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.”
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.