#CCIspotlight: Wiled Co.

This week’s #CCIsuperstar is the team at Wiled Co.! Lindsay Trinkle, Candi Shelton, Mindy Fletcher, and Ashley Williams make up Wiled Co. -  a digital marketing & experience design company, fusing brand narratives with the human experience. Through cross-disciplines highlighted by design thinking, Wiled Co. partners with brave brands to help them tell the story that most resonates with their people, delivering cohesive, holistic experiences grounded in human connectivity. 

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The Wiled Co. team joined us as coworkers at the Center for Civic Innovation this year, and their influence has spread to fellow coworkers, fellows, and partners. We are so glad that they’re on board! Candi shared the story of Wiled Co. with us this week. Check it out! 

Tell us a little about yourself. What are you doing, how you got here, and what are the sources of inspiration that got you started?

Wiled Co. has been through several iterations, with Lindsay (Trinkle) and I (Candi Shelton) bringing different skill sets together to do digital marketing in a different way. Lindsay is from tech startup world, and my background is in production. But we kind of found a "magic sauce" when we brought our skills together to create a holistic approach to digital marketing and experience design.

Tell us about the venture you’re working on. What does Wiled Co. do?

What's different for us is that we're not a social or civic endeavor in the traditional sense. But what gets us most excited is working with clients who are doing important work, work that matters and needs to be elevated. Those are the stories worth telling, but often there's a barrier to entry for acquiring our kind of services. Wiled Co. is working to level the playing field for social entrepreneurs and civic organizations so that they can have access to excellent strategic support and creative messaging help in order for their digital brand to form a compelling human experience. This ultimately helps them to gain more interest, engagement and funding.

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

We think the biggest challenge facing Atlanta today isn't necessarily a lack of engagement; it's a lack of clear journeys for citizens to learn and become engaged in real change. The fact is that people want to do something but they don't know where to start (sometimes they don't even know where to start looking for a start!). That's why we believe in the work of human-centric marketing. It's not about advertising; it's about sharing a story and creating a journey for people to connect. We believe that's where change can truly begin.

How has CCI supported you in your work?

CCI has been crucial in helping us define a company culture that seeks to do work that matters. The people we've been able to meet and the relationships we've forged have not only served our business well, but it's helped keep us informed and engaged when it might be easier or more lucrative to move in another direction.

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

Our advice is to stay curious, humble, and brave. Dreams are powerful and hope is a stronger force than you think.

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We’d like to say a huge thank you to the Wiled Co. team for sharing their passions, motivations, and advice with us and with our audience!  
 
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. This blog series will highlight one entrepreneur or organization from Atlanta every week from now until the end of the year. We hope their stories will inform and inspire.

#CCIspotlight: La’Teef Pyles, University Barbershop

This week on #CCIspotlight, we meet La’Teef Pyles, co-manager and unofficial community liaison of University Barbershop. La’Teef is a 2016 Westside Innovation Fellow and a current #VoteLocal ambassador with the Center for Civic Innovation. 

The intimate University Barbershop is more than a place to get a fresh fade from the self-proclaimed (though not disputed) Fade Doktor. It is a community hub, a training center, and a study hall. It is a place for concerned residents, young scholars, and new parents to come together and learn from each other so as to make their community stronger.
 
Tell us a little about yourself. What are you doing, how did you get here, and what are the sources of inspiration that got you started?
 
I moved here from Chicago in 1998 to go to school in Atlanta. I decided that staying here was the best decision. It was a fork in the road and I chose the right path obviously.  I've been working in the downtown area since roughly 2000. I opened my own barbershop in the Vine City area in 2006. Shortly after, a tornado came by and knocked the roof off my shop, and through that experience I met my business partner Terrance, who I run University Barbershop with. When I needed a place to work I chose University Barbershop. We’ve been here since December 2010. 

I think my favorite part is really learning what the people in the community need, what they're looking for, and being able to speak to them clearly in a manner that we can get some understanding from each other. I'll never say I'm teaching anybody...I'm really having these discussions so we can learn from each other. That's the best part about it, really, seeing and learning from all the people in the neighborhoods and what they know and don't know. The sharing experience is pretty awesome. 

Tell us about the venture you’re working on. What does the University Barbershop do?

Before going through the Westside Innovation Fellowship, we were doing some mentoring through the barbershop. We had a group of kids coming through here that I was directly responsible for. We offered a fatherhood class, which is basically a conversation with new dads - we shared different tips with one another that about raising kids from zero to five. Since I finished the Westside Innovation Fellowship, we’ve been offerring programming at a local middle school, away from the barbershop. 

