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OutKast, Missy Elliott, James Brown among the inaugural inductees into the Black Music and Entertainment Walk of Fame

 Black Music And Entertainment Walk Of Fame induction
Georgia State Representative Erica Thomas and VP of BMI Catherine Brewton attend the Black American Music Association and Georgia Entertainment Caucus Inaugural Induction Ceremony for Black Music And Entertainment Walk Of Fame

Photograph by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Black Music & Entertainment Walk Of Fame

For decades, pop culture fans from around the world have traveled to Los Angeles to walk more than a dozen blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and see their favorite celebrities commemorated on terrazzo and brass stars embedded into the sidewalks. Now, stars and politicians hope a new attraction in Atlanta highlighting influential Black entertainers will generate the same buzz.

“People always say that this is Black Hollywood, so why do we not have Hollywood squares to celebrate our Blackness? It’s so important that today we make history,” Georgia State Representative Erica Thomas said.

Unveiled on June 17, the Black Music and Entertainment Walk of Fame inducted its first 12 celebrities during a ceremony at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that was attended by politicians such as Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and mayoral candidates and Atlanta City Councilmembers Andre Dickens and Antonio Brown, and musicians such as Jermaine Dupri, Missy Elliott, Dallas Austin, Kirk Franklin and Shirley Caesar. Instead of stars, the circular emblems that are expected to be embedded into a sidewalk on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive near the intersection of Northside Drive within the next few weeks are referred to as “crown jewels” and address inductees as “king” and “queen.”

 Black Music And Entertainment Walk Of Fame induction

 Black Music And Entertainment Walk Of Fame induction
Shirley Caesar

Photograph by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Black Music & Entertainment Walk Of Fame

The walk of fame currently includes four “foundational inductees”—James Brown, Otis Redding, Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder—as well as Michael Jackson, Sean Combs, Shirley Caesar, Kirk Franklin, Missy Elliott, OutKast, Beyonce, and Usher. Several of the inductees—such as Georgia natives James Brown, Otis Redding, and OutKast—have local ties.

 Black Music And Entertainment Walk Of Fame induction
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Big Boi

Photograph by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Black Music & Entertainment Walk Of Fame

 Black Music And Entertainment Walk Of Fame induction
Otis Redding’s family and Rep. Thomas

Photograph by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Black Music & Entertainment Walk Of Fame

The commemorative attraction was the brainchild of Thomas and BMI’s Catherine Brewton, both of whom founded the Georgia Entertainment Caucus in 2019, in collaboration with Black American Music Association founders Michael T. Mauldin and Demmette Guidry. Mayor Bottoms said the walk of fame came together mere months before it was first pitched.

“In the same way that Atlanta has influenced the civil rights movement, and we continue to set the bar so very high, we know that we continue to influence music,” she said during a speech at the unveiling. “I am so appreciative to the Black American Music Association and the Georgia Entertainment Caucus for coming up with this incredible idea.” Dickens and Brown then joined the mayor on stage to read a proclamation declaring June 17, 2021 Black Music and Entertainment Walk of Fame Day.

 Black Music And Entertainment Walk Of Fame induction
Dallas Austin, Kirk Franklin, and King Combs

Photograph by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Black Music & Entertainment Walk Of Fame

 Black Music And Entertainment Walk Of Fame induction
Marlon Jackson

Photograph by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Black Music & Entertainment Walk Of Fame

Black Music And Entertainment Walk Of Fame induction
Big Boi and Catherine Brewton

Photograph by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Black Music & Entertainment Walk Of Fame

During a star-studded ceremony inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, inductees and their family members highlighted the significance of the honor. Deanna Brown Thomas, daughter of James Brown and president of the late singer’s family foundation, told Atlanta her father’s emblem represents “history that’s going to be cemented in the ground permanently for future generations.” Sean Combs’s son, Christian, noted the significance of Atlanta for his family, both on his paternal and maternal side. His mother, the late model Kim Porter, was from Columbus, Georgia.

 Black Music And Entertainment Walk Of Fame induction
Otis Redding III, Karla Redding, and Jermaine Dupri

Photograph by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Black Music & Entertainment Walk Of Fame

James Brown’s daughters

Photograph by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Black Music & Entertainment Walk Of Fame

Perhaps the most stirring moment during the ceremony came from inductee Missy Elliott. During a teary speech, Elliott highlighted the importance of an honor that was created specifically to highlight Black artists. “I battled [with coming] because [Covid] is still out there. But, then I was just like, my people have supported me all these years. And [we’re] so quick to go to any other awards, but the reason we’re accepted is because our people accept us first. And, that’s why I’m here. I want y’all to know that I appreciate [this] and I’m so humbly grateful,” she said, receiving a standing ovation. The trailblazing hip-hop star was inducted by her longtime manager, Mona Scott-Young (who also helms the popular VH1 show Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta) with the help of audio and video recordings from Janet Jackson, Da Brat, and Timbaland.

Officials say they’re hoping to induct another class of influential celebrities into the walk of fame later this year before switching to an annual induction schedule. They also stress that they want to include influential people in media, film, television and other aspects of entertainment, not just music.

60 Voices: 5 questions for the Atlanta’s new guard

Nsé Ufot New Georgia Project
Nsé Ufot

Photograph by Audra Melton

Social advocacy

Nsé Ufot | CEO, New Georgia Project

What do you love about Atlanta?
I love that it’s not industry or artistry, it’s both. If you are a corporate CEO or a maker, an artisan, Atlanta is a place where you can come and thrive. I’ve been in this place where I’ve been constantly thinking about the Roaring ’20s, the Harlem Renaissance. I feel like Atlanta is going to be the new Harlem.

What is Atlanta’s most pressing challenge?
The extraordinary leap in the cost of living and rental rates. There are nearly a million Georgians across the metro region who are housing insecure or on the verge of homelessness, evictions, and foreclosures. The New Georgia Project has had millions of high-quality—face-to-face when possible—conversations with Georgians about the thing that they can’t stand to see continue, and it is most often related to healthcare or housing.

What is the city’s most overlooked need?
I think that people are not looking at the root cause of crime. The response is to take more of our tax dollars to hire more cops. But it goes back to my [previous] response, which is housing and extreme poverty.

What was one lesson of 2020?
Young people are much more sophisticated than we give them credit for. We should be having important conversations with them about things that matter and that impact their lives. A big lesson for me was: Yes, technically, you [seem like] a child, but you understand that if you want to make “defund the police” real, in addition to voting in the presidential race, you need to be looking at city council and the mayor.

How can people help?
What are the issues that you care about? I guarantee you that there are groups in Atlanta that are organizing around those issues right now, today. Contribute your time, your talent, or your treasure. Some of us are blessed to be able to have all three. There are definitely times when I have more treasure than I have time, and sometimes, that just means putting a little something in the offering plate. But I believe in organization and working on these issues year-round, beyond one election cycle.


Climate

Kim Cobb | director, Georgia Tech’s Global Change Program

What do you love about Atlanta?
One of the things I really love about Atlanta is its diversity and the idea that it’s such a mashup of folks from across the world who come here to live, work, and play, as well as folks who have been here for many, many, many generations. I love the fact that, in one block, you can go from amazing greenspaces to high-rises in a rich, urban setting.

What is Atlanta’s most pressing challenge?
Atlanta really has an opportunity to rise as a leader in climate justice. I think we have not just a moral obligation but a once-in-a-generation opportunity to showcase what lasting solutions look like for climate.

What is the city’s most overlooked need?
We often don’t stop to remember that, in many cases, air conditioning during the summer is actually a life-saving measure. We’ve seen in Texas that access to electricity is a life-saving measure for communities, especially the most vulnerable. We are running a very large-scale campaign this summer in Atlanta called Urban Heat ATL. It’s really around mapping the urban heat extremes. Too often, those extremes are going unmeasured. Where things go unmeasured, they often go unseen by policymakers. We’re happy to have the full support and engagement of the mayor’s Office of Resilience, Spelman College, Georgia Tech, and other collaborators such as UGA and Emory University. Folks are really coming together to try to understand the ties between urban heat extremes; historic, racial, and systemic injustice; and environmental justice.

