At the Nov. 1 Transform Westside Summit, Westside Future Fund (WFF) opened the floor for Summit attendees to provide feedback and hear from one another. “I think of these Summits as the front door to the collective effort,” WFF President and CEO John Ahmann said. “We want to make sure we as the Westside Future Fund can do a better job of delivering these Summits, enhancing the experience, making sure they’re what the customer – you who are sitting in the audience – wants.”
Ahmann addresses Summit attendees.
The Summit was broken into two parts: a pop-up panel and polling exercise.
Pop-Up Panelist Share Their Thoughts
Ahmann served as moderator of the pop-up panel, which featured longtime Summit attendees – Mrs. Hattie Pollard, a resident of the Westside for 40 years; Dr. Leroy Wright Jr., pastor at First Thessalonian Missionary Baptist Church; and Charles Meriwether, volunteer board member for Goodwill North Georgia – as WFF sought feedback on Summit events. “Constructive criticism, appropriately given, is a blessing because it helps us be better,” Ahmann said.
While the panelists, surprised and excited to have been asked to participate, filed on stage, Ahmann invited everyone to record their answers to two questions on a notecard found in their seats:
- Why did you come to today’s Summit?
- What are you hoping to get out of this experience?
Summit attendee Neil Shorthouse writes his response on a notecard.
As attendees wrote their answers, Ahmann asked panelists for similar feedback, first asking how long each has been attending WFF Summits. Meriwether has been attending Summit events for two years; Wright, five years; and Pollard, about four years.
“What keeps you coming back?” Ahmann asked as a follow-up.
Meriwether was first to respond: “I’m interested in the Westside, and I think we all have to contribute to make our city better. Anything I can do myself or through Goodwill, which I represent, I’m interested in doing.”
For Wright, it’s the relationships and collaboration that keep him coming back. “I’ve met a lot of people,” he said.
As Pollard received the microphone, she began by reciting the first lines to “Amazing Grace” – Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
She shared: “I’ve been to a lot of community meetings in my 85 years, and … they had ideas but those ideas weren’t being developed. That’s what got my attention here. I see ideas blooming, and that’s really beautiful to me. People are coming together to agree on something, and that’s what it takes.”
Pollard listens to Ahmann’s question before answering.
Ahmann then asked panelists what WFF could do to improve the events.
Meriwether said he would like to see more Westside residents in attendance, and audience members nodded their heads in agreement and clapped while some responded in verbal agreement. He commended WFF on its partnership with The Cute Shuttle and the strides made to enable more residents to attend but he asked Ahmann how do we get an even stronger presence from those living on the Westside.
“Ideas bloom in this room,” Ahmann answered, turning to the audience and referencing Pollard’s earlier response. “I think the best way to get Westside residents here is with the help of other Westside residents.”
Meriwether offers insight from his experience attending Summit events.
Wright suggested continuing to share and report on WFF progress, achievements and available resources, specifically related to affordable housing and employment, at Summit events.
Again, Ahmann called on those in attendance and reiterated the idea of a collective effort, inviting anyone with experience developing an accountability system to talk with WFF staff about ways to improve tracking on WFF progress.
Agreeing with Wright about the need for employment opportunities, Pollard shared a concern regarding increasing homelessness on the Westside. “Jobs are the key to economic development,” she said, adding the importance of giving formerly incarcerated men and women an opportunity for housing and employment, as well.
Adams discusses the WFF mission with attendees prior to leading the interactive polling activity.
Attendees Engage In the Polling Exercise
After the panelists left the stage, Leonard Adams Jr., president and CEO of Quest Community Development Organization, engaged Summit attendees in an interactive polling exercise. “The word of the day today is collective impact,” Adams said, reiterating the mission of WFF. “John asked us to create a different way to hear your hearts and hear your minds.”
Attendees considered the above image from a previous Summit event.
He then displayed an image on the screen behind him of attendees from a previous WFF Summit and asked everyone to text one word describing the image. As they submitted their responses, words began populating on the screen – words like community, diversity and engaged.
“There were diverse people in the crowd – the beautification crew, the business community, students, seniors, residents and nonresidents,” said an attendee, explaining why she chose the word diversity.
Interested in hearing a differing opinion, Adams invited the person who chose the word confused to explain. “I went with the expressions on the faces of those people, and it looked like they were trying to understand what was in front of them,” she said.
Before moving on to the next image, Adams addressed WFF with the feedback: Summits are diverse but can be confusing based on the expressions on people’s faces.
Attendees reacted to a list of WFF’s cross-sector partners.
Next a list of WFF’s cross-sector partners appeared on the screen, and Adams asked attendees to text one word that comes to mind when looking at the list. Words began populating: money, opportunity, support, broad, power and others.
One attendee shared her reason for texting money: because all those companies have plenty of money.
Another attendee chose uninterested, explaining the list was overwhelming and didn’t mean anything to her.
A third person who submitted trust said, “I think to get that kind of broad-based involvement, there has to be a high level of trust.”
