Real Talk Recap: Community Engagement is Hard Work

This week, more than 50 community members attended the Center for Civic Innovation's May Real Talk panel on the trial and error of community engagement. As Atlanta continues to grow and local governments launch increasingly ambitious projects, cicommunity engagement is increasingly important.


CCI team member Kyle Kessler, introduced the topic, emphasizing that community engagement is a spectrum that ranges from informing the community and inviting the community to participate, to empowering the community to make decisions. Later, CCI team member Bem Joiner introduced the panelists, who worked to engage the Atlanta community on projects such as the Atlanta Beltline, the Better Together Decatur campaign, and the Downtown Master Plan. After Kyle and Bem's introductions, participants all gave short presentations on their experiences and challenges engaging their communities, such as including difficult-to-reach communities, and the resources needed for successful community engagement.

You can download Kyle's presentation here.

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Panel Dissussion 

 Panelists include from (left to right) Nathan Soldat and Whitney Fuller (Community Engagement Managers at Atlanta BeltLine), Audrey Leous (Project Manager, Planning and Urban Design at Central Atlanta Progress), and Casie Yoder (Casie Yoder Consulting and Former Chief Spokesperson for City of Decatur). 

Panelists include from (left to right) Nathan Soldat and Whitney Fuller (Community Engagement Managers at Atlanta BeltLine), Audrey Leous (Project Manager, Planning and Urban Design at Central Atlanta Progress), and Casie Yoder (Casie Yoder Consulting and Former Chief Spokesperson for City of Decatur). 

Panelists and audience members discussed the promises and challenges of community engagement, including difficult-to-reach communities, the resources needed for successful community engagement, and challenges of accountability during the implementation phase. Nathan Soldat and Whitney Fuller from the Beltline explained how 20% of Atlanta residents will be directly affected by the project, and stressed the need to use both new digital tools and old school methods like postcards, as many older, legacy residents may not have access to high speed internet. Additionally, Whitney Fuller explained that while meetings typically are held during dinner time, she does not have a budget for food, which can be challenging community members balancing many responsibilities. Finally, Nathan emphasized while the process of building community trust takes time, this trust is “crucial because the community is your real partner in this process, and those relationships really mean a lot when you need advocacy for your project, for what you’re trying to accomplish.”


 Whitney Fuller describes how she moved to a neighborhood adjacent to the beltline to better understand her community's interests.

Whitney Fuller describes how she moved to a neighborhood adjacent to the beltline to better understand her community's interests.

Audrey Leous described how Central Atlanta Progress hosted several open houses at Georgia State, where community members could interact with maps and photo boards, explaining how she tried to move past the old meetings model to make community engagement exciting and, well, engaging. Cassie Yoder who led the Decatur Together Campaign explained how communities have the most influence during the first stages of any project, but often only become engaged once construction begins in their backyard. Additionally, she highlighted the importance of community engagement managers who look like the community, live in the community, and have similar lived experiences as community members. Finally, panelists expressed how crucial resources are in leading a successful community engagement process.

Audience members asked the toughest questions, challenging the panelists to work more closely with community organizations, and asking why projects sometimes do not look like what communities agreed to. Panelists explained the challenges of financial and political constraints, as well as the difficulties of keeping community members involved during the implementation phase.


 Charnette Trimble, Civic Innovation Resident at the Center for Civic Innovation and long-time community activist, challenges the panelists: Why do projects often look nothing like what the community agreed to?

Charnette Trimble, Civic Innovation Resident at the Center for Civic Innovation and long-time community activist, challenges the panelists: Why do projects often look nothing like what the community agreed to?

At the end of the event, panelists encouraged audience members to stay involved.

What next?

On June 4, the Beltline will host its quarterly briefing meeting 6-8:30 pm at the Friendship Baptist Church.

Central Atlanta Progress recently formed a Downtown Master Plan Task Force and encouraged community members to join and sign up for its listserv to stay informed.

#CCIIntern: Risha Parikh

A Day in the Life of a #CCIIntern


Tell us a little more about yourself.

I have a love/hate relationship with coffee and getting news updates on Twitter. I have a love-love relationship with Waffle House and Atlanta’s art scene. I have a hate-hate relationship with mean people and the Comic Sans font.

How has your internship made you think about the role you and others have in the community?

I love that CCI doesn’t try to assume it knows everything about the Atlanta community at the forefront. The Atlanta community can be really easy to get wrong because it’s more like a salad bowl with a lot of unique subcultures and ethnographic differences. It trusts that the fellows are the experts--that they understand and the needs of their “users” (forgive me for using a tech term) the best. We just have to help them need-find and solution for these needs in the most sustainable way possible.