What was one lesson of 2020?
We saw a deluge of headlines reminding us of the vulnerabilities of Black Americans and the movement for justice that is centuries overdue. We saw headlines raining down on us and reminding us that climate change is damaging lives, livelihoods, and our economy. We have an opportunity to put those two lessons together and think about how we want to design our future.

How can people help?
I’m really excited about a project called Drawdown Georgia, which is about crowdsourcing climate solutions. It’s a resource for folks who want to come together and really understand where they can put their efforts in terms of evidence-based solutions.


Government

Bee Nguyen | State Representative of Georgia’s 89th District

What do you love about Atlanta?
I love that it’s been the center of the civil rights movement. Being at the legislature, I get to witness a lot of activism around voting rights and around criminal justice reform. It’s being led by a generation of new organizers and leaders. They’re young, they’re people of color, they’re progressive, and they’re connected to the community. That’s really inspiring.

Our two senators, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, live in the city of Atlanta, both south of I-20, which I think speaks volumes about the way that representation is changing and the way we’ve been able to mobilize people to participate civically.

What is Atlanta’s most pressing challenge?
I would say economic inequality and the income gap between Atlantans. As we are seeing the city grow and different economic development projects happening around town, we see people being displaced from their neighborhoods and people unable to afford to live in the city of Atlanta. Driving around in my neighborhood—I live in Edgewood and moved there in 2007—there’s a lot of new development. If I moved out of my house, I wouldn’t be able to buy back into any of the surrounding neighborhoods or even my own.

Economic inequality really intersects with a lot of different things, including public education, access to healthcare, expanding transit, and access to affordable housing.

What is the city’s most overlooked need?
People talk about crime in Atlanta a lot, but we don’t really talk about the root causes of what’s happening in the city. I think this is something that’s talked about a lot but perhaps not talked about in depth or in any nuanced way. We’re a year into the pandemic, and we know that economic inequality intersects with rising levels of crime. When people are desperate, or they have nothing to lose, we’re going to see that increase in crime. I wish that we would have more conversations about how we can build stronger communities and how we make sure that everybody has the economic means to live in the ways in which some Atlantans do.

What was one lesson of 2020?
We saw that there were some people who just didn’t have a choice but to continue to go to work every single day, while others were able to work from home. It really highlights the differences in the way that we live in this city and the ways in which the pandemic affected us.

On one hand, we have this booming real-estate market where it’s hard to buy a house and it’s hard to find a contractor to renovate houses because people were working from home and working on their home projects. On the other hand, we have frontline and essential workers who still have to go and work at the grocery store, work in transit, or go back to restaurants. Those are also the same people who often live without healthcare and who lived in fear of contracting the virus and bringing it back home to their families. And, for the most part, they’re not seeing any kind of pay that would reflect the sacrifices that were being made. I know that some of it is out of control of the city, but it’s reflected in the way that state laws are written as well.

How can people help?
I think the general public knows about the voter-suppression efforts but aren’t as much aware of the other things going on at our state legislature. Some of those things are preemption for raising minimum wage, lack of investment in transit, diverting public school dollars to voucher programs, and the refusal to expand Medicaid. All of those things are really relevant state-level issues that I think that people probably don’t pay as much attention to because the narrative at the state legislature right now is surrounding voter suppression, which is extremely important, but what ends up happening is we can only digest bits of information at one time.


Business

Deisha Barnett | chief brand and communications officer, head of Diversity & Inclusion, Metro Atlanta Chamber

What do you love about Atlanta?
The secret sauce in Atlanta has always been collaboration. I get to look at a lot of data about Atlanta in my job, and one of the things that is always so inspiring to me when we run promoter research on Atlanta—the “why we recommend Atlanta” en masse—is “because it’s a place where I can make my mark.” From the very first moment, I’ve felt such a sense of belonging here. I think there is no better place in the United States of America to grow a Black family. I get paid to be the booster, but to me, it is all authentic. My mother, may she rest in peace, used to say, “Atlanta has been so good to you.”

What is Atlanta’s most pressing challenge?
There’s this amazing momentum that Atlanta is having right now [with] Airbnb, Microsoft, Apple doing what they’re doing on the AUC campuses, Calendly. The flipside of that is real inequality and immobility and the harsh reality that I think the business community must face as we try to continue to position Atlanta as a place that can have a thriving economy that benefits everyone. We have not cracked that nut, and that’s just the truth of the matter. It’s not simply a moral issue. It’s a challenge for businesses as we think about workforce development, talent pipeline, and all of those things that are core to long-term success. These issues are also important when it comes to being able to attract the talent of today, with Gen Z and millennials being the most diverse generations [and] having the highest expectations of businesses when it comes to social impact.

What is the city’s most overlooked need?
When I think about the long-term trajectory for Atlanta, we have to have a mindset that we’re global citizens; we have to think about representation. And, we have to be intentional about representation across the various dimensions of diversity as we’re convening thought leaders and trying to solve problems. Otherwise, I think we will be less competitive down the road.

What was one lesson of 2020?
As challenging as it was, 2020 really encouraged us to embrace technology as a means of solving problems. Part of the “Atlanta Way” and how we in Atlanta like to solve problems, some of that is just about face-to-face [interactions]. We get together. We break bread. That’s the Southern flavor about how we collaborate. 2020 forced us not to leave that behind but to think about new ways to do that and utilizing technology as a means of breaking bread with even more people and being able to scale that really important aspect of our culture.

How can people help?
People can help by following the TSA rules: See something, say something. One of the things that is so unique about this community is you have access. We are a phone call away from accessing virtually anyone. And people will respond to you. We are fortunate that we can access the thought leaders. But we fall short when we simply talk about the problems. We have to move from complaining to determining the solutions. And then, have the courage to pick up the phone, write the email, send the text, do the work, and not just leave it to those who are the visible leaders.


Ed Chang RedefinED Atlanta
Ed Chang

Photograph by Audra Melton

Education

Ed Chang | founding executive director, RedefinED Atlanta

What do you love about Atlanta?
Atlanta is culture. There are very few cities where you see diverse leadership, wealth bases, thoughts, and innovation. I think Atlanta means something to the South and to the country when people think about social change, civil rights, and inequities.

What is Atlanta’s most pressing challenge?
Structural racism. Historically, there were laws and systems, such as antiliteracy laws in the early 1800s, that were designed to prevent Black people from learning to read, build wealth, and purchase homes—all of which contribute to the many gaps and disparities we see today. There’s a reason why we are where we are in terms of education. The district was initially created to serve the city’s white population. We had white flight, Black flight, and the proliferation of private schools intersect with redlining. A whole sector of the population was unable to create generational wealth. All of these factors contributed to what we see today, which is one of the largest achievement gaps in the entire country.

What is the city’s most overlooked need?
Right now, we’re in an interesting place and time because of Covid. I’ve heard the words “equity” and “antiracism” thrown around more in this year than I have in my entire life. People are talking now about learning loss, the digital divide, and all of those things. But what I’m hearing less of right now, which I think is important, is that this is an opportunity to actually understand that all of these inequities existed well before Covid happened. Maybe this is a time and opportunity to reshape what the education-delivery system for Black and brown children could be.

What was one lesson of 2020?
There is a newfound appreciation for the roles of families and community in education because we experienced a world where [schools] and teachers, through no fault of their own, had to do herculean efforts to reimagine a digital way of delivering education. Parents and community members had to lean in, in ways that they hadn’t before. Also, quite often, those who have experienced the most inequity and pain have the best solutions because it is their lived experience.

How can people help?
You can think about that from two lenses: little ‘i’ innovation, or the things that we can do on the ground. How can we have more culturally relevant curriculums? How do we ensure that the digital divide is taken care of and everyone has devices? How can you also simultaneously look at big “I” innovation, which are those structural changes? How is this system either challenging or perpetuating the inequities that exist, and how do we reshape and challenge those structural systems?


LGBTQ+ Advocacy

Jennifer Barnes-Balenciaga | LGBTQ+ liaison for State Representative Park Cannon

What do you love about Atlanta?
I had never gone to a Pride [event celebrating LGBTQ+ identity] before moving to Atlanta. I found out a lot more about myself due to the seeming openness of the city. I found a lot of community and purpose.