A third image depicted a dilapidated house on the Westside.
A third image – a photo of a dilapidated house – flashed on the screen. “In one word, how does this image make you feel? Not just what you see, but how you feel. We’re trying to get your hearts and minds engaged today,” Adams said.
While words like sad and unsafe populated on the screen, the most popular response was the word opportunity.
“I see it as opportunity,” said one attendee. “Opportunity for someone who may not be able to afford a home someplace else to buy that home, fix it up and make it their own.”
Another audience member who recognized the home in the photo said that while she’s glad people see it as an opportunity, the home has been dilapidated for far too many years. It needs to be rebuilt for someone in the community in need of housing, she said.
The final image showed a collage of well-known Westside residents.
As the final image – a collage of former Westside residents – was projected on the screen, Adams asked Summit attendees what the image means to them. They responded with words like history, legacy, hope and leaders.
“I recognized Booker T. Washington and MLK, and I feel like those are people who are part of Atlanta’s history, part of the Beloved Community,” shared one attendee.
Another, whose word was responsibility, spoke about the responsibility she feels when looking at the collage of leaders. “The picture is clearly of people who have established the sustainable communities in their times,” she said. “As a future leader and someone who hopes to do that, too, I feel a great sense of responsibility to work hard and to achieve some part of what they were able to do.”
Reyonce Jones shares why the slide evoked a sense of responsibility for her.
“There have been people who have come before us who have been part of this fight,” said Adams. “We’ve got to keep fighting to get to the finish line together.”
Adams thanked everyone for participating and shared three things critical to helping Historic Westside neighborhoods revitalize and develop into a community Dr. King would be proud to call home: an influential champion for the goal, adequate financial resources and a sense of urgency. Ultimately the message that resonated throughout the Summit was it will take all of us – a truly dedicated, collaborative, collective effort.
To conclude the Summit, Ahmann invited Pollard to lead everyone in singing “Amazing Grace.”
Pollard leads Summit attendees in “Amazing Grace.”
Opening Devotion with Bishop Dexter L. Johnson
Bishop Dexter L. Johnson, pastor of Higher Ground Empowerment Center Church, began the Summit by sharing a story about two men riding the subway during rush hour – one had his eyes closed, while another sat next to him reading the newspaper. The man reading the paper asked the other man why his eyes were closed. The man answered, “Because there is a woman standing in front of me and if I open my eyes, I’m afraid I’ll have to give her my seat.”
Johnson opens the Summit with an inspiring devotion message.
Johnson’s story illustrated a powerful message. For years, people have walked around the Westside with their eyes closed, and Johnson challenged Summit attendees to open their eyes to the needs of others, to be willing to give up their seats and to continue doing the work God has called them to do. With eyes wide open and a plan in place, Johnson said he believes we are on the brink of witnessing something we’ve never seen before on the Westside.
According to Johnson, it’s important to create a vision and to lean on partnerships that enable us to do far more together than what we could do by ourselves. He closed with a final thought: “With God on our side, we can do more than ever before by coming together.”
Additional Summit Highlights
- Next Summit: Friday, Nov. 15. Register here.
- The last Summit event of 2019 will take place Friday, Dec. 6. Summits will resume on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020.
- The next Westside Future Fund (WFF) Volunteer Day of Service will be Saturday, Nov. 16. Register here.
- Free shuttle to the Summit: The Cute Shuttle offers free, scheduled pickups on the Westside to help residents get to and from Summit events on the first and third Fridays of the month. Learn more.
- The Home Depot Gift Card Raffle: Summit attendees who are current Westside residents or who work for a nonprofit serving Westside neighborhoods have a chance to win a $50 gift card from The Home Depot at each Summit event. Congratulations to Horace, the Nov. 1 winner, pictured below.
Horace smiles with his gift card after winning the Home Depot giveaway.
Transform Westside Summit – Friday, Nov. 1
Transform Westside Summit – Friday, Nov. 1 About the Transform Westside Summit: Westside Future Fund’s Transform Westside Summit is held on the 1st and 3rd Friday of each month and is free and open to the public. Our audience includes a diverse group of stakeholders. Longtime neighborhood residents, community and faith leaders, heads of non-profits and corporate executives come together to share success stories and discuss challenges that currently affect our Westside neighborhoods. Doors open at 7:00 a.m. and meetings begin promptly at 7:15 a.m. with morning devotion,* presented by a member of the historic Westside community, and complimentary breakfast, provided by Summit sponsor Chick-fil-A. Special Event: Atlanta Technical College Enrollment Atlanta Technical College (ATC) is bringing its Wednesday Works recruiting and enrollment event to the Summit. Typically hosted on Wednesdays on the ATC campus, representatives will be on-site during the Friday morning Summit sharing about how prospective students can get started at Atlanta Tech. Those who apply at the Summit will have their ATC application fee waived.
Posted by Westside Future Fund on Friday, November 1, 2019