From HIV awareness to a reading program, we've been doing so many different things in the community that connecting with CCI seemed like a way to get the story of the work we’re doing out to the public. 

Now I’ve become involved in the #VoteLocal campaign,  which is what I'm really interested in. I figure the candidates and the people that are running for office should probably come through the barbershop and talk to the people that are going to vote. We’ve had several candidates come through the barbershop. I would love to now use this platform to let people know more about the local elections. This is really important, especially when you look at the voting rates in Atlanta and the voting rates around here. 

What impact do you think you've had so far? 

I am the Vice Chair of my Neighborhood Planning Unit, and I've been the Youth Committee Chair. I’ve been involved with Vine City Civic Association. For anything that's going on with West Side Future Fund -I'm hanging out with those guys - anything that deals with 30314 or Vine City community, English Avenue community... I am at the table. If the YMCA is coming over to talk to us, I'm going to be at the table listening to them. I am the Nosy Neighbor. 

That's what I do...but I don't know what kind of impact it’s making. As far as my involvement in my community… I want to know about it. I don't know it all but I like to keep up with what's happening.

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

The biggest challenge, from what I see riding around, is that we have all of this economic growth without giving people a livable wage. So I'm trying to figure out how we’re building all of these things but this is the worst place in the country to rent. So, that's the biggest challenge I see for the city. The city is building all of this stuff but we don't have the wages to maintain it, and to live in it. 

Why did you decide to be a fellow at CCI? How has CCI supported you in your work?

Since I moved to Vine City in 2006, I have recognized the importance of the barbershop connecting to the community. We did a couple things from my former shop that we carried over to the new shop. I saw the opportunity that CCI offered through the fellowship - teaching social entrepreneurs. When I find out about that I said “Okay, let me learn as much is I can.” It's been a great experience so far. 

CCI has lent credibility to what we've got going on. The information that they shared with us about marketing your business to a social platform - that was pretty cool. I haven't gotten a handle on it yet because all the college kids want to get paid to do that. And I'm like "man I can't pay you to take pictures, man.” But yeah, outside of that, working with CCI has really opened up avenues to different resources. Being able to go down there and talk to the mayoral candidates- that's also pretty cool. 


What advice do you have for any other entrepreneurs in Atlanta?

I'm not an advice giving person but I would tell them about my experience of being new here with the service or product that I have. I would say to just be passionate 100 percent about what you do and your skills, and whatever your services are. 100 percent. Don't be saying things like "I've got to do this part time." I moved here from Chicago and didn't know anybody. I let people know what I do. I was passionate about what I do - I don’t have a part time job. I'm here all day. Eventually (a couple of years later) I'm able to take care of me and my family with my work. Don’t give up on what you do.  

Is there anything you want to say to everyone reading the CCI blog?

The barbershop and the barbershop industry, and this barbershop in particular, is a great place too if you have a targeted message for demographics, this is a great place to get that message out. So if there's a targeted message you want to share with black men, or college students, or fathers, men with prostate cancer, this (the barbershop) is a prime location to do it. Our demographic spans from kids all the way to seniors. So, if there's a message you need to get us, this is the place to do it. 

La’Teef wanted us to remind everyone to check out voteATL.org, the new platform launched by CCI late last month. Check out when your closest Civics 101 event is!


We’d like to send many thanks to La’Teef for discussing his experiences and motivations with us at University Barbershop. Get a haircut from the best barbers around (only $10 on Mondays and Wednesdays), on the corner of MLK and Brawley!
 
Atlanta is filled with incredible people and organizations doing meaningful work throughout this 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. This blog series will highlight one entrepreneur or organization from Atlanta every week from now until the end of the year. We hope their stories will inform and inspire.

 

#CCIspotlight: Kristen Daniel, Pentorship

Meet this week’s #CCIsuperstar, Kristen Daniel, founder and CEO of Pentorship. Pentorship designs customized products and services to facilitate quality learning experiences for returning citizens to compete in current labor markets. Pentorship helps agencies and organizations successfully implement 21st-century skills training programs in challenging settings where learners may vary in academic & career experience. Kristen is a current Fellow in the 2017 Civic Women's Fellowship. 

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

The idea began when I was living and teaching in South Korea--during this time, one of my friends from high school was arrested on a drug charge. By the time I returned to the United States and started graduate school, he was beginning with the prison system - these two experiences were so parallel.

During this time, he wrote me a letter and asked if I could look at his dorm mate’s business plan. His letter sparked a thought about how cool it could be to work with people who are incarcerated and help them prepare for their return home. I went to La Fonda on Ponce de Leon and on a paper napkin I kept writing, “pen pal business mentorship entrepreneurship” in different configurations, until I got the word Pentorship. That’s how it all started.