What is Atlanta’s most pressing challenge?
I think the biggest crisis for Atlanta is homelessness and the fixtures of classism that play a role in people obtaining essential things like housing, gainful employment, and education. When you include being trans, that is for sure a way of being discriminated against. Pumping $15 million into programs for low-income people living with HIV is one thing. But there are other problems. Students living without parents in low-income housing often do not qualify to attend local schools. And underserved populations may not know how to access available resources. Obtaining help is almost a matter of luck. I was super on top of things, but our homeless, who are displaced and sometimes have mental-health issues, may be left by the wayside.

What is the city’s most overlooked need?
More readily accessible information on name and document changes. I was coached by a Black man of trans experience who literally printed out the paperwork and walked me through it. You can’t ask the clerks how you fill something out. The DMV [can] change gender markers to what they see fit. That’s a safety measure. My Georgia ID still says “M.” I couldn’t change that, and I have been a resident for almost 11 years. I’ve been through that ringer continuously, and it has never changed.

What was one lesson of 2020?
We need a lot more training on gun usage, self-defense, and trans persons being able to protect themselves. We need a lot more laws that are specifically for violence against trans people. Protections for trans persons in the workplace have been my biggest push.

How can people help?
By volunteering and showing up.


Food service

Jen Hidinger-Kendrick | cofounder and marketing and communications director, Giving Kitchen, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that provides emergency assistance to food service workers

What do you love about Atlanta?
My late husband Ryan (also cofounder of Giving Kitchen) and I moved to Atlanta in late 2004 and always anticipated that Atlanta would be a two- to three-year commitment, then we’d move to the Pacific Northwest or something. Fast forward to Ryan’s diagnosis and him passing away, this industry literally saved my life after he died. I love the food-service community and the embrace of this city. And I love how it’s become a food-and-beverage destination.

What is Atlanta’s most pressing challenge?
Food-service workers are frontline workers. They may not be administering health services like medical professionals, but these people are still called into work every day. Yet the government hasn’t mandated guidelines to keep them safe. Last July, 50 percent of our clients were Covid-related cases. This year, just in January and February, 65 percent. There is a massive need for recognition to push this along.

What is the city’s most overlooked need?
Atlanta’s greatest strength is its diversity, as it relates to food, culture, music, people, and progressive thought. But with all of that diverse culture and people, I’ve always wondered why there is not an abundance of live music venues—like what I would see in New York or San Francisco. I want to go into the city and, every four blocks or so, be able to say, Oh, there’s a jazz club, let’s go in—or a blues joint. That is one of the biggest missed opportunities in this city.

What was one lesson of 2020?
Crisis distills everything down to what’s needed and what truly matters. At Giving Kitchen, we figured out very quickly that we had to be very clear about our story and not muddy up our mission by trying to take care of every food-service worker who was unemployed or underemployed. We would’ve never survived. We created a Covid-19 resource page that led food service workers to reduced cost or free services around the community to help them in ways that related to employment, housing security, food stability, and mental health. To date that is the most viewed page on our website—nearly 85,000 page views connecting food-service workers to vital resources.

How can people help?
Help us make sure that food-service workers know we are here. All they have to do is ask for help. We will take care of the rest.


Public health

Jasmine Burton | founder, Wish for WASH and Hybrid Hype global consulting firm; cofounder of Period Futures; and a contractor with the CDC’s Division of Global Health Protection

What do you love about Atlanta?
We have so many thought leaders based in Atlanta, whether it’s on a local or global level. Over the past four years, Wish for WASH, which I founded when I was in college at Georgia Tech, has been running design-thinking workshops and courses with Atlanta-based partners such as OpenIDEO’s local chapter, the Design Bloc at Georgia Tech, the Paideia School, the Weber School, Girl Scouts of Atlanta, and the Museum of Design Atlanta. We are seeking to bring innovation and inclusion to the global water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) crisis. That’s what’s been a really cool part of founding a social enterprise here, this enabling environment that fosters trying things in the civic space. We have public-sector players like CDC, and we have private-sector entities that touch the global health sustainability movement.

What is Atlanta’s most pressing challenge?
When some public restrooms were closed during the pandemic, this really showcased the problem of accessible sanitation for folks who don’t have bathrooms. A lot of gas stations and malls that are options for people who don’t have homes were closed due to Covid concerns and cleaning protocols.

What is the city’s most overlooked need?
Covid-19 has further showcased how we still have failing sanitation and WASH infrastructure that leads to health outbreaks in the greater Atlanta area, including open defecation, the lack of handwashing facilities for communities experiencing homelessness (which the Atlanta-based Love Beyond Walls has done some great work to combat), period poverty (lack of access to menstrual products), and collapsing/failing septic tanks. There have been cases in Georgia, Alabama, and other states in this region where, when septics collapse, there are hookworm outbreaks.

What was one lesson of 2020?
Toilet paper was considered an essential good, but 50 percent of the population experiences periods, and period products weren’t. Menstrual products must be accessible for folks that are experiencing homelessness or maybe just aren’t able to afford them because they are so expensive.

How can people help?
There’s a big push around this idea of getting access to products. [One way] is having period parties, which are groups of people getting together, donating menstrual products, and collecting them in bags to take to shelters. That can be done anywhere. It doesn’t have to be through an organization. I actually did it for my birthday a couple of years ago.


Transportation

Josh Rowan | commissioner, Atlanta Department of Transportation

What do you love about Atlanta?
We’re in a really good position. I think Atlanta has a tendency to be a little too self-critical.

We have a lot of needs; there’s no doubt. We’re not as good as we’d like to be, but we’re certainly not as bad as some of the other major cities are with the challenges they have. We’ve got a lot of opportunity ahead of us, and I think we really need to focus on that.

What is Atlanta’s most pressing challenge?
We’re in a time where there’s a lot of deferred maintenance. The bill is coming due. We’ve estimated we have about $2.6 billion that’s needed for state of good repair, and that’s for our streets and sidewalks. We include new sidewalks in that number, as well as bridge replacement. The other part is how we use the streets. They were designed in a time when we were focused on moving cars through corridors as quickly as we can. As a result, we have very fast, dangerous streets. We can’t continue to grow and prosper as a city having such fast, dangerous streets.

What is the city’s most overlooked need?
As the region continues to grow, we’re also continuing to age. If you look at some of the statistics for Atlanta, we’re not only going to be 8 million people, but a quarter of those will be over the age of 60. I think more attention needs to be given to our aging population, as well as our disabled population. I have a professor friend at Georgia Tech who said that if you get it right for the eight-year-olds and the 80-year-olds, everyone in between is probably okay.

What was one lesson of 2020?
Probably 15 years ago, I got laughed out of a policy meeting when I made a comment that, as the internet becomes better, we need to let people work from home. I was calling a number of those people early in the pandemic and saying, Look at what working from home does for us. We don’t all have to be on the road at the same time. When the city shut down, we were all staying home, and then, suddenly, we didn’t have capacity issues. We showed that some personal changes can have big impacts to transportation.

How can people help?
Talking about transportation infrastructure is challenging because we’re talking fairly significant investments over a longer period of time. It’s easy to lose focus. Through all of this, we have to keep the main thing the main thing. It’s really easy to get focused on the piece of sidewalk in my neighborhood or the pothole that just popped my tire. Those are all certainly important, but we really are trying to drive these bigger issues. Can we actually get to a point as a city where we don’t have fatalities related to traffic crashes?

This article appears in our May 2021 issue.

60 Voices: Jalaiah Harmon and Sean Bankhead on going viral

Jalaiah Harmon
Jalaiah Harmon’s “Renegade” catapulted her to viral fame in 2019.

Photograph by Alex Martinez

Earlier this year, choreographer and dancer Sean Bankhead, 32, went viral on TikTok for a hilarious video teaching fans of Cardi B’s “Up” how to do the choreography he created. The video featured audio of Bankhead’s instructions in the form of nonsensical sounds such as “baka baka bow” to notate each individual step. These sounds are commonplace in dance classes, such as the ones Bankhead taught at local studios like Dance 411 before the pandemic. The Atlanta resident isn’t a stranger to virality—he’s choreographed for the likes of Missy Elliott and danced alongside Beyoncé—but this was the first time his voice has taken center stage.