I’ve also learned a lot about how experimentation and technology can be introduced to the civic impact space. I used to think the only way to make civic impact was this rote process of donations and distribution. However, that’s not the case!

Being an informed and LOCAL voter is the new millennial pink. Seriously. It’s cool. Everyone should make it part of their seasonal routine.

Who did you work with during your internship (directly)?

I worked mostly with Andrea Cervone, who also leads a Hannah-Montana-esque double life as a city councilwoman for Clarkston. I also worked a lot with Kyle and Melonie, who guided Tim and me through our research process for an open data policy in Atlanta.

What is the source of inspiration for the work you do?

Does it have a creative element? Is it innovative/an idea or project that no one’s ever worked on before? Does it improve people’s lives? (And as a bonus, do they play good music in the office?)

How did you get to where you are today?

I have ridden on the shoulders of giants, from my parents to my friends at Georgia Tech to my professors. I’m also just a ‘yes’ person. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to get out of my comfort zone as much as possible and say yes to as many different kinds of opportunities as possible. That’s also why I have so many interests, and I’m happiest when I get to combine those interests and interdisciplinary skills in a place like the Center for Civic Innovation.

I’m also a dot-connector. I’m good at identifying the potential links between different people and scenes. This skill has served me well, especially with project management.

What brought you to the center?

I’d been following the Center for Civic Innovation on Twitter for a few years. In addition to the really cool events that CCI organized, Rohit, the founder, seemed like such an interesting person: here was a 1st-gen Indian-American–like me–who defied the stereotype and didn’t become a doctor–like me–and founded an organization with an amazing group of people. I used to be a science major, so I liked that the Center for Civic Innovation was a sort of civic “lab” for the city. Eventually, I saw the tweet that internship applications were out, so I bit the bullet and applied!

What has been your experience interning at the center? Name some highlights of your time here, favorite experiences, favorite things about being at the center.

One of my favorite things about the center is how COOL everyone is. Just one conversation with anyone on the team--or even any of the fellows, for that matter-- leaves me fascinated. It’s amazing how many famous people in Atlanta hip-hop Bem knows, or the variety of side-projects that Dayle has, or the amount of urban studies facts Alex knows.

What advice do you have for future CCI interns?

  • Ask lots of questions. Everyone who works or co-works at CCI has the most fascinating life. You’ll learn a lot about the multifaceted world of civic innovation just by “hanging out” and talking to people.
  • Pay attention to the challenges as well as the positives CCI goes through. When you’re “on the inside” in any organization, you learn about the unique issues that you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Knowing how to problem-solve across different areas is a good skill to have!
  • If there’s a project or initiative you’re interested in that’s outside of your “on-paper” role, ask if you can participate! Chances are you’ll be able to work on it in your spare time.
  • Be proud to rep CCI around the city! Invite your friends to CCI’s facebook events. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t enjoyed going to them.

Show Us the Money: Understanding the City Budget (recap)

On February 21, 2018, the Center for Civic Innovation hosted a presentation to help the public understand city budgeting. Melonie Thorpe, our Programs and Advocacy Director, provided a brief overview of the city’s budget and discussed how this budget interacts with city policies. Following this presentation, our Advocacy Manager, Kyle Kessler, moderated an interactive Q&A session with two budget experts, Chuck Meadows and Cynthia Searcy, who offered insights on a range of topics including property tax values, best practices for city budget transparency, and ways that Atlanta citizens can get involved in city budgeting. 

Some audience members expressed concerns about Atlanta’s changing residential landscape due to ongoing redevelopment projects which have been closely linked to the city’s growing income inequality. Meadows explained that property values will be affected by the emergence of new high rise condominiums such as those along the Atlanta Beltline. He noted that “the poor are getting poorer” and that Atlanta’s wealth is becoming more concentrated into the hands of a smaller community which has direct impacts on the stability of our city’s economy. Specifically, Meadows commented that property taxes perform better when you have a broader base paying into the system which is a challenge for the city to overcome 

With rising concerns about the state of Atlanta, audience members were eager to know how the City can be held accountable to its proposed budget in addition to how citizens can become more involved in the budget process. Cynthia Searcy noted that the city provides monthly expenditure reports to the public but could increase its accountability by linking its spending to tangible outcomes through a performance-based approach. Audience members were curious to know if there are any mechanisms in place that allow external parties to keep checks and balances on the city’s budgeting process. Atlanta does not currently  have an official third-party watchdog organization to oversee this process, however, an audience member raised the possibility of one being created if citizens  mobilize and go through an official petition process through the state legislature -- though these interventions have historically been implemented in other major cities in the aftermath of a financial crisis or scandal. 

