In early June, we paused our daily coronavirus updates. However, we will continue to provide updates weekly. Here’s what you need to know right now.
• As of publication time, a total of 87,709 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Georgia. 2,849 people have died. 883,239 viral tests have been conducted, and 9.1 percent of those have been positive. A total of 11,500 of those tested were hospitalized at the time. [GA Dept. of Public Health]
• COVID-19 cases continue to surge statewide. Wednesday set a record of 2,946 new COVID-19 cases recorded, only to have that record smashed just 24 hours later with 3,472 new cases reported Thursday. And while deaths are not surging upward at the same accelerating rate, hospitalizations are on a steady upward trend, with 1,649 current patients reported on July 2. The AJC reports that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also noted on a conference call with city council that the virus continues to disproportionately impact Fulton County’s Black residents. According to the mayor, 45 percent of new Fulton cases have been in Atlanta, and 51 percent of those cases and 86 percent of the deaths have been among Black Atlantans. [AJC 1/AJC 2]
• Governor Brian Kemp signed a new executive order on Monday to extend the state’s public health emergency, which requires businesses to continue COVID-19 safety requirements through July 15 and gives Kemp the authority to issue more emergency restrictions through August 11. The elderly and those with underlying conditions, as well as residents of long-term care facilities, are instructed to shelter-in-place through July 15. [AJC]
• Governor Kemp has spent the past week on a fly-around tour all over the state, encouraging Georgians to wear masks, but has stood firm that he will not enact a mask statewide mask mandate. On Tuesday, Savannah’s Mayor Van Johnston signed an emergency order that requires people to wear face coverings when out in public in the city. The city is the first in Georgia to pass such a requirement, and many wondered if Kemp would try to block the order, as his statewide executive order prohibits cities and counties from implementing requirements that supersede the state’s. Kemp has not said yet one way or the other what he will do about Savannah’s bill, only saying, “I wouldn’t be able to speak about any state action, because I haven’t had time to really discuss the matter. But regardless of any legal action that may or may not happen, you shouldn’t need a mask mandate for people to do the right thing.” [AJC 1/AJC 2]
• U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams visited Gwinnett County on Thursday, where COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising since May. The county currently has more cases than any other in the state. Adams urged the public to wear masks, saying that “wearing a face covering or a mask is not a restriction of your freedom,” but according to the AJC, he “indicated he didn’t believe Kemp should implement a statewide mask mandate.” [AJC]
• However, experts at Emory are urging government leaders to implement mask mandates. During a Wednesday morning call, Emory Healthcare CEO Jonathan Lewin cited their own facilities as evidence that such mandates work: at first, Emory Healthcare encouraged its nonclinical workers to wear masks but didn’t require it—and COVID-19 cases spread as employees unknowingly transmitted the virus at work. “When we required masks, we saw our infection rates within our workforce plummet to near zero. That’s something that has scientifically has been shown around the country and the world,” Lewin said.
Dr. Carlos del Rio, an Emory epidemiologist and global health expert, said that the current surge in cases can be traced back to Memorial Day weekend and is likewise concerned about the Fourth of July holiday. “Going out with lots of people, in large gatherings, to watch the fireworks is not a good thing. I’m really concerned about this
holiday and what people do,” he said.
Both Del Rio and Lewin also underscored that wearing a mask supports the economy by preventing the spread of COVID-19. “I’ve been greatly troubled over the last few months where people say it’s either public health or economic recovery. That’s a false dichotomy. The more we can take care of public health, the more we’re keeping the economy in the right direction,” Lewin said. [Reporting by Atlanta contributor Michele Cohen Marill]
• As cases rise, there are some reports of longer lines at testing sites and delays in results, according to the AJC. While the state maintains there are still plenty of tests available statewide, Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest lab systems in the U.S., has said that it is experiencing “unprecedented” demand. Despite concerns, there are no statewide restrictions on who can get a test, unlike in the spring, and you do not have to be symptomatic to get tested. [AJC]
• A few prominent Atlantans have become ill with COVID-19—former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is currently hospitalized with the disease but is not on a respirator and is “resting comfortably,” according to a statement. Cain recently traveled to President Donald Trump’s June 20 campaign rally in Tulsa, where several campaign staffers tested positive for COVID-19, but a post on Cain’s website also said the 74-year-old could have contracted it from a recent visit to Arizona.
Former Democratic senate candidate Sarah Riggs Amico also posted a thread on Twitter this week about contracting COVID-19, describing how quickly her symptoms went from “mild and annoying” to the point where she could “barely stand.” She wrote, “While I’ve seen some improvement over the last two weeks, I’m far from well. I’m still coughing, exhausted & can’t taste anything (weirdest #COVID symptom), but I’m grateful my fever’s gone, body aches are improving & I’m quarantining at home.” She urged Georgians to wear masks. [CNN/Twitter]
• The Cobb County School District has pushed its opening date of August 3 back by two weeks to August 17. The superintendent says the delay is to give both parents, students, and teachers more time to prepare for the coming year. Fulton County Schools have also delayed their opening to August 17. [WSB-TV/AJC]
• Not that lighting fireworks has ever been a risk-free activity, but a word of warning as July 4th approaches—alcohol-based hand sanitizer is flammable. And if it has not fully dried and evaporated from your hands by the time you light a firework, well, that’s probably going to be bad news. Per the AJC, it can take 30 seconds for sanitizer to fully evaporate once applied. Experts advise washing hands with soap and water rather than using sanitizer before lighting fireworks or using a punk stick. [AJC]
• The Federal, Shaun Doty and Lance Gummere’s steakhouse in Midtown, has closed permanently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [Eater Atlanta]
• More restaurants have closed temporarily after employees tested positive for COVID-19, including Bread & Butterfly, Buttermilk Kitchen, and Grindhouse Killer Burgers. [Eater Atlanta]
• Zoo Atlanta is one of many local attractions that has re-opened with enhanced safety guidelines. Atlanta contributor Carly Cooper took her young children for a visit and found some of the new measures—such as the zoo’s one-way path and marked off spots for families to stand in front of exhibits—are better than before. Read her experience here.
It might seem overly ambitious to list a Cabbagetown loft with a galley kitchen and a single bedroom at $785,000—more than any other condo in the neighborhood has ever landed. But hear owner Brandon Sutton out.
The unit, in the historic Stacks lofts, includes the building’s 71-foot tower, which has become a symbol of the neighborhood and has been a fixture on the city’s skyline since it was built as the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills in the 1880s. “It’s certainly unique in Atlanta,” Sutton says, “and I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it elsewhere.” Having lived in the so-called “tower loft” for 14 years, Sutton knows he’s got something one-of a-kind that oozes the history of Cabbagetown, a turn-of-the-twentieth-century mill village built alongside Oakland Cemetery. As well as witnessing decades of prosperous manufacturing, labor strikes, and post-World War II decline of the industry, the roughly 140-year-old red-brick walls survived a massive fire in 1999 and a tornado that slammed into the building in 2008.
