The Beloved Community: Building Sustainable Ecosystems in the Black Community.

We cannot talk about rebuilding failed black communities unless we understand we’re not talking about dealing with dilapidated housing, environmental pollution and the absence of fresh food and grocery stores. We must understand we’re dealing with a failed ecosystem in the community. There is a symbiotic relationship between failing schools, depressed housing values, high crime, people living at or below the poverty line, energy poverty and chronic health issues. Everything is interconnected and impacts the ecosystem in the community.

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The Death of the Black Community: No Grocery Stores

In Birmingham, Alabama an IBM smarter cities study revealed that 80% of the population was living in a food desert. Out of the 151 square miles of the City of Birmingham, 43 square miles is considered to be a “Food Desert”, where over 88,000 people reside. 83% of the residents impacted are Black and Latino with no access to fresh food.  The USDA considers an area a Food Desert where a person has to travel over a mile to get access to fresh fruits, vegetables, whole foods from supermarkets and farmer’s markets. Birmingham is not an anomaly, all across the country the USDA has identified that communities of color are disproportionately cut off from access to fresh food in a food desert. The data shows that if your community doesn’t have actual real grocery stores not Dollar General stores that don’t stock fresh food, not corner stores that stock unhealthy sugary junk food, but actual major grocery store chains, your community will not attract any other business development. The community will be more than a “food desert” but an economic wasteland.

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A Tale of Two Cities: Atlanta

On the surface you look at the Atlanta Mayoral race and it looks like a race between a two women, one black and one white. A race for the political control of a diverse city that has been democratically led for decades. Can the voters be objective and vote for the independent? Atlanta is in the midst of rapid city wide revitalization as evidenced by the cranes all across the skyline. As “smart city systems” come online who will be able to “Live Work and Play” in Atlanta. How can Atlanta be sustainable and resilient for ALL residents of every demographic and income level? Does having a white mayor end the reality of Atlanta being a “Black Mecca”? Does policy play a bigger role in who thrives or do you have to have black leadership in order for black people to thrive in the “city too busy to hate?”


What are we saying in 2017 if we have a white Mayor in a majority black city then it’s going to be bad for black communities? Historically this could be true but we also have to look at historically in Atlanta since 1974, how have traditional black communities fared under black mayors. I wish we could get past “black and white” in the South and deal with policy but unfortunately since the Atlanta Riots in 1906, race has always been a specter in Atlanta politics. My agenda is about putting low to moderate communities at the forefront of the political discussion. One of Atlanta’s most famous citizens said:

“As long as there is poverty in this world, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars.”- Dr. King, “The American Dream” speech, 1961.

“God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.” – Dr. King, “Strength to Love”, 1963

When we talk about the future of Atlanta we have to look at this future holistically with every stakeholder in mind from those living below the poverty line to those who are living in Midtown in expensive condos. The idea of “Black Mecca” can’t be just about successful black people in a majority black city, we have to consider what those who are not “prospering” have to say about their own experience in Atlanta. In the video below a black woman tells why she is voting for Mary Norwood.



Is there economic progress in Atlanta well if you look at that the new Mercedes Benz stadium “yes, Atlanta is world class”. Yet I also must ask who gaining progress? There are some people who are advocating to “Keep Atlanta Black” but I ask for which black people? The Bad and Boujee who are eating at Houston’s or everyday black people who are eating at JJ Fish & Chicken? The black folks who are paraded on reality TV from Atlanta don’t represent the majority of people who live in Atlanta. So how do we measure progress? Ponce City Market? I still see the SAME homeless black men outside of Ponce City Market by the Starbucks that were there back in 2006 when it was City Hall East (I used to worked there). The data suggests that unfortunately in too many cases black leadership has not served the everyday people they represent like they do the billionaires and celebs they gala with. What does Atlanta look like where Big Mama lives?.


-22.5% of the population in Atlanta, GA (434,759 people) live below the poverty line, a number that is higher than the national average of 14.7%. The largest demographic living in poverty is Female 25-34, followed by Female 18-24 and then Male 18-24. <—THESE ARE BLACK FOLKS!!! (link for data)

-the majority of black folks who have been represented by black city council people —> make less than $25,000 a year, look at the areas below in light blue, this is where black folks live and have been represented by black political leaders. Why can’t we talk about the obvious? Why can’t we expect our elected leadership to do more for our vote besides just get the vote “just cause?”.
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Below the map shows the areas in red where people who don’t have access to a vehicle in the Atlanta Metro area. Some affluent people will say “Just ride MARTA” but they may not have had to get around on MARTA before. I have it’s an ordeal as this person describes below.

