Standing with elected officials to realize an equitable Atlanta
In a forum held by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the candidates for Atlanta mayor in attendance all answered that it was time for a new “Atlanta Way” – decentralizing power from primarily serving the civic and corporate elites toward centering prosperity within the community through more equitable initiatives like prioritizing local employment when large companies move to the city. It was inspiring to hear that regardless of what side of the aisle they were on, candidates agreed that equity was the way to move Atlanta forward.
The elections are now over and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, Council President Doug Shipman, and a host of new and vibrant City Council members could usher in the change we all seek if they are willing to stand courageously together in ways that finally create environments of healing, prosperity, and inclusivity – the “Beloved Community” that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of so many years ago.
Time is on our side. We can get this done. Equity – just and fair inclusion – has moved from the buzzword of previous campaigns to Presidential policy. President Biden’s executive order on advancing racial equity during his first days in office, smoothed the way for cities such as Atlanta to experience a more equitable society in our lifetimes. If we combine the Federal support of initiatives such as mixed-income housing, clean energy job creation, including youth and elderly voices, and the reduction of healthcare disparities with the willingness of this new city administration, we will see change, but we must see it through especially when opposition arises.
The responsibility to bring about an equitable future for all does not rest solely with elected officials. That power also lives with the same communities that voted those officials into office. Traditionally, organizations like the Partnership for Southern Equity and others would hold elected officials accountable for their promises to bring about equity, but today is a new day. We must do more than just hold elected officials accountable. We must stand with them as they stand with us. By working together, we can ensure that all voices are always heard in decision making and not just when it is convenient. In past administrations, the relationship between advocates and policymakers was adversarial at best. This new administration can move beyond that by connecting with the wisdom of community groups and stakeholders per the City of Atlanta’s Community Engagement Playbook.
I invite Mayor Dickens, Council President Shipman, our new City Council, and the region’s new slate of elected officials to partner with organizations like the Partnership for Southern Equity to realize the inspiring promises they made on the campaign trail and at their inauguration. Connecting with frontline organizations like PSE gives you the ability to continue cultivating the authentic relationships you fostered while campaigning while working to create trusted conduits for constituent engagement. It also gives you the ability to tap into wisdom gained by decades of deep community engagement. Here are some lessons learned from our work that we think could help you in yours:
- Authentic community engagement is going to be key to realizing a better city; residents are not your enemy, but your partner.
- Leverage existing organizations and wisdom already in the community who are working every day to find solutions.
- Everybody is not going to want an equitable future and an inclusive city. There are those who have benefited from inequity and will work hard to ensure that inequitable systems stay in place.
- Move from planning to realization. Go beyond the piecemeal approach of taking care of a systemic issue one symptom at a time. Atlanta needs an enforceable equity strategic plan like the Equitable Growth and Inclusion Strategic Plan the Partnership for Southern Equity developed for the City of East Point alongside Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham and the East Point City Council.
This type of alignment with the federal government, city leadership, and the will of the people may not come again in a long time. It is up to us to create the city we want for ourselves, our youth, and our seniors. And it is not just creating policy. Through the Justice40 Initiative and the American Rescue Plan, there are funds already circulating that are directed towards communities of color, youth, seniors, small businesses, and municipalities who want to champion equity. This is our time. America and the world are watching to see how equity can serve as the superior growth model over division and systemic racism. Let’s show them how it’s done.
Nathaniel Smith is the founder and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity. More information can be found at www.psequity.org.