Whenever we see more cranes added to the city skyline, hear about another public works project that promises to alleviate traffic while creating more traffic in the meantime, or read about another company calling Atlanta home or leaving the city because of another questionable bill from the General Assembly, we always hear about how many jobs are coming (or leaving) the city.

But how many of those jobs are going to people born, bred and raised in Atlanta? How many of the economic opportunities that can lift generations go to those who really need it? The answer is simple – the opportunities are going to go to those who have access to them – and that’s disproportionately not the members of communities of color.

The gap between the haves and have nots, rich and poor, successful and struggling continues to widen in Atlanta and throughout the American South.

We continue to be a city and a region that touts its Civil Rights heritage but grapples with an uncertain future where a child of color born into poverty only has a five percent chance of moving up the economic ladder, according to the Brookings Institute.

This isn’t a new statistic. Atlanta has held that rating since 2013.

But whenever I sit on panels, attend dinners, give talks throughout the region, or have the opportunity to have a cup of tea with my fellow civic and community leaders, the conversation about the city’s income gap stays the same – just a conversation.

And to make matters worse, some people sound surprised that Atlanta (clutch pearls) has such problems and they never remember the city being in such disrepair for some; that Atlanta suddenly started having this problem overnight.

To be quite honest, Atlanta and the South has had this problem since 1619 when the first enslaved persons arrived in Virginia from Africa. Thus, beginning the diabolical trend of treating enslaved Africans, Indigenous Peoples, and anyone perceived as “different” as less than human and not deserving of success.

This mindset has fed into policies that have systematically kept communities of color from thriving. It’s become so common in our everyday lives that it has become “normal” or even worse – something we cannot change.

So, the conversation about this sudden, immovable thing called income inequality just keeps going. Aren’t our mouths tired of saying the same thing over and over again? What if we decided to do something different, have courage, and come together to tackle this issue head-on?

This is why I am asking you to join us on June 20-21, 2019 at Morehouse College for the inaugural Just Opportunity Summit.

This two-day conference will bring together community leaders like Michael McAfee, president and CEO of PolicyLink; civic luminaries including Bill Hawthorne, chief equity officer of the City of Atlanta; and corporate titans plus Sekou Kaalund, head of Advancing Black Pathways at JPMorgan Chase, to strategize to eliminate barriers for those who want jobs, businesses, and a chance for success.

The summit also expects strong representation from academics and researchers, public policy professionals, community advocates, college students, and young professionals.

Tickets to the Just Opportunity Summit range from $30 for individuals, $100 for nonprofit organizations, and $130 for corporate/civic entities. Individuals can still get 15 percent off of their admission using the code “EARLYBIRD,” and nonprofit, civic and corporate organizations receive five tickets with their registration. Additional details, speakers and an updated agenda are available at www.justopportunitysummit.org.

The summit will also provide an opportunity for regional leaders and subject matter experts to have roundtable discussions on priority topics for metropolitan Atlanta, including:

  • Closing the racial wealth gap for communities of color
  • Growing sustainable communities for a stronger economy
  • Leveraging public & private procurement for economic inclusion
  • Policy transformation for working families
  • Preparing and engaging youth for equitable employment

The summit is central to our work of creating an intentional space for all who, regardless of their occupation or influence, are committed to moving the needle on racial and economic inclusion.

This is also an opportunity to exchange ideas, learn about proven strategies, connect to efforts already underway, and for regional partners and the community-at-large to act more strategically in advancing an agenda of racial and economic equity.

The Just Opportunity Summit is grounded in the belief of equity and hard data. According to PolicyLink’s Employment Equity Report, “achieving true ‘full employment’ across all racial and gender groups—bringing 384,000 more workers into employment—would add $2.4 billion in new state and local tax revenue annually.”

The hypothesis is that the more people with jobs will have enough money to spend in their communities, moving everyone up the socio-economic ladder. The Just Opportunity Summit is aimed at making this into a reality, not just for Atlanta, or Georgia, but throughout the American South.

Your voice is needed in this important conversation. My hope is that we see you and hear your ideas at the Just Opportunity Summit at Morehouse College, June 20-21. Please get your tickets and take your place in ensuring a prosperous future for all of us at www.justopportunitysummit.org.

Nathaniel Smith is the founder and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity and chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education’s Affordable Housing Taskforce.

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