Meadows and Searcy noted that there are events in Atlanta’s history that validate citizens being skeptical of the budget process and concerned about their inclusion. However, they both encouraged members of the audience to become more informed about the specific issues that they care about and set up meetings with their city council representatives to express their opinions. Meadows reminded the audience to be patient and persistent through this process as change takes time. The night ended with Searcy assuring the audience that,  “You will see change. You just have to be vocal and have your priorities set.” 


You can get the entire presentation here. 

#CCIIntern: Bailey Thompson

A Day in the Life of a #CCIIntern


Tell us a little more about yourself. What are you studying/did you study in college and what do you want to use that degree and experience to do in the future?

I am a marketing major at Kennesaw State University with a specialty in social media marketing. After I graduate, I want to be a social media specialist. In the long run, I want to own a marketing firm that has a strong holding in the community because of the pro-bono non-profit work the firm does in the local area. As for on-campus involvement, I am a part of Model UN and a service honors society. In my free time, I love to hike, go to local restaurants, and explore Atlanta.

What is the source of inspiration for the work you do?

My mother worked in non-profit the majority of my life and my father always had a service-orientated personality, whether he was at work or in the community. One of the things my parents instilled in me at a very early age is the importance of leaving a positive impact in the world and helping others. Social media is a great way to do this because it crosses all socioeconomic boundaries, allowing people to be able to be informed on local issues no matter where they are in life. Being able to distribute content that is inspiring and informative can help anyone along their journey to being more aware and active in their community. 

How did you get to where you are today?

That’s a good question. I care about making a change in the community I live in, whether it’s through being involved on-campus or working with a non-profit as my first internship. Also, I have a drive and commitment that allow me to try my best in the endeavors I pursue. 

What brought you to the center?

What caught my eye is the story of how the center began. There was a real story of a member of the Atlanta community giving up a large part of his life to go into supporting civic endeavors that can help so many lives. This story resonated with me and made me want to work with CCI.

Life at CCI

I am currently working on a social media campaign to promote knowledge about the Atlanta election process and facts about elected positions. Additionally, the objective of the campaign is to increase voter participation for the upcoming Atlanta elections.

What's one thing you learned about civic impact during your internship?

Civic impact can spring from so many different ideas. One can be about promoting local artists, like A3C does through their music conference. Another way can be through helping people understand how to plant their own food and have sustainable local gardens, like Carver’s Produce. These two ideas don't necessarily seem to connect, but they do because they all affect the daily lives and opportunities afforded to people of all ages in the Atlanta area.

What has been your experience interning at the center? Name some highlights of your time here.

On my first day at the Center for Civic Innovation, it was the executive director, Rohit’s, birthday. The happiness team went all out to show him how much they cared. That really solidified how close-knit the CCI was to me from then. I also enjoyed creating content like graphics and volunteering events with the CCI. Volunteering has shown me so many sides to Atlanta that I have never seen before. 

How do you hope to drive impact in the future?

I love being a part of the community, and I will continue to support local causes through volunteering my time. Once I achieve my goal of owning a marketing firm, I want to increase my impact in the community through pro bono work with new entrepreneurs who have a civic mind and desire to make their community a better place.

What advice do you have for future CCI interns?

Make the most out of the volunteer events and projects afforded to you. There are so many opportunities for you to meet amazing people and have great experiences that you may not have otherwise by working with the CCI. 

How has your internship made you think about the role you and others have in the community?

I have started to redefine what I think my role is as a community member and others as well. It’s incredible the work that I have seen happen at CCI when you add just one volunteer, which made me think about that same concept for a community. If everyone just contributed a few hours a month to a designated cause in their community, how remarkable would the change in the Greater Atlanta area be? At that point, I made a promise to myself to stay involved in my community, no matter how busy I was or what was going on because to make a change every minute of time someone devotes to a cause helps.  

Love this? Want to join the CCI intern crew? Check out our current internship opportunities! 

#CCIInterns: LaBreshia Taylor

A Day in the Life of a #CCIIntern


Tell us a little more about yourself. What are you studying/did you study in college and what do you want to use that degree and experience to do in the future?

I'm a college senior at Oglethorpe University, majoring in biopsychology, with dreams of becoming a pediatric nurse. I have always been fond of children and love engaging with them. Taking care of people is something that comes natural to me. Beyond being part of a healthcare team at a children's hospital, I really want to find myself doing medical relief work abroad in South America. Specifically, I would like to find myself in Guatemala learning more about holistic healthcare. They have some amazing practices that do not involve westernized medication. I am so interested in learning about procedures that involve natural medicines. I also love to dance. I have been dancing and teaching dance for over 18 years. As I get older, I found that I have to keep dancing on a regular basis. I have to keep my body engaged. Dance gives me so much freedom and safety. I feel a sense of welcome in a space where there is no judgment each time I step foot on the dance floor.