Jalaiah Harmon, a Fayetteville dancer who long has had dreams of training at Dance 411, didn’t get a chance to attend one of Bankhead’s classes before they shut down last year, but she’s since gone viral in her own right. The “Renegade” challenge, created by the now 15-year-old in 2019 to the tune of a K Camp song titled “Lottery,” went viral last year, just as the pandemic brought the world to a halt. In the time of increased isolation, it provided novice and advanced dancers a chance to stay active and entertained. Spurred primarily by the challenge, the song, now titled “Lottery (Renegade),” has amassed more than 30 million videos on TikTok.

JH: When did you first get into dancing and really choreographing?

SB: When I was about three or four years old, I used to watch Michael and Janet Jackson music videos. I think I’ve always been a natural dancer. I really got into the scene in Atlanta and [learned] what a choreographer was—because I didn’t even know that was a career path. I got introduced to Dance 411 when they first started and met a lot of incredible choreographers like Jamaica Craft, Fatima Robinson, Chuck Maldonado, Jamal Sims. So, I want to ask you something. What kind of goals have you been setting for yourself?

JH: On the choreographing side, I’ve been trying to choreograph my own dances.

SB: You’re not trying to choreograph. You’re choreographing. I’ve seen you.

JH: I’m just trying to build a platform. I can do jazz, tap, ballet, lyrical, stuff like that, but my favorite is hip-hop.

SB: This whole pandemic has put such a [hardship] on a lot of industries but, specifically, the dance industry. When I was your age, I was able to train and take a whole bunch of classes. For your generation, quarantine has made you stay at home and really focus in on yourself and your craft and what your choreography style is. I love teaching and would be teaching right now if I could. I feel like there’s a newer generation that’s not getting a chance to take my classes and take a lot of people’s classes to show other ranges of choreography.

When I first started going to Dance 411 Studios, I was about 15 or 16. I was very ambitious. I kept asking the owners, Can I teach a class? Can I sub? I remember one day going to class, and one of the teachers couldn’t come, and I was the only one there who could [substitute]. Someone from Bad Boy [Records] came into my class, loved my choreography, and was like, Can you choreograph this music video for Cheri Dennis? Long story short, my first time choreographing a music video was when I was 16. Before I even had a dance career, before I was even teaching classes, I was thrown this opportunity. It was terrible, but I learned so much from it. I hear you just choreographed a video as well. How did it turn out?

JH: It was a good experience. It was really fun. I wasn’t ready because I didn’t know what I would have to do. I was really nervous. It was a team of women, so it was really supportive and homey to me. What is it like working for Missy [Elliott], Cardi [B], and Megan [Thee Stallion]?

SB: It’s still surreal to me. It doesn’t feel real, especially Missy because [she] was my idol. When I was younger, I didn’t really have dance class. I was watching Missy Elliott videos. I learned pocket, swag, groove, and style from watching her videos. To be able to be working with her, it feels like a dream. It really can come to fruition if you stick to it.

The thing that I’ve picked up about your choreography and your swag is you have a nasty bounce. A swag. A groove. A pocket. At the beginning of quarantine, I was like, Let me learn this “Renegade” challenge. You kicked my ass. It was really hard and intricate. You have this consistent bounce that you did during the dance.

JH: I didn’t know that this was going to happen. I used to make dances all the time, so that was something normal for me. A lot of opportunities have come my way. It’s really new to me. I still have to get used to some stuff like interviews and being on TV. People are trying to get me into acting and modeling.

SB: And, if I can give you a piece of advice, try your hardest to stay in the present. I was teaching classes, and I would play “Renegade,” and the entire room would be doing the challenge. I’ve been blessed as well to kind of have viral moments or people really appreciate my work. I really wish that I was more present in the moment.

Soak it up. You deserve it. You’re representing a lot of the young Black creatives that come out of Atlanta. I’ve been watching you, and I can’t wait to get you to do something with me or choreograph something. I think you’re super, supertalented, and you have a superbright future ahead of you. Just keep grinding.

Here’s what’s going on with voting legislation in Georgia and why opponents say it’s clear “voter suppression”

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Here's what's going on with voting legislation in Georgia
Demonstrators stand outside of the Capitol building in opposition to House Bill 531 on March 8.

Photograph by Megan Varner/Getty Images

Opponents of several voting bills introduced during Georgia’s current legislative session say Republican lawmakers are attempting to restrict access to the polls in response to three major recent losses—Georgia voters recently elected a Democratic president for the first time in nearly thirty years, along with not one but two Democratic U.S. Senators. And while critics say they expected some legislation aimed at Georgia’s elections system, the proposed bills have been more egregious than they initially anticipated.

After Monday’s Crossover Day, 12 different bills remain alive in the House and Senate and could make a variety of drastic changes to Georgia’s elections laws, including doing away with no-excuse absentee voting, requiring absentee voter ID, restricting the locations of ballot drop boxes, and limiting the hours for early voting, among other restrictions. Republicans in support of the bills say the changes are needed to protect the integrity of elections and restore faith in the voting process amongst constituents.

But Emory University professor Carol Anderson, author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, says Republican lawmakers are going on a “bonanza” to deter alleged voter identity theft, despite no proof of voter fraud in recent elections. “They are targeting American citizens and denying them their right to vote,” she says. Anderson, an expert on the country’s history of voter suppression, says that the nature of the bills wasn’t surprising, but it was the sheer volume of bills introduced in Georgia during the current session that has garnered widespread attention, even as other states propose similar legislation.

For Anderson, Georgia’s bills register as textbook voter suppression that occurs after marginalized communities turn out to the polls in high numbers. She points to 1890, when Mississippi adopted a new constitution amid the need to “secure to the state of Mississippi, white supremacy,” as one delegate said during the proceedings. The new constitution imposed a poll tax and literacy test for any resident attempting to register to vote.

“There were over 190,000 Black men registered to vote in Mississippi in 1890, and two years after the rewriting of the constitution, there were only 8,600,” Anderson says. The professor cites another example occurring following Barack Obama’s two terms as president. In 2013, the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder to overturn a key portion of the Voting Rights Act created a pathway for local officials to “close polls or change voting laws without the permission of the federal government,” according to Vice News.

“The Voting Rights Act was intended to stop the very things we’re seeing in Georgia now,” Ari Berman, reporter and author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, tells Atlanta. “It was intended to stop the things we saw in the ’50s and ’60s, but also to stop the next generation of those suppression efforts.”

Earlier this month, Fair Fight, the voter rights organization started by Stacey Abrams, released a statement on Twitter that accused Georgia House Republicans of taking “yet another step to send voting rights in Georgia back to the days of Jim Crow.” The organization called House Bill 531, an omnibus bill that passed the House earlier this month, one of “the strictest and most anti-democratic pieces of voter suppression legislation in the country.” Former President Jimmy Carter also recently spoke out against proposed legislation, saying he was “disheartened, saddened, and angry” by efforts to restrict absentee voting access.

Here’s what you need to know about the issues that appear in the two most controversial voting bills, HB 531, and its Senate counterpart, SB 241.


Issues: No-excuse absentee voting and additional voter ID requirements

What does the law currently say? Georgia is currently one of dozens of states that doesn’t require an “excuse” to vote by mail, meaning that any registered voter can request and use an absentee ballot, and it’s a policy that has been supported by both political parties at different points in time. Georgia’s no-excuse law was passed in 2005, and, at the time, was backed by Republican lawmakers. According to GPB political reporter Stephen Fowler, prominent Democratic figures, including former Mayor Kasim Reed, actually opposed no-excuse absentee voting when the law was introduced 16 years ago, citing concerns of voter fraud.

Residents who have historically taken advantage of this form of voting in Georgia have largely been older, whiter, and more likely to vote Republican. The Covid-19 pandemic changed this, of course. Democrats took advantage of absentee voting more than they had in previous years, helping to flip the state.

As for proof of ID, it’s is currently required when requesting an absentee ballot online.

What would change? Senate Bill 241, a voting omnibus bill that passed the Georgia Senate on Monday, would significantly restrict absentee voting access to people who are older than 65, physically disabled or a caregiver for someone who is physically disabled, observing a religious holiday, or a military or overseas voter. They would also have to include a photo of their ID or their Georgia drivers license number.

Additionally, SB 241 would continue allow third-party organizations to distribute absentee ballot applications (you might have received several of these in the mail during last year’s elections), but those organizations will be required to notate in an increased font size that the applications are not sent from an official elections entity.

HB 531 does not place the same restrictions on who can request an absentee ballot, but it would also require absentee voters to include a photo of their ID or their Georgia drivers license number.

