One of Atlanta’s most famous sons, Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” Decades later, thousands of Atlantans volunteer, raise funds, and donate to causes. You don’t have to look far to find local celebrities—from rock star chefs and business moguls—who leverage their fame for good.
The well-known Georgians we profile here have a deep personal connection to the causes they champion, contributing countless hours, funds, and leadership to worthy nonprofits around Atlanta. From medical research fundraising to supporting farmers to fostering the next generation of Atlanta’s entrepreneurs, these personalities are serving their communities in big ways.
Football player might be the first thing that comes to mind when fans hear the name Malcolm Mitchell, but author is one of the NFL wide receiver’s favorite descriptors. “Writing is a product of my reading,” says the Valdosta-born former Georgia Bulldog. “When I began to read books, my mind began to transform.” Mitchell brings his love of reading to students with his Atlanta-based nonprofit, Read with Malcolm, through which they receive a copy of his book, The Magician’s Hat. “I tell kids, ‘Whatever you want to be, there’s a book that can help you accomplish it. I’ve experienced it myself,’’’ says the Super Bowl champion, who plans to write two more books with Scholastic.
If anyone’s qualified to offer advice and encouragement to budding female entrepreneurs, it’s SPANX founder Sara Blakely. “I want to pay my success forward and help as many women as I can,” says Blakely, who started the hosiery and shapewear business out of her apartment in 2000. One way she’s helping is through a partnership between the Sara Blakely Foundation and Atlanta’s Center for Civic Innovation. In 2017, they gave 10 women entrepreneurs a year of mentorship and grant-funded development. After a year, all 10 are fully self-employed and nine have doubled their revenue. “I think it should become a model for other cities,” Blakely says of the program, which welcomed its second class of entrepreneurs this summer.
WSB-TV anchor Jovita Moore has delivered the news to Atlanta-area households for 20 years, but her heart is often with families who don’t have a home. “I have a soft spot for babies,” the mom of two says. “No woman should come out of the hospital and have no place to go.” Moore serves on the advisory board for Our House Atlanta (formerly Genesis), a homeless shelter for newborns and their families that provides accredited childcare while teaching moms to become self-sufficient. Moore also enlisted beauty experts to provide twice-yearly pampering days for new moms. “Talk to these women, and you realize it’s by the grace of God that you’re not in the same situation.”
Star goalie Brad Guzan helps Atlanta United FC rack up wins, and as an ambassador for Atlanta United’s Special Olympics Unified team, he coaches and cheers on those athletes. Guzan, who moved with his family from England last year, wasted no time joining the league-wide initiative, working out with players at practices and supporting them at games, both in Atlanta and on the road. The best part? “To see the smiles on their faces,” he says. “It’s been great to get involved with their team and represent what Atlanta United stands for.”
Laura Turner Seydel
Laura Turner Seydel doesn’t wear a cape, but she plays a superhero-like role as board chair for the Captain Planet Foundation. The Atlanta-based organization, started in the 1990s by her father, Ted Turner, funds youth projects in every state and 23 countries. By creating hands-on tools for educators—from school gardens to habitat restoration challenges to endangered species assistance programs—she hopes to inspire others to care for natural resources. “It’s so important we pass this along to the next generation, but we won’t have a cadre of environmental stewards unless we give them the opportunity to take action.”
Chef and restaurateur Ford Fry knows all about delicious food and the ingredients needed to produce it. “I have a heart for the farmers,” he says. “It’s such a difficult job.” That passion led him to become an avid supporter of Georgia Organics, promoting sustainable agriculture and providing healthy, locally grown produce for food-insecure families. Each July for the last 10 years, he’s brought together farmers from around the state and noteworthy chefs for his Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival, a tasting event that benefits the agrarian nonprofit. “It’s really a party for the farmers,” he says of the festival, which has raised more than $500,000.
Music is a defining force for Grammy Award–winning musician Kristian Bush, who helps pass it on through his support of Girls Rock Camp (ATL). The nonprofit hosts weeklong summer music camps for girls ages 10 to 16, using drums, guitar, and keyboard workshops to develop their self-esteem and express themselves. “How do you empower a girl? The only sword I have is music,” says the dad of two, who makes up one half of the band Sugarland and regularly donates instruments and equipment. “Anyway I can support empowering girls, I’m in.”
Jenn Hobby Rivera
The best day of Jenn Hobby Rivera and daughter Reese’s lives happened just 17 months after their worst day. In August 2016, the baby was diagnosed with a germ cell tumor at the base of her spine. She received four rounds of chemotherapy and surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Egleston hospital, and in January 2018, it was gone. Now, the Star 94.1 host is raising funds for research. “We don’t want other families to go through this. If we can fund research, we can either end childhood cancers or improve treatment.” Reese’s MaGIC Fund (named for the Malignant Germ Cell International Consortium, which Atlanta doctor Thomas Olson created with surgeons and oncologists worldwide) has raised $125,000 to date.