What is the source of inspiration for the work you do?

Source of inspiration comes from many different avenues. One of my biggest inspirations being my hometown and its people. Growing up in Memphis, TN there was a wide range of people. They say we are home to the most dangerous, but I know us to be home to the most passionate hardworking people. At an early age, I was surrounded by people who understood the logic behind hustle. Memphians have a different kind of work ethic. We think differently, move differently and grind it out like no other. My city inspires me to hustle, work for what I want and never take anything for granted.

How did you get to where you are today?

I owe a lot of my success to God and my family. Holding onto my faith while in school was crucial for me to my success. I had to stay prayed up and remained focused. I also got to where I am by focusing on myself for once. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish if you focus on your path rather than worrying about what someone in your circle may have accomplished. Everyone’s path is different, so don’t expect your path or journey to be like someone else’s.

What brought you to the center?

During my college career and even looking back at my high school years, I was always involved in some form of community service or engagement. For the past 4 years of college, I have worked in my university’s office of community service and outreach, the Center for Civic Engagement or the CCE. Planning campus-wide days of service and service-learning trips have been my thing. My biggest project has been Alternative Breaks. Alternative Breaks give students an opportunity to learn and engage with a community they are foreign to. These experiences are created in the U.S. and abroad. My advisor brought to my attention this intern position at the CCI. I had heard of the CCI before in relation to their food fellowship program. I had some time in my fall schedule, and I said it is worth a shot to apply! I know about civic engagement and the importance of supporting your local businesses, so why not apply for an opportunity where I could learn even more. Who knew I would actually get it, I was beyond excited. I was screaming up and down the stairs of the student center when I got my email, maybe a little over the top but who cares I was happy.

Life at CCI

I work with the People Happiness and Experience team. If there was ever an opportunity to be on a team named after three things I love this was the time. Dayle, Alex, and I have a very special job. If I could describe our team in one song lyric it would be “Real G’s move in silence like lasagna”- Lil Wayne. The people, happiness and experience team are the behind the scenes folks. We are the real movers and shakers of the center, keeping the center running like a well-oiled machine. But not many people know who is responsible for day to day managing of the center and all its components. From events, volunteers, to simply making sure the coffee is hot and ready, no task or project is beneath us, this team does it all. The People, Happiness and Experience Team is the best-kept secret. I have been in some job positions or internships where staff or supervisors were not supportive. It feels amazing to know that you have a great support system. It just makes me think about how so many individuals are in positions where they are miserable and hate coming to work every day and a lot of that has to do with the work environment. You may work for a company or organization, but that company should also feel like a community. The environment you work in has a big effect on your work productivity. I believe Dayle and Alex have done an amazing job at the community they have created and welcomed me into. Every day I come into the Center I feel a sense of openness. I become very at ease and refreshed. It’s great to come into a space where people are genuinely excited to see you.

What's one thing you learned about civic impact during your internship?

One thing I learned about civic impact was the amount of patience it involves. It takes a great deal of patience to work with various types of people every day, but it also takes a great deal of patience to wait for things to start changing. Yes, I know change doesn’t happen overnight but when you have been working towards change in your community or even to make a difference in your own personal life for quite some time, it can be difficult to stay motivated. I really applaud those entrepreneurs and small business owners for staying motivated no matter what their journey has looked like. Another thing I learned about civic impact is how hard it is to reach people. This is due to several reasons, one being that people are connected. And it is how job to find out how to fill that gap or figure out what caused this unconnected energy to occur. I just remember participating in working the Vote Local table during the A3C festival and people were very unengaged with the idea of voting in general. People feel as if their vote does not matter. I think people have sort of lost hope or have no faith in the system of voting which makes it hard for organizations like CCI that have voting initiatives to do their job. In general, not even with just voting it can be difficult to gain interest when trying to have a successful civic impact. I see this first hand on my campus. It is insanely difficult to get students engaged or involved with community work. Having food at events used to do the trick, but that doesn’t even work these days. I find myself contemplating very frequently as to what creates the space as to why people are not receptive to community involvement opportunities.

What has been your experience interning at the center? Name some highlights of your time here.