Those red-brick walls are still there, exposed on every side of Sutton’s unit in the Stacks’s H Building. There, the entry opens up to the sleek galley kitchen, designed by Joel Kelly with maple cabinets, travertine countertops, and Miele appliances. The lone bedroom, with four original brick walls, offers passage to the lone bathroom, spa-like with a soaking tub, and more travertine and brick. But the living room delivers the real appeal to would-be buyers. Windows on three sides boast views south, toward Cabbagetown’s community of dollhouses; east, overlooking the rail depot at Hulsey Yard; and north, up toward Old Fourth Ward and parts of the downtown and Midtown skylines.
And then there’s the view upward from the living room, into the cavernous 71-foot tower. Two levels of thick, crisscrossed timber beams (once home to massive water tanks) crawl up the brick, still somewhat charred from the fire two decades ago, forming mammoth Tic-Tac-Toe boards. This is what Sutton has really put on the market: Not the tower itself, but its potential.
Sutton says a savvy buyer will see the promise in building up, which could boost the unit’s footprint by about 1,200 square feet and turn this single-floor, one-bedroom unit into a three-story dwelling outfitted with, perhaps, another bedroom and bathroom and a penthouse-level observatory. After all, at the top, the city is visible for a full 360 degrees, through enormous arched windows on all sides.
This isn’t the first time Sutton has put his place up for sale. In 2010, four years after he scored the condo for a cool $300,000 and some change, Sutton offered it for $589,000. “I put it on the market in the middle of the Great Recession, and I had plans to move out West and buy a sailboat and sail off into the sunset,” he says. “I knew it was outrageous, but I just put it out there.”
That effort didn’t pan out, and Sutton eventually started renting the space out to, among others, Hollywood professionals in town for movie and TV shoots. (He says actress Eiza González, who played a bank robber in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, was a delightful tenant.)
Just a few months ago, Sutton teased the idea of selling his condo yet again, publishing a post on Zillow’s “Make Me Move” platform that said he’d hand over the keys for $750,000. His phone began ringing almost immediately. He turned down two offers below his asking price.
Sutton officially listed the condo in April. He says he appreciates that putting the place on the market in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic guarantees a fickle process. “But I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in my life,” he says. “It’s time to move on—to make a bold move.” stacksloftstower.com
What’s the history of federal emergency management?
Until April 1, 1979, states hit by tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods often had to wait on Congress to pass ad hoc legislation or the president to pass an executive order to fund relief efforts. (The first was in 1803 after a fire extensively damaged a New Hampshire town.) Then, they had to work with dozens of federal agencies to shuttle supplies, fix roads, and repair the electric grid. After a series of high-profile disasters like Hurricane Camille, the second most-powerful recorded hurricane to hit the U.S., then President Jimmy Carter created the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a one-stop shop that would provide vital supplies, low-interest loans, and experts to states after disasters—and, after 9/11, terrorist attacks.
Can FEMA swoop in whenever it wants?
Only if a disaster—and the definition is relatively broad—occurs on federal property. Otherwise, a governor must request FEMA’s help. FEMA assesses the situation and makes a recommendation to the president. The president can declare an emergency and kickstart the process that provides financial aid, expertise, and relief supplies from its national network of warehouses, including one south of Atlanta that serves the surrounding region.
If we have FEMA, why do we also need a state emergency management agency?
There’s a common talking point in emergency management: The best emergency response is federally funded, state managed, and locally executed. Created in 1981, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency helps communities prepare for and respond to local disasters, like the April tornadoes that killed eight people. In Georgia, either the governor or mayors can declare emergencies.
GEMA has spent more than $110 million on orders of personal protective equipment to fight COVID-19.
How did the state-of-emergency process work for the COVID-19 pandemic?
On March 13, President Donald Trump declared a public-health emergency. The following day Governor Brian Kemp did the same and, by doing so, put GEMA in charge of the state’s response. The status gave Kemp the power to quarantine individuals (which he partially did on April 2, issuing a shelter-in-place directive), waive regulations such as limits on medication refills or out-of-state healthcare workers coming to Georgia, suspend restrictions on trucking to keep supply chains flowing, commandeer the National Guard to aid hospitals and testing facilities, and charge GEMA with acquiring and distributing medical supplies such as tests, ventilators, and personal protective equipment, both from national stockpiles and other sources such as companies and colleges. By late April, for example, GEMA had distributed more than 2.2 million N95 masks, 3.6 million surgical masks, 129 ventilators, and 24,635 test kits during the pandemic. At the same time, although testing officially had been opened to anyone with symptoms and the state had nearly doubled its number of tests per capita in two weeks, Georgia still ranked 37th among states for completed tests per 1,000 people.
Artists in other cities had just started to use outdoor spaces, such as drive-in movie theaters, to host drive-in concerts during the COVID-19 pandemic. After Keith Urban hosted a drive-in show in May for medical workers in Tennessee, Variety reported Live Nation’s plans to produce a series of concerts in the parking lots of its amphitheaters this summer. Leeks and Parks, who were previously behind 2 Chainz’s Pink Trap House and other marketing successes in the city, saw an opportunity in Atlanta and launched the Parking Lot Concert series.
Taking place at the Murphy Park Fairgrounds in Southwest Atlanta, the venue has space for 300 parked cars, and attendees can tune their radios to a specific station to listen to the live performance in front of them. Leeks and Parks said all four of the shows they’ve hosted so far with Atlanta-based artists—Schooly, Travis Porter, Young Dro, and Peewee Longway—have reached capacity. This weekend, they’ll host a July 4th show, “Home of the Brave: Atown Bash,” that features Crime Mob, Fabo, Kilo Ali, Pastor Troy, Dem Franchize Boyz, and more.
But despite the executive order, most of Atlanta’s concert venues are still deciding when and how they will reopen. While restaurants have relied on social media to update patrons on reopening plans, the profiles of many of Atlanta’s most prominent music venues have remained largely silent, save for posting black squares to support the Black Lives Matter movement and announcing streamed events. Most have not publicly commented on when fans will be able to attend live shows again.
When contacted for this story, Live Nation, the company that books most of the concerts at the Coca-Cola Roxy, the Buckhead Theatre and the Tabernacle, directed Atlanta to its list of concert updates in lieu of a statement. At the time of publication, there were no concerts scheduled until August 8, when Desi Banks is set to perform at Buckhead Theatre. Zero Mile, the company that books shows at Terminal West, Variety Playhouse, and the Georgia Theatre in Athens, also declined to comment on future reopening plans. All of the summer events on the company’s website are postponed or cancelled. Decatur staple Eddie’s Attic did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the Fox Theatre said the venue hasn’t set a date to reopen yet, but it won’t be in July.
While the executive order is “a welcome step forward from the previous mandated closure,” Josh Antenucci, senior partner at Rival Entertainment, the company that operates Center Stage, the Loft, and Vinyl, says that social distancing guidelines still make it difficult for venues to reopen. “Until the distancing requirement is relaxed, there’s no practical and safe way to resume a business rooted in the practice of gathering people.” As such, Center Stage will remain closed, too.
Reopening venues is just one step in bringing back live performances. “It’s not just that the venues are closed,” Antenucci says. “In order for artists to ramp back up, they need to have a comfort level in their ability to do so safely and that all of the venues that they play will do so safely.”