What are the arguments for and against it? Republican Senator Larry Walker, the bill’s sponsor, told the AJC this bill would help safeguard elections. “We don’t want to put obstacles in the way of legitimate people voting, but I think it’s so important that we have security in the vote,” he said. “There are instances in the small minority of the people that they’re going to have to make a little effort if they do not have a government-issued ID to provide some other form of identification.”

But Anderson, the Emory professor, says additional voter ID requirements aren’t harmless “One of the things about voter ID [requirements] is that it plays on a middle class bias,” she said. “It says, Everyone has an ID, how hard can it be? Requiring that you scan or make a copy of your ID [adds] another obstacle, like a notary. And it is an unnecessary obstacle because [lawmakers] have not been able to identify all of this [alleged] corruption in the use of absentee ballots.”

Anderson says other states have privileged certain types of IDs that are more common amongst Republican residents over those that Democratic residents might have. For instance, Texas has notably allowed the use of gun licenses as a form of ID, but not student IDs. In Alabama, critics have complained that public housing ID doesn’t count as an acceptable form of ID for voting.


Issue: Early voting

What does the law currently say? State law requires early voting to begin on the fourth Monday prior to an election and “as soon as possible” prior to runoffs. Early voting ends the Friday before Election Day. Counties are allowed to hold early voting beyond weekday business hours, including weekend voting. And as elections are run in Georgia at the county level, early voting hours can vary from place to place.

What would change? SB 241 has the most controversial changes to early voting of the omnibus bills. The bill includes a provision that would add “uniformity” to early voting. During the three weeks before Election Day, all counties in Georgia would be required to hold early voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. The second Saturday before the election would also serve as a mandatory early voting day, lasting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Notably, counties wouldn’t be allowed to hold early voting on Sundays, which is when Black churches have traditionally hosted their “souls to the polls” initiatives.

What are the arguments for and against it?

As stated in the bill, supporters believe SB 241 will add “uniformity” to voting throughout Georgia’s 159 counties.

But, referring specifically to the popular “souls to the polls” mobilization efforts, professor Anderson says this piece of the bill is directly aimed at Black voters. “Africans Americans disproportionately vote on the weekend, particularly on Sundays,” she says. “This is a stunt [lawmakers] pulled in North Carolina, where they looked at the data in terms of when African Americans used early voting and then eliminated those days. The court looked at that and said this is as close to a smoking gun as we’re ever going to see.”


Issue: Mobile voting buses

How have they previously been used? Fulton County introduced two mobile voting precincts before the 2020 presidential election, following complaints of long lines and other challenges during the primaries. According to the AJC, each vehicle holds “eight ballot-marking devices that voters will use to select candidates, one scanner where voters will feed their printed selections, and two places to check in on polls pads.” The newspaper reported the buses were able to respond to polling locations that were experiencing long lines or other challenges.

What would change? Under SB 241, mobile units would only be allowed to replace voting precincts that have been deemed unsafe or have failing utilities, not supplement them.

Similarly, HB 531 would only allow for the use of mobile precincts in emergencies.

What are the arguments for and against it? Of the proposed changes that have sparked an outcry, this has perhaps garnered the least attention. Still, voting rights advocates have long stated that options such as mobile buses and drop boxes allows voters to have more flexibility and prevents longer lines.


Issue: Limiting access to ballot drop boxes

How have they previously been used? With residents limiting contact during the Covid-19 pandemic and amid USPS delays, ballot drop boxes became a safe, reliable way to vote in 2020. According to WABE, the drop boxes were used for the first time in Georgia last year. The boxes were accessible 24/7 and under constant video surveillance. Fulton County alone had more than 30 available for voters.

What would change? Of the two omnibus bills, HB 531 has garnered the most attention for its proposed changes to ballot drop boxes. The bill would limit the number of drop boxes and place them inside early voting sites, meaning voters would only be able to access them during in-person early voting hours.

What are the arguments for and against it? Republican Jan Jones, speaker pro tempore, told GPB that these restrictions would not create a challenge for voters. “Drop boxes are the most inconvenient way to vote absentee,” she says. “Were we to eliminate drop boxes, which we are not, not a single absentee voter would be inconvenienced because every voter has a drop box called a mailbox.”

Even once the pandemic has ended, reporter Berman says limiting access to drop boxes could be a “total inconvenience” to voters, especially if postal delays continue. Berman says requiring that drop boxes be inside early voting locations and only accessible during the hours when people can vote in-person “defeats the entire purpose of having a drop box.”

“You might as well just vote in-person if you’re going into the polls to vote [via drop box],” he says.


Issues(s): Line warming

What does the law currently say? When hours-long lines form at polling sites, you might see folks arrive with bottled water, snacks, and even slices of pizza to pass out to voters while they wait. But the process has long endured a bit of legal questioning. In an article last year exploring whether or not volunteers were legally allowed to offer food or drinks to voters, Henri Hollis of the AJC described the practice of “line warming” as one that “falls through the cracks.”

“At the crux of the issue are both federal and state laws meant to prevent special-interest groups from ‘rewarding’ voters for casting their ballots. The law is meant to prevent groups from buying votes through money or other means,” he writes. “However, according to attorney Dara Lindenbaum, counsel for the nonprofit voting rights group Fair Fight Action, there’s a loophole: As long as anyone, such as poll workers or passers-by, can partake in the offerings, the food and drink are clearly not a reward to voters.”

What would change? HB 531 is the bill that takes direct aim at “line warming.” It aims to make this practice a misdemeanor offense.

What are the arguments for and against it? Nse Ufot, CEO of the voting rights group New Georgia Project, calls bills such as HB 531 a “solution in search of a problem.”

“This has nothing to do with election integrity and everything to do with voter suppression and trying to cheat because of Georgia’s historic election performance,” she says.

Ufot says she’s particularly disturbed the idea that people handing out food and water to voters in line could be charged with a misdemeanor. “That’s just evil,” she says. “People are doing a full shift on their feet waiting to vote. Subjecting those volunteers, the church ladies, groups like New Georgia Project to criminal charges for taking care of our neighbors . . . indefensible.”

Volunteers, including celebrities and prominent figures, notably gave out food and water during the 2020 general election in an effort to convince voters to remain in line. But Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said line warming violates the Georgia law that prohibits campaigning near polling locations. According to 11 Alive, Reffensperger said the practice could “inappropriately influence voters in the crucial final moments before they cast their ballots.”

Founders of Atlanta Black Pride work to “reclaim” their brand

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Atlanta Black PrideThe organization behind Atlanta Black Pride has been working to “reclaim” the Labor Day festivities that they worry have become synonymous more with partying than with their long-term goal of educating, empowering, and celebrating the local Black LGBTQ+ community.

In 1996, In the Life Atlanta established Atlanta Black Pride, Inc. in hopes of formalizing and organizing the smaller, disparate events that had been taking place for Black LGBTQ+ members throughout the city. Last winter, organizers renewed their efforts to “reclaim” the legacy of the 23-year old organization—charging that the intellectual property of Atlanta Black Pride has been “usurped, misrepresented, and maligned” in recent years.

Atlanta Black Pride typically hosts many of its events at Candler Park, but this year the organization went virtual in response to the Covid-19 pandemic—hosting its film festival, literary cafe, and workshops online. A planned erotic poetry night and fashion show were cancelled after organizers decided they couldn’t capture the essence of the events online. Prior to Labor Day, Terence Stewart, CEO of Atlanta Black Pride, says the organization informed their constituents that official events would be held virtually, and that anyone who came to party would be attending an event sponsored by an event or club promoter rather than a sanctioned function. Stewart noted that the organization did partner with three groups, such as the Legendary Marquette Lounge, helping them provide masks and adhere to Covid-19 restrictions, and allowing them to use the organization’s name when advertising.

Atlanta Black PrideRickie Smith, president of In The Life Atlanta Foundation, said limiting the number of partners helps them manage blowback if anything goes wrong. The organization started warning other promoters—sometimes even resorting to legal measures—who used the Atlanta Black Pride moniker without permission after being held responsible for unassociated events organized by Black LGBTQ+ partygoers during the holiday weekend. “If anything ever happened during that weekend, of course, ITLA would absorb” the blame, he said. “[Promoters] could reap all the benefits and the glory of the weekend but would hold none of the responsibilities of the weekend. Sometimes you just get tired of taking the blame for stuff you didn’t even do.”

