Atlanta Must Reads for the Week: Little Five Points’s weirdness, Georgia’s Second Chance courts, and the New South’s repackaging of the Old South

Plus, a Tech player’s long road to recovery; and the intersection of sports, religion, and politics
Kelly Jordan (left) and Don Bender, two key figures who helped shape Little Five Points, stand outside the Variety Playhouse.

Courtesy Eric Cash/Creative Loafing

Jeff Schultz in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Georgia’s “religious freedom” bill

As Georgia’s “religious freedom” bill sits on Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk, faith leaders and activists have called for his veto. Failure to do so, major corporations have warned, would lead to boycotts that would hurt the state’s bottom line. The NFL has even suggested Atlanta’s Super Bowl bid could be at stake. In a scathing column, Schultz explores how athletes and sports teams have long stood out against social injustice, now including House Bill 757:

Sports often has been central to social justice. Athletes, teams, sports leagues, universities have a platform. Using that platform in the hope that it effects change should not bring about some mindless shallow and borderline Neanderthal response like, “Play ball and shut up. Fred, pass the pork rinds.” Sports’ ability to influence change should be embraced. “Sport has the power to change the world,” Nelson Mandela said. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”

It doesn’t matter to me whether you agree or disagree with the “homosexual lifestyle,” nor if you believe it runs contrary to your chosen religion (or, more accurately, how you perceive your religion’s doctrine). Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to assemble and call your government leaders a bunch of idiots — those freedoms are yours to embrace. But when a potential law effectively legalizes discrimination and infringes on someone else’s Constitutional rights — as Georgia House Bill 757 surely does — that’s a problem. It’s everybody’s problem. It’s a problem in the “real” world and the sports world.

Read: Where sports and politics collide, Georgia loses

Thomas Wheatley in Creative Loafing on the weird origins of Little Five Points

In Creative Loafing’s neighborhood issue, Wheatley reports on how Little Five Points became an eclectic, thriving neighborhood—and whether it can stay that way:

As the times have changed, so has Atlanta. Neighborhoods once considered places to avoid are now outside many people’s budgets. The Clermont Hotel, a former flophouse, is becoming a boutique hotel. Murder Kroger will become a 12-story office building. Inman Park and Candler Park today are two of Atlanta’s most desirable intown neighborhoods with listing prices starting around $525,000 for a three-bedroom house. The Atlanta BeltLine is only a half-mile away. The generation that watched Little Five Points go from anonymous to quirky will, over time, be outnumbered by younger families and people with no connection—or sense of loyalty—to the business district. What’s preventing Crystal Blue from becoming a bougie boutique with $50,000 couches? Could Crate and Barrel edge out Rag-O-Rama? In other words, how long can Little Five Points remain Little Five Points?

Read: How did Little Five Points get weird?

Andrea Adelson for on a Georgia Tech player’s recovery

When Georgia Tech first recruited Jaylend Ratliffe, a top high school QB prospect, coach Paul Johnson told him the school would honor his scholarship no matter what. Nearly two years after Ratliffe suffered serious injuries in an ATV accident, Adelson writes about the importance of that fulfilled promise:

Still, Ratliffe believed he would get out on the football field. Once he was able to speak again a few weeks later, he asked his doctor: “‘Am I going to be able to make it to the first game?’ And she’s looking at me like, ‘Are you crazy?’ She told me,’ Sweetie, you can’t play this year.’ “It took me about a week or so to actually get it inside me that I wasn’t going to be able to play.”

In all likelihood, Ratliffe will never be able to play football again. That hasn’t been easy to accept. He took his frustrations out on his mother and stepfather, lashing out at them with hurtful words. He sought counseling from the team chaplain and youth pastors and eventually learned to rely on his faith. But there was something else to keep him going: Georgia Tech would honor his scholarship.

Read: Jaylend Ratliffe is living his second chance to the fullest

Matt Hartman for The Awl on the culinary revisionism of the New South

In a thought-provoking essay, Hartman examines the ways in which the South’s cultural traditions are packaged and exported to the world. All too often, he says, that happens without a complete portrayal of the region’s diversity:

The diversity the New South claims to highlight disappears along with successful black chefs. [Sean] Brock’s Husk claims to “explore the reality of Southern food” by “exploring an ingredient-driven cuisine that begins in the rediscovery of heirloom products,” and Husk’s website quotes Brock as saying, “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door.” But a myopic focus on the crops and methods devoid of any broader economic connections blinds us to questions about who can dine at the restaurant, whose traditions are being expropriated, and who is enjoying the profits. If to be authentically Southern is to take part in this version of the South—the one represented in glamorous food magazines, not the diverse one found in the community’s kitchens; the one praised by the Economist for GDP growth, not the one with soaring poverty rates—then that South is a white aristocracy, which is anything but democratic.

Of course, that fact might also make it authentically Southern—just Southern in the very way that New South wants to renounce. Pointing to the grandeur enjoyed by the wealthy was long an excuse for the aristocratic ways of the Old South, and claiming authenticity on the grounds that your crops date back to slave times is a strange way of creating something new and progressive and forward-looking, just as blatantly appropriating Black culture is a strange way of creating something inclusive. On the other hand, given that Henry Grady’s version of the New South aimed to reform the economy while preserving white supremacy, perhaps these movements fit the bill.

Read: Garden and Gut

Sarah Barr for the Center for Public Integrity on Georgia’s juvenile justice reforms

Barr looks at how Georgia’s Second Chance Court program and other related reforms have prevented some delinquent teenagers from entering the prison pipeline:

Leandra Phommavongsay began his speech to the dozen or so teenagers gathered in the back of a Clayton County courtroom by recounting his recent travels. He had been to California, and before that to Florida and to Texas, all places he hadn’t ever expected to go when he was growing up in small-town Georgia, south of Atlanta. “I just came from San Francisco. I’m not sure you’ve ever seen San Francisco. But San Francisco is beautiful,” he said.

He had once been like them, Phommavongsay told the teens sitting in two rows, a few parents scattered among them. He hung out with the wrong crowd, and got into trouble with the cops for petty, and sometimes not so petty, offenses. They could go to San Francisco, too, the way he had for a job detailing cars. But only if they made the right choices during their time in the Second Chance Court program, a community-based diversion program that seeks to keep teenagers out of long-term lockup. “Grow, man. Think, man. Forget the weed. Forget those bums on the block,” he said. He’s now 21. He grinned at them. “Go to Miami and get crazy on the beach.”

Phommavongsay landed in Second Chance five years ago after charges that included robbery and aggravated assault. The program has a long list of requirements, including strict GPS monitoring, regular school attendance, participation in programs such as drug treatment or family therapy and meetings with court officials.

Read: Proposed Georgia budget shifts money to community programs for juveniles.