ABL awards Men of Influence, Warrick Dunn inducted into Legends Hall of Fame

The Atlanta Business League (ABL) continued its tradition of honoring African-American men with the Men of Influence and Legends Hall of Fame awards. Last month, hundreds gathered at the Hyatt Regency to celebrate the 12 men who demonstrated their commitment to the citizenry of the capital city.

Leona Barr-Davenport, President and CEO of the ABL say they award this honor because they felt that so many men doing great things in the city are going unnoticed. 

“We want to make sure that young people – people in the community – and other business leaders around metro Atlanta know that they exist,” Davenport said. “We want to make sure that we call their names and let them know we see them.” 

For many years, the ABL has recognized business owners, professionals and community and civic leaders like the ones they selected for the Men of Influence award. 

Those included Imara Canady the National Director for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and chair of the Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition (BLACC), Wilburn Milhouse, Chairman and CEO of Milhouse Engineering and Construction, and Michael Ross, President and CEO of MHR International

“I think that each of us goes on stage because none of us do the work for the recognition; we do it for the impact,” said Jay Bailey, President and CEO of the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship (RICE). 

Bailey firmly believes that change does not only happen from large programs and organizations but also from incremental change. 

“Be a good dad, be a good coach, be a good teacher, whatever it is, how do you impact the three feet around you,” Bailey said. “Whatever you’re doing, there are people who have an influence — award or not — that can individually change one person’s life.” 

The ABL also presented its newest honoree to their Legends Hall of Fame. This honor goes to Black men who are pioneers in their professions and have paved the way for others to follow. This year’s award was presented to former NFL Running Back and philanthropist Warrick Dunn. 

Warrick Dunn (center) receiving the Legends Hall of Fame from Atlanta Business League’s Immediate Past Chair Al Edwards and CEO Leona Barr-Davenport. (Photo by Allison Joyner.)

When he played for the Atlanta Falcons in 2002, he founded the Warrick Dunn Charities, inspired by his mother’s dream of being a homeowner. The charity improves lives through innovative programming and has supported almost 200 single-parent families becoming first-time homeowners nationwide. 

“I am in a room of great businessmen, Black-owned companies. It says a lot that they look at me as a guy who has made an impact in the community, which I’m so thankful for but it’s great to have that support,” Dunn said. 

As someone who battles with depression, Dunn is an advocate for mental health and the importance of going to counseling. In 2020, he launched his second nonprofit, WD Communities, which supports families from the beginning to end of purchasing affordable or transitional housing and provides support services, including financial literacy, health and wellness, educational attainment and entrepreneurship and workforce development. 

“Being recognized by the ABL for what we’re doing and hopefully with great partnerships, we can grow, expand, and help more people. That’s what it’s about,” Dunn said. 

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New DeKalb schools superintendent addresses plans, teacher shortage for school year

Earlier this month, new DeKalb County School District (DCSD) Superintendent Dr. Devon Horton met with the press to announce his plans for a successful school year. Horton was appointed superintendent on Jun. 29 and began work on Jul. 1. 

He began his address by announcing this year’s theme, “disrupting for excellence.” He says the theme references DCSD’s commitment to changing the habits the institutions have established — especially during the pandemic. 

One approach the school district adopted is establishing a new culture and expectations as a community. The core values Horton plans to implement under the administration are what he calls H-PRIDE — humanization, professionalism, respect, integrity, dignity and empathy.

“We have to be humanizing and how we approach the work of our students to support our community, but we have to be honest and be professional at all times,” Horton said. “We’re going to set up our families of our community to remain professional. We want to operate with high levels of integrity because when making decisions for our children, we must do it with a value system.”

Horton has over two decades of experience in educational leadership. He previously served as superintendent of the Evanston/Skoie School District 65 in Evanston, Ill., and has held other positions in school districts in Louisville, Ky. and East St. Louis in Ill.

Details of how the DeKalb County School District plans to decrease the teacher shortage for the 2023-2024 school year. (Image provided by DCSD.)

Although a national issue, the school district needs 400 more teachers to educate the over 93,000 students estimated to be enrolled. Hiring summer graduates as paraprofessionals, extended-day planning period coverage with instructional specialists and a DeKalb teacher residency program to launch in winter 2024 are some of the plans to implement by DCSD. 

With teachers moving into non-educational careers, Horton said other industries are recruiting them, them resulting in the shortage. 

“Other industries have poached our industry to take our phenomenal teachers and go off into the sunset to do other things,” Horton said. 

He also mentioned that DCSD will need the community’s help to have an effective school year. 

“I’m asking for our community to step up. We’re talking with many individuals and tapping into our church community as well that have individuals that may be in college, especially graduate students,” Horton said. “We are encouraging a mindset of disruption for improvement. This is not a jargon statement — this is fact. This is how we will do business, and it’s important that we collectively communicate with our stakeholders on our work.”

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100 Honors Gala resumes in person after four-year absence

Earlier this month, the 100 Black Men of Atlanta hosted its signature fundraiser, the 100 Honors Gala, in person for the first time in four years. 

