March Transform Westside Summit: Women-Led Panel Talks Anti-Violence, Youth Empowerment

To honor Women’s History Month, community members and business leaders came together for a women-led panel and discussion about youth anti-violence at the Westside Future Fund (WFF) Transform Westside Summit on Friday, March 17.

John Ahmann, Westside Future Fund president and CEO, invited new members of the crowd to introduce themselves, and Kanesha “KaCey” Venning, Co-Founder of HEY! Helping Empower Youth, led the devotion.

Meet the Panel

An all-woman panel took the stage to discuss youth anti-violence and how their organizations present options that steer these youth in the right direction. Panelists included:

Powerful Testimony

The most powerful moment of the Summit happened when co-moderator Benjamin Earley, Westside Correspondent at Redclay-Hill and a fourth generation Westside resident, shared his  testimony with tears streaming down his face. (The video contains audio with potentially disturbing language.)

“I grew up on the Westside and from the time I was probably 15 to 27, I lost about seven friends to street ****. Excuse my language, but that’s just what we call it. The difference between where I’m at right now and where some of my peers are, is the fact that I had resources. I had a support system. I had a safe home. I had food, even when we were on food stamps, I could eat every day. It’s real; these are people… and we need our city, Atlanta, the beacon of civil rights, of equality, of justice… we need y’all to stand the hell up. I am tired of losing young Black people in this city when it can be perfectly preventable. This is unnecessary. It’s unnecessary. God, it is unnecessary.”

All Women, All Servant Leaders

WFF CEO John Ahmann praised the work of the all women’s panel, pointing out two words missing from any of their responses — servant leader.

“On this morning’s panel discussion, I heard a lot about service, but I never heard one of them say: ‘I am a servant leader.’ What I’ve learned about real servant leaders is they don’t think about it or say it because they’re so busy serving. These women have been at it for so long, and quite frankly, I don’t know how they keep going sometimes. They are servant leaders, and we can celebrate these women for modeling it.”

Stories & Stats

Local youth talked about their personal experiences with violence in a series of audio snippets that brought Summit co-moderator Ebony Ford to tears. (The video contains audio with potentially disturbing language.)

Panelist Dr. Whylly of the U.S. Attorney General’s office of the Northern District of Georgia also presented  facts and figures:


  • Nationally, gun violence is said to be the leading cause of death for children under the age of 18.
  • On average, it’s estimated that gun violence takes another life every five hours in Georgia.

Juvenile Crime Rate

  • Until 2020, the juvenile crime rate had been declining.
  • Since the pandemic, homicides committed by a single juvenile alone increased by 30%.
  • Multiple juveniles committing a homicide increased by 66%.
  • Homicides committed by children under 14 was at its highest in two decades.

Effects of Gun Violence

  • 40% of children exposed to gun violence develop PTSD.

Make an Impact

We invite you to sign up to be a mentor as part of the LitChics program so you can make a lasting impact on metro Atlanta youth who are affected by violence.

Miss the event? Watch the full Transform Westside Summit on YouTube.

Thank You, Women of Our Board

In honor of Women’s History Month, we are honoring key women leaders from our community, both past and present, including many of our very own hard-working board members.

“I am incredibly grateful for the many visionary women civic and business leaders who form our Board,” said John Ahmann, president and CEO of Westside Future Fund. “Their leadership as Women of the Westside and commitment to the equitable revitalization of the four historic Westside neighborhoods are essential in our mission to transform our community into one Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud to call home.”

Thank you, Women of the Westside board members:

  • Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, Spelman College
  • Stacy Apter, The Coca-Cola Company
  • Kathleen S. Farrell, Truist Inc.
  • Shawntel Hebert Clark, Vanderlande Industries Inc.
  • Virginia Hepner, Retired, Wachovia Bank
  • Susan Somersille Johnson, Prudential Financial
  • Lee Kuschel, PricewaterhouseCoopers
  • Penny McPhee, Retired, The Arthur Blank Family Foundation
  • Helen Smith Price, Retired, The Coca-Cola Company
  • Sylvia Russell, Retired, AT&T Georgia
  • Beverly Thomas, Retired, Kaiser Permanente
  • Kathy Waller, Ex-Officio, Atlanta Committee for Progress
  • Eloisa Klementich, Invest Atlanta

Addressing Racial Inequities Through Academia: Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum and Her Work on the Westside

When she first arrived in Atlanta in 2002, Dr. Beverly Tatum stepped into a critical role for the success of the City. A life-long educator, Tatum was named President of Spelman College – a leading educational institution for Black women, not only here in Atlanta but around the world.