I’m originally from Lithonia, a city on the outskirts of Atlanta. My parents (the city mouse and the country mouse) are from Jersey City and Atlanta. I did my undergraduate studies at Florida A&M in business administration and Spanish, and went to grad school at Georgia Tech. Between undergraduate and graduate school I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, Richmond, Virginia, Iquique, Chile and Seoul, South Korea.

What we do today at Pentorship is very different from how we started. The first half of my career focused on B2B Sales and teaching English as a second language (ESL). Journeying with the Pentorship led me and challenged me to develop skills in web design, project management, and instructional design.

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

When I started Pentorship I had a very cause-based mindset. In the beginning, we focused only on reducing recidivism. Very soon after we started, I began traveling and teaching in prisons, working with volunteers and going to conferences. What I quickly learned is that recidivism is the end result of multiple systemic issues. Over time, we learned that we have to keep searching for solutions to systemic problems instead of focusing solely on the final step - recidivism.

We’re in the second pivot of Pentorship’s existence. I’ve learned over the past few years that education designed for people in prisons is not tailored to their needs. Companies and organizations haven’t thought critically about how to deliver education to this large, diverse group of adult learners.

Right now, we have a system where someone spends five years in prison and the first thing that is available to them when they’re released is job training.

The problem with this type of training is that it focuses only on the end game - employment, because this is supposedly what makes people valuable as adults… but it ignores personal development. Many low wage workers or individuals from the same economic background experience a similar phenomenon: even if they haven’t been to prison, they are from a population that have only received job training, but have not received social and emotional education… they haven’t been given the opportunity for personal development. Pentorship’s evolution happened because we learned that educational experiences aren’t being designed for an entire group of people in this country, including people who are formerly incarcerated.

While I think this is just a policy issue, it also has a lot to do with education. Pentorship doesn’t aim to serve individuals. Our services are targeted towards other organizations and businesses. This is our contribution to systemic change. We build for the system so that we can change the system’s behavior, rather than developing programs that have a minimal opportunity to help long term.

We are at the dawn of a new economic era. At this point in our history, what will keep people going back into the system (i.e. recidivism), or entering the system... is not being prepared for the new economy.

You can change drug sentencing laws, but there may be some other thing that becomes a crime. The business and education sectors need to create products or services that enhance a person’s potential to thrive outside of the prison system so they don’t have to enter the system in the first place. That is what Pentorship is all about.

How has CCI supported you in your work?

There is no other CCI in Atlanta. It’s a very special place and it’s interesting to watch it evolve. We will really know what CCI means to the city coming out of the mayoral race, which is going to be a turning point for the city and CCI, in terms of its role in history.

Any unexpected challenges you’ve faced or advice for Atlanta’s newest social entrepreneurs?

My advice for up and coming entrepreneurs: Don't be too distracted by the noise around social enterprise. Solve a problem. The most important tools you need are self-awareness and empathy.

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

The housing crisis. And part B of that is transportation. I’ve been here a long time, and my family has been here even longer. Atlanta is a town-city. Townspeople have run this city traditionally. Atlanta was never intended to be what it is (the state capital) because Savannah was supposed to be the New York of Georgia. This is why we have a prison in Atlanta.

The townspeople mindset is that they try to model after other cities how they want to supply the support, which is typically needed in the inner city.

But the people who need help are spread all around the city. You can’t view the people living inside the perimeter as the only people who need help, because Atlanta is uniquely spread out geographically. There are so many people in the surrounding areas who are suffering and need support or training so their income can increase for them to afford housing.

Construction companies are building a lot of new housing, but they’re building to meet the demand from new residents relocating from other cities to work here. We’ve got to continue to help the existing residents develop into the talent pool to that aligns with those opportunities.

Thank you, Kristen, for sharing your story with us! We're honored that you're a part of the CCI family, and thrilled to watch your work continue. 

Atlanta is filled with incredible people and organizations doing meaningful work throughout this 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. This blog series will highlight one entrepreneur or organization from Atlanta every week from now until the end of the year. We hope their stories will inform and inspire.


 

#CCIspotlight: Alex Acosta, Soul Food Cypher

On the blog this week, meet #CCIsuperstar, Alex Acosta, co-founder and executive director of Soul Food Cypher and a 2016 Civic Innovation Fellow. Alex is a photographer, community leader, and arts advocate. While teaching media production to at-risk teens, Alex saw such brilliance and spontaneous ingenuity in his students and saw an opportunity for them to improve themselves and their communities through their words. Shortly after, Alex formed Soul Food Cypher and has taken it into classrooms, arts centers, and communities across the city. 