It is so hard to pick one experience because every day is so different. One of my biggest pet peeves is when things become too predictable. Interning at CCI is never predictable. Every single day is different, and projects are always different. Dayle and Alex always keep me on my toes because I never know what direction we are moving next. I really appreciate the element of surprise. One event, in particular, happened during the 2nd week of my internship, where I help set up for and attended an event titled, Our Future Atlanta Discussion Panel: Who Holds Local Government Accountable?. It was awesome because it was my first time listening to Atlanta residents talk about what was wrong with Atlanta. So often we get this glamorous image of ATL, Hollywood of the south, and those images overshadow what is really going on in the heart of the city. It was very eye-opening to understand more details behind some of the large land developments the city has undergone and how it is affecting residents.

What advice do you have for future CCI interns?

I strongly encourage future interns to be yourself. Always remain professional but be yourself. I have done internships in the past where I felt like I had to carry myself a certain way and I was losing my authentic self. I feel as though at CCI I am able to be myself while also adding a different layer to my professionalism. I think I am able to produce a greater quality of work when I am in an environment that allows me to be comfortable. I also encourage future interns to ask lots of questions. Ask not only about how the CCI operates but also about the co-workers and partners. You never know if there could be an opportunity for you to network and learn in other areas.

How has your internship made you think about the role you and others have in the community?

This internship has really heightened my awareness of the Atlanta community as a whole. I have lived in Atlanta going on 4 years now and the only thing I could tell you about Atlanta government is that the mayor is Kasim Reed and that the idea to move the Braves Stadium to Cobb County was a terrible idea. After being at CCI for not even a week I found myself becoming more well-versed in the language of local Atlanta politics. I have learned how important voting is on a local level. True systemic change starts at the bottom and filters its way up to the top. We focus so much on huge elections, when so much good work can be done in our own cities.

Love this? Want to join the CCI intern crew? Check out our current internship opportunities! 

Center for Civic Innovation Hosts Interactive Mayoral Forum


On Monday, October 30, 2017, the Center for Civic Innovation hosted an interactive forum with the Atlanta mayoral candidates. The sold-out forum, hosted at Dad's Garage, brought out more than 200 attendees and prompted watch parties across the city. The theme of the evening was community engagement and the forum was treated as a job interview for the office of mayor.

Candidates were asked questions around :

(1) Qualification - where they were asked for short answers ranging from the salary they were willing to take as mayor to which Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) they live in.

(2) Collaboration - where they played the famous improv “yes, and…” exercise, building on one another’s ideas to improve the NPU system.

(3) Courage - where they were asked to make a protest sign for an issue area that they were willing to lose reelection over.

(4) People-centered decision making - where each person talked about ways to engage people in the city decision-making and also commented on the commitment they would make to small businesses, in light of the city’s Amazon bid.

(5) Honesty/transparency - where they did a “failure bow” after saying something they wish they did better. The forum ended with each candidate choosing their ideal “vice mayor” and complementing what they have learned from one another.

“This forum was fun and brought a human element to what has been a stressful and exhausting election cycle,” Rohit Malhotra, founder and executive director of the Center for Civic Innovation, said. “We believe that if people are more informed about why these candidates are running and what they’re willing to fight for, they will be more likely to vote and remain engaged after the election cycle.” The Center for Civic Innovation plans to continue to strengthen civic engagement in 2018.

All 10 remaining candidates for mayor were confirmed to attend; however, only 9 showed up. All audience members were given a kazoo to show their appreciation of answers given by the candidates. Candidates were given pom-poms to wave if they supported the comments of another candidate.

This forum was a part of the Center for Civic Innovation’s #VoteLocal effort to engage and educate Atlantans around the 2017 municipal elec

foster attention, education, and engagement around the 2017 Atlanta elections. 8 of the 10 candidates filled out a “job application” questionnaire and all 10 candidates did a 90-minute breakfast interview with the Center for Civic Innovation. Audio from those interviews and the questionnaires can be found here:

Candidates that participated:

  • Peter Aman
  • Rohit Ammanamanchi
  • Keisha Lance Bottoms
  • John Eaves
  • Vincent Fort
  • Kwanza Hall
  • Ceasar Mitchell
  • Cathy Woolard
  • Glenn S. Wrightson

Candidates that did not participate:

  • Mary Norwood
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Center for Civic Innovation Announces 2018 Civic Innovation Fellows


The Center for Civic Innovation is proud to announce the 2018 class of Civic Innovation Fellows. The Civic Innovation Fellowship is a leadership and business development program for social entrepreneurs in Atlanta. This fellowship brings together a cohort of individuals with innovative, outcome-driven ideas to tackle social challenges in Atlanta and provides them with business development workshops, free workspace, mentorship, advising, and leadership development training. More details can be found at

The 2018 Civic Innovation Fellows are:

  • Charnette Trimble, Westmont Estates Community Action Group: Westmont Estates Community Action Group seeks to identify and educate seniors about resources that can improve their quality of life. 
  • Erika BlairYoung WallStreet Traders: Young WallStreet Traders is an education and mentorship program focused on financial literacy, investing, trading and coding for underrepresented youth in grades 9 - 12
  • Felicia EdwardsMindful Duty: Mindful Duty provides first responders with vital physical, emotional-wellness and mental-resiliency training via a mobile app, academy settings, in-service training, and community-based programs. 
  • Jenn GrahamCivic Dinners: Civic Dinners is the platform that brings people together to have conversations that matter. 
  • John KennebrewShowcase Group: Showcase Group strengthens and empowers families involved in the juvenile justice system through social and emotional interventions, and by using STEAM.
  • Mikala StreeterThe LIFE School: The LIFE School is a progressive high school where each student works through a custom, project-based learning plan designed around their learning styles, interests, and goals. 
  • Nedra DeadwylerCivil Bikes: Civil Bikes is a small business that uses storytelling for historic preservation, increasing cultural awareness and fostering a sense of community. 
  • Sam AleinikoffCollege AIM: College AIM supports students in Metro-Atlanta on their paths to and through college by building sustainable college-going cultures within school communities.
  • Samantha Watkins, Urban Perform: Urban Perform is a health and wellness center that will offer a variety of affordable, comfortable avenues for physical exercise and provide health education with a focus on obesity. 
  • Shon Storey, Seniors 2.0: Seniors 2.0 is a program that will introduce seniors to technology and tools that will help them function in their everyday life.
  • Terri BradleyBrown Toy Box: Brown Toy Box is an online shopping platform created to culturally affirm children of color through fun and play while creating economic development opportunities for Black and Brown creators, authors and makers.
  • Tiffany LatriceTILA Studios: TILA Studios is a visual arts incubator and shared gallery space for women that aims to promote the distribution and consumption of artwork by women. 
  • Trish Miller, Swem Kids: Swem Kids reduces barriers to swimming proficiency for economically disadvantaged elementary-aged youth who attend K-5 Title I public schools, by introducing them to the freedom of swimming and water safety.
  • Zahra Alabanza, Red Bike and Green: Red Bike and Green is an effort working to expand and mobilize an inclusive, intergenerational and diverse black bike community.

 We are also thrilled to announce our 2018 Food Innovation Fellows in partnership with the Food Well Alliance:

  • Carol HunterTruly Living Well: Truly Living Well grows better communities by connecting people with their food and the land through education, training and demonstrating success in urban agriculture. 
  • Erin CroomGeorgia Organics: Georgia Organics is a member-supported, nonprofit organization connecting organic food from Georgia farms to Georgia families. 
  • Jeffrey Hicks, Providence Missionary Baptist Church - Urban Farm Ministry: Urban Farm Ministry provides food to neighborhood residents, church food pantries, and classes. 
  • Josh DanielWylde Center: The Wylde Center educates and cultivates green spaces in the areas they serve by actively engaging youth, families, and individuals in their environment, health, and community.
  • Nobie MuhlGood Samaritan Health Clinic: Good Samaritan Health Clinic grows and sells affordable, quality produce for patients and community members. 
  • Reggie RamosGrow With the Flow: Grow With the Flow provides local and naturally grown produce, converts homeowners’ unused lawn space into productive market gardens, and works with the community to educate and raise awareness about sustainable food. 
  • Rosario HernandezHistoric Westside Gardens: Historic Westside Gardens fosters community self-determination through building equitable neighborhood networks around healthy, fresh and affordable food.

We’re so excited to see the impact that these fellows will have on our city! Stay tuned for updates from this cohort here on our blog.


Thank you to:

Announcing the winners of A3C Action 2017!

This past weekend at the A3C Festival & Conference, five civic ventures from around the US took the stage for A3C Action, a pitch competition searching for the best ideas that use hip-hop culture and art to address social justice challenges. The five competing ventures were selected from more than 140 applicants from across the country.


Atlanta's own, Marcus Blackwell, Jr. of Make Music Count won first place, with a grand prize of $10,000. However, because of the strong bonds the organizations built over the days prior to the pitch competition, the finalists collectively decided to divide the prize money, with Make Music Count opting to accept $5,000. 

The mission of Make Music Count is to increase elementary and secondary students’ mathematical skill development through piano playing and reducing their math anxiety. By incorporating music into each lesson, students become engaged through music while simultaneously learning mathematical concepts. 


Breaking the Chains was awarded the second place prize of $2,000, followed by Media Rhythm Institute at $1,000 and $500 to both Real Life Poets and Girls Cut Films, Too. 

