Everyone’s eyes were on the political landscape in Georgia a few short months ago. There was a lot of focus on how we could make an impact on a much larger scale.

But how do we continue this momentum and the discussion of issues that directly affect Georgians? How do we transition this to a larger movement to drive engagement and encourage lasting change?

In order to influence positive change, you need to be proactive. United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Young Professional Leaders and LINC affinity groups met last week to discuss that next plan to action in an “Influencing Positive Change” virtual panel led by Tharon Johnson, CNN contributor and CEO of Paramount Consulting, and Rev. James Woodall, Georgia NAACP President.

Much of the change in Georgia in the past few years could be directly related to the “young coalition of voters,” and grassroots campaigns, Johnson says.

So, the talk centered around that role young professionals can play in influencing change around state and local policies that directly impact children, families and their communities across Greater Atlanta.

One way to do this is through advocating for policy that helps address disparities in our community, Johnson says.

“We got to talk about the changing demographics in [Georgia], and where there were a lot of things that white people didn’t know existed, it was brought to the forefront when we saw the unrest that was going on in this country,” Johnson says. “What I was most proud of, was how the young people stood up and peacefully protested to make sure [this] remained at the forefront.”

He said this was part of what drove people in Georgia to the polls, specifically in Black communities, and then stressed the importance of staying tuned into what was happening at the state level currently with any legislation that would potentially “disenfranchise voters of color.”

“In order to influence change, we have to educate ourselves on the change,” says Jasmine Morgan, a YPL member and senior training consultant for IHG Hotels and Resorts’ Hospitality Young Professionals Exchange (HYPE) group. “This [social] was informative and collaborative, and we got the community involved from the standpoint of having experts at the table to drive conversations around things we as young professionals may not have thought of or been exposed to before.”

IHG was a sponsor for the event, and Morgan says the partnership with YPL was a natural one because it aligned with HYPE’s mission to bring together people who have a shared passion around improving their community.

“This event has really gotten to people,” says Morgan, who leads a remote-based team spread out across the U.S. “We’ve been talking so long about how we influence positive change—whether that be ending racial discrimination, our own unconscious bias—but how do we do it? How do I make myself a part of the fight and a part of the solution?

“Sometimes if you don’t talk to people, nothing happens, and nothing moves forward.”

Attendees were encouraged to become a part of the solution by joining United Way and its work to provide a Brighter Future for neighborhoods in South DeKalb, South Fulton and Clayton Counties—all areas with low child well-being scores.

United Way of Greater Atlanta has recently aligned its work to invest in four priority areas to improve the well-being of children, families and their communities across Greater Atlanta. United, we can make sure children have more. More opportunities, more resources, more chances to grow up as strong learners who are college and career ready. We can also make sure families that are economically stable and set up for more success in the future.

And young people in this country are “literally at the forefront” of this movement to push toward a more equitable Atlanta and a more equitable Georgia, Woodall says. We just have to continue that fight and “right the line,” he says.

“When we are gone to be in glory, we’ll all be able to look down the corridors of history and see our children hollering out in our memory because we didn’t give up,” Rev. Woodall says. “We stayed true to who we thought we would be, we stayed consistent in our pursuit of liberty and justice for all people. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

This was the challenge Woodall left the group with, and Lauren Rock, Director of Individual Engagement in the Office of Development for United Way, says she’s been overwhelmed by the positive response from this discussion.

She said now the goal is to connect with all of those who attended and then introduce them to the work United Way is doing in specific communities where we are fighting to drive equitable recovery and end racial disparities. Now’s the time to inform people about how they can get involved by becoming an advocate and volunteering.

“YPL already has touch points in Clayton County, and we’re all wanting to see the impact in those areas,” Rock says. “We’re continuing this engagement and introducing Brighter Future to people, telling them why this is important and what we’re supporting.

“Beyond that, we’re having conversations at the board level, finding ways to connect with the Clayton County Brighter Future Youth Leadership Council and the work they are doing so that we might support them and amplify their voices. We want to give people the opportunity to plug in.”

Eesha Sasumana, an analyst working for IHG and a HYPE member, was impressed by the event and United Way’s broad vision for the future.

“I think United Way has done an amazing job bringing about positive change to the Greater Atlanta region, particularly in the arena of developing children, young adults and the leaders of tomorrow,” Sasumana says. “I believe continuing that momentum of developing young minds and helping them reach new heights is an invaluable resource and there are always new avenues to explore such as mentorship, skills workshops and professional development opportunities.”

