“If the Census were easy, we wouldn’t have all of y’all here at 8 in the morning,” says Polly McKinney. She acts as advocacy director for Voices for Georgia’s Children.

This particular morning, she’s a participant in United Way of Greater Atlanta’s thought leadership breakfast known as the “InForum” series. The InForum series is a convening of nonprofit, philanthropic and public partners meant to spur discussion around issues in our community by featuring keynote presentations from national and local leaders.

The day’s conversation features McKinney alongside Executive Director of The New Georgia Project, Nsé Ufot, and Executive Director of the Latino Community Fund (LCF) of Georgia, Gigi Pedraza. The three women gathered to discuss the importance of the upcoming 2020 Census and the critical role it plays in the distribution of federal resources and political representation.

Specifically, they are discussing how that information will influence hard-to-count communities.

According to Georgia Counts, hard-to-count communities vary across the country, but are generally populations that have historically been undercounted and do not self-report as well as others due to difficulties with language, a lack of trust in government or simply because of a lack of communication.

Georgia Counts also indicates that some hard-to-count communities of the past have included people of color, immigrants, young children, renters and low-income households.

And, according to Voices for Georgia’s Children, if these communities remain undercounted they risk losing out on billions of dollars in federal funding, government representation at the state and federal level and infrastructural resources such as highways, hospitals and schools.

Because hard-to-count communities are sometimes referred to as hard-to-count persons, Pedraza emphasizes the importance of the “communities” part of that term.

“People are not hard to count,” says Pedraza. “They are hard to ignore.”

And in the state of Georgia, that notion is becoming truer every year.

Ufot, whose organization focuses on non-partisan civic engagement, voter registration and voting rights advocacy, states that over 2 million people have moved to Georgia in the past decade and that a majority of those individuals are people of color.

As a result, Georgia could gain at least one more Congressional seat, if not two – but only if we are able to achieve a complete count of the state’s population in the upcoming Census.

“Georgia is experiencing what political scientists and demographers refer to as the reversal of the Great Migration,” says Ufot. “All of these people moving back to the American South… have created opportunities in our state that we have not seen before.”

Pedraza states that approximately 9 to 10 percent of people living in Georgia are Latinos and in 2010, Latinos accounted for over 28 percent of the state’s growth.

“Georgia is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic state with multi-cultural, multi-ethnic voters,” says Pedraza. “How are we prepared to serve these communities?”

When discussing the significance of ensuring those people are counted, she states that whether or not her own daughter has a park to play in, a safe street to walk on, or a Spanish-speaking professional to communicate with at her school, hinges on the Latino community’s inclusion in Census counts. Inevitably, it will also influence what her daughter’s future will look like.

“What decision she has is going to depend on all of us and the work that we do,” says Pedraza.

And that’s why all of the speakers at the InForum remain solution-oriented.

When prompted about the most important thing attendees could do to get started on Census advocacy work, McKinney insisted that people “retweet… retweet, retweet.”

“All of us are putting stuff out. We’re making it so you can just pass it around and go viral,” says McKinney. “If you just have time for one thing, that’s what I would ask.”

Her organization has created a body of resources about the importance of the Census and everyone’s participation in it that can be accessed here.

Ufot recommended starting with the community. She shared about how the New Georgia Project begins its work first and foremost by talking with the people they aim to serve, having initiated over 4.5 million conversations since the organization’s inception.

“We want to have a gospel choir approach to advocacy in the state of Georgia,” says Ufot.

Pedraza invited attendees to consider joining a complete count committee – including the Georgia Latino Complete Count Committee, which the LCF of Georgia supports, or any of the complete count committees that have been formed at county, city and neighborhood levels.

At the event’s conclusion, Chief Community Impact Officer for United Way of Greater Atlanta, Katrina Mitchell, emphasized the importance of the 2020 Census to improving Child Well-Being across our region.

“If you layered our Child Well-Being Map with most of those communities with the lowest child well-being and the hard-to-count communities, those would be all the same places,” says Mitchell.

That’s why United Way of Greater Atlanta partnered with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to disburse small grants to outreach organizations, including the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Black Child Development Institute (BCDI) – Atlanta, Community Teen Coalition, Fathers, Inc., the New Georgia Project and Project South.