Congratulations to all of the 2017 A3C Action Pitch Competition finalists and the winner, Make Music Count. Through the exposure and mentorship provided by this competition, these five organizations will continue to use music and hip-hop culture to positively contribute to their communities.


Judges of the A3C Action pitch competition included Liz Havistad, Hip Hop Caucus’ Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director, Dallas Austin, Grammy-award winning Superproducer & CEO of Rowdy Digital Media, Nora Rahimian, #CultureFix Co-founder and Lead Strategist, No Malice, Hip Hop Artist and Founder of REinvision, YoNasDa Lonewolf, Human Rights Activist/ National Organizer Public Speaker, and CCI's own Programs Director, Melonie Tharpe.


Meet the 2017 Finalists 

Make Music Count | Atlanta, GA

The mission of Make Music Count is to increase elementary and secondary students’ mathematical skill development through piano playing and reducing their math anxiety. By incorporating music into each lesson, students become engaged through music while simultaneously learning mathematical concepts. Each lesson is based on learning musical notes in a song. Each note is derived through a mathematical equation that varies from addition and subtraction to algebraic equations. Therefore, solving math equations leads directly to playing the piano, and a more positive attitude towards math.

Girls Cut Films Too | Atlanta, GA

Girls Cut Film too is an initiative to train and equip teen girls with the skills needed to be competitive in the film production industry. The program is a Summer Film Institute for Girls that will expose them to various fields within the film industry such as producer, director, scriptwriter, camera operator and more! The goal of the program is to give our girls a realistic dream of fulfilling a career in an industry that has been underrepresented by females in the past.

Real Life Poets | Birmingham, AL

We will implement the Teen Poetry Initiative within a minimum of two of the nineteen Birmingham Public library neighborhood branches and at Real Life Poets community arts hub in the East Lake community.  This allows direct access for middle and high school age youth in Birmingham City Schools, which is 95% African-American. Arts activist and teaching artist training will be facilitated at the Real Life Poets community arts hub which is directly situated in one of Birmingham’s most underserved communities.  The cycle of poverty, crime, and hopelessness that plagues many underserved communities in Birmingham is real and its consequences are often brutal and heartbreaking. We realize that, when compared to the impressive military-style hardware of police and tough-talking rhetoric of the political cycle, this program may look very small, but we will not give up on our city’s children. The effective moral imperative to offer a job-training, non-judging route for the city’s youth, and with that, hope for their future, does not have a shortcut.

Breaking The Chains | New York City, NY

This project would be implemented in New York City at Rikers Island jail. Rikers is the second most populated jail in the nation, while demographically 16-21-year-olds account for over 20 percent of its census. My past five years working with youth at Rikers as an art facilitator, youth counselor and Director of Programming for Friends of Island Academy has allowed me to tether relationships which will allow this project to be a success on the inside. The "Raise The Age" act which was recently passed states that all 16-17-year-olds will be removed from Rikers by October 2018 but still leaves a great number of 18-21-year-olds, some of whom are sentenced while the majority sit for years with open cases while awaiting an outcome. There is a huge amount of idle time during their incarceration which doesn't require meaningless programming but rather substantive interaction. Some of the most genius writers, poets, MCs, etc are incarcerated but lack outlets to express themselves while being refueled and supported by other artists. Creative mentorship and art advocacy not only allows space for expression but is also a springboard to guide young people into other needed discussions and decisions. This project will allow for youth within four facilities at Rikers to write around specific themes and be featured in monthly performances during their incarceration.

Media Rhythm Institute (MRI) | Baltimore, MD

The goals and mission of Media Rhythm Institute to encourage, promote entrepreneurial thinking and empower youth to expand their knowledge of the media industry through research and hands-on documentary projects.  Our goal is to inspire young people to pursue a career in the media profession and also improve their quality of life by offering encouragement and exposure to positive opportunities to learn about their history, network with community leaders, and learn about the music, media industry and the many career paths that exist within it. Media Rhythm Institute also provides mentorship opportunities and peer consulting in an effort to provide youth with the tools, skills, and support necessary as they matriculate through middle school, high school, college and on into adulthood.

#CCISpotlight: Jeffrey Martín, honorCode


Please welcome Jeffrey Martín to the stage under the #CCIspotlight. Jeffrey is the founder, President & CEO of honorCode. He was a 2016 Civic Innovation Fellow and, most recently, was named as one of the first-ever recipients of Civic Impact Loans!  Check out Jeffrey's story. 

Tell us a little more about yourself. What was your source of inspiration for the work you do? How did you get to where you are today?