Smith said the common use of “Atlanta Black Pride” by people not associated with the organization also made it hard for them to obtain sponsors, some of whom falsely believed they’d already partnered with the official group or were deterred by the misconception that the weekend was all about partying. Stewart stresses that Atlanta Black Pride hosts programming year-round. Even amid the ongoing pandemic, he says they’re working to host events that touch on mental health and youth homelessness.

Atlanta Black PrideStewart insists Atlanta Black Pride is “brand protective”—not in an effort to monopolize the market for Black LGBTQ+ events, but to ensure the organization’s longevity. “If we want to be around for another 25 years, we have to clean up some things and draw a line in the sand,” he says.

A new GPB podcast about the 1970 Augusta Riot has a message for today

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Shots in the Back PodcastIn a bonus episode of GPB’s recently released podcast Shots in the Back: Exhuming the 1970 Augusta Riot, reporter and instructor Sea Stachura catches up with a few of her students from the podcasting program at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts. Like most kids, 10-year-old Gabbie Stallings has been attending school remotely and hasn’t been able to talk with Stachura about all that has happened this year. But in a recently recorded, candid conversation, she admits she’s become fearful when leaving her home following the deaths of Black people such as George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. “I’ve become very self-conscious whenever we go out. I try to be safe. And I feel very relieved when we go home,” she says. Her reflections cast a sobering light on how history repeats itself.

Shots was produced in partnership with the Jessye Norman School throughout the past year as part of an after-school extracurricular program for middle and high school students. Stachura had already been an instructor before presenting the idea to the school’s principal. “He saw it as a real opportunity for the students to engage in their community and recognize that even at their age they can contribute something significant to the world,” Stachura says. “The ground beneath their feet has a history, and that history isn’t as rosy or as clean as some would present it.”

Shots in the Back has been years in the making for Stachura, but the content of the podcast is as timely and relevant as ever. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Augusta Riot, which was sparked when 16-year-old Charles Oatman was beaten to death in a county jail. Six Black men were shot in the back and killed by police during the ensuing riot. The podcast tells this story over six episodes and several bonus episodes, featuring narration from Stachura, interviews with sources, including witnesses, family members of the victims and local leaders, and occasional reflections from students who are learning the complicated history of their town for the first time. The inclusion of young students offers a sober look at history for listeners who may have grown numb or cynical to news about racism and police brutality.

While GPB had originally planned to hold the podcast until September (a postponed date thanks to the pandemic), in June, as America was facing an ongoing racial reckoning, the radio station opted to release it early, hoping to spark further conversation about race in America over the past half-century. As many older people also feel uncomfortable discussing such issues, Stachura hopes the podcast will encourage them to push past these feelings and have important conversations.

Releasing the story as an audio docuseries allowed Stachura’s research to discover new sources, too. She credits listeners with providing tips that helped to further contextualize the deaths of Oatman and the six Black men killed during the riot. In a bonus episode, one of these sources, Fred McBrayer, shared his memories of working with Oatman as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, helping prepare the mentally disabled teen for future jobs.

Not surprisingly, the journalist and podcast instructor had some challenges getting students to feel comfortable discussing race. For one, half of the students in the class were white. One white student, Aidan Allen, 14, says he’d never really discussed race at length before deciding to participate in the podcasting program. As a result, he was self-conscious and worried he might say the wrong thing. “I have this fear of just saying some random stuff that’s racist. I was stressed out,” he says. “I’m in a whole school of people that I don’t want to offend.”

In one episode, Stallings hints at how awkward it was for her to discuss these things in front of her white peers. “Not to be offensive, but it’s a lot of white people in this room and it makes me feel uncomfortable.”

“That’s fair,” a white student responds.

“Because they are fresh to the story, [the students] haven’t yet muted themselves,” Statchura says. “They haven’t decided that there are certain things that they are not supposed to say, although they are already at a point where they know that this stuff is dangerous to talk about.”

Stachura first began reporting on the riot in 2011. While at Augusta University (then Augusta State University), she received a grant that allowed her to conduct oral histories, do a few presentations, and submit a FOIA request that got 900 pages of FBI files declassified. Many of the interviews featured in the podcast are from this work, although students did help conduct a few of the newer interviews. “I was stunned there was no historical record besides some Augusta Chronicle newspaper articles that told a very racist version of what happened and left out lots and lots of parts,” she says of her motivation to report on the riot. “I think this is a story that is valuable to the entire nation because how can you have a major civil rights uprising where six Black men were killed by police and [the nation has just] forgotten about it?”

Many of the students who participated in Stachura’s podcasting program are too young to completely recall or comprehend previous instances of police brutality. For them, learning about the 1970 Augusta Riot—something that happened in their own hometown—and watching this year’s instances of police brutality were the first times they’d grappled with the country’s long history of racial injustice and the ways it still persists today. “What they learned is that they were holding a mirror to their own time,” Stachura says.

Tiara Dugger, now a college freshman at Georgia State University, participated in recording Shots during her senior year of high school. She admits she had no idea about the Augusta riot before participating. “I felt so bad because I’ve lived here almost all of my life and I knew nothing about the history,” she says. “It makes me have a deeper appreciation for the city. It wasn’t a bright situation, but my city has more history than I thought it did.”

Dugger says she’s happy this project included the voice of students because, ultimately, these issues impact them, too. “A lot of older people think that children should stay in a child’s place. But we see all the stuff that’s happening and it does affect our daily lives,” she says. “We have to go out into this world and our lives are at risk every day just because of the color of our skin, our gender, all of that stuff. With kids, it provided a new perspective. It shows you that a child isn’t a child in today’s society. We had to grow up faster.”

For the past month, GPB has hosted a series of virtual panels to continue the conversation about the 50th anniversary of the Augusta Riot. The final event will take place on Oct. 5.

As concert venues remain closed, parking lot concerts keep live music going

Skooly Nobody Likes Me release party Starlight Drive In Atlanta
Cars are parked at the Skooly album release party, held at Starlight Drive-In back in May.

Photograph by Joshua Smith/E&C Photography

When Street Execs partners David Leeks and Allen Parks decided to host a parking lot concert for rapper Skooly following an album release party at Starlight Drive-In in May, they realized they might be onto something.

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.

 

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@iamtravisporter putting on a hell of a show #parkinglotconcert

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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.

Parking lot concert series Atlanta
Cars line up at the Murphy Park Fairgrounds for a Parking Lot Concert.

Photograph courtesy of Parking Lot Concerts

Thanks to an executive order signed last month by Governor Brian Kemp, traditional live performance venues will be allowed to officially open their doors this week for the first time since March—as long as they adhere to more than two dozen safety requirements involving social distancing and increased sanitation efforts. Live event venues throughout the country, not just in Atlanta, have spent the past few months struggling to decide how to best navigate the pandemic. According to Billboard, concert venues in Oklahoma and Missouri have been allowed to reopen with safety guidelines in place. Concert venues in Texas have also been allowed to operate at a limited capacity since May, but increased cases in the state have led to some businesses, including bars where some concerts take place, to be shut down again.

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.

 

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Every Saturday we giving vibes #parkinglotconcert

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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.

https://twitter.com/reeselaflare/status/1271987702410498048?s=21

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.”

If Atlanta’s most famous hip-hop stars want to participate in activism, they’ll have to reckon with their own elite statuses

T.I. Killer Mike The Dream Atlanta celebrities speaking on protest
T.I. and Killer Mike received both praise and criticism for participating in Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s May 29 press conference.

Screenshots of 11 Alive video

On Saturday afternoon, as Atlanta navigated its second night of protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others to police brutality, producer and artist The Dream took to Twitter to share a message with looters. “IF YOU ARE NOT FROM ATLANTA, DONT COME HERE AND PLEASE GO HOME. I OWN THINGS IN THIS CITY, A LOT OF BLACKS OWN THINGS IN THIS CITY, FROM BANKHEAD TO BUCKHEAD,” he wrote. “DO NOT DESTROY PROPERTY THAT NEGATES THE DECADES OF WORK. MY CHILDREN WILL NOT BE SET BACK BY YOU!”

