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Street of Dreams: “Year of Boulevard” Project Expands Horizons

By A. Scott Walton Executive Editor | 7/19/2013, 8:29 a.m.
City Councilman Kwanza Hall

The infamously impoverished Boulevard “corridor," where the poorest households (per capita) in the Southeastern United States are corralled, runs a scant mile or so away from the ritzy Hyatt Regency Atlanta hotel downtown.

Until three days ago, for the 20 teens and tweens who got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Hyatt, the distance between the two spaces might have seemed oceanic. But today, those kids not only know where the Hyatt’s Human Resources office is; they know how to be dressed, how to behave and who to ask for when they get there some time in the future.

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall led the basement-to-suite level tour as part of his ongoing Operation P.E.A.C.E. initiative, which steers the corridor’s youth toward career training, healthier lifestyles, enriched education and entrepreneurship.

Operation P.E.A.C.E. (Positive Education Always Creates Elevation) is but one phase of the “Year of Boulevard” project that Hall launched in 2012 in response to the corridor’s rampant crime and poverty.

This summer, 650 youth were enrolled in the Operation P.E.A.C.E. summer camp programs. And some of them commuted in daily from more affluent communities that surround downtown because their parents can now find jobs in or near the corridor and, thus, afford to live elsewhere.

To Hall, that’s the full intent of “Year of Boulevard”. There’s no point in making cosmetic changes to the corridor’s appearance, housing and business options, and level of law enforcement, he insists, if the main dwellers have no means of ever moving out.

In his own youth, the District 2 councilman said he’d served at neighborhood pools as a lifeguard.  He throws out a non-stop string of neighborhood improvement efforts like life preservers that will keep the corridor’s poor, neglected, uninformed and ill-behaved afloat until they learn to swim against strong tides of adversity.

Tomorrow, “The Year of Boulevard,” now called Mo’Boulevard around Hall’s office rather than last year’s tag line, YoBoulevard!, will shut down a three-block stretch of the major north-sough throughway to pass out back-to-school essentials, provide entertainment, healthy food samples, employment brochures and clinical advice to corridor residents.

“In a nutshell, Kwanza’s on the ground,” said the Old Fourth Ward bar/restaurant owner, Kevin Edwards, who donated 400 book bags to last year’s back-to-school event.

“We’ve got pockets of rich people over here and deep pockets of poor people over here, and he’s able to connect with those facets. That’s why I pitch in.”

During their tour of the Hyatt, the Operation P.E.A.C.E. campers were exposed to the employment opportunities in sales, marketing, purchasing, security, guest services and culinary arts.

Hall told the Atlanta Voice that if he can help elevate the desperately poor residents of the corridor up into “working poor” status, and then prop more of them up to where “they can get a good-paying job and show a good example for their kids and support their kids, and be able to afford a car to get to that job they find, wherever it is” part of his mission will be fulfilled.