She brought years of experience with her. She attended Wesleyan University for her undergraduate education in psychology before earning her master’s and doctorate degrees in the field from the University of Michigan. From there, she went on to teach briefly at the University of California at Santa Barbara and Westfield State College in the subjects of Black Studies and psychology in the 1980s. She then landed at Mount Holyoke University in South Hadley, Mass., where she served as a professor and dean of the Psychology department before being appointed interim President of the school.

A brilliant academic, Tatum focused her studies in psychology around the issue of racial inequity and its systemic roots. Naturally, Spelman College, a school founded on the matter of addressing racial inequity, was a perfect fit for her leadership.

Founded in 1881 by Christian missionaries, Spelman College served the critical purpose of educating Black women less than a generation out of enslavement with the goal of these women then going out and educating the communities they came from.

“The idea was that Spelman women would be able to get a quality education and then use it to transform the communities from which they came, and that was the history and role Spelman played locally here in Atlanta and beyond, going as far as Africa,” said Tatum. “A third of the women who graduate from Spelman have remained in Atlanta and are a crucial part of the engine that drives our City. I like to say if you meet a Black woman who is in a leadership role in a corporate or civic setting here, the odds are high that she is a Spelman graduate.”

During her tenure as president, Tatum led initiatives to improve Spelman, the neighboring historic universities, and the community and neighborhoods surrounding them, but she quickly realized they needed more than what the accessible resources of the institutions could provide.

“These were communities that were disinvested and intentionally so, it was not an accident. They were left without working sewers, without drivable streets, and it was no secret that these became highly segregated neighborhoods,” said Tatum.

Her time working closely with local leaders had made her evidently aware of the vast needs the surrounding community required. Adequate affordable housing was limited, schools were unsupported, healthcare was inaccessible and food markets were scarce. Her vision for the community was going to need something bigger—a collection of visionary leaders who could take on the critically needed mission of revitalizing the Westside.

In 2014, shortly after announcing her intention to retire the next year, she realized her own vision was shared by many others. Tatum had long served on the Atlanta Committee for Progress, an advisory council to the Mayor of the City. She started under the leadership of Mayor Shirley Franklin and continued under Mayor Kasim Reed, who one day approached her and asked if she would serve on the board of an soon-to-be formed organization called Westside Future Fund.

He described it as a group of civic and corporate leaders who would lead an effort for the revitalization of the four historic neighborhoods of the Westside, bringing together some of the city’s best and brightest. Instantly, she knew it was an opportunity to accomplish a long-standing goal of her own.

“It had been a goal for myself and the university to assist in the revitalization of the neighborhoods surrounding the college. We found it hard to do as one organization or even in partnership with the other AUC schools. There was so much need and not enough resources to be able to do the kind of things that now Westside Future Fund is doing–acquiring property, renovating houses–things that weren’t in the purview of the college but essential to the revitalization of the neighborhoods,” said Tatum. “I realized that as I was exiting Spelman, being involved with Westside Future Fund from day one would give me the opportunity to work on some of the things we had hoped to accomplish.”

In December 2014, the inaugural Westside Future Fund Board of Directors was named, including Dr. Beverly Tatum. From the start, her focus was dialed in on education for residents from cradle-to-career.