“MARTA makes my 12-minute commute by car into a two-hour ordeal involving a bus, a train, another bus, and a third bus. . . . I don’t know anyone who rides MARTA by choice. It’s always poor people, disabled people who can’t drive, or people who’ve lost their license due to DUI.” –http://commuting.blog.ajc.com/2015/05/29/how-to-make-marta-even-smarta/

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– Again The largest demographic living in poverty is BLACK Female 25-34, followed by Female 18-24 and then Male 18-24.

“The recession in Atlanta was particularly brutal for everyone—rich and poor, city and suburban. The housing market took a beating and dragged the whole metropolitan economy down with it,” says Alan Berube, a senior fellow at Brookings and one of the report’s co-authors. “The region is now recovering, but rather unequally.” The USDA considers “poorly stocked corner stores” as supermarkets. Most of the areas black people live in don’t have a Whole Foods, Sprouts, Fresh Market, or Trader Joe’s or Publix. How is it that black elected leadership doesn’t understand the people they serve need fresh organic healthy food too like the white folks? We can’t “Live Work Play” if we can’t eat healthy? These are not “new issues” and it’s sad that in a Democratic city, a black Mecca that you have these systemic issues impacting traditional neighborhoods for decades.
(link to data and maps)

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– Home Values the predominately white northside and the predominately black southside is stark: Homes in North Dekalb have appreciated by as much as 40 percent while homes in South DeKalb have depreciated by 40 percent. (link to data)

For example, one homeowner says the home he bought in 2005 for $269,000 was recently valued at $189,000 when he tried to refinance his mortgage.

“It just does not make sense,” he said. “You’ve got doctors, lawyers, teachers, all kinds of professional people, retired military like myself, who’ve done everything right — everything right — and it never seems to work out in our favor.” (Why doesn’t the elected leadership have the answers Sway?)

– The Worst performing schools in GA —> Four school districts in the core metro Atlanta area were represented on the list: Atlanta Public Schools and the DeKalb County School District each had 16, the most of any district in the state; Fulton County had eight and Clayton County had one. (link to data)

– In a region that prides itself on celebrity chefs and lush farmers markets, half a million people live without access to something as basic as a grocery store. (See below)
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– the safest neighborhoods in Atlanta are the white neighborhoods not the black neighborhoods who is to blame for this? Republicans who are not in charge? (link to data)
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-There seems to be this HATE for the Homeless in Atlanta has as it was ranked No. 4 “Most Neediest Cities”. Thousands are homeless and Researchers counted approximately 3,374 homeless youth in metro Atlanta — almost triple the number of people counted in previous surveys. The report found three-quarters were African-American and a little more than half were male. A little more than half of the males were between the ages of 20 to 25 years old. Less than 5 percent of the youth were minors. And nearly one-third identified as LGBT. (link to data)
BLACK ATLANTA IS A TALE OF TWO CITIES, I love T.I. and all the black celebs but the average black person in Atlanta don’t ride Wraith and live in a mansion YET our politicians too often cater to that black constituency more than Big Mama who lives on Cleveland Ave. We have to define what “Voting Black Means”, who does it benefit? We can’t keep ignoring the reality of everyday folk in order to showcase The Bad and Boujee Utopian Dream in Atlanta. Too much of Atlanta is like the 1970s sitcom “Good Times” where people are “scratching and surviving…Good Times” and the blame can’t be solely placed on republicans. Atlanta’s future is promising but we have to make a more inclusive city for all it’s stakeholders regardless of social class. Atlanta just can’t be a black mecca for a few people in order for it to be the world class city it aims to be. The city has to graduate and be a Mecca for everybody, regardless of shade of skin color (Asians, Latinos, Black White everybody should win) And this blog is #NoShade it’s about considering everybody from the homeless to those in the suites in the new Mercedes Benz Stadium. Let’s be True to Atlanta in the spirit of Honorable Maynard Jackson and include everybody in the progress.

