My friend Matt Gove works at Piedmont Healthcare, where he’s chief consumer officer. I don’t know much about what his job entails, precisely; what I do know is that we’re both news guys by nature. Matt, however, got out of journalism more than a decade ago, and his career trajectory since has been pretty remarkable: He helped run Lisa Borders’s campaign for City Council president in 2004, he was involved in the business community’s rescue of Grady Hospital back in 2008–09, and in 2011 he went to Piedmont, where he cheerfully allows me to quiz him on the contents of this magazine. (He’s a faithful subscriber.)
I called him the other day because I wanted to talk to him about Leadership Atlanta. If you’ve been around the city for any length of time, and you’re involved in the business or nonprofit community, you’ve probably heard of Leadership Atlanta. Each year it selects 80 people from the region who end up spending dozens of hours together over nine months, discussing the issues and challenges facing the metro area. A day is set aside every month to immerse the members of the class in a specific topic. It could be criminal justice, or public health, or poverty, or education. Smaller groups within each class take on individual projects. What’s probably most important about the program is that it pairs education with action. Leadership Atlanta deliberately chooses members (out of the 400 or so applications it gets every year) who are already in leadership positions, with the idea that they’ll leverage their influence to effect some lasting change.
When I called Matt, he had recently wrapped up his time as part of the class of 2016. He’d recommended me for the incoming class, and I’d just found out I’d been accepted. I wanted an idea of what to expect.
Matt’s a native Atlantan, something a lot of us can’t say. He was born at South Fulton Hospital and grew up in College Park and East Point. “Because of where I grew up and who I grew up with, I felt I had a really clear handle on the issues that the city faces and the racial and social factors that color everything,” he told me. But Leadership Atlanta was an eye-opener for him, making him question basic assumptions, even on topics he thought he fully understood. Examining mental health care, for example: Poor people with mental health issues can’t afford care, but they’ll get it if they commit a crime and go to jail. “Wait, we can’t afford to provide mental health care until someone is incarcerated?” Matt said. “These are the kinds of things we had deep, thought-provoking conversations about.”
Since its founding in 1969, Leadership Atlanta has educated and enlightened about 4,000 community leaders. I’m honored to be in the 2017 class, and most excited to hear new ways Atlanta magazine can be an engine for making the city an even better place to live. As Matt told me, “It’s easy to look at our city and only see what’s wrong with it. You’d think this program—that focuses on so many pressing issues—might heighten that perception. But sharing the experience with a group of truly remarkable people, and sharing a commitment to doing something about it, it actually has the opposite effect. It helped me see what’s good and what’s possible and what makes Atlanta different from any other place in the country.”
This article originally appeared in our June 2016 issue.