Quentin has learned that he can use his voice to spark change in his community. United Way of Greater Atlanta’s African-American Partnership helped him find his voice.   

Carita Jackson, associate executive director of the Andrew and Walter Young Family YMCA in Atlanta, speaks fondly of the teenager. She says after nearly two years of working with Quentin, she has seen him become a leader among his peers.  

Quentin is involved in AAP’s Build-A-Library program at the Andrew and Walter Young Family YMCA. AAP is a United Way of Greater Atlanta affinity group. They help provide books and other learning materials for YMCA and other locations across Greater AtlantaAAis celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with its fifth-annual Leadership Luncheon 

The partnership launched June 2000 under the African American Initiative moniker by Conchita Robinson and Charles Stephens with the purpose of increasing financial participation and volunteers from our community.  

AAP is open to donors with shared affinities for philanthropy, leadership and service, and members of AAP donate $1,000 a year or more to United Way of Greater Atlanta.  

Those funds go back into this community and help young men like Quentin see their true potential and how they can achieve it. That’s what your dollars help do for this community.  

Quentin has become a leader in his community. He was the first teen to win the Dr. Walter Young Unsung Hero Award, which is given to those that “selflessly give of their time and talents to help create positive change.”  

You can help others in Atlanta create positive change, join the African-American Partnership today. Email AAP@unitedwayatlanta.org to learn more. 

Gene Norman had just finished a long day at work — it was 2001, and Gene was working as a meteorologist for CBS-affiliate WGCL in Atlanta.

It was a Friday night, and a colleague of Gene’s was heading to a party once he left for the day.

“There was an event going on called the ‘Blue Lights in the Basement’ party near Underground Atlanta,” Gene says. “He [his friend] kind of dragged me to the event. We both worked in television, it was our last newscast and I just wanted to go home.”

But Gene obliged — luckily for him. If Gene hadn’t gone with his friend that evening, then he wouldn’t have met the love of his life.

The event was hosted by United Way of Greater Atlanta’s African-American Partnership.

AAP had only been formed a year prior. On Feb. 29, 2020, AAP celebrates its 20th Anniversary with its fifth-annual Leadership Luncheon.

A few blocks away and a few hours prior to meeting Gene, Elaine Mitchell Norman, previous chief information officer of United Way of Greater Atlanta, was encouraged by a friend of hers to go to the event — it had been a “long, busy day” for her, as well.

“It was just one of those things,” Elaine says. “I had had a long, busy day, and I was like, ‘Oh, now I got to go to this thing.’ I had to rush home, get dressed and it seemed like just about everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong.
“I couldn’t get my stockings to cooperate, I couldn’t find a parking space. But I finally found the place, and as I walked in, the first thing I could see was this crowd of women and they were all pointing and looking, and I was like, ‘What’s happening over there?’”

Gene says he and his colleague were “fairly well known” — after all, they had been on TV every night that week. So, a crowd formed around the two of them.

“The event was great, and it was exciting,” he says. “They had lights and music and everything, so it was fun. I reached over and tapped this lady on the shoulder and said, ‘Would you like to dance?’”

The women in Elaine’s group were all talking about these two single guys from TV, and she says they were talking about Gene’s colleague when she felt the tap on her shoulder.

“I turn around, and it’s Gene Norman,” she says. “We started dancing, and right after we started, it felt like the lights came on for the event to be over. This was an event that usually went until around 2 a.m. or something, and this time it was around midnight.”

Gene didn’t want his time with Elaine to end, though. He asked her if she wanted to go out for coffee and dessert at Café Intermezzo.

“We talked and talked, and at some point, they actually came and tapped us on the shoulder to say it was closing time,” Gene says.

Elaine says the servers were looking at her with arms crossed, visibly upset. Unbeknownst to her, they had flipped over chairs, put them on the tabletops and closed the registers for the night. The two were the only people in the restaurant.

“It was like 4 a.m.,” Elaine says with a laugh. “We didn’t even know we had talked that long.”

Gene and Elaine parted ways that morning, but the two started dating and went on to get married about a year and a half later.

“We’ve been dancing together ever since,” Elaine says.

It’s been close to two decades since they met, and the two have moved on to other jobs and out of the area. They spent time in Houston before moving back to the Greater Atlanta region in the past few years. The 20th anniversary of AAP has given Gene and Elaine each a chance to reconnect with the organization they both used to be so involved in — a chance to give back to a group that has given them both so much.

“It’s because of AAP that I am now married,” Gene says.

United Way of Greater Atlanta’s African-American Partnership was established 20 years ago to engage an underrepresented population of United Way giving societies.

The partnership launched June 2000 under the African American Initiative moniker by Conchita Robinson and Charles Stephens with the purpose of increasing financial participation and volunteers from our community — there was also this real desire to make United Way’s donor base more reflective of the demographics in Atlanta where they serve. AAP committed itself to addressing achievement gaps and improving outcomes for African-American boys and young men in the Greater Atlanta region by offering resources and mentorship.