One of the most powerful messages from the panel discussion for Sasumana was that even though much has been done and progress has been made, “it is important to recognize there is still more room to grow.”

There are more opportunities to address disparities and promote equality.

“When the panelists were asked for specific work those interested in influencing change can do to improve their communities and play a part in the larger movement, the panelists stressed that any activity is better than none,” Sasumana says. “They continued with a call to action, sharing resources for on advocacy efforts, tracking current legislation as well as media materials to help stay up to date on current events in this space.”

To learn more about continuing this work and how to get involved, join the LINC and Young Professional Leaders affinity group.

Laura Salvatore Adams is passionate about public health work. But, more recently, she’s seen how the importance a community places on the health of its citizens can impact a family’s ability to grow its wealth.

Adams is one of many United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Young Professional Leaders who volunteered in the LINC and YPL affinity group’s Child Well-Being Hackathon on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“I think, typically, hackathons are a half day, full of events, and with our hackathon we wanted to sort of replicate what you see in the business world,” Adams, a YPL board member, says. “We wanted to bring together multiple organizations and have them solve some sort of problem in a short time frame.”

 Lauren Rock, Director of Individual Engagement in the Office of Development for United Way, says this hackathon was an “evolution of United Way’s historical MLK Weekend event” called the Day of Innovation, which was first hosted by United Way with LINC members about six years ago.

The event has evolved over time and the format changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it allowed LINC and YPL to host a unique skill-based volunteer opportunity.

“This year they are focused on introducing young professionals to United Way’s Investment Priorities, and a more expanded representation of organizations that share in their commitment to Child Well-Being,” Rock says. “On Jan. 18, we were joined by: Atlanta CARES, Atlanta Center for Self-Sufficiency, Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, Everybody Wins Atlanta, Sneaker Ball Atlanta’s FEATS and InspirEDU.”

These organizations were selected based on a set of criteria that amplified youth voices, created digital access to literacy tools and increased equitable outcomes for communities impacted by structural racism, Rock says.

An event participant said the event was ‘a very fulfilling experience, much better than dropping off goods at the office.”

“For an event that typically lasts a half day and that has overwhelming success in person, we knew that the limitations of the virtual world might impact the overall experience,” Rock says. “Fortunately, the feedback has blown us away and encouraged us to begin planning our next hackathon.”

Adams moved to Atlanta from Topeka, Kansas for school—but Atlanta’s been her home for the past six or seven years, she says. It’s no longer just “a stop along the way,” but where she has settled and set roots for her family. The Emory University graduate has a master’s in public health with a focus in health policy and management. But the hackathon work on MLK Day centered around the issue of economic stability, she says.

“Partner organizations came into the hackathon with a challenge they needed help with,” she says. “I partnered with the Atlanta Center for Self-Sufficiency, and what they were doing had to do with their overall strategy and branding from where they are now compared to where they want to go.”

Making sure families are financially stable starts with making sure a family remains healthy, Adams says.

“What brought me to volunteer more with United Way at first is public health, but as I’ve gotten more involved, it becomes apparent that a part of public health is economic stability,” she says. “It’s hard to pay attention to public health when you aren’t [financially stable].”

United Way of Greater Atlanta has recently aligned its work to invest in four priority areas to improve the well-being of children, families and their communities across Greater Atlanta. United, we can make sure children grow up as strong learners who are college and career ready—we can make sure families that are economically stable are set up for the best possible success for the future.

United Way’s economic stability work focuses on improving job skills while addressing factors like housing, financial education and health costs, which helps ensure families convert an increase in income to sustained wealth—that last point is what grabbed Adams’ attention.

“That’s what I’m most interested in these days. It seems crucial to providing long-term sustainable change in these communities,” she says. “I feel like all of the investment priorities United Way has I align with.

“I just want to bring whatever skillset I have to make those things happen. Being a [YPL] board member, it’s not just about our ideas, but how we can execute more of what United Way wants to do. We are really passionate about this work.”

If you are passionate about giving back to your community, join the LINC and Young Professional Leaders affinity group.

United Way’s YPL, LINC asks ‘How are you?’

Affinity group looks to create dialogue around issue of systemic racism in light of recent deaths of Black individuals

George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man from Minneapolis, died May 25 after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Floyd’s death was captured on video, shared worldwide, and then set off a global movement of protests that quickly spread across the U.S. — protestors spoke out against yet another senseless and preventable death of a Black individual, and the unjust murders of Black people at the hands of police. These instances are common in Black communities, protestors say, and these deaths a byproduct of systemic racism in America.

The deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others related to racial violence remind us that even in the midst of a pandemic, there is another disease we need to fear, fight and prevent.

On May 26, the day after Floyd’s death, protests began in Minneapolis and spread nationwide as tens of thousands of people assembled in the streets to express their outrage and sorrow. Those marches quickly spread to Atlanta.

United Way of Greater Atlanta has always fought to end structural racism and upend the longstanding inequities that undermine the well-being of children, families and communities in our region.

There’s one way we can hope to overcome such division: by coming together and creating a dialogue around these issues.

With so much going on in the world, United Way’s Lead. Impact. Network. Change. (LINC) and Young Professional Leaders (YPL) network decided to reach out to its members and check in—to ask, “How are You?”


Here are some of the responses to the #HowAreYouATL tag on Instagram:

User @idasangel says while the movement has exposed certain things, these issues are nothing new for Black communities in Greater Atlanta and across the United States.

“Atlanta is my birthplace. I was raised here. And will forever serve here,” @idasangel writes.
“This movement has exposed systems, behaviors and beliefs that have sought to tear both this city and this nation apart.

“Lately, I’ve been feeling mentally drained, but this emotion isn’t new to so many of us.”

@johnsonkentara echoed that same feeling, simply stating “I’m exhausted.”

Also, via Instagram, @jenniferjakijohnson says these injustices are sickening.

“I know I am tired and sick from the injustices. It is undeniable [sic] a sad place to be in when you wonder if your Black son, brother, or father will return home safely,” @jenniferjakijohnson says.

@kd.noire thanked YPL and LINC for taking the time to ask a routine but important question.

“Asking ‘how are you’ maybe once seemed so routine and simple, but it is really vital to creating genuine connections,” @kd.noire says. “Thank you for asking and caring!”

We want to know how you’re doing.

How can you participate? We’re encouraging Greater Atlanta to join us in the conversation and share how you are feeling on social media using #howareyouatl and engaging with United Way’s Young Professional Leaders’ posts and stories here.

YPL Member Flashback, Gayle Cabrera
BB&T (Truist)
Business Banking Leader, SVP

YPL: Tell me about your experience as a Young Professional Leaders member? What did your involvement look like?
Gayle: YPL will always hold a special place in my heart. This is where my involvement with United Way was able to move from monetary only to investing my time and talent with the organization. As a charter member of the cabinet, this was truly a working board.  The nice thing was we were all new so no one had a head start. The challenging part was we were all new with no road map. The best part was we all came to the table with ideas of how to be successful and were all willing to roll up our sleeves and do the good work that needed to be done. As the youngest person on the Charter Cabinet, it was important for me that all Young Professionals be able to be a part of this movement. I recognized with my peers that not all Young Professionals would be able to give at the $1,000 level right off the back. They could be paying back student loans or just be adjusting to all the bills that came with adulthood.  We were able to establish the step-up program to get people in the door to see the value in being a member. This paved the way for LINC. Involvement ten years ago mainly was thinking about our vision and how we could set the stage to achieve our vision. It was a lot of trial and error. But after 10 years, I would say we had more successes that have led to the growth of this cabinet!

YPL: What is one of your favorite memories or moments during your time with Young Professional Leaders?
Gayle: My favorite moments were the meetings. For some reason, they thought Fridays at 7:30 am were a great time for us to meet. But every time I walked into that room, I forgot how early it was and got excited to be with my team to make a difference. We usually sat in the same seats even though they were not assigned. I have gained some great friends and mentors through YPL.  From a volunteer perspective, my favorite memory was our first Junior Leadership Academy. I remember one of the young men participating was from New York and had been sent to live with family here in Georgia because he was getting mixed up with the wrong crowds in New York. His mother was a professor at Columbia University. I loved the moment I met him because it was a humbling reminder that you do not have to come from a bad situation to end up in one.

YPL: How are you continuing to stay involved in the community? How did your involvement in Young Professional Leaders affect your decision to give back?
Gayle: I continue to stay involved in the community through United Way. After my YPL terms, I migrated to what Women’s Leadership Council that is now known has Cole Women United. I have stayed involved and chaired this cabinet in 2018-2019. I was also set to chair Leading a Life of Purpose prior to it being cancelled due to COVID-19. I love attending UW Volunteer Events and brining my children so that volunteerism and philanthropy will not be new to them as they get older and will just be a way of life. They enjoy packing shoeboxes and decorating them and packing snacks for children in need. They will be ready to join YPL!