“As a life-long educator, focusing on education was the place where I first got involved as a board member. Around the same time we were getting started, Hollis Innovation Academy was starting up. It was a unique situation, the first public school in the City to offer education starting at Pre-K. I had the opportunity to meet the new principal, Dr. Diamond Ford, and it was immediately clear we could support educational resources in the community through partnership,” said Tatum. “From there, we went on to work with Booker T. Washington High School and eventually the whole Booker T. Washington School cluster. The progress we’ve seen in these schools since has been tremendous.”

Her work on the board has not been limited to education. Tatum has played an integral role in the decision making of WFF’s highly-successful initiatives. In 2020, she was named the first woman Chair of the Board. For Tatum, WFF’s approach to accomplish equitable revitalization in the community is what stands out as most essential to the organization’s success.

“One of the things that really attracted me from the start about this work is how holistic it is. It wasn’t just about acquiring land,eliminating blight and rehabbing buildings, though that is important. It was also about looking at the education available in the community, access to healthcare, how infrastructure could support job and economic growth opportunities,” said Tatum. “The revitalization of the community that is being done is a wonderful thing that ensures the people who have lived and labored in these communities for so long are able to benefit from the improvements that are taking place.”

In her eyes, it also plays a critical role in advancing the institutions that educate essential Black leaders in the Atlanta community and beyond.

“It’s important to the AUC institutions that the neighborhoods surrounding them be thriving neighborhoods. Students want to come to schools where the neighborhood is safe, has amenities and it feels like an exciting place to be. As a leader of one of the instructions, we always wanted our institution to thrive and the neighborhoods around it to thrive,” said Tatum. “I continue to see that as important, but most importantly it’s about equity, fairness, and social justice.”

Tatum’s tenure as Chair of the Board came to a close this month, but her leadership within the community is far from over. As the Westside continues to revitalize into a community Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud to call home, both Tatum and the entire WFF board will continue to support it.

“It’s been a tremendous privilege to serve on the board. It is a wonderful group of community leaders who are giving their time to advance the cause and mission of the organization. The work is so important. We know that what we are doing on the Westside needs to be replicated in other neighborhoods and communities, and I think we are creating a template for what can happen when people come together to bring the resources that are long overdue to bring about positive change,” said Tatum. “It’s exciting to see the ways that the neighborhood is being transformed so that we are not driving people out but rather ensuring that we include the local residents as well as making space and opportunities for new people to move in. I’m incredibly excited for the future of this community.”

Helen Smith Price Recalls Life on the Westside: WFF Board Member calls the Westside a very special place

A native woman of the Westside, Helen Smith Price has a unique passion for the community. Her grandparents, father and his 10 siblings were all born and raised on the Westside, and she recalls it as a place during her childhood where Black residents felt truly equal, safe and protected in  the days leading up to the Civil Rights Movement.

Price lived on the Westside until the age of eight and later returned in her early adulthood to attend Spelman College. She went on to have a prolific career in community leadership, retiring as President of the Coca-Cola Foundation and Vice President of Community Affairs for the Coca-Cola Company.

These days, she gives back to the community that shaped her by serving on the Westside Future Fund (WFF) Board of Directors as well as the boards of Spelman College and Coca-Cola United.

For Price, a deep passion for the Westside is rooted both in her personal history and its role  advancing Black excellence and culture.

“The history of the community as a whole is incredible. Booker T. Washington High School’s history has always stood out to me as the first high school for African Americans in Georgia. Families from across the entire state of Georgia would send their children to Atlanta to continue their education,” said Price. “I can’t imagine sending my 13-year-old child to another city for school, but it was the only way they could get an education. Then you have Washington Park, the only park where African Americans could swim, and the first Black YMCA, Phyllis Wheatley YMCA. There’s so much history here, I couldn’t possibly list it all.”

A Special Place

Price says the Westside was uniquely special during her childhood because of the sense of equality it provided Black residents – something they could seldom find elsewhere in the South at the time.

“The Westside, when I was a child, was a protected African American community. We had our own grocery stores, our own movie theater, we had everything we needed in our community and we were protected from segregation here, we had no reason to venture out. The Westside was a very special place,” she said.

During Price’s childhood on the Westside, the painful realities of segregation were seldom an issue in the community. The only instance she remembers was a show called “The Popeye Club,” a locally broadcasted television show for children.

