April 2nd Virtual Transform Westside Summit: “The History and Future of Sunset Avenue”

The April 2nd Virtual Transform Westside Summit featured some of the collective forces working to preserve the legacy of Atlanta’s Historic Westside, including that of the late great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In recognition of this Easter Sunday marking the 53rd anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, the summit focused on the history and future of Sunset Avenue, where the historic King family home still stands. Westside Future Fund correspondents Benjamin Earley and Ebony Ford opened the show. Moderated by WFF President & CEO, John Ahmann, the featured panel included: Maria Saporta, Founder & Editor, SaportaReport; Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado, CEO, Preserve Black Atlanta; and Judy Forte, Superintendent, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park.

Dressed in his Good Friday’s best, Ahmann shared the stage with Saporta as Forte and Dr. Sims-Alvarado joined in via Zoom. The dynamic panelists took turns highlighting the rich history behind Vine City’s Sunset Avenue serving as a bedrock for the Civil Rights Movement, each also recounting how that history impacts them personally.

Maria Saporta joins John Ahmann on stage at the April 2nd Transform Westside Summit.

Maria Saporta, a childhood friend of the late Yolanda King, reflected on her times on Sunset Avenue interacting with the King Family in their home. Speaking of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and reconnecting with Dr. Bernice King, Saporta stated:

“His presence, it was so magnetic, and I mean I can still feel it here so many years later…and I’m lucky that this past year…I feel like I’ve reconnected again with the family and with Bernice.”

King children and Maria Saporta pose for group photo.

She went on to speak about the need to increase public awareness of Sunset’s significance, saying “it’s something that all of Atlanta needs to know about. We’re quite familiar with the history of Sweet Auburn, and we’re quite familiar with the Center for Civil and Human Rights. But there’s Sweet Sunset, and we need to preserve the Sweet Sunset.”

Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado joined in to discuss the preservation of the King estate as well as other historical structures that are abundant on the Westside. When asked to reflect on what the community was like in the past, she was quick to point out the high density of Black leaders living on and in close proximity to Sunset Avenue. Asked about the future of historical preservation on the Westside, Sims-Alvarado said, “I think it’s so important—I’m such a big advocate of bringing attention to place and preservation, because buildings really are the concrete proof that something happened…they’re tangible reminders of our past.”

Rounding out the panel was Superintendent Judy Forte discussing King legacy preservation. “The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park legislation tell us that we are to preserve, protect, and interpret the places where Dr. King was born, where he lived…worshiped…worked…and is buried,” said Forte. She went on to add that the park aims to have 220 Sunset listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to its significance and connection to the King family.

When asked by Maria Saporta why he moved to Sunset Ave., John Ahmann expressed how being present in the area was keeping him “inspired and accountable.” He continued, “often if I go out for a jog or run, I’ll stop by 234 Sunset, and I’ll imagine Dr. King and his wife are on the front porch and what would they want to hear from me. And often what ends up in my imaginary conversation is what do I need to do different about myself to live up to that vision of a Beloved Community.”

Helping to close the show was local Hip Hop artist Taylor Nixon, as WFF introduced for the first time ever the Westside Rise & Vibe, where local creatives are given the spotlight to showcase their talents and liven up the morning for summit attendees. All artists looking to be featured at future summits are encouraged to reach out to WFF on social media or email info@westsidefuturefund.org.