Part of that equation—being able to host a show without fear of getting sued. A June article in Billboard examined the liability of venues and promoters in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak at one of their events. “I would have a very hard time telling my client that if you comply with what the government has said as to reopening, that you’re in the clear,” Kinsella Weitzman, Iser Kump & Aldisert partner, told the publication. “This is something that will be adjudicated with a lot of hindsight bias. It’s so difficult to predict what a court will say a year and a half from now.”
“There is no mistaking the fact that this [pandemic] is devastating for the live events industry,” Rival Enertainment’s Antenucci says. “It’s also becoming increasingly obvious that in order to operate in the new norm is going to be more expensive than in the past.” He noted that the “economic shift” will inevitably mean concerts will cost more for patrons and venues. Promoters and artists will also face an increased financial burden.
As traditional live music venues hold off on re-opening, the pivot to hosting concerts in parking lots allows artists who have been cut off from touring—a main source of revenue for musicians—to get on stage and connect with fans in a time of increased isolation. Still, some of these concerts have garnered critiques.
In a video shared on Twitter from Travis Porter’s Parking Lot Concert concert in June, a crowd of people are seen standing in front of the lot’s parked cars, as women twerk on car hoods to the rap group’s strip club anthem, “Bring it Back.” (Ahead of the Travis Porter concert, fans were able to purchase access to a “front row twerk section” for $15.) As with the Skooly listening party in May, few people in the video from the Travis Porter show are wearing masks.
And with cases surging in Georgia, some are concerned that these concerts, like dining inside restaurants or packing bars, are another example of the city’s recklessness during the pandemic.
Street Execs’ Leeks and Parks say they provide free masks to everyone who enters the parking lot. They also offer an option for attendees to order food from participating vendors and have it delivered to their car. On their website, they encourage people to stay in their cars during the concerts and to wear a mask in the event that they leave their vehicle.
Leeks said they plan to continue the series throughout the summer, hosting one concert every Saturday and eventually expanding into other genres outside of hip-hop.
“I’m not really worried about what’s going on indoors until I see the temperature of the American people [change],” he said. “I think parking lot and outside car concerts are here to stay.”
Kawan “KP The Great” Prather’s multi-hyphenated career in the music business all started with him simply asking questions. The Vine City native and founding member of the Dungeon Family’s P.A. became a well of industry knowledge for his group’s in-house production team, a then unknown trio calling themselves Organized Noize.
That same curiosity and interpersonal savvy led to LaFace Records co-founder L.A. Reid appointing Prather to the hit factory as its vice president of A&R in 1996, further allowing him to launch his own imprint, Ghet-O-Vision, which launched the careers of both T.I. and YoungBloodZ. Foregoing a college education at nearby Clark Atlanta University, the Tri-Cities High School grad ascended to various senior level roles at Columbia Records, Sony Urban, Def Jam, and Atlantic Records. Prather took home a Grammy in 2015 for his contributions on Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and has spent the last five years as head of music for Pharrell’s company i am OTHER. Now based in Los Angeles, Prather recently hopped on the phone to chat about his storied career in the music business, making protest music, and other ventures to come.
How did your journey go from recording artist to successful music executive? Right after P.A. shot our debut video, “Lifeline,” for the CB4 soundtrack, I found out a bunch of stuff I just didn’t understand or didn’t make sense to me, and my questions were always behind the curtain. [Producer and former TLC manager] Pebbles would always tell me I talked like a manager sometimes, but I just wanted to understand so a manager wouldn’t tell me something I didn’t get. She told me I was doing another job people get paid to do at the record company [and] explained to me what an A&R was. I had a conversation with L.A. Reid; he [said] the same thing and offered me a job at LaFace doing it. On tour, I was meeting artists, producers, and directing them back to L.A. and Pebbles. L.A. started giving me a commission when he used my ideas or introductions. It started from there and got to a point I was the happenstance leader of our group. It started becoming a point where A&R was taking up more time. I’d be on the road on the bus in the backseat taking conference calls about OutKast and Usher as we’re going to do a show. I just had to make a decision. If I wanted to be great, I had to focus on one.
As more Black executives publicly share their experiences across industries, what’s been your experience at major record labels? There’s never been a place we’re fully accepted. We’re almost always an experiment. People value our actions, but not necessarily our thoughts, so they don’t think we think things through. They think “freestyle” means it doesn’t require thought when it’s based on all of our different experiences that we have muscle memory about. The first time I went up to a Sony boardroom and sat at the head end of the table, this executive introduced me and my credentials. He patted me on the head right before he introduced me and sat down. I slapped his hand loudly. He snatched his hand back, apologized, and tried to explain himself; I told him it felt like disrespect. When we came back in, I patted him on his head. From that moment on, we never had an issue.
What we have to do is communicate properly because there are cultural differences, but it’s on you to say what you will and won’t accept in that culture. It takes a strong sense of self to maintain that under all circumstances. The one time you let it slide, it becomes acceptable. A lot of time, you have to explain culture in our business because it’s a big part of our value and economic system.
How does it feel witnessing Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” becoming among the definitive protest anthems of this generation? I was grateful to be able to have any part in that. It’s a joint effort: Pharrell started it, then me and my contribution, Kendrick put his perspective on it, and Sounwave added some production to it. But it shows people from different places working together on the same accord. All of us have a perspective, but we don’t have all the points. There’ll always be adversity, but if what we did can fuel inspiration and inspire somebody to do something to stand up for themselves, then I’m grateful to be able to be part of something that matters this much to people and connects.
What are your thoughts on activism and protests in and out of Atlanta? It inspires me because Atlanta is a city built on Black forward movement. I watched my son, who just turned 23, out there protesting on his birthday. The thread is still there; we understand that we’re not in the place where we need to be, but we continue to push and accelerate that push. There’s a different style of protests now because the younger generation is over it; it doesn’t make sense to them. They have enough information now to say something is stupid or wrong, and that’s inspiring. The music we made, whether it be Goodie Mob’s “Cell Therapy” or Kendrick’s “Alright,” has helped to put the thought out there that there’s more we could be doing because this is our culture. I’m excited. Atlanta put that in me; “Alright” is Atlanta-influenced as well, so Atlanta influences everything in that way. We were influenced by Martin Luther King, Ralph David Abernathy, and Hosea Wiliams: a bunch of different styles, but they were all Black, authentic, and for the people. I want to have a part in that legacy so that my kids can walk out and feel confident that they have a shot.
How does the social climate translate to your work as the head of music for i am OTHER? What Pharrell has, which I think a lot of people don’t, is a childlike honesty. I’m probably more outwardly militant, but his Blackness is very real. He is a student of people and culture; he pays attention to others. In the studio, I learned from him to pinpoint those moments that are authentic; that’s where the songs are. As a producer, he’s a sponge. He brings things back in a way that you weren’t thinking about. We just came from Virginia, where he was able to convince the governor of Virginia to make Juneteenth a state holiday. We’re all in this place where we’re just trying to use our influence and know-how to do what these kids are doing. At i am OTHER, we’re about cultural enhancement on top of music and art. We’re fully engaged and moving. It’s about being somewhere but not always letting everybody know where that is. What we do is not as flashy and can seem a little silent.