AAP is open to donors with shared affinities for philanthropy, leadership and service, and members of AAP donate $1,000 a year or more to United Way of Greater Atlanta. Currently, AAP has more than 1,000 members and raises more than $2 million annually.

That money feeds into United Way’s overall goal of improving the well-being of more than 250,000 children in Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties by 2027.

To give back to your community and help power the potential of African-American boys and young men, join the African-American Partnership. Email AAP@unitedwayatlanta.org to learn more.

United Way of Greater Atlanta’s African-American Partnership has about 1,000 members that bring in more than $2.6 million annually to the nonprofit.

But how did this affinity group grow to this size and get to this point?

Three of the group’s founding members met Nov. 15, 2019 to discuss AAP’s humble beginnings at a special breakfast for current and past AAP Cabinet members. The event was a part of AAP’s yearlong celebration of 20 years — AAP will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Feb. 20, 2020 at its fifth-annual Leadership Luncheon.

On Nov. 15, Nan Thomas, AAP’s first director, Former Major Gifts Director Wes Wicker and former United Way intern Rev. Aaron McLeod met for a panel discussion about AAP’s formation.

“From my perspective, the story of AAP is a story of diversity and inclusion,” McLeod said. “I had the opportunity to work with Wes to bring this idea to fruition.
“We were trying to identify and make a business case for why we should endeavor to build this program, particularly to ensure our major gift giving was reflective of our demographics in Atlanta.”

Wicker says he came to Atlanta from another United Way in Indianapolis where he had collaborated previously with Charles Stephens and other fundraising professionals. Fast forward six years, and Wicker says he and Charles Stephens were each back in Atlanta.

Wicker says Stephens wanted to launch an African-American Initiative similar to one he had been a part of in Indianapolis. The two knew Atlanta had a real opportunity to be successful in this venture.

“We all knew that Atlanta is the mecca and hub of entrepreneurism and business in the African-American community, and perhaps the U.S.,” Wicker says. “If Indianapolis can do it, then certainly Atlanta can do it.”

The partnership launched June 2000 originally under the African American Initiative moniker by Conchita Robinson and Charles Stephens with the purpose of increasing financial participation and volunteers from our community — there was also this real desire to make United Way’s donor base more reflective of the demographics in Atlanta where they serve.

AAP committed itself to addressing achievement gaps and improving outcomes for African-American boys and young men in the Greater Atlanta region by offering resources and mentorship.

AAP is open to donors with shared affinities for philanthropy, leadership and service, and members of AAP donate $1,000 a year or more to United Way of Greater Atlanta.

Thomas was named AAP’s first director — she says she started the same night as a fundraising party, and she joked that was the night the party ended.

Thomas says while staff was “slim,” everybody was willing to help one another. She was thankful for volunteers and interns like McLeod and then leadership like Wicker.

She said AAP had to engage in a lot of discussion throughout the African-American community — unfortunately, the discussion wasn’t always “positive.”

“United Way didn’t always enjoy a positive reputation,” Thomas says. “There were people who remembered when United Way wasn’t African-American friendly. They would say things like, ‘I remember when it was two different fundraising events and black folks raised money over here, white folks raised money over there.’”

But Thomas believed in the potential of this partnership, and that’s what drove her.

“If you know what you’re selling is good, you’ll convince a lot of people a lot of things,” Thomas says. “That’s what we did.”

McLeod says the group identified peers and their corporations and affinity groups and asked them to “join their endeavor.”

“We overcame some hard questions, but we were from the tribe of ‘figure it out,’” he says. “The efficiency of scale got better over the years. I can’t believe how it has grown and been sustainable over the years.”

Thomas says that “everybody had a place” in the formation of AAP. She thanked Aaron for being a champion for AAP and engaging in discussions with local community leaders and business owners.

Wicker agreed with Thomas.

“When Aaron first came into my department as an intern, he was a young, 20-year-old, incredibly shy guy,” Wicker says. “It’s somewhat humorous today that he’s a preacher in Chicago.”

McLeod talks about that first gift AAP received.

“I’ll never forget the first person to sign up — his name was Ken Samuels,” McLeod says. “He came in with a silver briefcase. [Former United Way CEO] Mark O’Connell was very interested in understanding why [Samuels] was making his gift. He asked him, ‘Why are you giving?’ and he said, ‘Because it’s my responsibility to show up and make sure [the African-American community is] doing [its] part.’”

Thomas said it was humbling to see the growth spanning two decades. She said it has been a “great ride,” and she thanked all of those people in attendance.

McLeod said he was gracious for the opportunity to serve United Way and thankful for the opportunity to grow and develop at United Way as a young intern. He was thankful, again, to be included in this story of diversity and culture change at United Way.