“Children could go on the show in the audience, and the only thing I can remember in regards to segregation while living on the Westside was we couldn’t go on The Popeye Club. That’s it,” said Price. “It was a neighborhood that was fully engaged, separate and equal.”

But when Price and her family moved from the Westside to Grove Park around the age of eight, that all changed. Once a predominantly White neighborhood, the sudden influx of Black homebuyers agitated White residents, and in a short time, Price witnessed one of the most memorable moments of racism and bigotry she can recall.

“One night, a cross was burned in the yard across the street from us. My mother was nursing my baby sister when she noticed the flames, and immediately my parents called the police,” recalls Price. “As a small child, I didn’t quite understand everything going on at the time, but looking back, it was the first time in my life I’d witnessed something like that. I’d been so protected on the Westside that I’d never been truly affected to that point. The Westside was a community where we felt safe, we thrived and it served all of our needs.”

Protecting the Westside

Today, Price hopes to help preserve the community that protected her by transforming the neighborhoods in a way that will foster the same level she was afforded during her childhood.

She proclaims education is ‘one of her greatest passions,’ and she is proud to support cradle-to-career education initiatives led by WFF. However Price acknowledges that bolstering education resources in the community won’t help if legacy residents are priced out by housing development.

“I look at other revitalized communities that have promised to ensure existing residents would not be priced out, but in many cases, those promises were not kept. They are wonderful communities, but the people are gone,” said Price. “Westside Future Fund is working so hard to ensure that we revitalize the Westside community with resources and services, so that people who claim it as their home have the opportunity to stay here.”

Exemplary Leadership

Price is encouraged by the ongoing work of the organization and looks forward to being a valuable member of the Board. Leadership from experienced civic and business leaders is integral to the success of WFF’s mission to transform the Westside into a community Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud to call home.

“Westside Future Fund has built an incredible team, formed an incredible Board and is becoming an organization with a plan template to help guide similar community projects to success, both locally and nationally. I’m so proud to be a part of the impact we are making on this community,” said Price.

A Big Year on the Horizon for Home on the Westside

A big year is in the works for Westside Future Fund’s (WFF) Home on the Westside program as we plan to complete 45 affordable homes in the community by the end of 2023.

The plans include 33 rental units across five multi-family properties and 12 single family homes. All of the properties are located within the English Avenue and Vine City neighborhoods, including several single family homes on the blocks surrounding Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park.

In addition to the homes set to complete this year, WFF plans to break ground on three high-quality, affordable multi-family properties in English Avenue that will deliver 83 new rental units by the end of 2024.

These projects are only the beginning. Thanks to critical community support, WFF has acquired land holdings to support an additional 150 single-family homes and more than 150 units of multi-family housing. Many of these properties include blighted and vacant lots that WFF maintains with the intent to develop in the immediate future.

This spring, our Home on the Westside program will welcome new homeowners Shawn and Auna who are closing on their new two-story constructions at 852 and 854 Proctor Street respectively. They join fellow new homeowner Steven who closed and moved into 850 Proctor Street in December 2022.

The three new homes line the block of Proctor Street adjacent to Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park. All three new homeowners are legacy residents of the Westside with deep roots in the community, with some going back to their childhood.

The Home on the Westside program provides legacy residents with access to housing to keep them in the community they know and love. By retaining these legacy residents, the community retains not only its history and culture but also those passionate for its future.

Honoring Community Matriarchs Mattie Freeland & Kathryn Johnston: History of Two of the Westside’s Newest Parks

After decades of neglect, many properties, including whole blocks in the English Avenue community, are suffering from abandonment and blight. In the past few years, two parks have been constructed in the neighborhood to honor Westside community matriarchs Mattie Freeland and Kathryn Johnston. We’re sharing their stories to honor Women’s History Month and to celebrate their impact on the Westside.

Mattie Freeland Park 

For more than 55 years, residents of English Avenue could see Mattie Freeland on the porch of her D’Alvigney Street home when they passed by. She came to the neighborhood in its prime  — a bustling Black middle-class community home to visionary civil and business leaders — and stayed through its fall from grace.