You recently curated Spotify’s official Father’s Day playlist. How did you get involved with that project? I make playlists a lot. There was a moment I realized the music I was listening to really wasn’t encouraging, so it made me think about the ‘you are what you eat’ theory but with music. A friend of mine at Spotify asked me if I would be down to curate a Father’s Day playlist. Most of my friends are fathers, even the ones that are in the music business, and we have conversations about this stuff. I thought I could put a playlist together based on these conversations we have that end up being songs or in songs. I started going through my memory of what lines do it for me like Andre 3000’s verse on Outkast’s “Return of the G.” It’s gems in these songs from fathers with morals. It made it that much more fun because I know the people, so I knew that the source of information is coming from a true place. The gems would resonate not just with fathers, but men looking for the information. And I got to put a song from my 23-year-old son on there as well. It’s a payoff for me.
What’s next for you? Prior to the shutdown, I started [doing] music supervision for film and TV. One is a TV show with Tracy Oliver on Amazon; another is a documentary on the Godfather of Harlem based on the ‘60s and revolution music. We’re doing a lot: co-writing a TV show with a friend. I moved out to Los Angeles to widen the scope a year-and-a-half ago. I’m in college right now. [laughs]
Confession: I dread Saturdays. My four-year-old startles me out of bed, his eyes wide with excitement. “What are we doing today, Mommy?” he asks. He’s old enough to remember weekends past, filled with pool time, play dates, and museum visits. Yet he’s young enough to still be optimistic, sure that today will be the day we do something fun—something different.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the closing of schools, daycares, and attractions around the city, it’s become harder to fill the time. Do we make plans with friends, knowing full well the kids won’t maintain social distance? Do we chance a visit to the aquarium, crossing our fingers that the crowds aren’t too big? Or do we stay home and play in our backyard, just like Every. Single. Day?
Kids, in theory, are at a lower risk for complications from the novel coronavirus. “We seem to be seeing that children with COVID-19 infections have very mild symptoms. If they have more severe symptoms that require hospital stays, they recover very well from those symptoms,” says Andi Shane, chief of Emory and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and a Marcus Professor of Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control.
But I still worry about the Kawasaki-like symptoms I read about in the news, which have been reported in juvenile COVID-19 patients in several states, including Georgia. “MIS-C is what it’s called: Post Infectious Inflammatory Condition,” Dr. Shane says. “It’s been very rare in Georgia. We have seen a few kids in our hospital who have done very well. We don’t want anyone to get sick but because it’s so rare, and it’s something we can’t really predict; the existence of this syndrome doesn’t change the guidance of how we react in the environment.”
So, three-and-a-half months into quarantine, I finally decided I was ready to take some (calculated) risks to entertain the kids. A trusted friend told me she felt safe when she took her children to Zoo Atlanta. I was dubious, but I opted to do some research.
After shutting down in March due to the pandemic, Zoo Atlanta reopened on May 16 with “a new and improved experience” that was two months in the making, according to the zoo’s Deputy Director Hayley Murphy. “We’re monitoring local and regional news. We’re taking it a week at a time, making sure our guests and employees feel safe,” she says.
Murphy tells me the zoo’s current daily capacity is about 3,000 people, contrasted with 10,000 on a busy, pre-COVID-19 day. Timed ticketing is required for entry, so be sure to secure your spot online before you go. Murphy says there are 70 hand sanitizer stations located throughout the park, each monitored and refilled continuously. High-touch attractions, such as the carousel, train, petting zoo, and part of the indoor reptile exhibit are still closed. And masks are required for everyone older than four in the open indoor areas.
I signed my family up for a 10:30 a.m. slot on a Saturday, hoping to beat both the crowds and the heat. We arrived a few minutes early and lo and behold, there were actual parking spots available. (If you’ve been to the zoo on a prepandemic weekend, you know you’ll usually circle the lot for at least 10 minutes.)
Check-in was painless and nearly contactless. My son wanted to see the rhinos first, but as the zoo is now organized into a one-way loop, he’d have to wait until we came back around. It takes the kids a little getting used to, but I love the one-way path. Arguments about what to see next and time spent studying the map are virtually eliminated. The usual jostling for the best viewing spot is unnecessary, too. Floor markings and ropes guide your experience. Yellow boxes mark distanced spaces for each family to view the animals. At popular exhibits like the pandas, staff members also help keep the lines moving.
I was still worried about my 22-month-old, who likes to touch everything—including her mouth. But Murphy, the zoo director, told me all railings are disinfected every 30 to 90 minutes, and the restrooms are cleaned hourly.
“We know the virus can be transmitted if someone with the virus leaves a secretion on a surface. We just [need to] focus on ourselves and keep ourselves as clean as possible,” Dr. Shane says. “If your child is touching rails and doing the things kids do, that’s the time to wipe their hands or use sanitizing gel. It doesn’t taste that good, so that’s one deterrent for them putting their hands in their mouth.”
There were a couple of times my husband stopped by a hand-sanitizing station, only to find it empty. But since we brought our own, it certainly wasn’t a deal-breaker.
We skipped the indoor exhibits—my kids aren’t great about wearing masks—but even outside, nearly half of the people around us were face-safe, which made me feel better. There were more than a few times I had to remind my kids to “keep space” and not to touch anything, but that’s the new normal, right?
Dr. Shane says with the new safety measures, the zoo “is more like going to an outdoor park. It might be less risky because it’s more controlled with a limited number of people.”
“Children are very dependent on being around other children for their growth and socialization,” Dr. Shane adds. “Activities like the zoo and botanical gardens are important to socialization.”
My kids certainly benefited. They couldn’t wait to tell their grandparents about the giraffes and zebras they saw on their next FaceTime call.
The only downside to our trip? Now the bar has been raised for what we’re doing next Saturday.
Part playroom, part crafts room, and part study hall, this terrace-level space in Decatur serves many functions in style.
“We wanted it to have a connection to the outdoors,” says Ili Hidalgo-Nilsson of Terracotta Design Build. French doors to the backyard are painted black to add contrast.
The hanging rattan chair by Serena & Lily creates a playful mood.
A paper dispenser and cutter mounted on the desk provides paper to doodle on or work out math problems—and protects the desk, too.
Rule of threes
To keep the scale right for the long desk, Hidalgo-Nilsson chose three verdant pendants from Rejuvenation, and the family added a trio of dry-erase boards and buckets from Ikea.
Hidalgo-Nilsson designed the custom desk and activities table with hydraulic lifts, built by Greenwalt & Sons. The homeowners, Leann and Shane Cox, wanted a surface that could be raised as eight-year-old Noah grows taller.
“Keep it practical,” says Hidalgo-Nilsson. The flooring is vinyl that looks like wood (since basements are notorious for dampness and flooding), topped by an Oriental rug that hides all stains.
In early June, we paused our daily coronavirus updates as breaking news about the virus began to slow. However, we will continue to provide updates weekly. Here’s what you need to know right now.