Over a thousand people attended the black tie event to help the organization support its Project Success programs. 

“Project Success is composed of several smaller initiatives like our Pathways of Development where we bring in individuals from various professions and they speak with the kids about their educational journeys, what their career paths look like and what they need to do if they want to pursue a similar career path,” said Keith Milliner, Immediate Past Chair of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta. 

Heeding the social distancing recommendations due to the pandemic and transitional issues prevented the members from hosting the gala for the past four years. 

The 100 Atlanta’s chairman, Sidney Barron, said they recently attempted a virtual format of the gala but were not as successful as in the past. 

“This was our first gala in four years due to COVID and we haven’t been able to get off the ground with something since 2019,” said Louis Negron, Executive Director for the 100 Black Men of Atlanta. 

Barron said now was a great time to return the program to its original form. 

Now adapting to the new normal due to the pandemic, Negron said it was almost like a reintroduction to the Atlanta community. 

With “Empowering Our Youth” as its theme, the 100 used the opportunity to celebrate local companies and individuals doing that today.

Ranging from education, entertainment and social action, the 100 selected those who demonstrated the same efforts they try to instill in their mentees — mentorship, education, economic empowerment and entrepreneurship, and health and wellness. 

“The biggest thing for us was securing who to honor and since it was four years since the last time we honored somebody, we thought about honoring some of our local heroes,” Negron said. 

Recording Executive Jermaine Dupri (right) accepting the Andrew Young Lifetime Achievement Award from Ambassador Andrew Young (left) at the 100 Honors. (Image provided by 100 Black Men of Atlanta.)

This year’s Andrew Young Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to Songwriters Hall of Famer and Atlanta native Jermaine Dupri, Atlanta Falcons cornerback AJ Terrell received the John Lewis Emerging Leader Award, President and CEO of the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship Jay Bailey was awarded the Maynard Jackson Community Impact Award, Dr. Kevin James, President of Morris College with the Nathaniel Goldston Trailblazer Award and Delta Airlines receiving the Chairman’s Circle Corporate Responsibility Award. 

A new award presented this year was the Thomas W. Dortch, Jr. Civic Leadership Award, dedicated to the 100 of Atlanta and 100 Black Men of America former chairman who died earlier this year. 

Uncle/nephew duo Joshua and Richard Byrd were the first to receive this honor, commending them with their anti-gun violence leadership program.

With Dortch having a social and financial impact on African Americans in Atlanta, Barron said no better person deserved to have this award named in his honor. 

“One of those things where a lot of members from now — in perpetuity —  who will never meet Tommy and will never get to know who he was or what he contributed to [the 100] but they will see the impact that he had on the 100 of America as well as the 100 of Atlanta,” Barron said. 

By night’s end, the 100 raised over $500,000 that will help them continue their efforts to mentor the capital’s youth. 

Atlanta Falcons Cornerback AJ Terrell and his son receiving the John Lewis Emerging Leader Award at the 100 Honors. (Image provided by 100 Black Men of Atlanta.)

“I mean, it’s amazing that the Atlanta community, both corporate and individuals, have been good to us,” Negron said. “It’s a blessing that people support and believe in the program and the mission of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta. We are still a relevant organization that makes a change here in the city, so we feel good.”

The funds raised will help the 100 grow and scale their purpose of helping the lives of youth grades 6 to 12 by assigning a mentor to every Atlanta Public School student that wants one and continuing their Project Success programs at schools like Best and Coretta Scott King Academies. 

“We have a 100 percent graduation rate and a 100 percent college acceptance rate for all of our students who participate in Project Success at Best Academy and 96 percent at Coretta Scott King Academy this year,” Milliner said. “Those numbers have been consistent for the past decade.” 

Log onto their website to donate to the 100 Black Men of Atlanta.

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New novel inspired by first Black female bank founder

The new historical fiction “A Right Worthy Woman” tells the story of the ambitious and unafraid woman, Maggie Lena Walker, who was determined to gain wealth for her community.

Written by Atlanta-based author Ruth P. Watson, “A Right Worthy Woman” begins shortly after the Civil War in the predominantly Black Jackson Ward community in Richmond, Va. 

The novel is loosely based on Walker’s life, telling the story of the daughter of a formerly enslaved woman and a Confederate soldier who dares to make a better life for her family and the people of Jackson Ward.

When Watson pitched to her publisher a new romance novel similar to her bestsellers “Blackberry Days of Summer” and “Cranberry Winter,” they were interested in something different. 

Author Ruth P. Watson speaking during an interview at the official launch party for her latest “A Right Worthy Woman.” (Photo by Allison Joyner.)

“Maggie Lena Walker has been in every book I’ve ever written, but nobody ever asked about her,” Watson added. So she was surprised that they were interested in learning more about Walker. 

Watson said the more she did research on Virginia’s capital, the more Walker kept talking to her — as if she wanted her to write her story. 