YPL: What would you say to someone who is considering joining Young Professional Leaders?
Gayle: This was the most beneficial activity outside of my job that I could have ever been a member. I grew personally through seeing the work that United Way does. I always tell people United Way helped shape how I raise my kids. I attended so many sessions on education and the way a child’s brain forms in the first three years. I learned about the true effects of literacy and the way our vocabulary development is influenced by it. There are so many things that I was able to learn for myself just by volunteering and giving back. But on a professional level, I was able to gain some of my best mentors and friends through the cabinet. I still connect with many of them. And if we don’t connect often, you would never know it when we get into a room together! At the 10 year anniversary social, it proved that our bond is a special one!

YPL: What is your favorite quote or personal mantra?
Gayle: You can have it all, just not all at the same time! This is important to me as we juggle work/life balance. It was a quote I learned at one of the YPL Leadership Luncheons as has stuck with me through all the years. Because of this quote, I feel like I have it all!

YPL Member Flashback, Brittany Wyatt
Sr. Regional Marketing Manager, Allstate Insurance Company


YPL: Tell me about your experience as a Young Professional Leaders member? What did your involvement look like?
Brittany: My experience as a YPL member was one of the most memorable and meaningful of all of my civic leadership experiences. I served on the YPL board for 3 years and was able to help coordinate and participate in many community service and giveback opportunities.


YPL: What is one of your favorite memories or moments during your time with Young Professional Leaders?
Brittany: One of my favorite memories was helping to plan the first YPL Black Tie Brunch. It was so cool to be a part of something that has evolved into a signature event for YPL and that raises funds for such amazing causes.


YPL: How are you continuing to stay involved in the community? How did your involvement in Young Professional Leaders affect your decision to give back?
Brittany: I continue to stay involved in the community by volunteering my time and skills to multiple civic organizations, including an occasional YPL event to continue supporting the great work they are doing. My YPL involvement affected my decision to give back because it put me in a position to see the real need in our community and how my small contributions can make a huge impact.


YPL: What would you say to someone who is considering joining Young Professional Leaders?
Brittany: I would absolutely encourage anyone considering joining to just do it! It’s an awesome opportunity to partner with like-minded young professionals to help make our city a better place…and you make some really great friendships along the way!


YPL: What is your favorite quote or personal mantra?
Brittany: One of my favorite quotes is “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou

YPL Member, Kelly Earl
Marketing Communications Consultant, RGP


YPL: What inspired you to become involved with Young Professionals Leaders?
Kelly: I was introduced to Young Professional Leaders (YPL) through a friend on the YPL board. As a 2016 United Way VIP board leadership alumna, I knew firsthand the United Way’s impact in the Greater Atlanta community. I also understood how my contributions help bring a positive change in the lives of others. I was very much interested in learning more about YPL as an extension of United Way. I started attending YPL monthly mixers, participating in volunteer opportunities, and building relationships with members. At the time, I was also serving on a nonprofit board. At the end of my term, I decided to continue my passion for community engagement and volunteerism through YPL.


YPL: What aspect of United Way’s work in the community are you most passionate about supporting?
Kelly: My passion has always been serving others where I could best lend my professional expertise. The United Way’s work in providing resources to the homeless for self-sufficiency and primary health care access to communities resonates with me the most. In my professional career, I’ve supported a variety of public health communications and engagement projects for the federal government that focuses on immunizations, antibacterial resistance, injury prevention, and emergency operations. I’ve also had the opportunity to serve on the board of an organization that provides free home repairs for low-income seniors. Many of these seniors are at risk of losing their homes due to rising healthcare costs and expensive critical home repairs. The United Way’s work with homelessness and affordable health care allows symmetry between my passion and my career.


YPL: How do you balance your professional life with giving back? What motivates you to stay involved?
Kelly: Giving back brings me great joy and connects me to my purpose. Servant leadership is at the core of my being, so giving back has become a way of life. To achieve work-life balance, I select volunteer opportunities based on my availability, time commitment, and workload. I’ve had to reassess what I could give when opportunities have required more effort. It’s important not to burnout. I’m motivated because I know that the work I do with YPL impacts those in need throughout Greater Atlanta helping to build sustainable communities.


YPL: What would you say to someone who is considering joining Young Professional Leaders?
Kelly: Becoming a member of YPL is more than a title; it’s about being a servant leader and advocate for the mission of the United Way. You become a stakeholder for community empowerment and sustainability for children and families of Greater Atlanta. Even before joining YPL, I was greeted with enthusiasm from members dedicated to ensuring the Greater Atlanta community thrives. Joining YPL is an excellent opportunity for young leaders to make a positive impact in the community through volunteerism, advocacy, and philanthropy while growing their professional and personal networks. The volunteer opportunities are engaging and the networking events are unparalleled. I highly recommend any emerging leader to consider joining YPL for a rewarding and fulfilling experience.