• As of publication time, a total of 74,985 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Georgia. 2,776 people have died. 789,813 viral tests have been conducted, and 8.7 percent of those have been positive. A total of 10,689 of those tested were hospitalized at the time. [GA Dept. of Public Health]
• COVID-19 cases are still on the rise across the state, with the case rate in June climbing higher than it was at its previous peak in April. (On the state’s dashboard, the seven-day moving day average for cases was 761.3 on April 22. It was 897 on June 12.) Gwinnett continues to have the most cases but most metro counties are seeing upticks. Current hospitalizations are also continuing to rise. On June 26, 1,900 new cases were reported, a new daily record. And according to the AJC, experts say increased testing only contributes to part of the rise; community spread is still happening. Governor Brian Kemp did note, during remarks to press on Friday, that the state has not seen a spike connected to recent protests and expressed gratitude toward protestors who wore masks. [GA Dept. of Public Health/AJC 1/AJC 2/Twitter]
• Despite the increases locally and nationally, Governor Kemp on Friday said he has no plans to implement any shutdown measures, unlike neighbor Florida, which on Friday decided to shut down alcohol sales at bars due to increased cases. He also said that mandates that require citizens to wear face masks when out in public are a “bridge too far for me right now.” 19 states, along with Washington D.C., currently have statewide mask mandates, with the closest being North Carolina. Kemp urged Georgians to continue social distancing and wearing masks, saying, “We’ve got to continue to fight the fight hard every day.” On Friday, he tweeted a photo of himself wearing a mask at Marietta Pizza Co., with the text, “Wear a mask, Georgia!” [AJC/Florida Sun-Sentinel/Newsweek/Twitter]
• CDC Director Robert Redfield said on Thursday that nationwide cumulative case totals are likely 10 times higher than what the numbers show, meaning that for every American who tested positive for COVID-19 this past spring, there were another 10 people who went undiagnosed. Redfield said that between 5 and 8 percent of the U.S. population has tested positive for COVID-19, meaning the other 92 to 95 percent is still vulnerable to the disease. He also reiterated that the current surge in cases is not the much-predicted “second wave,” but is still part of the virus’s first wave. Cases are still expected to increase in the fall and winter. The CDC also said pregnant women are at a greater risk of hospitalization from the disease, but not a greater risk of death. [AJC]
• The metro area added 35,200 jobs in May, an improvement from April, but the AJC noted that at the current pace, it will take nine months before we can reach our most recent peak of employment, which was in November 2019. [AJC]
• Morehouse School of Medicine will receive a $40 million federal grant and will work with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health on a three-year project to “deliver education and information on resources to help fight the pandemic, such as testing and vaccinations once one is developed and federally-approved,” according to the AJC. [AJC]
• Atlanta Public Schools announced graduation ceremony dates for 14 high schools, which will be held outdoors at Lakewood Stadium from July 20-23. [APS]
• Morehouse College has canceled its football and cross country seasons for next year due to the pandemic. [The Undefeated]
• Major League Baseball announced it will play a proposed 60-game season beginning either July 23 or 24, with training beginning July 1. Players, coaches, and staff will be tested for COVID-19 every other day. [MLB]
• Major League Soccer announced the dates for its “MLS is Back” tournament, with Atlanta United set to play against the New York Red Bulls on July 11, against Cincinnati on July 16, and against Columbus on July 21. [MLS]
• The Fourth of July will look a lot different this year in Atlanta. Centennial Olympic Park and Stone Mountain have both announced they will not hold their annual fireworks shows. Some cities, including East Point, will instead host drive-by parades and virtual fireworks. [AJC]
• CVS added 11 more testing sites statewide, all in the drive-thrus of existing pharmacies. New Atlanta locations include 2555 Bolton Road, 3815 Clairmont Road, 680 Ponce de Leon Avenue Northeast, 2429 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and 2907 Main Street in East Point. You can find the full list of locations here. [CVS press release]
Octopus Bar, 8Arm, and Supremo Taco proprietor Nhan Le is planning to open a Mexican chicken spot called Pollo Supremo. Located on Moreland Avenue a few blocks from East Atlanta Village, Pollo Supremo is slated to open by September.
It will serve lunch and dinner with a concise menu featuring pollo asado, three side items (think rice and beans, elote, and a seasonal vegetable), a soup, and churros or flan for dessert. Tortillas will be made in-house, and family meals will be available. Supremo Taco’s Duane Kulers will lead the kitchen at both restaurants.
The Pollo Supremo space is designed for outdoor dining with a 40-seat patio and only 12 seats indoors. Le describes it as “well-lit with a lot of windows and open space.” There will also be a drive-thru.
“We don’t know how long [the COVID-19 pandemic] will last,” Le says. “I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t think it’s a bad time to [open a restaurant]. It’s a good time to get good rent in a location we want.”
Food will be served via counter service. There will be aqua frescas and horchata, and possibly beer and wine.
“I’m tired of the whole bar scene. We’ve been successful without it at Supremo [Taco],” he says. “It’s a giant headache with a lot of overhead costs. We’re trying to keep it simple.”
Le is also working on a boutique seafood market called Fishmonger on North Highland Avenue near Ponce de Leon Avenue. He hasn’t signed a lease yet, but hopes to offer fish dips, sauces, oysters, and fresh seafood.
As for his existing restaurants, 8Arm has a new wood-burning oven and takeout menu featuring flatbreads and kabobs. Three Heart Roastery is currently closed following a fire at Paris on Ponce. “We’re still waiting on insurance. COVID hasn’t helped the situation,” Le says. “I think they’ll probably demolish the building and put a condo there.”
Alicia Philipp stands to the side of a stage in a dim downtown banquet hall, steeling herself to deliver a speech to 1,500 people, and she genuinely thinks she might vomit. She speaks in public often but not usually to so many people—and never saying what she’s about to say.
The lights come up, and she pulls herself together. She eases into her big moment by asking the audience to think back to 1977, before some people in the room had been born: Jimmy Carter was president, Atlanta and the nation were emerging from a recession, and Philipp was a quick-witted, overconfident 23-year-old Emory grad. She’d lucked into a seat at the proverbial Table by landing a job with Dan Sweat—a benevolent “fixer” who was instrumental to mayors, governors, even Carter, and the first executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, the organization for which Philipp is delivering this speech today. Having Sweat as a mentor granted her access to Atlanta’s power brokers and entry to the exclusive downtown offices where decisions were made—and where she was often, in a room full of white men, the only woman who wasn’t someone’s secretary.
“So, reflect with me, 42 years later,” Philipp says. “What’s different?”
Not much. The region has diversified, but the Table has not.
From 1980 to 2015, the proportion of white people in the metro area dropped by a quarter. Now, just 51 percent of households in the metro are white, but those households account for 64 percent of the ones bringing in more than six figures. And the people at the top look almost exactly like they did four decades ago: All but one of Atlanta’s 30 Fortune 1,000 CEOs is white (and just two are women). The future of the Table looks homogeneous, too: White students outperform their Black counterparts on every metric in grade school—because of the opportunities their race affords them—and then graduate to earn more than them even at the same education levels.
“Decisions are still made, and power still lies, with a small group that doesn’t reflect the future of our region,” Philipp says on stage, essentially telling a large portion of the crowd that, in fact, they are the problem.