“You never know the impact of being able to see somebody who looks like you,” McLeod says. “I can’t say again how proud I am to see the diversity of the room, and not only of the Atlanta business community, but United Way as well — it means a lot to me that we’ve got a black man as CEO of this organization.
“I ask that you continue to give and be a presence, and show up and watch our community continue to grow and be safe.”

The Rev. Aaron J. McLeod enters through the lobby of Lowdermilk Conference Center at 40 Courtland St. NE. at the new offices of United Way of Greater Atlanta.

McLeod hasn’t been in the new facility, and he hasn’t been to United Way in years. He works now as a reverend and attorney in Chicago, Illinois. But, long before that, while he was still a business student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, McLeod worked as an intern and one of the founders of the African-American Partnership Affinity Group at United Way.

McLeod makes his way up the stairs to a meeting room where he’s supposed to find present and past AAP members in an anniversary breakfast for the group’s 20th year. He turns the corner at the top of the stairs and one of the major gift officers points McLeod to an adjacent room. Once he enters the room, he sees former director of Major Gifts Wes Wicker and the first-ever director of AAP Nan Thomas.

Wicker stands up in his chair, and McLeod embraces his friend and then Thomas, the three of them exclaim how great it is to see one another again.

United Way of Greater Atlanta’s African-American Partnership was established 20 years ago to engage an underrepresented population of United Way giving societies.

APP celebrates its 20th anniversary this year with its fifth-annual Leadership Luncheon on Feb. 29, 2020.

The partnership launched June 2000 under an African American Initiative moniker by Conchita Robinson and Charles Stephens with the purpose of increasing financial participation and volunteers from our community — there was also this real desire to make United Way’s donor base more reflective of the demographics in Atlanta where they serve. AAP committed itself to addressing achievement gaps and improving outcomes for African-American boys and young men in the Greater Atlanta region by offering resources and mentorship.

AAP is open to donors with shared affinities for philanthropy, leadership and service, and members of AAP donate $1,000 a year or more to United Way of Greater Atlanta. Currently, AAP has more than 1,000 members and raises more than $2 million annually.

It’s by chance that McLeod was able to make this appearance, he says.

“By chance, I picked up the phone call from [AAP Director] Bryan Vinson telling me about these yearlong planned events to celebrate the 20 years of AAP, and he just made my morning,” McLeod says.

He was proud to see how the group’s initial work had come “full circle.”

“To see the quality of work that has transpired over the years — the community vision that I was fortunate to be a part of — is still in fruition today is humbling,” McLeod says.

McLeod says when the group first launched AAP, some of the biggest challenges were getting a buy-in from the staff and community. At the time, he saw how the organization’s Women’s Initiative had been flourishing, and similarly, the African-American community wanted to be a part of the “movers and shakers in the business community” and run a similarly reputable program.

McLeod started as an intern at United Way as an underclassman at Morehouse, and he said United Way was “the opportunity that [he] had” at the time.

“We had brothers going to Wall Street, we had brothers going downtown Peachtree Street to the banking world,” McLeod says. “Normally as an underclassman, you wouldn’t receive an internship, and I was fortunate enough instead of charting pathways or trails within the for-profit sector, I cut my teeth in the nonprofit sector.”

McLeod interned for four summers at the “leading nonprofit in the Atlanta business community.”

When working to build AAP, McLeod said he worked to remove any previous misconceptions about the old United Way.

“United Way was historically very white, very powerful and very successful,” he says. “As we were trying to champion diversity, we were, at that time, starting to make some headway. It was all about providing access to business leadership.”

McLeod says there was initial skepticism about AAP from white and black employees at United Way, but this opened up discussions and allowed more people to have input on the tone of printed materials and messaging for the group.

He said he and Wicker and Thomas met regularly with the likes of Robinson, Stephens and Dr. Johnnetta Cole to ensure the group was pushing to “reach African-Americans within this space.”

“We had very pointed conversations about having targets that were achievable and those that were unachievable that went past our comfortability when looking for people to give at the leadership level, minimally,” he says. “What it showed was our team cared, and they wanted to be engaged, and they wanted AAP to be successful. We were just working diligently. Nobody was trying to thwart anything.”

There was a lot of ingenuity and “bootstrapping” to ensure the program was done right, McLeod says. He said he and other fundraisers went into the African-American community to find people to champion the initiative.

McLeod encourages others to join AAP. Members benefit directly from networking and, most importantly, they get a seat at the table where you can volunteer and have an impact on different investments in your community, he says.

So, fast-forward 20 years later, McLeod is proud of how far AAP has come. He sees a level of leadership and strength that he thinks will only continue to grow.

“When you work with quality people, have a top-notch vision that is rooted in selflessness and this whole notion of pooling our resources together— if you do something for someone along the way, your living won’t be in vain,” he says. “The life of AAP is flourishing, and it will continue to flourish for years because it is rooted in something that is very, very good.”