Over the years, English Avenue felt the crippling impacts of disinvestment in the community, leading to widespread poverty and community neglect. Mattie watched the landscape around her dwindle each year, with neighbors leaving, crime increasing and resources becoming scarce.

Across the street from her home, an empty lot quickly filled with abandoned cars, trash and unsightly waste that was not only an eyesore, but a danger to children and others in the community. What many saw as a blight, Mattie saw as an opportunity.

Known to many in the neighborhood as “Mother Mattie,” she was a regular attendee of the nearby Life Covenant Church and was renowned for being a source of life, love and care for her neighbors. When in need, one could count on her to offer a meal, a phone call or even a couch to sleep on.

One day in 2007, when speaking with neighbors and members of her church, Mattie expressed a vision to transform the blighted lot into a flower garden, envisioning the space as a place for the community to gather and grow together. She passed away before her vision could be realized, but it was not forgotten. In late 2008, neighbors gathered and formed what would become the Friends of Mattie Freeland Park, a group dedicated to the clean up of the blighted property.

Over the next several years, the space became a community gathering spot. It included space for children to play pick-up field sports, picnic tables and a grilling area. The atmosphere inspired murals to be painted on abandoned structures along the property and the creation of a homemade screen community members would use with a borrowed projector for gatherings.

In 2015, a conceptual park plan was created with the help of Park Pride and the available lots were purchased by The Conservation Fund on behalf of the City of Atlanta Parks Department. Together, the organizations planned to integrate the space into the Atlanta Park System and make it a permanently protected community green space.

After a few years of planning and community input, the project broke ground in 2020. Construction continued through late 2022 when Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, City Councilmember Byron Amos, the Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation, Park Pride, The Conservation Fund, and the Friends of Mattie Freeland Park held a ribbon cutting to celebrate the long-anticipated grand opening of Mattie Freeland Park.

Now, “Mother Mattie” Freeland is cemented—and landscaped— into the neighborhood she knew and loved for years to come.

Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park

The fabric of the Westside community, City of Atlanta and our nation as a whole was deeply impacted onNovember 6, 2006, when three undercover Atlanta Police officers carried out a botched no-knock warrant raid on the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston.

Just after sunset, Officers Gregg Junnier, Jason Smith and Arthur Tesler knocked down the door of Johnston’s Neal Street home on English Avenue, carrying out a warrant on the home of a suspected drug dealer. In a rapid series of events, officers fired 39 rounds into the home, striking Johnston multiple times. She died at the scene.

Johnston was known as a kind, caring woman and matriarch of the local community. The circumstances permitting the officers’ warrant immediately came under question as it was clear unforgivable mistakes had been made. The three officers involved were fired from the police force and the incident was immediately investigated. Over the next several months, the investigation revealed that much of the intelligence behind the warrant was partially or entirely falsified.

Local and national protests emerged as all eyes turned to the disaster on Neal Street, reigniting an ongoing national conversation around police brutality and a failed system of community policing. In 2009, after a lengthy investigation and trial, Chief U.S. District Judge Julie E. Carnes sentenced the three officers to prison on the charge of conspiracy to violate civil rights resulting in death.

While justice was served against her killers, community members and city leaders knew more had to be done to honor Johnston’s legacy and ensure the story of her grievous passing would not be forgotten.

In 2018, after months of community discussion, Park Pride, The Conservation Fund and the City of Atlanta broke ground on Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park on English Avenue with the intention of it serving as a constant reminder of the ongoing efforts to ensure that Atlantans not only remember her contributions to her community, but also continue to work toward the prevention of future tragedies.

Located a block from the site of the incident at her home, the park transformed vacant and blighted lots into a community greenspace where children and families in the Westside community can gather and play.

In addition to being a beautiful outdoor attraction, the park is built specifically to help mitigate stormwater, which had long flooded and plagued the neighborhood. According to Park Pride, it’s capable of managing more than 3.5 million gallons of water annually.