Atlanta, as its former mayor Shirley Franklin explains in an interview, is a city primed for boosterism: “How many times have we heard about what a good place Georgia is for business investment? We hardly ever hear public leaders or elected leaders talk about what a miserable place it is if you’re making the minimum wage, or if you’re an immigrant, or if you’re an eighth-generation African American who’s had very few opportunities along the way, if you just moved [to Atlanta] from one of the poorest counties. Nobody ever talks about that side of it,” she says. “We only talk about the cherry on the top.”
Of course, Philipp, a white woman, is not divulging in her speech anything particularly revelatory about racial inequity. Nor is she the first person in power to complain about the status quo. But her perch has afforded her a unique platform and an unparalleled view: As the leader of one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the Southeast, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, she has embedded herself in the lives of people from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds—people who seldom come into meaningful contact with one another. For 43 years now, Philipp has studied the city’s income gap from nearly every possible angle, and she’s finally ready to say that what we’re doing isn’t working. Leveraging the credibility she’s earned over a lifetime of gently nudging people out of their comfort zones, Philipp is now trading her polite messaging for something more subversive. Philanthropy as we know it won’t solve Atlanta’s astounding inequity; change has to be innovative, systemic, and drastic—and it has to start at the Table.
Franklin has known Philipp for most of her public life. They started their careers around the same time and shared Sweat as a mentor; later, Franklin served on the Foundation’s board. But in the early ’80s, she didn’t realize the Foundation’s potential impact on the region. Its depth became clear to her two decades later, when, as mayor, Franklin was raising funds to help college-bound students cover relatively small costs remaining after grants and scholarships. She remembers Philipp calling her to say that several funds at the Foundation already had been created to do just that. “That opened my eyes to the breadth of their work,” Franklin says.
“We talk about the political leadership, we talk about the business leadership in Atlanta, but [Philipp] clearly is someone who started young, stuck with it, and had an institutional impact on the greater Atlanta area,” she says. “That’s not necessarily easy to do when you think about how male-dominated it was at the time, how divided people were.”
In many ways, though, they’re still divided. In the city of Atlanta, the top 5 percent earns nearly 20 times more than the bottom 20 percent, whose wages have barely increased in the last two decades. In more recent years than not, Atlanta has had the worst income disparity in the country. It’s also a city where low-income people are displaced at a higher rate than most anywhere else in the U.S. More than a quarter of metro Atlanta’s families don’t have $400 on hand for an emergency; a third spend so much on housing that it’s difficult to afford other necessities, like food.
“People like to talk about ‘The Atlanta Way,’ this nostalgic idea that we’re special, that there’s no such thing as racial lines or gender barriers in the way we work,” Philipp says. “It’s time to get over the nostalgia for this narrative we keep telling ourselves.” Being the City Too Busy to Hate is a low bar.
After leading the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta for four decades, Philipp steps down this fall with a call to action for her successor, for the city, and for the broader region: The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference. We may not hate our neighbors who are poorer than we are, who don’t speak our language, who don’t look, pray, or love like us, she says, “but we are clearly indifferent to their opportunities, their well-being, their pain.” And in that indifference, this gap between the haves and the have-nots is deepening into a chasm—one that will be widened still by the crisis of a generation.
For all her influence, Philipp isn’t a household name; likewise, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta is one of the most powerful organizations in the metro you’ve probably never heard of. It connects people interested in high-level philanthropy (read: $50,000+ donor-advised funds) with nonprofits that fit their interests—a “philanthropic GPS,” they say.
Philipp’s job is decidedly less high-profile than her teenage dream of becoming a politician. Early in her career at the Foundation, she wanted to quit and run for city council, but Sweat assured her she’d have the greatest influence on the community—even greater than if she ran for office—by staying put. He was probably right. Philipp has grown the organization into one of the three largest foundations in Georgia; under her leadership, its assets have increased more than 170-fold, from $7 million to $1.2 billion.
When Philipp was named the Foundation’s executive director (with a staff of one, herself), it had been around for a little less than three decades. After a few years of neglect and, later, an operating deficit, its future was unclear. In Philipp’s new role, her age turned out to be an advantage: Most seats at the Table were filled with middle-aged men, who, she says, projected onto her their aspirations for their children: “Many of them commented that I was their daughter’s age, and they hoped that their daughter would have a successful career.”
For its first 30 years, the Foundation mostly dished out funds, but under Philipp, it adopted a more personalized approach. That doesn’t come without some spectacle: To determine their “giving story,” donors are invited to play custom-made board games, created by a company specializing in multigenerational giving. Its founder often talks about how to help next-gen donors feeling paralyzed by predecessors, privilege, or possibilities.
Most importantly, under Philipp, the Foundation became an incubator. It has helped launch initiatives like the Atlanta Women’s Foundation, to help low-income women and girls break the cycle of poverty, and the Neighborhood Fund, to support hyperlocal, grassroots initiatives from individuals or groups that may not be registered nonprofits. Last year, the Foundation launched GoATL, which offers low-interest loans to nonprofits.
Of course, the byproduct of such innovation is failure. The Foundation started a few hyperlocal funds that fizzled. Working Capital Atlanta relied on a group microlending model in which individuals would borrow money to start their business and then pay it forward, except people didn’t really do that last part. The Foundation led an initiative to enable individuals in low-income communities to grow and sell produce; it had a promised $6 million grant from HUD to be used within Atlanta city limits but could never get the land.
But that fail-fast approach is part of what’s taken Philipp from being a one-person staff, working out of an office she describes as a broom closet with a sink in the middle of the room, to a 50-person staff, working out of the 10th floor of 191 Peachtree, with a slightly better view.
Four years ago, the Foundation created a program focused on residents of Thomasville Heights, where the median household income is $17,000—five times less than Grant Park, just two miles away. Thomasville Heights Elementary long has been among the lowest-ranked schools in the state, with about one in 10 third-graders reading on grade level, a metric used to predict a child’s likelihood of graduating from high school. Three years ago, media specialist Intiasar Frankson helped launch a pilot program at the elementary school that, thanks to a Foundation grant, offered third-graders incentives like gift cards if they read a certain number of books. The Foundation was supporting other organizations that work on-site at the school, including CHRIS180, which provides counseling for students, and the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, which helps families fight for better living conditions. At the end of that school year, students’ Milestone scores had increased by 19 percentage points in English. The next year, Frankson scaled the program and used a second grant to purchase graphic novels and trendy titles, which, alongside the literacy push, Frankson says, sparked a change at the school: “Now, reading is ingrained in the Thomasville culture.”
Though the Foundation is working to challenge existing power structures at the Table, there’s an imbalance written into its own DNA. People of means, albeit with benevolent intentions, make decisions to affect a community they’re not a part of. As Foundation program associate Mindy Kao explains, philanthropy “was built to keep decision-making power in the hands of a few.” So, the Foundation has taken steps to flip the script in Thomasville Heights. In 2019, the Foundation spun off a new grantmaking initiative that shifted decision-making power to a committee of community members, ages 16 to 70, who take proposals from and award microgrants to their neighbors.
Roderick Thomas Jr., who’s 17, is now in his second year serving on the committee. He says the ideal plan for Thomasville Heights’ future is the one imagined by the people who live there: “When we’re given the opportunity to direct and choose what we think would fit best in our communities, that’s the best thing possible.”
