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. 20, 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.