But she emphasizes it will take everyone’s help to make an impact.

“We can connect partners, because I think that will be the huge part of what we’ll have to do, but I want you all to know that we need all of us,” says Mitchell.

If you would like to continue spreading the word about the importance of the 2020 Census, access United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2020 Census Resource page and get involved today.

Young people have always been at the forefront of social change.

It’s not uncommon today to see examples of young adults joining together to take a stand for social causes, pleading with politicians and driving public policy. There are marches, protests, sit-ins and walkouts — chances are you have participated in or at least witnessed this.

The discussion at the February edition of United Way of Greater Atlanta’s InForum series at The Gathering Spot in West Atlanta focused on the power of youth organizing, and how it is being used across the country to create better outcomes for youth and their communities.

United Way’s Katrina Mitchell drove the conversation Wednesday morning highlighting examples of youth activism — the Selma march, Vietnam War protests and then modern movements like Black Lives Matters and marches organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

Many great social movements have been powered by youth activism, she says.“How would this country be different without the power of young people?” Mitchell says. “How could it be different if young people had not pushed for change?”

Eric Braxton, of the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, has played a part in creating new initiatives and new projects for youth to create meaningful social change. He also works to raise awareness about the power young people have.

Braxton said he had been working for FCYO for eight years in a role providing resources to young people to help promote social change.

He said youth have always been at “the forefront of mobilizing and sustaining” social movements.

“Youth organizing is not new,” he said. “Whether it was the civil rights movement or the labor movement, young people have always been at the forefront for struggles of social justice in this country.”

He said this was because young people had “an inherent sense of justice and willingness to stand up for what they believe in.”

In the 90s, there was a new wave of community organizing that spread across the country, he said. Young people had marched for social movements, education and justice reform to end institutional oppression.

This is work that continues today, says Manuela Arciniegas, interim director of the Andrus Family Fund.

“[The Andrus Family Fund is] committed to fostering justice and sustainable change in the United States,” Arciniegas said. “We have a specific focus on advancing outcomes of vulnerable youth and advancing social justice.”

The “vulnerable youth” they refer to are those age 16-24 who are products foster care or the juvenile justice system, according to Arciniegas.

Her organization has partnered with groups who have “successfully closed youth prisons” in multiple states. Through the Andrus Family Fund, Arciniegas identifies young people who have been compromised by systems that may not have always had their best interests at heart.

As a result, young people are thrown into a world without connections to positive supports or services. The Andrus Family Fund helps connect young people to “caring communities, proven services and vital skills that they so sorely missed earlier in their lives.”

“We provide multi-use support, and we leverage our grants by partnering with other foundations,” Arciniegas said.

By organizing young people, you can develop leaders while engaging with your community. This impacts the individual as well as the community and society as a whole, Braxton says.

“This prepares young people to be participants and leaders in a Democratic society,” he said.

Emery Wright, co-director of Project South, spoke about the history of youth activism in the South. He said Project South was founded in 1986 to be a leadership development organization.

“A lot of the work of Project South can really be summed up with a quote by Fannie Lou Hamer, a great civil rights activist who said, ‘Nobody’s free until everybody’s free,’” Wright said. “That’s an easy statement to say, but hard to put into practice.”

Project South spreads this message locally, across the 13 Southern states of the U.S. and globally.

“About 20 years ago, we really started to engage this question of youth leadership development and youth organizing,” Wright said. “We started doing this work right around 1999-2000… and a lot of the [youth organization] was happening on the [East and West Coast], and in the South that energy wasn’t taking place.”

He said Project South has a goal to “build strong, powerful movements.”

“We saw that there was something to the power and potential of youth leadership,” he said. “We knew if we don’t have youth involved, then we’re going to have a big missing ingredient.”

Wright said the power of this youth perspective came to light about 50 years ago. He said this was when a “major turning point in youth culture happened here in the U.S. South,” referring to college students in North Carolina who held the first sit-in. He said this spread like wildfire and introduced people to a “whole new type of non-violent demonstration.”

He said that Southerners had a “proud legacy of youth leadership and youth development,” which has inspired the rest of the world.

Arciniegas agreed with Wright. She said people should continue to follow the examples of young people as they press for more change.

