As we consider and enter into conversations about race in every facet of our lives, let us center the Black women and non-Black women of color who have been having these conversations for years, for whom this work is not something we picked up in the last three weeks, but lifelong. These conversations with one another have been survival mechanism, sustenance and sanctuary. We urge leaders everywhere to center, amplify and value us, our work and our stories, because much of what we have experienced and the treatment we have endured can serve as cautionary lessons for what not to do. Much of what we have learned and achieved can serve as a beginning point for reimagining how we think about and approach our communities and cities.

While not elected or appointed to serve our communities, we have been at the forefront of addressing the entrenched inequities and disparities of metro Atlanta resulting from its repeated failures to care for its Black residents and residents of color. We have organized and built movements, and designed and implemented solutions that are based in care and rooted in community rather than relying time and again on policing as the predominant, daily and often only mechanism of community engagement with minoritized and racialized communities.

Each of us has dedicated our lives to this effort, and we do this work daily, because we must. There are no days off. Especially in Atlanta, it is our responsibility and our salvation to contend with our history, to wrestle with the legacy of the Spirit of Atlanta and the Atlanta Way, to take leave of the systems, beliefs and habits that no longer serve us well or at all, and to make a new way by making it as we go. Because we do this work daily, we are a true barometer of the state of the city and the region. We are a compass informing Atlanta where we are and guiding where we must go. We are the best prescription and pathways for healing.

Individually, and occasionally together, we have seen a lot.

We have been in countless rooms and at countless tables where we have been the only women, the only people of color, the only women of color. We are constantly asked to have our brains “picked,” only to have our ideas dismissed and criticized, or “borrowed” and co-opted by, and credited and well-compensated for, others. We’ve been tone-policed, gaslit and silenced. We’ve been asked to “share” our expertise for free, sign on to letters of support for grants that will go to White-led organizations or White consultants, and to serve on task forces and committees that do not listen to what we have to say, while seeing men and White women consistently lauded and compensated handsomely. We’ve been asked by “allies,” in return for the token gesture of coffee or lunch, to facilitate introductions so that they can diversify their boards, recruit donors from our communities, or create programming to make their own organizations relevant to communities of color. We’ve been asked by Atlanta’s private institutions to teach their students and provide tours of our communities for free. We’ve had to parade and perform our trauma for the mere chance of support and funding. We’ve had White women’s tears weaponized against us. And we are tired.

This is what it’s like to be “welcomed” and “included” in Atlanta.

Yet we persevere. Each of us, as a founder, as a creative, as an organizer, is rediscovering and reclaiming our selves through our work in ways that are personal, transformative and liberatory. We’ve all leaned hard into our own trauma, grief, anger, fear, imposter syndrome and burnout, interrogating every intention, holding ourselves accountable for every mistake and misstep. This is what doing the work means. And we persevere in doing it because we love this place, we love who we are and are becoming in this city and region, and we love the women coming along with us and after us and every day coming more into their own. We persevere because the Band-Aids are no longer enough, Atlanta.

Ask us what an Atlanta that no longer desperately needs the organizations we founded might look like. Ask us what an Atlanta without homelessness might look like, an Atlanta where Black spaces are preserved and alive with joy might look like, an Atlanta whose public spaces welcome and reflect with love, compassion and healing every person who has felt left out, unseen or wounded. Ask yourselves what an Atlanta looks like that makes the most marginalized among us, the least of these, whole.

Ask us, and, because these requests require our labor and the expertise acquired through experience and refined through our work, pay us when seeking our time, our advice, our intellectual property, our insight and instruction, and our endorsement.

We must hold fast to our calling and fight for one another, step by step. Not merely to listen, not to become better individuals, not to make friends with people of a different race or ethnicity, not to increase diversity hiring. Atlanta is called in this moment to apprehend and excavate White supremacy, anti-Blackness, our own internalized oppression, from the roots, to dismantle systemic, institutionalized racism, to heal ourselves, to make ourselves and the places in which we live, just, at peace and whole.

Neda Abghari
Founder and Executive Director, The Creatives Project

Liliana Bakhtiari
Community Organizer and Consultant

Monica Campana
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Living Walls

Stephanie Cho
Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta

Yvonne Druyeh Dodd
Founder, Evi D. Consulting

Nikishka Iyengar
Founder and CEO, The Guild

T. Lang
Artistic Director, T. Lang Dance
Owner and Founder, The Movement Lab ATL

Makeda Lewis
Social Media Manager, MINT Gallery

Marian Liou
Founder, We Love BuHi

Tracy Murrell
Founder and Chief Creative, Tracy Murrell Studios

Tiffany Ray
Chief Strategic Officer, Generation Infocus

Martice Sutton
Founder and Executive Director, Girls Going Global

Malika Whitley
Founder and Executive Director, ChopArt

Leatrice Ellzy Wright
Executive Director, Hammonds House Museum

To join our discussion, please email nowwatl2020@gmail.com.

Editor‘s note: This commentary about recent calls for dialogue about race and racism is signed by founders of several organizations that have performed prominent work in such local communities as Buford Highway, as well as groups that serve various parts of metro Atlanta.

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