I am an Atlanta native and grew up in the Kirkwood/East Atlanta area. Although those areas are super nice now, when I was growing up, there was a lot of crime and violence there. With my parents dealing with trauma they inherited from their respective families, I grew up in a household and community where self-medication, violence, and untreated mental health conditions were the norm.

Despite my home life, I excelled in my academics. I’ve had a diverse academic experience, attending a public elementary school, a public charter school, a private high school, and two elite Ivy League institutions for my undergraduate and graduate studies. Each of these schools had its own way of empowering students in the classroom.

The summer before my senior year at Wharton, I interned at Goldman Sachs in New York and received a full-time offer. Though I learned a ton, I decided to turn down my offer and join Teach For America in Providence, RI in 2013 as a Corps Member. Those two years of being in the classroom and studying Urban Education Policy at Brown pushed me to really think about how the content I was teaching would be relevant to the Black and Latinx students I was responsible for.

Tell us about the venture you are working on. Where did the idea for your venture come from? How are you driving impact?

I wanted to channel my story into a solution our city could use to increase opportunities for Black, Latinx, and queer kids to be able to make a living for themselves and also have a chance at building wealth. And the way I believe we champion for this chance at building wealth intentionally is through our booming technology industry, which needs some serious accountability when it comes to ensuring more gender and racial diversity within its leadership.

At honorCode our mission is to build coalitions between educators and employers to develop sustainable local workforce pipelines within K12 schools. We achieve this mission through providing curriculum and training to schools to bring computer science and social-emotional learning to the general K12 classroom. We’re engaging our local K12 educators and business community through programming where we get to talk about workforce development and how both schools and our local industries play a key role; and ultimately down the road we’re trying to ensure 11th and 12th grade students are getting mentorship and internship opportunities at some of our local firms.

How we drive impact is through the teachers we train. We know we can’t shift this paradigm on our own. Whether you’re a teacher in Atlanta Public Schools, Dekalb Public Schools, Boys and Girls Club of Metro-Atlanta,  Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta , or any other in-school and after school place of learning we have in the city, we need to all be working together, and incorporating mentorship and investment from our technology workforce, to help us make the needed impact.


Are there any recent developments that you would like to highlight?

honorCode is using this next phase of our growth to start building coalitions between K12 educators and Atlanta's business community to tackle the challenges of workforce development in K12 schools. Our first event will be Monday, October 16th, 2017 at Charles R. Drew Charter School, where we will be screening the documentary CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap, and hosting a panel discussion with some of the women and people of color in technology in the city. They will be talking about what Atlanta would look like if more women and minorities could code. We will be starting to do bi-weekly programming across the city going into 2018 and will be calling on Atlanta’s business community to join us in these conversations with educators.

Also, after the mayoral elections, on Thursday, November 9th we will be celebrating our 2YR Anniversary Fundraiser at Atlanta Tech Village, where we will be gathering all of our friends and supporters in the city to celebrate us impacting over 1400 students in our pilot year. We’re trying to raise a little over $50K to help us achieve our goal of impacting over 3,000 students in the 2017-2018 school year through our collaboration with Atlanta Public Schools.

Lastly, between our recent partnership with Invest Atlanta, recognition on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 and Wharton 40 Under 40 (to be released in October) lists, and bringing on a new team member, we have quite a bit to celebrate as an organization that has been around for just two years.


What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Atlanta today?

The biggest challenge we have is making sure that we are taking care of the culture that has made Atlanta what it is today. With all of the influx of investments coming to our city, we have to make sure folks truly have a chance at making a living here. We also have to make sure that as companies continue to make claims here in the city, that they also make commitments to the community members who often times get displaced due to development. Our city was built on so much civil rights history and activism, and we can’t just commodify it through a museum or through an award. We have to strive to be an egalitarian city that prioritizes marginalized communities. The incoming mayor, school board, city council, and CEO of MARTA will play a huge role in what this means for our city.


What advice do you have for Atlanta’s newest social entrepreneurs?

Surround yourself with people who can make help you make your idea happen. This work is not for the faint of heart! You have to be audaciously bold and have a community to see it come to fruition.

Lastly, be sure to develop mental health and self-care routines for yourself. The work we do is very demanding and you have to make sure you are prioritizing your health first.


Thank you to Jeffrey and the whole honorCode team! We're so inspired by you and the work you do. Atlanta is filled with incredible people and organizations doing meaningful work all throughout the city. Their efforts change the way our city designs solutions for the challenges we face in education, art and culture preservation, criminal justice and reform, workforce development, and food security.
The Center for Civic Innovation aims to be a place that supports and showcases these community leaders to the world. We hope their stories will inform and inspire.