YPL: What is your favorite quote or personal mantra?
Kelly: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
1 Corinthians 13:13

YPL Member, Michael Gillin
Operations Director, Ericsson

YPL: Tell me about your experience as a Young Professional Leaders member? What did your involvement look like?
Michael: One of the best experiences of my life!! Having the opportunity to develop the vision of what started as an Emerging Leaders initiative with Aiko Bethea and then to have Milton Little agree to move forward with the idea was a surreal and amazingly rewarding experience. When I was asked to be the first chair of YPL it was truly an honor to serve in this role back in 2010-2011.

YPL: What is one of your favorite memories or moments during your time with Young Professional Leaders?
Michael: What started as a great idea from Katerina Taylor of the Services Committee that first year turned into one of the best ideas of our initial board – to have a service event with a social gathering afterwards. It was called a Service Social back then and now has evolved to the Day of Service. My family annually serves during the Holiday of Service event (one of our favorites). My children were so excited to be interviewed for the 2013 HoliDay of Service video and that was a highlight for me and my family (still have the video ????). Also, having six of our original board member pictures put on the sides of the Gifts In Kind Truck was pretty cool as well.

YPL: How are you continuing to stay involved in the community? How did your involvement in Young Professional Leaders affect your decision to give back?
Michael: After starting and serving on the YPL board I joined the board of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta. Janice McKenzie-Crayton who was the CEO at the time knew about my background starting YPL and asked to me co-chair a new young leaders board called Young Leaders Council with Amy Agami. It was a great experience and honor to be able to serve both in a board role and start a second young leaders board as well.

YPL: What would you say to someone who is considering joining Young Professional Leaders?
Michael: It is a great opportunity to serve with other young leaders that are focused on making a big, positive impact in our community. The impact is evident in the many service events hosted every year by YPL as well as the $220,000 raised at the annual black tie event “Night for a Brighter Tomorrow” in 2019. Young Professional Leaders are made up of some of the most dynamic and giving community leaders. There have been 14 “40 Under 40” Atlanta Business Chronicle award winners in the nine years YPL overlapped with the survey (2020 list is not out yet). That is 1 ½ YPL members a year! Also, the Atlanta Business Chronicle highlighted United Way Young Professional Leaders as one of the premier young leaders organizations in Atlanta a few years ago.

YPL: What is your favorite quote or personal mantra?
Michael: Be the change you wish to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi

YPL Member, Shamriel Lowery
Learning & Development Specialist, Kaiser Permanente

YPL: Why did you decide to get involved with United Way of Greater Atlanta’s YPL group?
Shamriel: I decided to get involved in YPL because community service and advocacy is near to my heart, and as a young professional in Atlanta I’m always looking for cool opportunities to network with like minded individuals. This group combined two things I love to do in one perfect fit. I’ve met some amazing individuals and done a lot of good things in the community through YPL.


YPL: What aspect of United Way’s work in the community are you most passionate about supporting?
Shamriel: I am most passionate about supporting the disadvantaged in their efforts to navigate high school and the transition into college. I enjoy being able to assist with applications and help with job fairs and really provide vital information about how to be a successful adult despite your background.


YPL: What is your favorite quote?
Shamriel: “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.” – Muhammad Ali

#WhyWednesday: Juliet Udeochu

Juliet Udeochu is the Volunteer Recruitment Manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta and serves on our Young Professional Leaders (YPL) board. She believes the children of Greater Atlanta are our future. Today, hear why she is passionate about ensuring the children are well in our region.

United Way, along with dozens of partners, has developed a set of measures that the community can use to assess how its children, the families that support them and the community that surrounds them, are doing. This enables us to track our progress and determine what levers are the most effective in ensuring “all the children are well.” See how the children are doing in your community here.

YPL Member, Channing Reames
Supply Chain Analyst II
Genuine Parts Company

YPL: Why did you decide to get involved with United Way of Greater Atlanta’s YPL group?
Channing: I’ve always felt a calling to make an impact in my community by working to help others. Being in United Way’s YPL, they have given me the direction and tools to achieve that calling.


YPL: What aspect of United Way’s work in the community are you most passionate about supporting?
Channing: United Way’s campaign to help children in our community is one that I consider myself the most passionate about.

YPL: What is your favorite quote?
Channing: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford