“We all have a challenge right now to build up the next generation,” said 11x NBA All-Star and 2x NBA Champion Chris Bosh. “Take on that challenge – especially when it’s hard.”

Bosh, alongside actor and budding filmmaker Kofi Siriboe, joined African-American Partnership (AAP) for its fifth-annual Leadership Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Atlanta.

AAP, a giving group from United Way of Greater Atlanta, is the premiere platform for African-American professionals to engage in philanthropy, leadership and service in the Greater Atlanta region. The group boasts more than 1,000 members and raises $2.6 million every year for United Way programming. It’s celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year and is honoring that legacy with a 20-year timeline and a collection of 20 stories about the impact the group has made in its lifetime.

For the past five years, AAP has been hosting the Leadership Luncheon in order to specifically benefit its Build a Library program.

Through Build a Library, United Way of Greater Atlanta and AAP collaborate to provide literature in youth-serving organizations where African-American youth play and learn. Build a Library ultimately became the cornerstone for AAP’s signature cause, Powering the Potential, which expanded the supports and educational efforts offered through the literacy program.

Through Powering the Potential, AAP partners with local nonprofits, after-school providers and Atlanta professionals to advance the academic achievement and long-term success of young African-American men and boys through year-round literacy and mentorship programs.

Neon Chapman, senior project manager for UPS and chairman for AAP, told the Leadership Luncheon audience about his own personal connection to the cause and the pertinent need for mentorship in the African-American community.

“I wanted to be someone who could put some good back into this world,” said Chapman. “But it wasn’t until I was 10 years old that I would understand just exactly how I could begin my personal journey to success.”

Chapman described how critical it was, at 10 years old, to see his father’s high school and college degrees hung on the walls in his childhood home in Baltimore, Maryland. Those degrees, combined with his parents’ desire for him to succeed, propelled him in his journey to and through college. But that need for positive reinforcement and guidance never faded.

“In the beginning of my life, I looked up to my mother and father,” said Chapman. “And I still do. But today, I also look up to the countless mentors who have stepped in to help me along my professional career path at UPS.”

Chapman called on audience members to consider taking up mentorship opportunities through AAP. The giving group hosts Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM)-related career expos that pair AAP members and prospective members with students from around the region for a day of workshops focused on learning about gainful employment opportunities in various fields. The event will be taking place again this year.

Milton J. Little, Jr., president and CEO of United Way of Greater Atlanta, called special attention to a student who was identified by an AAP volunteer at the STEAM-related career expo from 2018. Though bright and resourceful, the student had obstacles that were blocking his pathway to success.

“He was born to parents who both became incarcerated when he was young,” said Little. “He was living with his grandparents, who had supported him for almost his entire life.”

Little explained that while he was making the most out of his situation, this student needed the same supports that many others needed on their own paths to college.

So, over the course of the past year, United Way and the volunteer guided him through corporate and virtual school visits, helped him understand the financial aid process, showed him how to apply for scholarships and introduced him to alumni from various collegiate institutions.

“As a result of combining his hard work with these supports, we are proud to announce that he has his sights set on attending the likes of UGA, Morehouse… and the University of California, Berkeley,” said Little.

Little later stated the success of this student should become the standard, not the exception, as Powering the Potential continues to expand its efforts at six different sites across Greater Atlanta. It also continues to drive the progress of United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Child Well-Being Movement forward.

The Child Well-Being Movement is United Way’s continued commitment to ensuring that every child in Greater Atlanta has the opportunity to thrive. United Way defines thriving communities as those where babies are born healthy, kids read proficiently by third grade and teens graduate from high school ready for college and careers. Those conditions can only exist in areas where people are educated, employed and housed.

“We’ve seen that providing books through the Build a Library program opened a door to educational curiosity,” said Little. “Our Powering the Potential initiative expanded the realm of possibility for a successful future.”

Following Little’s remarks, Jovita Moore, anchor for Channel 2 Action News, took the stage to interview Kofi Siriboe about how mentorship helped carve his pathway to success.

“I’m grateful that my mom and dad, despite the circumstance, fought to give me the opportunity to explore and discover,” said Siriboe.

Siriboe also explained how other mentors helped him gain awareness about the need for positive mental health supports and open dialogues in his community.

His remarks were followed by an interview with Chris Bosh. The former NBA star commended AAP for its efforts through Powering the Potential.

“I was once one of those kids who needed a free lunch and a basketball program,” said Bosh. “You are touching the fabric of the community more than you know.”

At the event’s conclusion, Moore shared some closing remarks to send audience members home with the same heightened sense of purpose Bosh iterated.

“We’re celebrating AAP’s 20th Anniversary this year,” said Moore. “What will you contribute to AAP’s history? What legacy will you leave that can one day be put up on the timeline for AAP’s 40th anniversary celebration?”

With those words ringing in their head, attendees were pressed to join AAP and become a part of the group’s enduring legacy.

If you would like to join in the impactful work of AAP, visit the AAP landing page on United Way of Greater Atlanta’s website and make your pledge today.

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.”