January 21st Virtual Transform Westside Summit: Highlighting AT&T and Its Commitment to the Westside

Westside Future Fund’s January 21st Virtual Transform Westside Summit highlighted the positive impacts that AT&T Georgia is having towards creating equity in education on Atlanta’s Historic Westside. Featured guests included: Venessa Harrison, President, AT&T Georgia; Dr. Diamond Ford, Principal, Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy; and John Ahmann, President & CEO, Westside Future Fund. WFF Co-hosts Ebony Ford and Benjamin Earley opened the program with warm new year greetings, after which Earley went on to moderate the panel discussion.

Venessa Harrison, President, AT&T Georgia

Speaking on AT&T’s critical investments in WFF and Hollis Innovation Academy, the panelists had this to say:

Vanessa Harrison: “We launched this partnership in January of 2019. I arrived in Atlanta, to take over AT&T Georgia in December of 2018. So within 30 days, I met John Aman and was introduced to the Westside Future Fund and I was very impressed. I was impressed because the Westside future Fund is dedicated to transforming the Westside communities in a holistic way. They’re interested in having public safety, making sure that the communities are safe. They’re interested in affordable housing. As I said earlier, they’re interested in making sure that our kids are educated through partnerships with Dr. Ford and other schools like Hollis Innovation Academy…those are the same priorities that my company AT&T has, and so it was just a good fit. And when we look at that, we feel like that is a good start, but it’s still a lot of work to be done. AT&T is very proud of the amount of broadband that we have expanded across the state of Georgia. We believe with all the providers we have, at least 90% of the residents and businesses have access to broadband access.”

John Ahmann, President & CEO, Westside Future Fund

John Ahmann: “Because of a lot of the other corporations that are coming in to invest, having AT&T be in is like ‘oh, I see someone I recognize in that restaurant maybe I feel a little bit safer’…because some of the early work has a little bit more risk behind that, so to speak.”

“The actual investments…which we’re really proud of, under Diamond’s leadership and vision help in the STEM education [at Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy], which is now certified, which is very exciting. They’ve also helped launch our entrepreneurship program and our PRI program to help Westside entrepreneurs. So the investments at AT&T have had a tangible impact plus the visibility that a corporation brings.”

Dr. Diamond Ford, Principal, Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy

Benjamin Earley: “You know, a lot of times we talk about this sort of global topic of doing better for the Westside, investing in the Westside. But what does that actually mean on a practical everyday person to person level? When it comes to education, what does that mean as far as creating equity for Historic Westside students. Well, what that looks like in practice is exactly what AT&T Georgia is doing.”

In a day-to-day sense of this is the new realm for students. This is the new world that students are going to have to grow up in and inhabit and hopefully thrive in. Well…the only way to make sure that that is possible is to ensure that they have access right now, as they’re going through the educational process. And so, Dr. Ford, I want you to just highlight what’s so important, again, about the AT&T Access Program specifically for your school and the Washington Cluster?”

Dr. Diamond Ford: “What we have all seen and all become aware of is that the pandemic lifted and brought light to a very real topic, which is a digital divide but it’s also a racial and socio-economic issue—that we have a lot of work to do. And when children are at home and not in school, they don’t have the access if they do not have internet access, and they cannot get on to Zoom, to search. Our kids, we don’t want them to have the continued gaps that we know already consistently exist right now between African American students and white students or based on your socioeconomic range…and where you fall in terms of income.”

“When you have companies like AT&T committed to making sure that there is an opportunity for access, it then helps me, and feeds me, and feeds our community and our students to ensure that we can continue to push the needle and close the gap. Our children are very smart; they are resourceful; they are highly intelligent, but they need the opportunity.”

View the entire Discussion Below!