As the residents of suburban Atlanta look at the current uproar over racial justice issues here in Georgia’s capital city, we should not think that it is just an Atlanta problem. We must remember, whether it’s brutality, racism or systemic discrimination, every locale has the same problems or issues — it’s just how many zeros you put behind the statistic.
We who call Buckhead, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and my city of Brookhaven home have a responsibility to play a role in making for “a more perfect union.” Now is not the time to remain silent, or only post or talk about insignificant matters. We must stand up for what is right, but we must do it strategically and peacefully. Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.
We recently lost three civil rights giants: the Reverends Joseph E. Lowery and C. T. Vivian and Congressman John R. Lewis. These three civil rights giants were key advisors of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. They organized pivotal campaigns and spent decades advocating for justice and equality. I personally knew Rep. Lewis. I supported and embraced his mission to protect human rights, secure civil liberties and the building of what Dr. King called “The Beloved Community.” We must continue the hard work of these men — indeed, their legacy — so that we may fully realize “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” for all Americans, especially in the city of Brookhaven.
Particularly, we should be more proactive and less reactive. There are a number of adages that seem fitting here, such as “a stitch in time saves nine,” or the statement made by the philosopher and essayist George Santayana, who penned the well-paraphrased phrase “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
On the stitch: Perhaps we should create a Brookhaven commission on race relations. A body like this would be proactive. It could be composed of members of all demographics in Brookhaven. Brookhaven has a good 55,000 residents. White persons make up 63%, 11% are African American, and 28% are Latino. A commission could serve as the catalyst and conduit for dialogue on critical issues among these diverse groups, especially on the sensitive issues we often shy away from and prefer to avoid — equity, equality, race, gender and more.
On remembering our past: We should contemplate securing federal and state historic designations for our neighborhoods that were a part of our history. For example, if we look at Brookhaven’s cultural past, back when it was part of what was called “North Atlanta,” we find that this was home to many prominent pockets and “Subs” (subdivisions) of African Americans.
Take the historic Lynwood Park community. As journalist Peter Scott wrote for this publication two years ago, “at the time (in the 1950s), Lynwood Park claimed more than 1,000 residents and was known as DeKalb County’s oldest all-black community.” But unless you look deep and hard, you might never know because so much of the remnants of communities like Lynwood Park have been eradicated for new development. Preserving neighborhoods and historic cemeteries and churches will provide a physical sense to help all of us remember the past while providing context about the evolution of our cities.
I know from personal experience the pain of losing a loved one at the hands of law enforcement. In 1984, while attending South Carolina State University, I had to digest the loss of a brother whose life was taken by sheriff deputies in Newberry, S.C. This was a tragic experience for me, my siblings and my entire family. We will never understand why certain people feel it is their right to take the life of innocent individuals, more specifically, African Americans. So, each time this happens, it reopens a wound for every member of my family. While my family and I have not had an open discussion with many of our friends and associates about my brother’s killing, we do have a complete understanding of the larger community’s anger and pain.
But I know that if we remember and learn from the past while having honest open discussions (led by, say, a race-relations commission) perhaps no one in Brookhaven or the ’burbs we call “North Atlanta” will ever have to face what my family and I did 36 years ago.
It may seem simplistic to create a commission, or to remember our history. But sometimes it is the simple things that make the most sense and can have the greatest impact.