The series of tweets garnered immediate backlash, with critics accusing the artist of caring more about property than the human suffering that led to the protests and looting. “Look at this multi millionaire telling us WE need to worry about his kids fortunes,” one Twitter user responded. “Every day these celebs prove just how completely out of touch they are.”

Amid a week of protests in all 50 states and around the world, the responses from Atlanta’s rich and famous have received mixed reviews, in some cases highlighting a class divide that has long existed among Black residents. For some, Atlanta is Wakanda—as T.I. put it during Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s Friday night press conference—a real-life version of the fictional Black Panther mecca where Black people govern, run businesses, and thrive among one another. For other Black Atlantans, the rapidly gentrifying city is a reminder that economic goals often overshadow the suffering of vulnerable communities.

The Dream insists his tweets weren’t just about his own investments, but there is an inherent conflict of interest in his and other artists’ statements. While it’s certainly possible to both empathize with protesters and feel pained to see the city in chaos, these artists also benefit financially from encouraging peace. As entrepreneurs and longtime ambassadors of a city that is a hub for Black businesses, their economic success and the continued growth of Atlanta are indisputably linked. Even if they came from the Black working class and genuinely wish to advocate for them, refusing to acknowledge this reality dilutes their messages.

The Twitter dialogue and other recent critiques of local celebrities illuminates the absurdity of the expectation that Black celebrities serve as the voice of all Black people. Even in a city as Black as Atlanta, Black success isn’t guaranteed. This might help explain why some locals weren’t swayed by Mayor Bottoms’s assertion that T.I. and Killer Mike “own half the west side” as she asked protesters to stop damaging and looting property downtown on Friday while standing alongside both rappers.

In a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, reporters Ernie Suggs and Rosalind Bentley write, “despite Atlanta being celebrated for decades as a ‘Black Mecca,’ the city’s jobless rates were 11.5 percent for Black residents and 2.5 percent for white residents as recently as 2017, according to the Brookings Institution. The wealth gap also remains huge.”

Last year, Bloomberg ranked Atlanta as the “capital of U.S. inequality” for the second year in a row. “Headlines highlighting the city’s exceptional inequality are almost an annual tradition,” reporter Stephanie Stokes accurately pointed out in this 2018 WABE article about the most recent rankings from the Brookings Institute. While David Sjoquist, a professor in Georgia State University’s Fiscal Research Center, told WABE at the time that those rankings improve if you take the full Atlanta metro area into account, rather than just the city limits, he also said Atlanta had “one of the smallest middle classes among the 50 U.S. cities studied in the Brookings report.” He cited racism as a reason for this, noting the fact that many white families left the city when Atlanta integrated its public schools and the Fair Housing Act banned discriminatory housing policies in the 1960s.

• • •

Where traditional media has mostly covered only the crime in Atlanta’s impoverished neighborhoods, our hip-hop artists have long given voices to the voiceless, documenting stories of their triumph as well as their pain. In the mid-90s, as Atlanta was preparing for the Summer Olympics, music by rap groups including Outkast and Goodie Mob spoke to Black residents who didn’t benefit from what Maurice Hobson, a Georgia State University professor and author of The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta, calls the city’s “Olympification.”

Poor populations are often negatively impacted by Olympic bids, and as WBUR reported in this 2016 story on Olympic displacement, “thousands of Atlanta’s poorest residents were issued one-way bus tickets to the cities where they had relatives. They had to sign papers promising they wouldn’t return. Some 9,000 poor Atlantans were arrested during the 18 months before the opening ceremonies.” The homeless population weren’t the only people affected, however. WBUR notes “the neighborhood of Summerhill was sacrificed for the construction of the Olympic Stadium, which was to become the home of the Atlanta Braves.” Residents were also displaced from the demolition of the Techwood housing projects.

While city officials worked with Black and white business communities to prepare the city for the global spotlight of the games, Goodie Mob expressed the frustration of the Black working class on their 1995 landmark album Soul Food. “Crooked [expletive] Jackson, got the whole country thinking that my city is the big lick for ’96,” Big Gipp rapped on “Git Up, Git Out.”

“Goodie Mob’s earlier discography is a reflection of centering working class Black Atlanta in ways that were overshadowed by the larger story being supported by city government,” says Dr. Regina Bradley, Kennesaw State University professor, hip-hop historian, and co-host of WABE’s Bottom of the Map podcast.

In the years since, artists from T.I. to 21 Savage have continued to speak for locals who weren’t benefiting from the city’s status as a Black Mecca. But, with stardom and increased success, some of these musicians have also aligned with the same groups they previously criticized. “T.I. is right. Atlanta has been Wakanda to many and hip-hop has def amplified that Black Mecca mythology,” Rodney Carmichael, NPR’s Atlanta-based hip-hop reporter, tweeted. “BUT its also home of the TRAP—the genre pioneered by T.I. that gave a mic to ‘the least of these’ and popularized a dominant counter-narrative to our promised land propaganda.”

Some critics on social media highlighted the contradictions between some of Killer Mike’s lyrics about police and the largely praised speech he gave during last week’s press conference where, standing alongside Atlanta Police Department Chief Erika Shields, he shouted out the police officers in his own family. A few days later, the rapper put together a press call in hopes of introducing reporters to activists who might otherwise go unrecognized. It was his way of using his celebrity to uplift grassroots activists including Judith Browne Dianis of racial justice and civil rights organization Advancement Project, Pastor Michael McBride of Black Church PAC and Live Free gun violence prevention campaign, and Nse Ufot of the Stacey Abrams-founded New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on voter registration and civic engagement through technology, gaming, and pop culture.

As Killer Mike pointed out on the call, he’s been involved in activism since he was a teenager. His Edgewood Avenue barbershop, SWAG Shop, acts as a community hub where he’s previously interviewed Senator Bernie Sanders and given free back-to-school haircuts to kids. When asked for comment regarding the critiques he’d received for standing alongside the mayor and police chief, Killer Mike’s answer was simple: “No. It’s not productive to respond to criticism.” But, those critiques, he said, only make him “get better and come back, and be informed by the people actually doing the work.”

• • •

Increasingly this year, public figuresmuch like businesses—have struggled to strike the right tone in the midst of a global pandemic and, more recently, civil unrest as a result of police brutality. And many young fans aren’t shy about expressing their outrage when this happens. For some, there’s an expectation for the celebs they support to be knowledgeable and vocal participants in the social justice causes that matter most to them. But, for others, it seems silly to expect all pop culture figures to speak out and be experts on these topics. Not everyone wants to be an activist.

Regardless, if Atlanta’s hip-hop stars truly want to participate in community activism, they’ll have to reckon with their own status as members of the wealthy elite.

Something I have been thinking about is the commercialization of the ‘gate’ and who gets to keep it,” Bradley says. “If you are a multimillionaire artist, do you still get to be the litmus test for working class communities that propelled you to economic success and popularity? What is the line? Money blurs so many lines and plans of action.”

For Atlanta’s hip-hop and R&B artists, Instagram Live has become an unexpected source of community

Jermaine Dupri Instagram Live
Jermaine Dupri performs onstage during an event in 2019.

Photograph by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Red Songbird Foundation

On Saturday, April 4, a day affectionately dubbed “404 Day” in the city of Atlanta for its most famous area code, the comment section for Jermaine Dupri’s DJ set on Instagram Live moved quickly, showing friends reconnecting over their love for the city in real time.

As Dupri delivered an Atlanta-themed set of songs including hits from Playa Poncho, OutKast, and Monica, former Mayor Kasim Reed asked if he’d missed the Raheem the Dream portion of the set. (He had.) Music mogul Scooter Braun recounted his love for the city and the impact it’s had on his career, and shouted out celebrity friends. Local residents reconnected with childhood friends and gave a shout out to their neighborhoods. The Instagram Live broadcast reached more than 15,000 concurrent viewers at its peak but, in the moment, it felt like all of Atlanta, new and old, was watching and celebrating together.

And while Choose ATL, the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s initiative geared towards millennial and gen-Z professionals, was planning to hold a live event for “404 Day” before the pandemic, it wasn’t scheduled to include a DJ set from Jermaine Dupri. “The 404 Day virtual party was specifically designed to bring the community together during these difficult times and try to offer a sense of togetherness knowing we’re physically apart,” Ashley Tanks, Choose ATL’s senior director of PR and programs, says. Tapping Dupri, someone who has been integral to Atlanta’s identity as a hip-hop and R&B hub since the 1990s, seemed like a no-brainer.