Tell us a little more about yourself. Where did the idea come from for the work you do? How did you get to where you are today?

I am a native Atlantan. I know I am a rare breed—one of the few actual ATLiens. I recently read an article about how black millennials are really interested in moving back to the South, and my roots are primarily in the South. Both of my parents are from Florida, and they were interested in moving to Atlanta because Atlanta represented a place of progress, a place with traditional black mayors. This is where they wanted to start and raise a family. 

I was born August 11, 1986, which interestingly coincides with the birthday of hip hop. Hip hop is said to have begun August 11, 1973, so I was born on the 13th birthday of hip hop culture.  I guess my stars aligned and I knew I had to do something related to hip hop culture. 

I’ve had a wide range of experiences growing up in Atlanta. We came to Atlanta from Tampa, Florida when I was in kindergarten. We lived primarily in Eastside/Stone Mountain. Growing up in Atlanta, particularly in Decatur/Stone Mountain, compared to growing up in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. In elementary school during Black History Month we would make huge banners of African American figures, so as a kid I learned about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and about Rosa Parks, XYZ, as well as the lesser-known black figures like Madam C.J. Walker. I learned so much history just growing up around the Eastside of Atlanta. 

When I was going into the sixth grade, we moved out to Conyers. This was my first time I lived in a community where I was considered a “minority.” In high school, my mom and I moved to Alpharetta, which I consider suburban. I was going to school with kids who were driving the latest models of cars, and here I am driving a little Honda Accord from 1989. I was going to school with kids whose parents either had money for generations or new money. Their parents were lawyers or senators, that kind of thing. It was a completely different socio-economic bracket, and I was exposed to a lot of new things.  

I went to Milton High School. One of the great things about my experience in Alpharetta was meeting two friends, Austin and Wahid, that introduced me to hip hop culture. I had seen hip hop; I heard about it, but I had not really experienced hip hop culture. Wahid is of Middle Eastern/Persian background, and Austin is Caucasian, but because of our shared appreciation of hip hop culture we came together as friends, and it was like we didn’t even see colors. And that’s when I really realized the power of hip hop culture. And then we would start going to hip hop events, we would go to B-boy shows, breakdancing events - Breaklanta in particular. I remember the first time I went to Breaklanta and I was like, “oh my god, this is what I’ve been missing in life!” 

Breaklanta was a huge event bringing together all of the elements of hip hop - including turntablism, emceeing, and graffiti art. Others consider a fifth element- knowledge. You’ve got to know about your history. History and knowledge is very important to hip hop culture, because you’ve got to know where you come from before you know where you’re going. And each of those informs the other elements of hip hop.  

Breaklanta was a huge inspiration. I knew I wanted to do something with hip hop culture when I attended – I saw all the people who were there and they were just vibing. In Atlanta, who you are matters – but what mattered at Breaklanta was your skills and what you could bring. I think hip hop culture is the embodiment of American culture — it’s an amalgamation of so many different cultures. That’s one of the common themes in my life and in my experiences with hip hop culture: bringing people together. 

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

In 2011, I was teaching media production and mentoring some at-risk kids at the Whitefoord Intel computer clubhouse in Edgewood. The space had a recording studio and equipment, and pretty quickly I realized I was able to connect to the students through hip hop. 

We all had a shared appreciation for music and hip hop culture. I started a cypher with the kids, and I saw that that was how I could hear their stories. These were not easy stories. These were stories of abandonment and hardship... but at the same time I heard stories of optimism. These kids had hope and positivity to get out of their circumstances. The schools that they went to—the statistics there were saying that these kids were going to end up in jail or become teenage parents. Their life trajectories were capped. 

The idea for the cypher came from bringing the community together and creating a space for people to gather through their shared appreciation for freestyle hip hop. Soul Food Cypher is a community arts organization that uses the power of speech, specifically freestyle rap, to transform individuals and communities. The way we do this is threefold—through our membership program, through our monthly cypher events, and through community engagement. Each cypher event has exercises where we test our emcees through wordplay. These are not simple words—rather these are historical figures or complex vocabulary terms. Our emcees must integrate these words into their rhymes, and kids or others watching then see these words being used for the first time, and have context on these words. We build community leaders and people that can move crowds, but we also have created spaces to bring communities together and grow the minds of individuals. The cypher is a way of centralizing communities in a way that church historically has. What is in the name? Soul Food. Cypher. Soul Food? Food for thought, for the soul. We have our cyphers on Sundays, continuing the tradition of bringing people together. We are rooted in storytelling as well, because and emcee is the modern-day storyteller in the same way that the griots of Africa carried a community’s oral tradition. 

