October 7th Transform Westside Summit: featuring Ryan K. Buchanan, US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia

On October 7th, the Westside Future Fund featured Ryan K. Buchanan, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, at the Transform Westside Summit. President & CEO John Ahmann opened the program alongside cohosts Ebony Ford and Benjamin Earley ahead of a melodic devotional message from AP Thompson, Director of Community Initiatives for CHRIS 180. Earley, a fourth generation Westside native, went on to moderate the featured discussion with Buchanan aimed at helping strengthen the relationship between federal law enforcement and the Westside community.

US Attorney Ryan Buchanan (left) joins Benjamin Earley on stage at the Transform Westside Summit.

Early: “Tell us a little bit more about yourself and your why for what you do as a US Attorney?”

Buchanan recalled the stepping stones that led him to his current position as US Attorney, including seeking to help improve the justice system from the front end.

US Attorney Buchanan:
“Along the way, I came to understand that there was opportunity to have impact beyond simply a corporate impact. So, I decided to join the Department of Justice in 2010.”

Earley: “People don’t have the opportunity to really engage with the federal government on this level every day. So talk a bit more about the specifics of what your office does?”

Buchanan: “A lot of people don’t want to engage with the Feds. I come here understanding completely that a lot of people haven’t had the opportunity to engage with my office. But I hope that as we talk through some of the different things that the office does, that understanding will increase that we are partners, and we want to be engaged.”

“We cover the north 46 counties of the state of Georgia, about seven and a half million people. So that’s 250 folks trying to promote public safety and pursue justice for 7.5 million people.”

Earley: “So what initiatives, if any, has your office engaged in on the Westside?”

Buchanan: “You said something earlier that struck me, that we want to ‘work with the community’ and not do things ‘to the community.’ That’s my approach. That’s this administration’s approach to how we address criminal justice. We want to make certain that we are working with you to address the issues that are there. If, at the time there’s an influx of drug trafficking, we want to work with you to make certain that we address that, but we want to do it in a way that’s intelligent…humane, and most importantly, we want to do it in a way that’s just. Working with the community, we’ve done it through our Project Safe Neighborhoods Program. We’ve done it through the DMI, the Drug Market Initiative. We’ve been here for years, but we want to make certain that as the community develops and as it changes, as the needs of the community changes, that we’re developing and evolving as well.”

A program that was highlighted throughout the Summit was the Credible Messengers, which matches at-risk youth with mentors who can help them avoid a life trapped in the criminal justice system.

Buchanan: “For the past couple of years of office, I’ve been involved in a Summer Youth Initiative. And in that initiative, some of those youths that you saw in the video, those are justice involved children. Those are children who have been arrested. They’re on pretrial, some of them on probation. So it’s joyful for me, and I’m grateful to see those children in that context.”

“We spent the summer with them through intense mentoring from the Credible Messengers. The money that you’ve seen flashing around, we pay them. It was like a job. It was like a summer job. They spend time with the messengers. There was some job readiness training…a lot of counseling and mentoring. There was some educational opportunities, some volunteer opportunities.”

Earley: …When you lack the mentorship, when you lack those opportunities to have your horizon expanded, you are mentally boxed in, and so many people get caught up in that. Coming from disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities, so many people get caught up in that street life. I have had numerous personal friends and family that have gone that route. But, I’m thankful to say that most of us have been able to navigate that. The ones of us who have, it was because we had people like you and people like your team here in our lives—people who could steer us in the right direction, away from the negative aspects of society and into more directions that show us hope for the future. I think that’s a key element that you guys are instilling in the youth and I applaud you for doing that.”

View the full summit including the audience Q&A below!