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Young Professionals Pledge to Support Civil Rights Center

By A. Scott Walton Executive Editor | 8/2/2013, 2:05 p.m.
Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell (left) salutes the efforts of National Center for Civil and Human Rights Executive Vice President Deborah Richardson (center) along with Atlanta Board of Education candidate Raynard Johnson.

Dozens of Atlantans in their late 20s to mid-40s who share an appreciation for what the National Center for Civil & Human Rights will mean to the world gathered Monday night at Midtown’s City Club to get a progress update on the venue’s construction.

Just over a year into its development, the NCCH is on pace to open as scheduled in late spring of 2014, according to the site’s Executive Vice President, Deborah Richardson.

“I saw them laying down the base for the second floor today,” Richardson remarked to the crowd, “and I cannot describe how thrilling that was.”

It is anticipated that as many as 400,000 people will visit the center every year once it is completed, and that it will generate $50 million worth of tourism revenue annually. Richardson said the three-level site _ nestled between the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium downtown _ will create about 500 new jobs.

The total cost to complete the project is roughly $70 million; $30 million of which, Richardson said, was raised by former Mayor Shirley Franklin “in 11 days” to purchase the estate collection of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s writings.

“Just think,” she said, “people are going to be able to come and see the original draft of his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech handwritten on a legal note pad.”

In a Power Point presentation that drew “oohs” and “ahhs” and applause from attendees, Richardson detailed how the center will be divided into three main sectors: The Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Collection; the Civil Rights Gallery, which will guide visitors through an interactive maze of news and events as social justice activists experienced them; and the Human Rights Gallery, which will reflect on past crimes against the world’s poor and disenfranchised as well as point out in real time how visitors can avoid supporting regimes and corporations that exploit people today.

Amber Saunders, a volunteer co-host of the gathering couldn’t contain her enthusiasm while saying to the crowd: “I don’t know how many of you have been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., but I must say that was a most moving experience for me. And when I learned that this center was going to give visitors a virtual experience of what it was like to be abused during a lunch counter sit-in, or to place a book about a topic like sex trafficking down on a table in the lounge and all of sudden have that table top come alive with maps and information, I just knew I had to get involved.”

Several local politicians _ including Atlanta City Council president Ceasar Mitchell and Atlanta Public Schools board member Courtney English _ mixed and mingled with the well-dressed, cordial crowd.

“This center is going to play a key role in the revitalization of downtown,” Mitchell told attendees. “It’s going to make it a whole lot easier for those of us on the City Council to not do what we don’t want to, and that’s raise your taxes.”

“It’s also an opportunity to bring people of all backgrounds together,” Mitchell added. “It’s ultimately an expression of who we are as a city, and what Atlanta has meant to the world.”

English concurred, saying: “This place won’t just be about honoring the past. It’s where we can take our children and teach them how to safeguard our future.”