On a chilly, mid-December morning, in the midst of the Foundation’s end-of-year philanthropy rush, Philipp woke up at 7 a.m., threw on a pair of jeans, and headed downtown to help prepare and serve lunches to hundreds of Atlantans with special needs. A few hours later, she gave a presentation on giving at Tiffany & Co., where well-heeled women played dress-up in $20,000 jewelry. The Foundation’s goal is to connect those worlds. Philipp worked the Tiffany crowd and left that night with three donor prospects. “It’s not a complete disconnect between wearing baubles and caring,” she says.
Even when there is a complete disconnect, though, that’s not the most frustrating part of her job; it’s that if everyone in the Tiffany crowd became donors, the Foundation still can’t solve what it’s tasked with solving. “We need more philanthropy; we need more people giving. But we need them thinking about the key issues—is their philanthropy and their advocacy really helping at those key issues and not serving as a Band-Aid?” Philipp says. “There is a need for Band-Aids in some cases, but we also really need to get deeper.”
Philanthropy should be agile and innovative, but it should work in tandem with the government rather than make up for governmental inaction. “The two ought to be talking to one another,” Philipp explains.
That’s the way it used to be: Philanthropy would test ideas, and the government would back the successful ones. Think: Head Start, public libraries, or, locally, Open Hand Atlanta, which began as one man and his neighbors delivering food to 14 friends living with AIDS. Early support came from individuals, corporations, and, later, the Foundation. Today, Open Hand delivers 5,000 meals a day, with the government footing about half the bill.
The problem with that relationship is it has become increasingly lopsided.
The top 10 percent of humanity holds 90 percent of the world’s wealth, according to Anand Giridharadas’s Winners Take All. This widening gap, coupled with lower taxes and weakened regulations, has led to a power imbalance favoring the wealthy. Last year, Philipp invited Giridharadas to Atlanta to speak to her donors about problems causing (and caused by) an atrophying public sector. In his talk, he quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: “Philanthropy is commendable but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”
Giridharadas went on to explain: While we live in an age of extraordinary generosity, the plutocratic class behind the giving is the same one fighting against minimum wage increases and for lax labor regulations and lower taxes. “The government, like any animal you starve, turns out to be less effective when you starve it,” he said.
“So, we have very rich people, a slightly anemic government, and festering social problems—and the rich come along and say, ‘This is a real shame! I’m troubled by these social problems, and I’m troubled the government that should be dealing with this is not! Allow me to step in and help, and I’ll get a tax deduction.’”
For the last 14 or so years, Philipp has lived in Decatur, in a two-bed, two-bath, top-floor condo with tall ceilings, a tiny balcony, and a view of downtown Atlanta’s skyline, just over the treetops. A mentor and former Foundation board chair, Larry Gellerstedt, through his company Beers Construction, had a hand in many of the buildings she can see, a reminder she wouldn’t be where she is without people like him lending her their credibility early in her career, helping her form connections with powerful people who might not otherwise welcome her in. Philipp has now mentored hundreds of young people herself.
Dozens of picture frames are neatly arranged on the dresser in Philipp’s bedroom: her son, Connor, in his Coast Guard uniform; her daughter, Alice, with pink hair. There are pictures of her three-year-old grandson, Manuel, and one of herself at 16, with her two older brothers. The three grew up in Maryland in a middle-class family, attending Catholic schools. One of Philipp’s earliest memories is of her mother, on her hands and knees scrubbing the church floors as a volunteer. Her maternal grandfather worked at the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard and got her father a union job there. He eventually worked his way up to a management role. When Philipp started school, her mom decided to try real estate, selling houses for $15,000 a piece, eventually hitting the million-dollar mark.
Philipp keeps magnets of Anderson Cooper and Che Guevara on her fridge. In the kitchen, there’s a painting by a self-taught artist in North Georgia that depicts a kid skinny-dipping in the river at a church baptism. Hanging above her couch is an earth-tone abstract she bought in the late 1980s, like most of her art, at a charity auction, this one benefiting the Atlanta AIDS Fund. The artist was a man living with AIDS; he died soon after the auction. The painting reminds her of how heart-wrenching the early days of the crisis were, a time of fear, uncertainty, and homophobia, as “gay-related immune deficiency” silently claimed hundreds of lives. Just a few years before, the Foundation had been approached for a grant to support “cultural competency education” for health-department workers so they could more compassionately assist their LGBTQ clients. Half the board voted against it, but the chairman at the time, Sweat, voted in favor to break the tie. Philipp said that was the proudest moment of her time with the Foundation, which would later help establish the Atlanta AIDS Fund. Since 1991, the Community Foundation has provided $11 million to AIDS-serving organizations.
Still, today, Georgians have the nation’s third-highest risk of contracting HIV—about one in every 51 people will be infected in their lifetimes. The vast majority of those cases will be people of color: Black people make up about 30 percent of the population in Georgia but represent 77 percent of new AIDS cases. Now-retired Foundation Senior Vice President Lesley Grady, who worked alongside Philipp for 20 years, says that this particular public health crisis has persisted because of a bigger problem, one that plagues the city, state, and nation: The masses have been too slow to suspend their disdain for gay people and poor Black people.
Philipp addressed the lack of progress last winter: “I look at that [first grant, in 1982] with pride at being there early, but I look with distress because not much has changed.”
Doctors Jeff and Sivan Hines got involved with the Foundation seven years ago, after they showed up to a fundraising event and realized they were the only people of color in the room. Jeff is Black; Sivan is Sri Lankan. For them, the Foundation was more than just a way to augment their giving; Jeff Hines says it gave them a place at the Table. The city of Atlanta is majority Black. “But Black donors, people who have donor-advised funds at the Community Foundation?” Hines says there are fewer than 50. The Foundation has more than 1,000 donors but “has not evolved to a place where we currently track the race of its donors,” says Elyse Hammett, its vice president of marketing and communications. The Hineses were upfront with Philipp about why they started a fund and what they want: a Foundation more representative of the community it serves.
“There’s Black wealth in Atlanta. There’s old Black wealth; there’s new Black wealth,” says Hines. He thinks part of the Foundation’s lack of diversity among its donors stems from the fact that different communities have different approaches to philanthropy. A study on regional giving found that Black people give a larger percentage of their income to charitable causes than any other racial group and that they’re more likely to volunteer; however, they’re less likely to give to trusts and foundations than to individuals and the church. Another issue is that there are few Black people on the Foundation’s team who manage donors’ portfolios: “It’s very difficult to engage families of wealth of color, particularly Black people, when your people who are your financial advisors don’t look like me,” Hines says. “It’s important for a potential donor to realize this organization really appreciates and embraces diversity.”
Hines explains that the Foundation employees who lead programs in the community are in fact a diverse group. He’s pushing to extend that diversity to the portfolio managers as part of the Foundation’s new strategic plan. That plan revolves around improving economic and social mobility across metro Atlanta and is focused on seven metrics that stunt racial equity, from the percent of babies born low-weight (which is tied to health and educational achievement) to the percent of students who graduate high school (which is tied to incarceration rates in adults).
