I feel extremely fortunate to live in what I believe to be one of the most culturally diverse communities in Metro Atlanta. Several years ago many of us got together to see how we could harness this diverse populace and its unusual energy to better the lives of everyone within our “borders”.
We established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation called the Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition. We then applied for and were awarded a $50,000 grant by The Georgia Conservancy and Georgia Tech to study the three neighborhoods that make up our coalition: LaVista Park, Lindridge-Martin Manor, and Woodland Hills.
During this study we discovered many things about ourselves that we didn’t know. The estimated population of this community was in excess of 10,000 people! That’s larger than many small towns in South Georgia.
About 20% of those people are Hispanic. We also discovered that within our local elementary school, there were 23 different languages being spoken. This Hispanic population was right under our noses, but since they were concentrated in two or three “pockets”, many of us overlooked them. We began to ask ourselves how could we reach out to this large segment of people and make them more a part of our community. We recognized that there were large cultural and language barriers.
With another grant from Edelman (a large multi-national PR firm), and with the financial, physical and volunteer assistance of Westminster Presbyterian Church (an LLCC member organization that contributed as much money to this effort as some churches in Raleigh did to deny people their rights), and the cooperation of the Mexican Consulate General (also located in our community), we established a Hispanic English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. In addition to teaching students to read and speak English, the local branch manager of Regions Bank (an LLCC member) came to instruct people how to use banks and write checks, local EMTs came to teach CPR, two local police precincts sent officers to talk about community policing, and dietitians came to talk about nutrition, health and cooking. One evening a week we sponsored soccer games on the athletic field at the church so the fathers could spend quality time with their families.
This Hispanic population was very timid at first, unsure of what our true motives were. They were particularly skeptical of the police officers. We knew that many of them were “illegals,” but we never asked that question of them. It was our goal to include these people in our community, not run them away.
When the school district within the city limits of Atlanta was planning a realignment of attendance zones that would have a tremendous impact of these folks, we hosted community meetings where folks could express their concerns and ask questions. Let me tell you, these people “truly care” about the education of their children! These meetings had the largest attendance of any meetings that we’ve had! It thrilled my heart to see this kind of participation from a once marginalized population.
There are those who say that we don’t owe illegals anything and that they don’t belong here. I disagree. Not only did we owe these people the opportunity to become part of our community, we owe it to ourselves. Otherwise, we would be cutting ourselves off from the vast amount of talent, energy and cultural heritage that makes our community so special.