The ribbon cutting ceremony for the park took place on November 6, 2019—exactly 13 years after her murder. Today, the park is full of life.

Westside Future Fund has prioritized property development on the blocks surrounding the park. Several single family homes are being remodeled or built nearby, including four properties adjacent to the park on Proctor Street. New homeowners moved in this past December and January, and two more closings are scheduled for March 2023.

Space for Wellness: WFF & The Home Depot Foundation Create Special Spaces for Booker T. Washington Students

Last month, more than 50 volunteers from The Home Depot Foundation partnered with Westside Future Fund for the annual MLK Day of Service to create wellness and resource rooms at Booker T. Washington High School where Dr. King graduated in 1944.

Tolton Pace, manager of Programs and Partnerships for The Home Depot Foundation, believes these new spaces will help students gain confidence on their pathways to success.

“We hope the wellness room will help students feel empowered in a safe, comfortable place that also offers a sense of dignity,” said Pace. “In this intimate space, students can seek support from teachers and comfortably address any issues that come up on a day-to-day basis in school.”

According to Raquel Hudson, WFF director of Programs, many students at the school lack adequate resources to dress and groom appropriately for school and work. Previously, the school utilized a vacant storage room stocked with used clothing as a makeshift resource room, but found that many students were uncomfortable sifting through disorganized boxes and changing in the school restrooms. Hudson hopes the reinvented space will encourage students who need these resources to use them freely and comfortably.

“The resource room will feel like a boutique with vanity tables, clothing racks and a dressing room,” said Hudson, who led WFF’s MLK Day of Service planning effort. “These kids deserve to have their needs met with dignity, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to help make that possible.”

Located a few doors down from the resource room, the wellness room provides students with a place to decompress, destress and de-escalate. The room is equipped with couches, work tables, and whiteboards where students can work or leave kind messages for fellow students and school staff.

Students are encouraged to use the space at their leisure while under supervision of a school staff member. It is a safe space for students to clear their minds and escape the daily pressures of school, and it will be used for counseling sessions, school program meetings and mental health services. Dr. Erica Clark, student counselor at Booker T. Washington High School, says students immediately started taking advantage of their newest amenity.

“It’s going to be an important resource for us to address the mental health of our students and help them find refuge from the pressure of school and social life for a moment,” said Dr. Clark. “We’ve already started some group sessions, and we partner with Hazel Health to provide virtual mental health counseling. If there’s something we can’t provide them, they can go to this space and speak with a medical professional that can help address their mental health concerns.”

The new spaces are expected to have a lasting positive impact on students for years to come. Lee Hendrickson, Corporate Volunteerism Manager at The Home Depot Foundation, says they can already see the impact of their work coming to fruition.

“Soon after the rooms were complete, Dr. Clark shared a video of students who were excited to thank us for transforming the space,” said Hendrickson. “Their gratitude reminds us how valuable these spaces are to them, and we consider it a privilege to make a positive impact on their lives.”

Buying Blight and Beautifying the Westside

During the first half of the 20th century, the historic Westside was a bustling middle-class Black community with manicured neighborhoods – but as socioeconomic inequities set in, so did neglect.

Over the years, many properties on the Westside became vacant, abandoned and blighted, leaving rotting shells of former homes engulfed in overgrown vegetation. The unsightly nature of the situation pushed out families, and drew in crime.

Lee Harrop, vice president of Real Estate Development at Westside Future Fund (WFF), says it’s a cycle that without intervention will only get worse, which is why the organization is working to purchase as much of the blighted property as possible to help beautify and sustain the community.

“One of the reasons we work so hard to purchase, secure and maintain these blighted properties is that blight leads to more blight. It’s the broken window theory—if you fix the broken window, people won’t feel as inclined to break the one next to it,” said Harrop.

To date, WFF has purchased 189 vacant or blighted properties on the Westside—120 vacant lots and 69 severely deteriorated single family homes. Of those single family homes, 25 have been or are slated for demolition due to safety concerns. An additional 18 have been renovated and sold or rented, and 29 more are either under construction or awaiting city permitting.

