After nearly five months as the executive director of We Love BuHi, Lily Pabian said she has big dreams for the nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing communities together along the Brookhaven/Chamblee/Doraville corridor.
Those dreams include one day having a place to house the Buford Highway Oral History Project, a collection of interviews and pictures of people who have lived and worked along the approximately 10-mile stretch of state road renowned for its immigrant and refugee residents, international restaurants and businesses.
“We are a young nonprofit, we are grassroots, but the dreams I have include We Love BuHi making a mark as part of Atlanta history,” she said. “I hope one day to have brick and mortar store with art exhibits, and a place to share our ‘Heroes of the Highway’ stories.”
Founded in 2015 as an Instagram account by Brookhaven resident Marian Liou, We Love BuHi is now a nonprofit that “seeks to create connection and belonging within Buford Highway’s multicultural community through place-based storytelling and design.” Liou stepped down as executive director last year.
The cornerstone of that vision is the oral history project, a collaboration with Georgia State University Library Special Collections and Archives. Pabian said the goal is record more than 120 stories over the next few years of people who have lived and worked on Buford Highway for decades. Doing so is one way to preserve the history of an area rapidly changing due in part to redevelopment and gentrification.
“We are looking at things like gentrification and its impact and we also have to understand the perspective of the underserved populations … who are not in power,” she said. “Yes, language is a barrier, but it goes deeper, and our goal is to find ways to build trust and make connections.”
Pabian said she is already working closely with Center for Pan Asian Community Services, a 30-year-old nonprofit agency that provides services and resources ranging from housing to education to health care to immigrant and refugee communities in Georgia and especially those living on and near Buford Highway.
We Love BuHi is also looking for ways to team up with Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, a nonprofit organization that works to empower Buford Highway apartment residents, she said.
“We want to be a go-to resource for people so we can connect them to our sister agencies,” she said.
Pabian said the organization continues to build closer relationships with the cities of Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville to ensure all perspectives are included in policy decisions that will affect the lives of Buford Highway’s residents and businesses.
In Brookhaven, for example, nearly 28% of the city’s 54,000 population is of Hispanic origin, according to the city, and most live on Buford Highway. But there is no Hispanic or Latinx person on the City Council.
“Some things are systemic … and a lot of times systems don’t think of the effect of it until they hear someone’s story,” Pabian said. “It’s about creating connections.”
Pabian has been contacting the Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville public libraries to ask them if they would be willing to showcase stories from the Buford Highway Oral History Project throughout April as part of Celebrate Diversity Month. So far, she has received positive feedback, she said.
The Brookhaven arts advisory committee has also tapped We Love BuHi to assist in determining how art is going to be used to connect people and build a sense of belonging in the city, she said.
On May 17, We Love BuHi is teaming up with the Atlanta Run Club for the second BuHi United 5K, an evening fun run that is not about competition but about community, Pabian said. The Atlanta Run Club is located on Peachtree Road in the Super H Mart shopping center in Doraville.
Early discussions are underway to host two “multicultural experiences” in the fall, Pabian said. Plans are to have one center around the Asian Harvest Moon Festival on Oct. 1 and the other around the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, held Oct. 31-Nov. 2.
No dates and sites have been confirmed, but preliminary plans include a bus tour of key places important to those honoring their culture during the two celebrations. And, yes, there will be food.
“We hope to make these an encompassing experience to [educate] what these communities mean, what their past has meant for us and what that means for the future,” Pabian said.