May 1st Virtual Transform Westside Summit: The Collective Response to COVID-19 on the Westside

Attendees of the May 1st Virtual Transform Westside Summit were provided with the most recent updates on COVID-19 as well as highlights from key institutions helping to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on Westside residents. The summit, which is usually held at The Gathering Spot in front of a live audience made up of hundreds of Westside community members and stakeholders, drew over one thousand online viewers who watched via live stream.

Makeda Johnson, Vine City Resident and Founder of Sister’s Action Team, joins the May 1st Virtual Transform Westside Summit.

Makeda Johnson, Vine City Resident and Founder of Sister’s Action Team, helped kick things off via a prerecorded video providing updates from the community-focused organization. Johnson and Sister’s Action Team continue to distribute over two hundred care kits per week to Westside residents, largely focusing efforts on preventative care for seniors and other at-risk community members. The kits contain hand sanitizer, cleansing wipes, gloves, and masks made of batik, an African fabric, which are intended to help fellow residents stay safe when away from home. Johnson also continues to urge seniors suffering from loneliness due to social distancing to call 888-524-7143 to speak to a Sister’s Action Team team member.

Top left to bottom right: John Ahmann, President & CEO, Westside Future Fund; Craig Lucie, Owner of Lucie Content and former News Anchor at WSB-TV; Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, President & Dean, Morehouse School of Medicine; Tom Andrews, CEO, Saint Joseph’s Health System / Mercy Care

John Ahmann, President & CEO of Westside Future Fund moderated the featured panel discussion which included: Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, President & Dean, Morehouse School of Medicine; and Tom Andrews, CEO, Saint Joseph’s Health System / Mercy Care. Craig Lucie, Owner of Lucie Content and former news anchor at WSB-TV, fielded questions from online viewers during the Q&A segment following the panel discussion.

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice spoke on the variety of ways in which Morehouse School of Medicine is working to not only support Westside residents in the wake of COVID-19 but to also put an end to the pandemic. “We’ve been of course following all of the CDC‘s guidelines for social distancing, wearing our masks, and checking our symptoms,” said Dr. Montgomery Rice. She continued, “but we’ve also been in the research lab. Our researchers, particularly those who are virologists and infectious disease experts have been looking at what we call the envelope of the virus and doing testing against it.” While addressing COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on African American communities versus Caucasian communities, Dr. Montgomery Rice noted that “there are social, behavioral, political, and economic reasons as to why we see disparities.” She then pointed out the importance of being able to adequately test communities which experience a higher concentration of morbidity and mortality due to COVID-19, as such data would enable experts to better understand the virus, treat symptoms, and ultimately engineer an vaccine. To learn more about Morehouse School of Medicine and its efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

Tom Andrews weighed in on the work Mercy Care is doing to help ease the impact of COVID-19 on Atlanta’s homeless population. Teaming up with Fulton County and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mercy Care is focusing on the “sheltered and unsheltered homeless population in our community and their extra vulnerability because of the fact that they do suffer from a lot of chronic diseases, and they’re exposed in different ways by living in congregate settings.” Thanks to a grant from Fulton County, Mercy Care has conducted “over 2100 tests in the homeless community” alongside other organizations which have provided food and other resources. “85% of those tested were African American,” said Andrews, as he emphatically echoed Dr. Montgomery Rice’s plea that continuous testing is essential for getting a hold on the COVID-19 virus. To learn more about how Mercy Care is helping in the fight against COVID-19, click here.

Tangee Allen and Maria Armstrong, Co-Founders, Raising Expectations, join the May 1st Virtual Transform Westside Summit.

Tangee Allen and Maria Armstrong, Co-Founders of Raising Expectations, joined in on the action via prerecorded video to share updates from the non-profit mentoring and tutoring program that works to educate and empower Westside youths in challenging circumstances. Providing wrap-around support to youths who come from low-income households, with some having experienced the hardships of family members being incarcerated, Raising Expectations helps develop self-confidence and pride while honing academic and leadership skills.

Beverly Westbrooks, Coaching Specialist, On the Rise Financial Center, joins the May 1st Virtual Transform Westside Summit.

Beverly Westbrooks, Coaching Specialist at On the Rise Financial Center, also joined the May 1st virtual summit via prerecorded video to discuss the non-profit’s free financial coaching services which aim to empower Westside residents by way of financial literacy and planning. Through On the Rise, residents can learn about the financials of homeownership, free tax preparation and filing, access to financial products and services, and more.

Jay Bailey, President & CEO, Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, joins the May 1st Virtual Transform Westside Summit.

Jay Bailey, President & CEO of Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (RCIE), capped off the virtual summit with a prerecorded video in which he discussed the impact RCIE aims to have on Black-owned businesses on Atlanta’s Westside. Launching in 2019 and honoring the great legacy and visionary business leadership of Herman J. Russell, RCIE will be the largest center in the country devoted to empowering African American entrepreneurs and small business owners. Part incubator, accelerator, innovation lab, and even part museum, RCIE will help tell the untold and under-told stories of African American entrepreneurs and business leaders of past and present.

Be sure to follow Westside Future Fund on social media and join the new Westside Future Fund Transform Westside Summit Group on Facebook for regular updates!