One area of focus in the clean-up effort has been the streets surrounding the newly-constructed Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park. While partner organization Park Pride was redeveloping the park, WFF set off to purchase and clean-up blighted properties on surrounding blocks. The side-by-side projects had a double-dipper effect, reducing blight and increasing quality of health and life for people living next to the park in the future and preserving that land for legacy residents.

“We try to take blight out of the equation anywhere that we can. We managed to get rid of all the blight in the Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park development area, so now we’re focusing on the next blocks beyond that. Removing the blight has also pushed out squatters, many of whom were engaging in illegal activity. By pushing them out, the park area has become much safer for families and children,” said Harrop.

On Proctor Street, one of the streets bordering the park, WFF has already constructed, sold and closed several homes through the Home on the Westside program. The program aims to provide legacy residents of the Westside with newly-renovated or constructed, affordable homes in the community.

While WFF works to redevelop and rejuvenate these properties, they have to be secured, consistently monitored and maintained.

Thanks to a partnership with Westside-local non-profit Integrity Home Solutions, that maintenance is made easier, says Raquel Hudson, director of Property Assets and Volunteer Programs.

“Integrity Home Solutions makes sure our properties are cut regularly, keeping the grass at a proper height, cutting back bushes and branches and keeping the properties beautified. They also check to make sure there’s no dumping or trash, which is a huge problem here on the Westside, particularly on vacant properties. If there is, Integrity Home Solutions cleans it up for us,” said Hudson. “They’ve been a great partner in helping us in our mission.”

In cases where clean up efforts may need to be more extensive, Integrity Home Solutions helps identify key areas for WFF monthly Community Cleanup, volunteer events that aim to remove trash and overgrowth over larger areas.

The purchase, maintenance and renovation of these blighted and vacant properties is essential to the organizational mission of WFF to revitalize the Westside, and the organization has plans in store to continue this effort over the coming years.

Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Alesha Bell

Revitalizing our community is a team effort, one that relies heavily on the support of our many incredible volunteers. To thank them for their hard work and dedication, we shine a light on people who actively support our mission.

This month, we’re spotlighting Alesha Bell, a Westside local committed to helping transform our community for the better. See what inspires him to give her time as a volunteer for Westside Future Fund.

Q: How did you first hear about the Westside Future Fund?

A: Back in 2018, I was looking for organizations in my neighborhood I could volunteer with and when I searched on Google, I fell upon the Westside Future Fund website and was immediately interested. Their vision to transform the Westside resonated with me as a resident.

Q: What is your favorite part of serving with the WFF Volunteer Corp?

A: For me, it’s my love for making a difference in my community and actually touching the lives of my neighbors.

Q: What inspires you about this service opportunity?

A: As a mother of two small children, I want to set an example for them by serving our community in a way that shows integrity, a loving spirit and leadership. My children are my inspiration, encouraging me every single day to always do the right thing in my community.

Q: What do you want others to know about the Westside Future Fund and why it’s so important?

A: It is so important as residents of the Westside that we are strong together and that we care for one another. Our strength in numbers displays our passion and growth in our community. We can only go up from there!

The Visionary Leader of the Domestic Workers Movement: Dorothy Bolden’s Life Story

A Worker from a Young Age

In 1933, Dorothy Bolden began working as a domestic worker for a white Atlanta family near her Vine City home in the Westside community. She was nine years old. Every day after school, she’d work at the family’s home, caring for their baby, washing diapers and cleaning the house.

In 11th grade, she dropped out of school and began working full-time as a domestic worker. She would begin at 8 a.m. and finish in the early evening, just after dinner. Despite working nearly 12 hours a day, she only earned $3 per week.

For Bolden, domestic work was the only lifestyle she knew. When she was born in 1924, her mother was a maid and washerwoman. Before she began working on her own, Bolden and her brother would deliver the laundry their mother washed for other families.

