What Difference Do Our Differences Make?

There but for the grace of God go I.

Creative Loafing photo credit

Creative Loafing photo credit

A recent Atlanta Journal Constitution article by Bill Torpy highlighted the funding crisis for homeless shelters in Fulton County. He points out that in spite of some incredible success stories of programs that have served thousands of homeless men, military veterans, women and children, and the work of the Gateway Center, there is still more work to do. Torpy adds homelessness to the running tally of Great 21st Century American Challenges, which include public education, job development, hunger, affordable housing, and affordable healthcare.

It appears from the article that Fulton County is having second thoughts about their responsibility for funding the human service needs of some of its residents. The same might be said about the State of Georgia as well. Whatever we were doing right for homelessness, we need to get back to doing. There is more hard work to do. Some of that work requires more money–not less. And it means a serious commitment to finding resources not just reordering priorities and shuffling line items in budgets.

A team of 25 civic minded, fully engaged volunteers had the nerve in 2003 to tackle homelessness in a different way. They forged a partnership with dozens of nonprofit organizations across the region to create the seven-county Atlanta Regional Commission on Homelessness. The group was under the awesome and committed leadership of retired attorney Horace Sibley in partnership with then United Way of Metro Atlanta CEO, Mark O’Connell. They along with Jack Hardin, Nancy Boxill, Debi Starnes, Bonnie Ware, Rev. Jim Milner, Bill Bolling, Elizabeth Omilami, and others set the region on a course to improve the lives of those who found themselves homeless. Many people were locked out of services, disenfranchised of their rightful benefits and completely isolated from any chance to get back on their feet. A few trusting foundations, some local and state government funding and individual donors resulted in an infusion of $60 million in seven years of new funding for substantive, reasonable programs to address the urgent needs of metro Atlanta’s most needy.

Talking about this in hindsight might give you the impression this was easy work, one grant or one speech and the work was done. No, this was hard work that took months of research, collaboration and planning. We had to put aside our differences, listen to the people we served, be attentive to the challenges of those organizations on the frontline and disregard our differences. This problem was bigger than any differences we might have had. We had to be flexible and respectable that in some cases those we wanted to serve didn’t want our intervention. A few organizations chose not to join the effort. And that was okay, they had every right to refuse assistance, because their specific mission was different and they didn’t want to get away from their purpose.

We can dwell on what didn’t happen but the more compelling stories are of those 7,000 people served by the Gateway Center last year, thousands of women and children served by City of Refuge and the dozens of families served by Odyssey Villas. None of these organizations existed in 2003. And there are the stories of dozens of veterans who have resettled into apartments with the help of federal grants and local donations.

I know and love an Atlanta that works to get things right. An Atlanta that cares as much about those in need as we do our own success, that can unite to raise $60 million for homelessness, and in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Maynard Jackson–doesn’t give up. As mayor, I often referenced the legacies of Mayors Allen and Young as examples of men who were willing to work through the City’s historic and cultural differences in order to make a difference. In tribute to their efforts and so many others, I know that Atlanta is smart enough to find answers to the tough questions surrounding homelessness.

I Am Not My Hair-Part II

ArmyLast week, the women of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) sent a request to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to review the United States Army grooming and appearance regulations that have some black female soldiers troubled. For many African American women, the dialogue about hair in relation to performance or talent is a tired and old conversation.  From Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas to anchor news desks around the country, hair and professionalism are being defined by standards targeted against African American women.

The Army banned dreadlocks in 2005 and this new regulation goes further than the ban by explaining the diameter of braids and twists, which can be low maintenance alternatives to dreadlocks. Primarily Africa American women wear the prohibited styles. It is no surprise that the military has rules regarding grooming, the primary issue for many who are disturbed by this revision is the assumption that the hairstyles are “unprofessional”. The charge is that the regulations are “racially biased” since the changes would primarily impact African American women.

The April 10 letter was sent to Hagel from Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, the Congressional Black Caucus Chair, and it said, “African American women have often been required to meet unreasonable norms as it relates to acceptable standards of grooming in the workplace…….New cultural norms and trends naturally change, ensuring that no person feels targeted or attacked based on his or her appearance.”
There is no argument that our Defense Department has greater issues than the hairstyles of its soldiers but this is not about hairstyles or looking professional in fatigues or in combat. Sergeant Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard who started a petition to get the required 100,000 signatures to reconsider the regulation is raising the conversation of racial bias in the military up to the White House.

The petition reads: More than 30% of females serving in the military are of a race other than white. As of 2011, 36% of females in the U.S. army hairstated that they are natural, or refrain from chemically processing their hair. Females with natural hair take strides to style their natural hair in a professional manner when necessary; however, changes to AR 670-1 offer little to no options for females with natural hair. In the proposed changes, unauthorized hairstyles include twists, both flat twists as well as two strand twists; as well as dreadlocks, which are defined as “any matted or locked coils or ropes of hair.” These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent. This policy needs to be reviewed prior to publishing to allow for neat and maintained natural hairstyles.

