After days of protests and unrest throughout Atlanta and other cities across the country, the big question that looms once everything calms down is, “How do we move forward?”
That question was posed to some of Atlanta’s most influential political, spiritual and civil rights leaders Tuesday night during WSB-TV’s prime time town hall special, “The State of Race: Where Do We Go from Here?”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms led off the town hall, telling Channel 2 anchors Justin Farmer and Lori Wilson that the most important step now is to decide what change will look like.
“It’s incumbent on us to articulate what our point of satisfaction (is). I know that nobody wants to see another person guilty, but beyond that, what is it that will satisfy (us) as a people or country? That’s where the real work needs to be done,” Bottoms said.
The mayor added that over decades and generations, leading the path forward has been the Atlanta way.
“We have a way of doing things difficult here, and I think if we have any grace in this city, on top of the grace God is giving, it’s because people know we are trying to do better,” Bottoms said.
King Center CEO Bernice King said she sees some of her father, the late Martin Luther King Jr., in the young peaceful organizers.
“I know he would be proud of them,” she said. “I think the activists who are peacefully protesting, their resilience, their steadfastness is the very same thing that my father, who was the age of many of them in the movement, exuded,” King said.
Former Atlanta Mayor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young organized many key marches and protests of the civil rights movement alongside his friend, Martin Luther King Jr.
He told Channel 2 anchor Fred Blankenship that it is time for people to take their passion to the ballot box.
“(The next) step in Georgia is the election. On June 9, that will determine the immediate next step,” Young said.
Members of a new generation of leaders also participated in the town hall.
Nathaniel Smith is with the Partnership for Southern Equity. He said Atlanta’s role as a Mecca for black Americans isn't living up to its promise.
“Some people have used the terminology, 'Wakanda,'" Smith said, "but unfortunately, there are more Atlantans in our region who look at Atlanta as a challenge instead of an opportunity.”
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, is calling for a hate crime bill to become state law. Georgia is one of only a handful of states without such a statute on the books. A bill with stiff sentencing guidelines for crimes against people targeted because of their race, religion or gender passed the House last year but not the Senate.
“I think the (Ahmaud) Arbery case makes it all more important that we now pass that bill and that's why I challenged the state Senate to pass Rep. (Chuck) Efstration’s bill without delay (and) with no amendments, so that that we're no longer an outlier,” Ralston said.
Bottoms also outlined tangible steps she said the city can take to move forward, specifically mentioning the city jail. She said she sent a budget proposal to the city council Tuesday to figure out how to turn the jail into an equity center, providing resources such as child care and vocational and GED training.
Amid calls for leadership to emerge from the movement sparked by the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, Smith said society must put young people in a position to be successful, and also ask itself what can be learned from them in order to move forward.
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