have electric buses and 85 percent of its route will operate in lanes with transit signal priority, which will reduce travel times by avoiding the need to start and stop at each intersection. Construction has begun, and the team estimates that the service will be up and running in 2025; however, a more detailed start date has yet to be shared.

The overall BRT network is named MARTA Rapid, and the individual routes will be coded by color — much like the current MARTA rail system. Click here to check out the route.

For a look at the groundbreaking ceremony, click through the gallery below. Photos by Kelly Jordan.

— Hannah E. Jones

Gyimah Whitaker. (Photo courtesy of the City Schools of Decatur.)

City Schools of Decatur swears in new superintendent

Last week, City Schools of Decatur (CSD) swore in their newest superintendent.

Dr. Gyimah Whitaker was the former deputy chief academic officer for Fulton County Schools and wants to establish an institutional infrastructure around high-quality literacy instruction for the upcoming school year. 

“As a leader, my core beliefs are that equity is the vehicle to excellence, leadership matters, and engagement inspires,” Whitaker said. “Guided by these values, I am both humbled and delighted to ensure that together CSD reaches an even higher level of brilliance.”

— Allison Joyner

Retired CNN President Tom Johnson (right) asks questions of FBI Director Christopher Wray at the Commerce Club on June 20. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Commerce Club and APC host FBI director Christopher Wray

Before becoming director of the FBI, Christopher Wray was a partner at Atlanta-based King & Spalding, where he was recruited by Walter Driver, then chairman of the law firm.

So, it was a bit like old-home week on June 20 when Driver introduced Wray to a program put on jointly by the Atlanta Press Club and the Commerce Club. That partnership existed for a dozen years before the COVID pandemic brought a stop to major events for several years.

Thanks to a reinvigorated Commerce Club board, led partly by former CNN President Tom Johnson — APC’s guardian angel and moderator of the Wray — there was hope for a renewed partnership. 

In his introduction, Driver spoke of his efforts to lure Wray to King & Spalding.

“He made the decision the old-fashioned way — he let his wife make the decision,” Driver said. “I want to thank his wife, Helen.” 

“I’m grateful to be out of D.C. for lots of reasons,” Wray said, alluding to the polarized political environment in our nation’s capital. “I was able to sleep in my own bed last night.” So, Wray still must consider Atlanta to be home.

During his remarks, Wray spoke of the FBI’s efforts to reduce crime and to stay on top of technology like AI.

“What keeps you up at night?” Johnson asked.

Wray laughed. A running family joke is that he has a hard time staying awake through dinner. Then he borrowed from Donald Rumsfeld’s quote about the unknown unknowns.

“At the FBI, we are very good with the known knowns. We are pretty good since 9/11 of the known, unknowns,” Wray said. “The unknown unknowns is what worries me the most.”

Two other key points Wray made that are worth noting:

“Ultimately, we are in an environment these days where people’s standards of what’s fair is whether they like the result,” Wray said. “It’s based on whether they like the outcome. That’s a dangerous place to be.”

Additionally, China is — and has been — his greatest concern since becoming FBI director. He said that the Chinese government is looking at every possible avenue to spy on the United States.

“There is no greater threat to this country and our national security… than the Chinese government,” Wray said. “It is the defining threat of our era.”

— Maria Saporta

The build day at Scott Elementary School was held on Saturday, June 17. (Photo by Rank Studios.)

Community Schoolyards build-day at Scott Elementary

Over the weekend, Atlanta’s Scott Elementary got a revamped schoolyard with a new playground and more. The new space was constructed by over 100 volunteers with the Trust for Public Land (TPL), Delta Air Lines and Atlanta Public Schools for TPL’s Community Schoolyards initiative.

Through this project, local schools are able to reimagine their outdoor spaces and, once completed, open the area as a public park. This supports TPL’s overarching mission to ensure that each resident lives within a 10-minute walk to a park. In Atlanta, 13 percent of folks aren’t able to do so.