Currently the petition has about 15,000 signatures of the required 100,000 for the White House to review it.  Whether the petition gets the required signatures is not nearly as important as the conversation taking place about fair treatment for women enlistees. Sergeant Jacobs wears twists in part because it is an easy to maintain style for the job she does. If the petition does not get the required signatures or the CBC does not convince Secretary Hagel to reconsider the regulations, Jacobs will have to cut her hair, straighten it or wear a wig to be in compliance.



Lyndon B. Johnson Legacy Celebration: Civil Rights Summit



Starting today the four-day celebration begins at the University of Texas-Austin. The highlight of the week’s events include speeches by President Obama and three of his predecessors – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  Other participants include John Lewis, Andy Young, Julian Bond, Maria Shriver, Billie Jean King and Bernice King. Atlanta will be well represented on the panels, at the dinners and on news shows.

While Johnson is credited with championing the most sweeping Civil Rights legislation of the 20th century, he’s rarely mentioned among the greatest presidents. One of my LBJ School colleagues remembers a 1990′s University of Texas history class on United States Presidents that omitted Johnson.  Johnson’s War on Poverty legislation included the creation of HUD, the Fair Housing Act, Legal Services, Medicare, Jobs Corps, and Community Action Agencies. These are paired with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Immigration Reform Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. His 1964 State of the Union address to the Congress laid out his aggressive agenda.

Johnson is credited as one of the most effective politicians in the history of our country because he knew how to get things done and used the office to wrangle the votes needed to change America. It is said he knew the changes would make him and his party unpopular but he was determined to lead the charge for political change to achieve economic and social justice for all Americans.

Below find various links to the 50th anniversary celebration, Civil Rights Summit.

Are Politicians Role Models?

BowserThis week, Washington D.C. elected Muriel Bowser as the Democratic nominee in the race for the next mayor. She defeated first term Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) who federal prosecutors have accused of allegedly having knowledge of a campaign scheme by one of his donors. The ‘shadow campaign’ and accusations of quid pro quo put Mayor Gray under significant scrutiny as he sought to be reelected. The Mayor has denied having any knowledge of a shadow campaign to help him win in his 2010 race.

Another DC candidate lost his seat after his colleagues cited him for ethics violations.  The fifth-term councilmember, Jim Graham lost to first-time council candidate Brianne Nadeau. Councilman Graham was the subject of several investigations involving code of conduct violations.  His colleagues subsequently reprimanded him in February 2013. The investigations found that he tried to bargain with bidders for a lucrative contract and attempted to use his power for personal gain.

And in San Francisco Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) was the subject of an investigation of public corruption and arms trafficking. Federal agents this week continued to search his office.

Even in Atlanta, Georgia’s former state ethics commission director, Stacey Kalberman is in the courtroom where she has alleged in a lawsuit that commissioners retaliated against her and she lost her job for pursuing an investigation into Governor Nathan Deal’s campaign spending.

Are political leaders role models? Of course they are.  While that may be an unwanted and reluctant role, there is no question that voters have an expectation of trust in those who choose to serve. Ethics and politics are inseparable.  The cost of political office is often microscopic scrutiny and persistent challenges to the public’s trust. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “When a man assumes a public trust he should consider himself a public property.”

Maynard H. Jackson: Setting the Record Straight – Cecelia Corbin Hunter

As we celebrate the 76th birthday of Maynard Holbrook Jackson we are reminded of his many accomplishments, those he mentored and his love of the city of Atlanta. The video below is another in the video series capturing some of the stories of his most faithful and loyal supporters.

There are hundreds of stories to tell about Atlanta’s first African American mayor. It is my hope this series will serve as the basis for others to tell their stories.  Each person was asked to describe their relationship with Jackson, to reflect on the lessons they learned from him and to offer their perspective on his legacy. To many people, the lessons learned have not been forgotten and have guided them in their professional decisions today. Many women are part of this video series because Jackson brought more women to leadership positions than any of his predecessors.

This is just a small segment of the Cecelia Corbin Hunter interview. She served on Jackson’s team during all three terms and shares her story of Jackson’s impact on her professional career and his high standard of expectation.

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Maynard H. Jackson: Setting the Record Straight

Shortly after leaving the Mayor’s Office in 2010, I began collecting stories of friends and colleagues of Maynard H. Jackson to begin to fill the void of firsthand accounts of his service to Atlanta as mayor. The interview series consists of nearly 16 hours of personal interviews from 22 subjects. Maynard touched the lives of many Atlantans. This series of interviews, Maynard H. Jackson: Setting the Record Straight, is yet another glimpse of the man and the politician.

Works Not Words Offer the Best Solution to Poverty

PaulRyan-npr photo

PaulRyan-npr photo

Last week on Bill Bennett’s radio program, House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R-WI) made some comments that can only be described as uninformed and insulting regarding the issue of poverty in American cities.  He said, “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

Ryan was addressing a report on poverty that he released earlier which detailed his version how federal spending was impacting our nation’s poor. The reaction was swift from journalists, political pundits, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to the Congressional Black Caucus. Ryan’s views on poverty are neither new nor surprising but the recurring attack on race and class in this country under the guise of the federal budget and big government is disingenuous and ridiculous rhetoric. The Lyndon B. Johnson war on poverty 50 years ago did not end poverty but his political response to a policy issue  cannot be understated or denied. The LBJ administration responded to poverty with action not rhetoric. The government raised the minimum wage; created programs to train and educate Americans for better jobs, provided rent subsidies and student loans as well as enacted Medicaid and Medicaid for those who could not afford healthcare.