The work was grueling. From the beginning, Bolden longed to leave the domestic workforce, but was limited by an injury she suffered at age three, which left her eyesight severely damaged. She attempted to attend design school and work in a mailroom, but her poor vision made it near impossible. She ultimately landed back as a domestic worker.

Unfortunately for many Black women at the time, this was a vicious cycle. Domestic work was one of the few careers readily available to them due to a litany of restrictions caused by segregation. It was unrightfully viewed as an unskilled job, resulting in low wages, long hours and poor treatment.

At the age of 16, Bolden experienced poor treatment firsthand. Her employer demanded she stay late one evening to wash dishes and tidy up the house. With nightfall just around the corner, she refused and left. On her way home, she was confronted by two Atlanta police officers who promptly arrested her for talking back to a white woman. She was jailed and eventually bailed out by her family at great financial expense.

Family, Misfortune and Motivation

A few years later in 1944, Bolden met Abraham Thompson and the two were married. The couple had nine children together— three passed away at a young age and the other six lived on to adulthood.

Bolden took a few years off from work to care for her family, but economic conditions were unfavorable and forced her back into the domestic workforce. This time around, with years of experience under her belt, she was able to command a higher rate with some larger homes paying her as much as $90 per week.

Still, the pay did not satisfy the exhaustion. Each day, she would wake up at 4 a.m. to travel to the white neighborhoods she served, then return home in the evening to prepare meals and care for her children. While she claimed to like the work to some degree, the exhaustion it caused and the mistreatment she suffered at the hands of families she served were taking a toll.

One day in 1955, Bolden was watching TV when she saw the news of Rosa Parks in Alabama refusing to give up her seat. The exhaustion she saw in the fellow labor worker’s eyes inspired her to move for change, and that’s when her mission began.

A Quest for Change

Bolden quickly dove into the world of activism, volunteering with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and her impact was immediately noticeable. She played an integral role in school desegregation, voter registration and housing reform.

Bolden was still unsatisfied, arguing that desegregated schools and housing was pointless when Black women working as domestic workers couldn’t even afford clothes for their children to attend the schools. That’s when she turned her attention and activism toward the cause closest to her heart, supporting her fellow domestic workers.

Having grown up in Vine City and working tirelessly to build an activism network in the community, she turned to her new neighbor on Sunset Avenue and asked for some guidance on how to form a union for her fellow workers. That neighbor was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King had heard of Bolden’s work with local organizations and encouraged her to move forward with the formation of a union, saying he knew she had the ability to do it herself. So she did.

Forming a union required her to meet with her constituents. With years of domestic work experience herself, she knew there was little to no time for them to meet outside of work hours, so she met them at the one place she knew they’d be every day— the bus.

For months, Bolden would ride buses at the same time domestic workers were traveling to and from their jobs. She championed her cause, urging domestic workers to join her in forming a union – and they agreed.

A Union is Born

In 1968, more than 70 domestic workers elected Bolden as president of the newly-formed National Domestic Workers of America, one of the first of its kind in the country. While the organization had national in its name, it primarily served women in the Atlanta area.

The union’s first goal was to train the domestic workers in skills, including cooking, shopping, child care and elder care. Though most workers already possessed the skills, Bolden and the union provided a formal training program, which helped them argue that the workers were now professionally trained and worthy of higher pay and better treatment.

The union’s impact was noticeable; domestic workers were now receiving reasonable pay and there was a clear shift in the overall environment of the career, with many workers feeling more confident and proud of their work. Soon, similar organizations began to sprout up around the country, and the government took notice.

In 1970, the union announced the first Maids’ Honor Day, during which employers nominated their employees to be recognized at a local gala to celebrate their hard work. Two years later, then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter announced the day would be recognized as a state holiday. Bolden stood next to him during the address.

Over the next three decades, the union would remain a prominent force for protecting the rights of domestic workers. Bolden’s success earned her national recognition, and over the years she acted as an advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. She remained a key leader of the union until her retirement in the mid-1990s. Bolden passed away in 2005.

While the traditional domestic worker role has changed significantly over the years, Bolden’s legacy was crucial to providing the safe and fair work environment that home caretakers experience today.