Man, Georgia is a schizophrenic state. On the one hand, Donald Trump, the living antithesis to the idea of Christian charity, is ascendant—this in a state where four out of five adults identify as Christian and two out of three say they pray every day. On the other hand, metro Atlanta has become a 21st-century version of Ellis Island. That’s not hyperbole. To refugees fleeing oppression, civil war, famine, and discrimination, Atlanta represents not just hope, but survival. And within the metro area, no place has been more welcoming than the city of Clarkston, which sits halfway between Decatur and Stone Mountain.
The numbers bear out the city’s reputation. Statewide, one out of every 10 residents was born outside the United States. In Clarkston, it’s one out of two. They get by on not much money: Three out of four households report income of under $50,000. And they’re young. Of the city’s 7,717 residents (all of this according to 2014 U.S. Census estimates), only one out of five is over 44 years old.
Ted Terry is a white man, which puts him squarely in the minority in Clarkston. But that didn’t keep him from winning the mayor’s seat in 2013. It’s a part-time gig (his full-time job is state campaign director for the AFL-CIO), and he spends a lot of his time talking about inclusion. Terry is an accidental Clarkstonian; in 2012, when his landlord put the house he was renting up for sale, she told him about an apartment available in Clarkston. He’s since become a homeowner there, and, in true hipster fashion (Terry is 32 years old), he’s even installed a chicken coop in his backyard. I asked him what appeals to him about Clarkston. “This place is the future,” he told me. He was talking from outside the Gold Dome, where he was between meetings with lawmakers.
I’d called Mayor Ted, as he refers to himself, because much of “Refuge,” our feature story this month about a Syrian family that escaped Aleppo, takes place in Clarkston. The number of Syrians coming to Georgia—still just a few dozen—is a trickle compared with the millions displaced by the fighting and destruction there. More are coming. Terry himself signed on to be a sponsor of a family of six that was set to arrive just a few days after our conversation. He was planning to meet them at the airport, look for donations to furnish their apartment, offer to drive them to the doctor’s office. “I figured I should walk the talk,” he said.
“Refuge,” as its title suggests, has a happy ending, one summed up neatly by one of the story’s photographs: a little boy tugging on his mom’s clothes while she prepares dinner. The image couldn’t be more prosaic. But to this family—and especially to the parents, knowing their children are finally safe—the scene could not be more profound.
Percent of English-only households
Percent of households with children under 18
Percent of population employed in manufacturing
. . . and who carpool to work
Source: American Fact Finder, U.S. Census, 2014 estimates
This article originally appeared in our April 2016 issue.