The Congressional Black Caucus has invited Rep. Paul D. Ryan to a CBC meeting where a more robust and thoughtful conversation on poverty might be possible. CBC Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio has said that she thinks it could be a teachable moment, let’s hope so.


Get to Know Jason Carter

JasonCarterWe like what we hear and know about him and what he stands for. Watch State Senator Jason Carter’s passionate remarks on the Lakeside Cityhood Bill. He is smart, he is seeking practical solutions, he believes in honest discourse and inclusion and he is a man of integrity.  It looks like a new day in Georgia politics.

We invite you to get to know Jason Carter, visit his campaign site, volunteer and contribute to his race to be Georgia’s next governor.

“It’s Borderline”



I learned a general ethical principle in politics nearly 40 years ago–if it’s borderline then don’t do it. If the ethics decision compromises your reputation, implies a conflict of interest or causes public suspicion–Don’t consider it. Stay as far away from it as humanly possible. Don’t get involved publicly or privately. Stay the heck away.

The latest victim of getting too close to the ethical fall line is Georgia Senator and Republican First Congressional District candidate Buddy Carter. He introduced S. B. 408 that would regulate pharmacy benefits managers, impose certain requirements for the use of maximum allowable cost pricing by those managers and quite possibly benefit pharmacists and pharmacy owners like him.

When Fox Atlanta reporter Dale Russell asked Carter about the obvious ethical conflict and whether he should have carried the bill he replied, “Obviously, it’s borderline.”

As a pharmacist and the owner of three pharmacies, the conflict of interest seems obvious. What was he thinking? I suspect he was thinking of himself and not the people of Georgia. The bill failed to make Crossover Day but Carter hasn’t given up on trying to get the bill attached to another bill.

Click here to see Fox Atlanta Reporter Dale Russell’s story

Don’t Believe the Hype

PE-dontbelieveGeorgia Democrats have a lot at stake in November. The changing demographics of Georgia voters have local and national politicos abuzz about Georgia. Democrats are looking to expand their footprint and many think the first step to making Georgia a targeted state in the 2016 Presidential election is a strong showing among statewide democratic candidates this year. Thankfully, Democrats have fielded their strongest slate of statewide candidates in recent memory.

Qualifying ends tomorrow for candidates seeking office this year and the campaigning should begin in earnest. There will be many advisors who will tell Georgia candidates to run away from the national democratic talking points – expanding healthcare, raising the minimum wage, and women’s rights. Don’t follow their advice.

Don’t make the common mistake of trying to convince the voters that won’t vote for you to vote for you. Spend your time, energy, and money talking to voters who will vote for you. Talk to them about issues that are likely to appeal to them.

Expanding healthcare, raising the minimum wage, and protecting women’s rights are no-brainers for democratic voters and all three issues will likely appeal to independent voters in Georgia. Our Republican friends will try and make these issues evil. They will try to make voters believe that these issues are part of a fictitious national scheme to raise taxes and take away their rights.

All three of these platform points will appeal to the average voter. Women’s rights was a major platform of President Obama’s historic 2012 presidential victory. The President racked up huge margins in swing states among women. Regarding healthcare, every poll on the issue reveals that Georgians are in favor of expanding Medicaid to insure the uninsured. And raising the minimum wage is part of the populist message that succeeded in several contested elections last year.

Georgia Democrats can win this November, but we must appeal to the everyday voters. We can’t let Republicans hijack our message and trick the majority of voters to vote against their self-interests.

Candidates – Don’t believe the hype.

Voters want healthcare. They need the minimum wage raised. And women want to control their bodies. Do not run away from these messages, run toward them.

Governor, what is the Option?

Online Athens

Online Athens

There have been numerous local and national commentaries on the remarks made by Governor Deal last week in which he said the uninsured should be turned away from emergency rooms because it is too expensive to care for them.

Deal said at an event held at the University of Georgia, “I think we should be able in this passage of time to figure out ways to deal with those situations but not have the excessive costs associated with unnecessary visits to the emergency room.”

It is no secret in Georgia that Deal does not support the Affordable Care Act and has refused to support the expansion of Medicaid that would offer thousands of Georgians much needed healthcare benefits.  A federal government 1986 law required hospitals to provide emergency care whether patients were citizens or they had the ability to pay. Even staunch progressives would argue that seeking emergency care instead of preventive care is expensive no matter how you look at it.  But if you don’t want to expand Medicaid to meet the needs of low-income citizens and you want to close the doors to emergency rooms for desperate patients who can’t afford to go anywhere else. Governor, what is the option?

It is easy to become mired in statistics, budget lingo and the righteous indignation that affords those who have healthcare options to discuss disenfranchising others. And for those who would debate the merits of what is governments’ moral obligation to its citizenry. The answer should never be the horrible consequences of denying the least among us because it is fiscally responsible to do so. It is outrageous and incorrigible.