Partnering with Butter.ATL, Atlanta Influences Everything, and FLR-PLN, the organization coordinated the Instagram Live that appeared on Dupri’s page and reached out to influencers in hopes that they would tune in. “We reached out to several Atlanta leaders and celebrities, and invited them to join. But, we honestly didn’t know who was going to participate,” Tanks says. But plenty of prominent Atlantans tuned in, including Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, WSB-TV anchor Jovita Moore, Lil Jon, Killer Mike, Ludacris, Usher, and T.I. all left comments.

Jermaine Dupri Instagram Live
Dupri’s 404 Day show on Instagram Live

Screenshots courtesy of Sunshine Sachs

Celebrities going live on Instagram certainly isn’t a new trend but, in this current global pandemic, the app that has sometimes been blamed for creating feelings of isolation and FOMO has proven to be an unexpected source of community. Like many people who are now facing changes in their careers as a result of COVID-19, musicians are also having to make adjustments. Touring, a major source of income for many artists, is on hold indefinitely. Public appearances have been halted. And, like others who are practicing social distancing, video chatting has become the primary way of conducting business and connecting with the outside world.

Recently, Timbaland and Swizz Beatz started a producer battle series titled ‘Verzuz” where artists go round-for-round against one another using snippets of their biggest hits. The battles, which are hosted on Instagram Live, have featured a number of Atlanta-based producers and songwriters, including The-Dream and Sean Garrett, Ne-Yo, and Johntá Austin. Atlanta native Lil Jon and T-Pain, who has lived here for much of his career, have had the most successful event of the series so far, with their viewership peaking around 280,000 last Saturday thanks to the pair’s extensive catalogs and friendly banter. For the most part, these battles have been less about “winning” (no one is actually declared victorious) and more about having fun and providing entertainment. When Lil Jon played “Lovers & Friends,” his 2004 hit song with Usher and Ludacris, during a round against T. Pain’s “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper),” he stopped short of his own verse in compliance with the rule that each producer only play one minute and thirty seconds of each song. But T. Pain requested Lil Jon play his standout verse anyway. With people—artists included—facing the threat of illness and unemployment, these Instagram shows have been provided a temporary escape into a reality where everyone wins.

T-Pain and Lil Jon’s large audience stemmed, at least partially, from the fact that they’re not just producers and songwriters. They’re also well-known vocalists. But, even creatives who work primarily behind the scenes have benefited from participating in Verzuz.

Atlanta-based songwriter and producer Johntá Austin has been writing hit songs since he was a teenager. He co-wrote “Sweet Lady” for Tyrese shortly before graduating high school and has since written songs such as Aaliyah’s “Come Over,” Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together,” and Bryson Tiller’s “Don’t.” Austin says he was impressed with the audience that the battles had been getting so he came up with the idea to compete against Atlanta-based singer, songwriter, and producer Ne-Yo. About 80,000 viewers, including rappers Drake and Travis Scott, tuned in. “To see the amount of people that were tuned in for R&B music, that was great,” Austin says.

Ne-Yo agrees. While he lightheartedly admits Austin might have edged him out in the battle, he says everyone ended up winning in the end. “I felt like it was just positive all the way across the board, and I think that’s the reason that is getting the response it’s getting,” he says. “In the midst of this dark and confusing time that we’re going through right now, it shined a bit of light. It allowed people to be lighthearted and nostalgic.”

Like many artists, Atlanta native Yung Baby Tate says the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely affected her business-wise, but she’s been trying to make the best of this moment by finishing her home studio and connecting with fans online.

“It’s difficult for me to even see what the world is even going to look like after all of this is over. What is over for this? It’s hard to plan around something you have no control of,” she says.

Tate recently entertained about 200 viewers by singing songs such as Anita Baker’s “Caught up in the Rapture” and Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down” during a “Quarantine Karaoke” virtual event on Instagram. “I just look at it as a way to organically and naturally connect with my fans,” she says, adding that she was livestreaming well before the current pandemic. “I don’t like to make it too much of a huge deal.”

Instagram Live events are free, so they’re certainly not a replacement for the revenue stream artists would receive from touring. But in addition to the streaming boost it’s likely given the musicians, they’ve also been able to build momentum for new releases. During their battle, Lil Jon previewed a new song with Ludacris and Usher, and T. Pain showcased some of the newer songs he’s been working on. Ne-Yo says he’s also working to release a “quarantine and chill” project soon. Austin recently released an EP titled Pandemic on Soundcloud.

“Hopefully, once we have safely combated COVID-19, we can get back out and be more visible in the public, but I think what’s great about social media and technology is we’re able to keep our connection with the people,” he says.

Glossier brings its cult beauty products to Ponce City Market

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Glossier Atlanta pop-up
Inside the Glossier pop-up at Ponce City Market

Photograph courtesy of Glossier

Glossier fans sometimes wait for hours outside of its New York City flagship before gaining access to the store. And while it was fairly quiet at the brand-new Atlanta pop-up store at Ponce City Market during a Tuesday night invite-only preview, by the shop’s grand opening on Wednesday, the line was out the frosted doors.

In the six years since founder Emily Weiss launched the direct-to-consumer beauty company (now valued at more than $1 billion) with a your-skin-but-better approach to beauty, Glossier’s Boy Brow pomade, Cloud Paint blush, and Milky Jelly cleanser have become cult favorite, particularly among millennials looking for a dewy, minimalist approach to makeup and an accessible skincare regimen.

Glossier Atlanta pop-up
Inside the Glossier pop-up at Ponce City Market

Photograph courtesy of Glossier

Glossier Atlanta pop-up
Inside the Glossier pop-up at Ponce City Market

Photograph courtesy of Glossier

Glossier Atlanta pop-up
Inside the Glossier pop-up at Ponce City Market

Photograph courtesy of Glossier

Similar to previous pop-ups across the U.S., the Atlanta Glossier store allows customers to immerse themselves in the company’s signature aesthetic—think minimalist design, millennial pink walls, and close up shots of models wearing the latest Glossier makeup. Mirrors are prominent throughout the space—with one featuring the uplifting quote “you look good”—and shoppers are encouraged to experiment and try on products before purchasing. Once customers are ready to buy, employees—dressed in pink jumpsuits, of course—are on-hand to place the order and accept payment. Products can then be picked up at a window toward the back of the store.

According to a press release, each Glossier pop-up is styled with a different theme to match the city it’s in (Miami’s had an art deco look, for example), and Atlanta’s pop-up was designed to pay homage to our music industry, albeit subtly, with pale pink foam panels on the walls (a play on what you’d see in a recording studio) and a playlist created by Atlanta’s own DJ Ohso.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8wM-6MBYj_/?igshid=1e7o7mw6xgzu6

 

And, in true millennial fashion, a small room in the back of the store allows easy space for a quick photo shoot. The Instagram-worthy room features a mirrored wall and a table and chair perched on the carpeted ceiling. A disco ball appears attached to the mirror. According to the press release, this room was designed to be modeled after a recording room, although in person, this is pretty hard to pick up on, as there is no discernible music equipment. Once you snap your selfie, be sure to rotate the photo to better see the topsy-turvy effect.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8w1qY9hCPL/?igshid=qrnzqq9b09ml

 

The retailer isn’t all about vanity. The company partnered with local activist Charmaine Minniefield on a mural at Ponce City Market’s Shed and is also donating $5 of the profits from each limited-edition Glossier Atlanta shirt sold to nonprofit civic engagement organization ProGeorgia. And, on March 8, International Women’s Day, Glossier will work to register voters in partnership with nonpartisan nonprofit IGNITE.

For now, Glossier is only scheduled to remain in Atlanta through April 26, but there’s a possibility that the pop-up could extend its time in the city based on success. Glossier’s London pop-up opened last November and was scheduled to close this month, but the retailer recently announced plans to keep it open through the rest of the year. According to Forbes, the London location has seen “100,000 visitors over the past two months and boasts the highest average sales per day.” Glossier is also working to open a pop-up in Arizona in March. Los Angeles even got its own brick-and-mortar after it hosted a pop-up, so maybe Glossier will decide to make a permanent stay.

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