GENTRIFICATION: Public Housing, Hipsters and ‘The Trap’

When we think about Public Housing and welfare, what images come to mind? the faces of black people, namely single mothers with multiple children. Public Housing was created by the government as a “New Deal” for middle and low income white American citizens. The suburbs through policies of redlining were created to give white people access to home ownership and generational wealth. Whereas black people were denied access and forced to live in black communities which the government marginalized their housing values. Now were seeing the cycle reversed, white hipsters are fleeing the suburbs and returning to fertile gentrified inner city communities, while black residents who were forced to live in these historically black communities are being displaced to the suburbs. The caveat is their being displaced to the black suburbs where housing values still have not recovered from the Housing crisis of 2008.

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Equity and Opportunity in the Green Economy

Can we designate a city as a “Smart City” if equity is not a central component of the sustainable development goals? Will opportunity be available to all stakeholders in the community? I recently had the honor of moderating a panel for the national NAACP conference for the Environmental and Climate Justice (ECJ) Program Workshop, Bridging the Gap: Connecting Communities of Color to the Green Economy. Where we addressed the issues of equity and opportunity in the “Green Economy”.

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Can America Fight Energy Poverty with Solar Power?

Energy Poverty is defined as when a household spends more than 10% of their income on energy costs. In America there are several places shown on a map using census and federal energy data shows where energy costs are 50% of the incomes. The poor cannot afford higher energy costs. Can America fight Energy Poverty with Solar Power? The average cost to install residential solar power is almost $17,000 in 2017. Who living below the poverty line has an extra $17,000 laying around?

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Smart Cities, Big Data and The Matrix

As I sit in this session “Defining Smart City Governance — Architectures of Co-creation and Integration” hosted by Georgia Tech’s Serve Learn Sustain we discussed how to frame smart cities and connected communities. This session was apart of the  Integrated Network for Social Sustainability 2017 Conference. We collaborated with live feeds from conference sites in Lima, Peru; Baltimore, Maryland; Atlanta, Georgia; and Charlotte, North Carolina.  We are faced with the challenges of utilizing big data to build better communities but if were not careful the data can further marginalize frontline communities.  How do we avoid system failure? How do we know the difference between good data and bad data? What is the objective of the data accumulation and who owns the data and has access to it? The “machines”, all these millions of sensors connected to the internet of things are monitoring everything from our movement in the cities, the impacts of climate change to geosurveillance.  The data gathered from the machines present outcomes to decision makers who often are driven by economic outcomes not human outcomes.


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The Link Between Energy Security and Building Sustainability

We will not be able to solve the world’s energy challenges unless we are committed to solving the world’s poverty challenges. Building Smart Cities, the Green Economy and Sustainable Development goals cannot be reached without dealing with poverty. Energy Poverty is a crisis that has to addressed just as we address the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. How do we bridge the gap between energy poverty and the green economy? Read more

Smart Cities Innovation and the role of Energy

Smart Cites is a concept that is not coming but it’s already here. Cities all over the globe and in America are in the process of transforming their urban centers into more efficient, resilient, sustainable and livable spaces for citizens to be able to “Live, Work and Play” in. The Smart Cities Council defines a smart city as one that has digital technology embedded across all city functions. The challenge is not just getting these functions to work in sync but how do we “power” everything? The last 8 years the government promoted a Clean Power Plan as the energy solution to build our smart city frameworks. . Is switching energy sources simple as switching one Lego block for another is it “plug and play”.Can cities just swap out their entire electric power grids to renewable energy? Would that be “smart” to do?

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Building Sustainability with Refugee Populations #SDG11

In an effort to help achieve the United Nations Global Goals, our coalition focused on goal #11 “SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND COMMUNITIES” – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Clarkston, GA is a refugee resettlement enclave right outside of Atlanta, Ga. Areas within this Clarkston neighborhood lie outside the Clarkston city and in the unincorporated county, and as a result there is a fundamental lack of any support for regular public maintenance. Currently, the sidewalks and paths our children try to use to walk to and from school (both Indian Creek Elementary and Clarkston High School) have become nothing more than a pile of mud and pine needle detritus a foot deep in places. Join PURE  and our partners Georgia Tech Serve and Learn, Friends of Refugees and the King Center for a special service project as we highlight the larger struggle for transportation and pedestrian safety with our county leadership, while modeling the act of taking responsibility for the immediate solution in the midst of seeking a permanent change.

Please watch the video of the service project:


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