After protests and petitions, Atlanta communities seek to build bridges

Robert Griffin and his partner, Andrew Currie, moved to Decatur because they valued its diversity. “The changes since we have moved here have been dramatic. We left Midtown because it was becoming gentrified. It has followed us here to Decatur,” said Griffin. They are featured here in ” I Am Decatur” a series of portraits by photographer Beate Sass that reflects the diversity of the Decatur community.

The aftermath of violence in Charlottesville continues to have an impact on Atlanta neighborhoods but what happens after the rallies and protests? What happens if and when neighborhoods are purged of Confederate symbols and monuments? Will the community be any better off and what will be the take away from these moments?

In metro area neighborhoods where the events in Charlottesville have sparked movements for change, residents are looking for the answers to those questions and hoping that talking to one another will help them find a way to move forward.

Read More: Confederate Ave. residents meet to discuss street name change

Earlier this month, after a petition circulated online to change the name of two Atlanta streets, Grant Park resident Andrea Knight urged her neighbors on Confederate and East Confederate streets to have a face-to-face conversation about what that would mean.

She hoped not just to discuss the nuts and bolts of changing a street name but also wanted to give the individuals who would be directly impacted a safe place to express their concerns, she said.

At the meeting, a group of residents from Ormewood Park offered another opportunity for community members to share. The idea for Moving Pictures, an exploration of documentary films designed help residents engage in conversations about race and socioeconomic inequality, evolved as residents discussed how they might talk about issues of concern as a community.

Held monthly at Ormewood Park Church, the series which features a screening followed by small group discussions, begins Sept. 15 with “13th,” the Netflix documentary which examines the U.S. prison system and the history of racial inequality in the country.

In Decatur, where locals were also lobbying and petitioning for the removal of a Confederate memorial in Decatur Square in the days after the violence in Charlottesville, residents began posting messages on Facebook, in some cases opening their homes to one another to pray and reflect and they organized community members for open dialogue.

On the Saturday after Charlottesville, about 75 people gathered for a community conversation at the Atlanta Friends Meeting. At the event, organized by Rev. Hannah Hill on Facebook, attendees were asked to sit with someone they may not know — someone who may have a different perspective — and share their feelings about race, Confederate monuments and their neighborhoods.

“The thing that I heard over and over was people just being thankful for having calm conversation,” said Sara Patenaude, co-founder of Hate Free Decatur, a group of individuals dedicated to petitioning for the removal of the Confederate monument from Downtown Decatur.

The ongoing conversations that Patanaude, a historian, has been having and hearing have been meaningful, she said. The organization recently sent out a survey to individuals who signed the petition to remove the memorial asking them what issues they should address as a community. People mentioned everything from immigration and sanctuary cities to gentrification and the cash bail system, she said.

“We are trying to find ways to come together to really make a difference. It is not enough to just relocate a statue,” Patanaude said.

In September, the Friends School will host Patenaude for a conversation with the school community about Southern heritage and monuments, said Head of Schools, Waman French.

Each year, the school also hosts a beloved community event that is open to all. In past years, the events have drawn hundreds of attendees to talk about relevant issues such as women in power or public education. The events have offered moments of deep listening across differences and sometimes have led to the consensus that those differences are not as divisive as may seem, French said.

“In divisive times, Friends Schools have a history and an ethos that lends itself to finding those places of unity, of community building and for sharing dialogue,” said French. “We are called to be active in the world and promote and contribute to peace making and bridge building opportunities.”

Local photographer Beate Sass had already turned to her camera to begin fostering positive relationships among her neighbors in Decatur.

“One thing I had observed over time is that people tend to congregate around racial or ethnic lines,” said Sass. After the presidential campaign and election erupted, she began documenting the diversity of the community. “A lot of the intolerance is that people live such insulated lives. I decided I wanted to introduce my neighbors to each other,” she said.

The result, “I am Decatur,” a series of 23 portraits of Decatur residents and their stories will be on display beginning Sept. 15 during the city’s “Welcoming Week,” which culminates with a community building conversation and supper.

“I don’t think this is just something where we are going to come through it and it will just disappear,” said Sass. “I know ordinary citizens who are taking responsibility to make sure things continue.”

Reader Comments 0

2 comments
weetamoe
weetamoe

Calling the group petitioning to remove a statue "Hate Free Decatur" is itself divisive, tarring all who disagree, whatever the reason, as haters. An objective value-free term for the group is not "hate free,"  but "iconoclast."

-Lesly
-Lesly

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