The Foundation is pushing to look at inequity holistically: Ensuring an expectant mother gets the care she needs so her baby is born healthy is crucial, but it’s not enough; that young family needs safe, affordable housing and access to good schools. Supporting young students so they perform at grade-level and graduate high school is impactful, but those young adults should then earn a wage that allows them to make rent, buy groceries, and go to the doctor if they need to. A push for postsecondary education is ideal, but how can we help that family build wealth, so its next generation starts from a better place?
Part of the “hard work” Philipp says she’s trying to do is speak out against a Southern politesse lulling the metro into a false sense of accomplishment. That means honestly addressing current power dynamics and then actively working to balance them, which will require those in power to relinquish some control. But if power has unjustly resided in the same hands for far too long, why is Philipp just speaking up now? “I think that the veil wasn’t really off my eyes totally,” she says. “I think it was partially a gradual awakening to the situation that we’re in.” Also, her coming retirement gives her “the liberty to be able to say this in a way that I would not have been able to say it before. Maybe I should have awoken a long time ago.”
A few donors and nonprofit leaders said they thought Philipp’s more subdued messaging was strategic, a way to push for incremental change from the inside; they said her belief system regarding racial inequity has been consistent these four decades, though she has grown bolder with time. Or perhaps, as former mayor Franklin explains, “her position allowed her to be in high places but probably did not allow her to push as hard as she thought was needed to open the door.”
Philipp says she hopes others will continue that push—namely, her replacement. Frank Fernandez, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation senior vice president, will assume the position in August. Fernandez, a second-generation American whose parents emigrated from Cuba, graduated from Harvard and the University of Texas and has served in the nonprofit sector for 20 years. Most recently, he’s led the Blank Foundation’s efforts in youth development, social justice, and revitalization work on the Westside.
It’s 63 degrees and sunny in São Pedro do Sul, Portugal, at the Quinta da Comenda bed and breakfast, where Philipp sits on a stone bench, flanked by an olive grove and a small vineyard. She starts every morning with Manny, her grandson, just down the road at her daughter’s organic farm, where 10 years ago, a 22-year-old Alice came to volunteer and never left. Around noon, as Community Foundation team members are just waking up in Atlanta, Philipp heads to her daughter’s bedroom for WiFi and works well into the night.
She’d planned this trip in lieu of taking a vacation during the holidays, because that’s the Foundation’s busy season, and it would be her last. She’ll spend part of her imminent retirement here; the rest in Guatemala, working in women’s economic development, and in Atlanta. She’s studied Spanish for a decade to prepare. Her ex-husband planned to arrive the day after she left, but his travel plans changed and he arrived a week early. Then, before Philipp could fly home for her last few months as the Foundation’s president, Portugal locked down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, leaving them both stranded in what her daughter refers to as “the Grandparent Trap.”
This story, like many others, was different before the pandemic. Before, the problems Philipp talked about—food and economic insecurity, the importance of an adequate social safety net, the widespread perils of racial injustice—simmered. COVID-19 brought them to a boil.
Three factors put people at increased risk of hospitalization or death as a result of the virus: advanced age, preexisting health conditions, and low socioeconomic status. According to the New York Times, low-income individuals are about 10 percent more likely to have a chronic health condition, and those conditions can make COVID-19 up to 10 times as deadly—a problem compounded by unequal access to healthcare. Last year, a quarter of Americans put off a doctor visit or treatment because of finances; and, though nearly everyone whose income is in the top quarter has paid sick leave, the majority of those in the bottom quarter do not. In the days of social-distancing, working from home was a privilege essential workers weren’t afforded, putting many people in traditionally lower-paying jobs at greater risk. At one point, among a sample of COVID-19 patients at eight Georgia hospitals, more than 80 percent of those hospitalized for the virus were Black. Hundreds of thousands of metro Atlanta workers were furloughed or fired, and the loss of income hit communities of color hardest: About 70 percent of Black Atlantans make $40,000 or less, compared to 50 percent of Latinx Atlantans and 30 percent of white Atlantans. Just two in five Black and Latinx Atlantans have enough in savings to keep them out of poverty for three months, compared to four in five white Atlantans.
As schools closed to slow the spread of the virus, some districts set up food distribution sites for families whose children depended on those meals; others had buses run delivery routes. In Atlanta, 76 percent of Black children and 40 percent of Latinx children live in high-poverty areas, compared to just six percent of white children.
Los Niños Primero, a nonprofit serving Latinx preschool children, has received support from the Foundation for 15 years. Executive director Maritza Morelli says because of COVID-19, the vast majority of their families, many of whom are undocumented and ineligible for government assistance, have lost substantial income. Morelli says most of the children they serve don’t have internet access or computers and are in danger of falling further behind. “Parents, you know, they’re losing hope,” Morelli says. “They’re in despair.”
In an effort to cushion the pandemic’s blow to metro Atlanta’s arts community, the Foundation, through its Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, awarded $580,000 in grants in late May to organizations such as Burnaway and Dad’s Garage. But not one of the 11 grant recipients in this first round of funding was a Black arts organization. In an open letter to Philipp—published June 4, as this issue went to press—more than two dozen leaders in Atlanta’s Black arts community shared their frustration over the fact that the Arts Fund has not made investments in the metro Atlanta Black arts community in ways remotely comparable to the white arts community.
“If Black organizations have succeeded in breaking through the Community Foundation force field, it is the exception, not the rule,” the letter stated. “Your philanthropic model was never designed for our success.”
The letter called for further conversation between the Foundation and members of the metro Atlanta Black arts community. Plans for that conversation are underway.
“I think racial equity is a journey, and I think in every journey there’s a stumble,” Philipp says. “This is definitely one for us. We did not live up to what we said we want to do, but we’re rectifying that and learning from it.”
Before the pandemic, Philipp had been laying the groundwork to help prevent such blindspots. “I don’t always take the time to stop and understand where somebody’s coming from and what their personal experience is,” she admitted in February. “They’re bringing so much to the table, and I’m missing it.” She did know that whatever shape the Foundation’s new solutions would take, the power and authority for those solutions should belong not to wealthy givers but to members of disenfranchised groups. That shift in power is now more necessary than ever. “For all [the pandemic’s] horribleness,” she says, “I hope that we have learned some lessons that we never can unsee or unlearn.”
Lately, donors are becoming more comfortable questioning whether they’re right in making decisions—even in the form of charitable gifts—for others and more comfortable relinquishing power when it comes to those gifts.
One donor, Angie Allen, says the Foundation’s efforts in Thomasville Heights have provided “a window into other lives.” Those lives are so different from hers, she says, “that my own opinions, my ideas, my solutions have very little bearing.”
In a memo to her successor, Philipp writes: “What will this different decision-making environment look like? What new models and processes will transform how the region includes and synthesizes diverse voices?” Philipp doesn’t know the answers. But she believes the Foundation and her successor must be instrumental in figuring them out.
As Philipp said in that speech that made her so nervous: “The future is not one voice, one language, one race, or one gender. We don’t all look the same—and the center of power should look like all of us, not just some of us.”
This article appears in our July 2020 issue. This version was updated to include the announcement of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s new president and CEO, Frank Fernandez.