The story began when Walker was 12 when her stepfather died from an apparent suicide. When her mother sought financial refuge from the Independent Order of St. Luke to pay for the funeral costs, Walker was intrigued by their work in her neighborhood. 

The Order was a fraternal organization that initially began financing burial costs for African Americans and offered life insurance to provide death benefits for the families. 

Walker became fascinated with the Order’s purpose to help the people of Jackson Ward, so she joined and ran the youth sector of the organization. 

“One of the things that she admired about the Order was the fact that they gave money to people in need,” Watson said. “Her empathy came from leadership and she said to herself, ‘Okay, I’m going to get in here and work with the juveniles and see if we can come up with something we can do for other people.”

Walker’s motivation to become involved with the Order in a leadership capacity was unorthodox for women at the beginning of the 20th century and she was even called “bossy” on some occasions. 

“When it comes to success, the choice is simple. You can either stand up and be counted or lie down and be counted out.”

Maggie Lena Walker

“We should know about Maggie and feel very proud that back in 1903, there was a woman who had the audacity to try and make things different,” Watson said.

Historical fiction author Ruth P. Watson talks about her latest book, “A Right Worthy Woman.” (Photo by Allison Joyner.)

Walker befriended sociologist and Atlanta University professor W.E.B. DuBois and educator Mary McLeod Bethune who used their platforms to help in her mission. The three knew that working together would make Richmond a bustling metropolis for African Americans, and it eventually became the state’s financial hub. 

“Maggie, Bethune and DuBois got together and knew there were some things that we can’t control, but there’s a lot we can control when we work together,” Watson said.

Watson hopes readers will learn that prayer and faith outweigh fear when they read Walker’s story and see themselves in there as well. 

“A Right Worthy Woman” was published by Atria Books and distributed by Simon and Schuster. It can be purchased at Charis Books and More in Decatur or on Amazon.  

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SCOTUS affirmative action ruling proves HBCUs are needed now more than ever

Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a 20-year-old rule on how students are evaluated by institutions of higher learning. Friday’s reversal of affirmative action is now in the history books, but we have yet to turn the pages to find out how much damage this decision will ultimately cause.

Oral tradition in Black culture has pressed that “you have to work twice as hard to get half of the reward” for your endeavors. But now that affirmative action has been taken from us, we will have to work even harder. 

Affirmative action is the thread of American culture that stitches centuries of bondage during its creation. Now that it has been deconstructed before our eyes, we are left with tattered patterns of lost progress that looked nothing like equality.

(Image provided by Morehouse College.)

“[The ruling] has the potential to alter college admissions policies across the nation drastically,” said Dr. George French, President of Clark Atlanta University (CAU). With the school’s motto being “I’ll find a way or make one,” he says it is important to note that the decision applies explicitly to institutions that use race as a determinative factor in their admissions decisions.

Affirmative action is not new to education in America. It has been, in some form, helping minorities have an equal footing since the late 1800s. But these actions have always had detractors. The majority has been whitewashing who and what people are privy to access since Lincoln wrote his signature on the Emancipation Proclamation. 

This disdain for equality in education is why Historically Black Colleges and Universities — aka HBCUs — were established in the first place and will be critically important in the coming years.

“Attendance at PWIs [Predominately White Institutions] too often overdetermines the likelihood of gaining access to powerful and influential positions,” said Dr. David Thomas, President of Morehouse. “One needs only to examine the resumes of our Supreme Court Justices and their clerks over the last 40 years to see the evidence.”

Thomas and other academic leaders are disappointed by the ruling but not surprised.

“Affirmative action has long been an essential tool in the fight against systemic inequalities experienced by marginalized communities and has expanded access to educational opportunities that contribute to creating a more just society,” Thomas said.

Image from Spelman College’s 2019 graduation commencement. Credit: Spelman College.

French agrees and said that many PWIs have already considered racial factors in their admissions decisions before the ruling.

“While the court’s decision has struck down an effective remedy for racism and discrimination, it inadvertently presents an opportunity for HBCUs, such as CAU, to anticipate increased enrollment opportunities for students of color who may be denied access to these schools,” French said. 

People want to feel welcomed – not shunned – when choosing a school to call their alma mater and Black and Brown students will get that along with a family-friendly environment that encourages them to prosper at an HBCU. 

The courtroom of the Supreme Court. Credit:

We shouldn’t be in this position, though.

The six justices that voted in favor of this ruling will weaken this country and send us back to 1619 when the first ships holding human cargo from Africa docked at the shores of Virginia. 

They have disgraced the legacy of our first Black Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, and they should explain their actions at the foot of his grave and ask the future generations they just disenfranchised for forgiveness. 

“As a nation, we must not only engage in thoughtful and constructive conversations about creating inclusive pathways for all individuals seeking higher education but also take action with our time and wallets to ensure our discussion becomes sustainable realities with real impact,” Thomas said.  

The emotion of having opportunity deflated from our dreams overwhelms people of color and comes at the cost of hope for this country. This ruling has made me feel hollow and now we have proof that I am three-fifths of a person in the eyes of justice. 

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