The new playground space. (Photo by Casey Sykes for Rank Studios.)

Today, elementary school students will be able to enjoy amenities that are fun and eco-friendly, including:

  • New playground
  • Upgraded community garden and greenhouse with compost, seating and pollinator-friendly plants
  • Beautification efforts, including fresh mulch, new paint and birdhouses 
  • Protect bird habitats and shade trees from invasive species with the help of Georgia Audubon

This is the fourth corporate volunteer event with Delta through the Community Schoolyards program and is part of a $1 million-plus investment that the airline made to build schoolyards across Atlanta with TPL over the past five years.

— Hannah E. Jones

City seeks new operator for Channel 24 as People TV contract dies 

The City on June 20 began formally seeking a new operator for Comcast Channel 24 in a plan to shift from traditional public-access television to a multimedia “community media center.”

A contract with People TV, which operated the channel for decades, expired on June 5 and the channel went dark. Adrian Coleman Tyler of People TV said the halt of broadcasts without a contract extension was a surprise. She warned that an agreement allows Comcast to take back the channel if at least eight hours of weekly content is not broadcast for 90 days.

The City, which did not respond to questions, last year took over operations from People TV amid longstanding debates about the channel’s content and funding. The City also commissioned a “re-envisioning” study of the channel and held public input meetings.

Coleman Tyler acknowledged that People TV, a nonprofit formed in 1986, has issues. “People TV has been declining in all areas for years now,” she said. “The board hasn’t met since January 2022. The organization is in debt and [has] been constantly facing eviction.” 

The City’s request for proposals (RFP) for a new operator for “community access media” has a bid deadline of Aug. 3. It describes the purpose of the intended service as “to promote and actively develop participation by, and education of, the City’s residents and organizations in the overall community dialogue through the use of public access facilities and equipment and other electronic media.”

The RFP says the City reserves the right to award contracts to multiple bidders.

— John Ruch

Pamela Scott-Johnson. (Photo courtesy of Spelman College.)

Spelman announces Pamela Scott-Johnson as new Provost

Earlier this month, Spelman College appointed Dr. Pamela Scott-Johnson as the HBCU’s new provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. 

Scott-Johnson, who is also an alumna of the all-women institution, currently serves as the provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

“Dr. Scott-Johnson’s familiarity with the College and passion for its mission, along with her stellar administrative experience at a range of complex higher education institutions, scholarly record in the sciences, coupled with a strong appreciation for the liberal arts, and fundraising skills make her the right choice for this role,” said Dr. Helene Gayle, president of Spelman College. 

Scott-Johnson said in a statement that she is thrilled to be returning to her alma mater as a member of its leadership team and is looking forward to developing the students as change agents.

“Spelman has been and will continue to be a special place for women of African descent and how they impact the world,” Scott-Jonnson said. “I look forward to guiding additional pathways for advancing faculty at all levels and delivering innovation in student success from retention to graduation.”

Scott-Johnson will begin her position on Aug. 1.

— Allison Joyner

ABL announces this year’s Men of Influence recipients

On Tuesday, the Atlanta Business League announced the honorees of the 2023 Men of Influence. The list recognizes Atlanta’s 50 influential Black Men that have demonstrated their commitment to the citizens of metro Atlanta by maintaining significant involvement and participation in community and civic activities. 

James “Jay” Bailey, President and CEO of Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, Imara Canady, National Director for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and Dr. David Thomas, and Rushion McDonald, CEO and Owner of 3815 Media, are among some of the recipients of this year’s prestigious award. 

The ceremony and reception will be held at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta on July 18. Click here to register. 

— Allison Joyner

The resource events were held on March 1, April 12, May 3 and June 14. (Photo courtesy of Feed the Children.)

Community resource partnership wraps with 1,200 families supported this spring

Last week, the fourth and final community resource event was held at Sara J. González Memorial Park — wrapping a four-month partnership between Americold, Feed the Children and Welcoming Atlanta with the Mayor’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs. 