“Dream, Atlanta, dream,” Arciniegas says. “And follow the young people because they will take you there. Youth organizing is the strategy that allows things to happen.”

Change happens in community where ‘leadership, culture and systems’ intersect

By Bradley Roberts

There are a lot of complex needs in the Greater Atlanta region.

In a room full of nonprofit practitioners at the January edition of United Way of Greater Atlanta’s InForum series, those issues were brought to light for a deeper discussion and dive into how we tackle those problems and address those needs.

There was a common pattern among those in attendance: Everybody wants to serve this community.

“The underlying theme is that all of us want to serve,” said Suganthi Simon, the Westside Program Officer for the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. “But we want to address multiple issues. If we are all serving them, then how do we serve people in the right way?”

The discussion Thursday at the Gathering Spot in West Atlanta centered around finding ways to override the current trend across Atlanta and the South as a whole. How do we reverse a lifetime of generational poverty and find innovative ways to improve economic mobility for Atlanta residents?

Well, for a start, you have to make it easier to access services. The talk focused on ways to deliver integrated services to the people that need them most. They focused on ways to remove barriers standing in the ways of families and children from receiving services.

Our partnerships are crucial in ensuring that success, Milton J. Little, CEO of United Way of Greater Atlanta, said.

“We should all feel a responsibility to embrace these partnerships to make sure that we all succeed,” said Little. “It’s going to take us all working together, finding things that I do well and you do well so we can serve everyone.”

Ralph Gildehaus, senior program director of MDC Inc, in Durham, North Carolina, works with communities to design support systems for connecting populations with support services.

MDC has partnered with United Way of Greater Greensboro and community stakeholders across Guilford County, North Carolina, to build a technology-based network to deliver integrated services to connect low-income households with resources.

“We have to build what we call our infrastructure of opportunity,” Gildehaus says.

He said change in a community happens when “leadership, culture and systems” intersect with each other. In order to improve the economic mobility of a community, we need to “change the perspective,” and change the conversation.

MDC looked at ways to change habits that affect a system and change the expected outcome. For example, they focused on implementing ways to have every high school student in Guilford County complete a form for Federal Student Aid.

“The intention was a systems change,” he said. “Every student completed a FAFSA form and sent an application to at least one college. As a result of that, more and more students are going to college.”

There were other examples of finding ways to consolidate services for families and people with low income in the community. What they found was that people needed “stabilization and better preparation” for work, health and income services.

MDC recently developed the Integrated Services Delivery Network model to reduce poverty, improve social determinants of health and advance family economic success. But, this is only possible through collaboration.

The Rev. John R. Moeller, Jr. is CEO of Inspiritus, is a nonprofit in Atlanta that serves adults with disabilities, children, refugees and victims of natural disasters.

Moeller said Inspiritus created a Financial Opportunity Center, which brings income supports to help families “beyond basic budgeting.” In the past 18 months, his organization was able to serve victims of three different hurricanes.

Inspiritus also offers services to homeless youth in a “Youth Post-Home” program where they are able to place young adults in a home with families for up to nine months where they “receive integrated services.”

While Gildehaus’ office worked to develop a system of integrated services, Moeller and his office worked on the frontlines to provide those human services.

In Simon’s work with the Westside Program, it was a way at looking how to do both. She said the building of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium sparked a catalyst for conversation on how to address the needs of the Westside.

“We had to unravel some of the pieces put in place that establish the systems that we see,” Simon says.

The Westside Neighborhood Prosperity Fund works with residents and partners to leverage resources and programs in Atlanta’s historic Westside neighborhood.

Simon manages the implementation of collaborative strategies in health, economic inclusion, safety and security and civic empowerment an engagement. Her work looks at breaking the bonds of intergenerational poverty for Westside residents.

Atlanta as a whole is a city that is thriving, but it has the lowest opportunity for economic mobility of any other city in the United States. That means that people born into poverty are not given the chances to move out of it, and while there’s access to jobs, there’s no knowledge of how to obtain those jobs.

But, through access to these services, and by changing the conversation, we’re able to hopefully reverse this fact.

“Communities are experiencing issues on a much larger scale,” Gildehaus said. “We need to take an approach that we can implement across the community. The public sector and nonprofits need to work together to promote these integrated services.”