September 16th Transform Westside Summit: Sit Down with Mayor Andre Dickens

At Westside Future Fund’s mayoral candidate forum in November of 2021, then city councilman Andre Dickens campaigned on his vision for the city of Atlanta. Ten months later, Dickens, now Mayor of Atlanta, joined WFF’s September 16th Transform Westside Summit to share updates from efforts to “move Atlanta forward.” The program opened with a warm welcome from WFF cohosts Ebony Ford and Benjamin Earley, followed by an uplifting devotional message from Glen Jackson, Co-founder of Jackson Spalding, an integral contributor to WFF’s early work. Jackson reflected on his relationship with his father and how it molded his perspectives in his personal life, business, and in giving back to the Atlanta community, including the Westside. The cohosts then welcomed Dickens, Atlanta’s 61st mayor, to the stage for the featured discussion. WFF President & CEO John Ahmann was social distancing after recovering from Covid-19 and did not attend in person.

Benjamin Earley and Ebony Ford introduce the 61st Mayor of Atlanta, Andre Dickens.

The discussion highlighted several initiatives of the mayor’s office, many of which coincide with WFF’s four major impact areas—high quality affordable housing, safety and security, cradle-to-career education, and community health and wellness.

Ford:Moving Atlanta forward, was a priority for your administration. You’re focused on bringing opportunity, improving equity, and fostering a culture of integrity. What are some of the milestones you are most proud of so far in your first eight months?”

Mayor Andre Dickens (center) joins WFF cohosts Benjamin Earley and Ebony Ford at the Transform Westside Summit.

Mayor Dickens highlighted the $750M which Atlantans voted to put toward vital transportation, recreation, public safety and arts projects across the city, and he continued on other recent developments in housing and education.

Mayor Dickens: “Another huge win is the amount of affordable housing that we’ve already done just from the beginning. I’m really big on affordable housing because we have to make sure that we give people the ability to live in this city. Even though a lot of folks may work in the city, the prices have increased so much. So far, we’ve broken ground and actually moved in about 1,600 people in the first nine months, really the first eight months of this year. And we’re just getting started.”

“My goal is 20,000 units of affordable housing over the next eight years, and so we’re going to ramp up and scale… I’m the chairman of the board for Invest Atlanta. Just yesterday, we put together packages for about 20 developments, 1,800 units yesterday. So you’ll start seeing those go through the process of construction and development.”

“We’re working with the Atlanta Public School System. The way we’re working with youth development organizations, we are trying to set a path for third-grade reading. Third-grade reading starts happening when you’re eight years old, so if you’re a child born in the Dickens administration, we want to make sure that you are reading at or above grade level by the time I leave this seat.”

Mayor Dickens (center) and co-host Earley share a laugh about the football rivalry between Frederick Douglass and Benjamin E. Mays high schools while discussing Dickens’ deep connection to the Westside.

Earley: “Mays graduate, Georgia Tech engineer. You spend a lot of your time here on the Westside, you are a native, you are a legacy resident. What does that mean to you? What does the Westside mean to you?”

Mayor Dickens: “When I was young, I wanted to be Mayor since I was 16 years old, and my mom says I said something to her at 12 about becoming Mayor. I love this city, even though I had never left it. So imagine that, my comparison was on TV and in my world I lived in. So I lived in a city where you drive on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, your friends are going to a school named after Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, and your other friends are going to a school named after Frederick Douglass. I was born when Maynard Jackson was mayor—he became mayor, and then I was born six months later.”

The Westside is the best side and that said, Atlanta is the place I want to serve and the place I want to be.”

Andre Dickens, 61st Mayor of Atlanta

Ford: “Investing in cradle-to-career education is something we’re all very serious about. It’s obvious that you are as well. What is the latest update on the city of Atlanta’s commitment to invest $5 million in early childhood education?

Mayor Dickens: “I know that if I don’t do something about somebody in the cradle today, then I’m gonna see that challenge eight years from now, seven years from now, fifteen years from now. So, I don’t want to keep solving these problems over and over again. My job now creeps into early childhood education, and it creeps into childcare and creeps into education. And, I asked for permission to go into those spaces with the people that provide those things and they said, ‘Come on, we welcome you here.’ And I said, ‘Well, what is the number, what does it take?’ And they said something like $16 Million.”

Dan Cathy (tan suit, center) Cofounder of the Beloved Benefit, joins the audience at the September 16th Transform Westside Summit.

Earley: “What type of initiatives does your office plan to either ramp up or instill over the next couple of years to be able to divert youth from seeing these negative opportunities to a more positive path?”

Mayor Dickens: “Majority of what we’re doing is after the bell rings, right? So there’s an academic requirement of the school systems. But then, after the bell rings, they’re in the hands of the city, and the corporations and the clergy and we’re all in it.”

Underscoring the impact of the 2022 Beloved Benefit, where WFF was one of eight nonprofit beneficiaries working toward economic mobility for Atlantans, the mayor added:

“When Dan Cathy and [Chick-fil-A] put on the Beloved Benefit, $6 plus million dollars goes towards all these critical nonprofits that then serve these communities. So for the city of Atlanta, we are committed to a number of initiatives that we did this summer already, and I’m moving forward with it in, like I said, the year of the youth, next year.”

My goal is that by the end of the next eight years, Atlanta, GA is the best place in the United States to raise a family. That’s my goal.”

Andre Dickens, 61st Mayor of Atlanta

“As you look back on previous summers, there was a significant number of young men selling water on the corner. I don’t have a problem with their ambition. We just have to guide them. We did a lot of entrepreneurship programs this summer. We also had the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which a big goal was to hire 3,000 youths and pay them—AT&T, Coca-Cola, the Aquarium, IKEA and the city of Atlanta. Actually, you’re going to hear a report real soon that tells you that we hit 3,000 and youth crime was down 20%.”

Midnight Basketball, while originally people were like, ‘oh… that young new fun Mayor, he’s out there doing basketball.’ But no, the truth of the matter is a young man that would otherwise be getting in trouble or trying to stay out of trouble—but couldn’t find a place to stay out of trouble because trouble could easily find you—we put them in an environment where they would compete and learn conflict resolution on the court. So we got up to 300 young men playing basketball on Mondays and Wednesdays when we started off. You would see that those nights they don’t get in trouble. We didn’t even do the study, 11 Alive was trying to test the theory. They looked at the research, and the nights that there’s Midnight Basketball, a several mile area around the basketball games, the crime is reduced. And I was like, ‘Thank God this thing works.’”

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