The program launched on March 1 as a way to support local families by providing access to food and other critical resources. Throughout the initiative, the team distributed 80,000 pounds of food and other essentials. This service is critical in a state like Georgia, where one in seven children doesn’t have reliable, consistent access to food.

During the monthly distribution events, volunteers handed out 25-pound boxes of food, 15-pound boxes of essentials like toiletries and “action boxes” with games and fun activities for kids.

Last week, community partners joined to provide COVID and flu vaccines and Second Helpings provided meal kits from HelloFresh. There were also representatives from local organizations who shared information with visitors, including the Atlanta Public Schools Multilingual Services & Programs, Fulton County Library, Philadelphia College of Medicine Georgia, Latino Community Fund, Edens, Operation Hope, and The Latin American Association, PAD Initiative, Center for Global Health Innovation, Helping Mamas, Tahirih Justice Center, Department of Parks & Recreation, Cherokee Family Violence Center and Children’s Museum Atlanta.

“We welcome partnerships because we know our work would not be possible without collaborative relationships,” Feed the Children President and CEO Travis Arnold wrote in a release. “Feed the Children is proud to join efforts with Americold and Welcoming Atlanta to support children and their families with access to food and essentials. Together, we are stronger than any one of us is alone.”

— Hannah E. Jones

Hodan Hassan. (Photo courtesy of Morehouse College.)

Morehouse appoints Global Fundraising Executive as new Chief Advancement Officer

Yesterday, Morehouse College announced Hodan Hassan as its new Chief Advancement Officer. 

Hassan has been a fundraising executive for more than 25 years, serving in higher education and global humanitarian fields. 

In her new role, Hassan will build national philanthropic support and lead the fundraising strategy and execution of the historic $500 million “Making Men of Consequence” campaign for the all-male institution. The campaign was developed to drive investment in student scholarships, faculty research and recruitment, campus construction, and the expansion of innovative academic programs and has raised nearly $232 million to date. 

“Hassan is a global fundraising strategist and a trusted philanthropic advisor who has an outstanding reputation for collaborative problem-solving which has an exceptional track record for creating and executing successful campaigns that provide transformative resources for the institutions and organizations that she has served,” said David Thomas, president of Morehouse College.

Hassan has worked in all areas of higher education advancement, from directing prospect development to managing development services and stewardship. She is also skilled in computer coding languages and has designed and implemented technical systems to manage and evaluate donor engagement in the institutions that she has served.

— Allison Joyner

MARTA selects firm for final design of Streetcar’s BeltLine extension

MARTA has selected the firm HDR to complete the final design for the Atlanta Streetcar extension onto the Atlanta BeltLine.

The roughly $230 million Streetcar East Extension project will extend service of the Downtown loop between Edgewood Avenue and Ponce City Market, with five stations. 

MARTA says construction will begin in 2025 and service to start in 2028. The project is part of the “More MARTA” expansion program funded in part by a sales tax. 

The selection of HDR was made on June 22 by the MARTA Board of Directors’ Planning and Capital Programs Committee, according to the transit agency.

— John Ruch

Charlene Gilbert. (Photo courtesy of Clark Atlanta University.)

CAU appoints new provost and senior vice president of academic affairs

Last month, Clark Atlanta University announced Dr. Charlene Gilbert would be the institution’s new Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs. 

Gilbert currently serves as Senior Vice Provost for Student Academic Excellence at Ohio State University and Dean of Arts and Letters at the University of Toledo. 

She has a track record of supporting faculty development and research excellence that she plans to continue at the HBCU. 

Gilbert earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from Yale University, a Master of Fine Arts degree from Temple University, and a Ph.D. degree in Educational Studies from the University of Nebraska. She is an accomplished administrator, scholar, and artist whose film credits include the award-winning PBS documentary “Homecoming: Sometimes I Am Haunted by Memories of Red Dirt and Clay.”

— Allison Joyner

Hannah Jones is a Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for...

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