A cypher is a circle where a bunch of people, taking turns, share who they are and where they are from and the essence of a community. It is also the purest form of democracy, where everyone takes time to listen to the power of each other’s message. The cypher is a place for sharing and listening, and we need these spaces and experiences now more than ever. 

We are building out our membership program and community outreach, training members to take these exercises into schools and other community spaces. The members help train emcees, stretching and growing them. In the classroom, the cypher helps educate and supplement the typical curriculum. These emcees can then take up the mantle, going into other classrooms and communities, raising test scores and nurturing leaders. 

How has CCI supported you in your work? 

I love CCI—I really do—because of the peers that I have here. It is led by millennials, young people that are energetic. But CCI has people that know Atlanta, know its history, and know where they came from to see where they want to go. CCI treats its fellows and residents as peers, and there is respect and dignity for the work that we do. If CCI sees us as equals and bets on us, then maybe myself and Soul Food Cycle are great as well. That is something that is really special about this place. It respects and values the people doing the work, and helps bring out the best in us. 

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

One of the biggest issues in Atlanta currently is gentrification. I am working on a book right now that explores the relationship between hip hop and gentrification. My thesis is that parts of cities that hip hop artists have talked about in songs are now some of the most gentrified parts of those cities. Consider the Bay Area, or Williamsburg in New York City. These places are now the center of gentrification after being shouted out by artists. The cityscape that Biggie so vividly painted in his lyrics does not exist anymore. The projects and other centralized communities - those do not exist anymore.

I look at redlining as well, where the federal government and housing authorities marked off certain African American parts of cities and prevented investment from flowing into these areas. This was a big reason for the asymmetric nature of development during housing purchases and wealth generation from things like the G.I. Bill. Today, you can go on maps and see the redlined parts of cities, which is where gentrification has been occurring. These are things I have learned about in the book. There are echoes of these issues in hip hop music. Atlanta has some of the highest income inequality in the nation; these are issues we see coming to life here in our city. 


We’d like to send many thanks to Alex for discussing his experiences with wit and honesty. Check out Soul Food Cypher here. Be sure to be on the lookout for the next Cypher and other events.

Atlanta is filled with incredible people and organizations doing meaningful work throughout this 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. This blog series will highlight one entrepreneur or organization from Atlanta every week. We hope their stories will inform and inspire.


 

#CCIspotlight: Rutu Chaudhari, The Dharma Project

On the blog this week meet #CCIsuperstar, Rutu Chaudhari, founder and director of The Dharma Project, Civic Innovation Fellow, and current participant in the Civic Women's Fellowship. Rutu’s vision is to provide self care in the form of yoga, mindfulness, nutrition and lifestyle to public service organizations and the communities they work with. Her focus is on disrupting the monoculture of yoga by training instructors who are representative of the communities that they serve.

Tell us a little more about yourself. Where did the idea come from for the work you do? How did you get to where you are today?

I was born in India and moved to Scranton, PA when I was five years old. The only reason that people know about Scranton is because The Office takes place there. From there we moved to Jersey City and then finally to Snellville, Georgia. Snellville was the more difficult transition, even more so than moving from another country. My sister and I were two of only four brown skinned people in our entire school, so this was a traumatic change for me. As soon as I could, I moved out of that small town to the city and began to study literature at Georgia State.

My yoga practice began during my time in college. Because my upbringing was filled with violence and trauma, by the time I got into college I was struggling to manage anxiety and depression. I was also struggling with my body image and the idea of having a female body that is constantly objectified and sexualized. I was not dealing with these things in a healthy way. Initially, I was not interested in yoga either because there was nobody who practiced yoga in the West who looked like me. A good friend of mine invited me to take a class with her, so eventually I did. After that class, I felt an immediate sense of relief. I felt in my body for the first time in the longest time.

It was a very powerful initial exposure to the practice and I was immediately hooked. From that moment on, I was practicing every day. I didn’t take classes at studios because I was in college and couldn’t afford it, so I would tape my friend and research videos of the poses. My practice became my therapy; it allowed me to feel in control of and relaxed in my own body, and less affected by external circumstances. My sister eventually suggested I pursue a teaching certification and expand my knowledge of the topic. Pretty immediately I realized I wanted to share this. I started with family and friends--I was always trying to coerce them into doing yoga because it had been so impactful for me. It was at this time that I decided to start teaching and now I have been teaching for 13 years, practicing for 17 years.

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

The idea for the Dharma Project grew out of my frustration with the demographic that yoga serves. Knowing how much yoga helped me navigate the experiences of being a woman and a person of color, I felt that there were a lot of people who could benefit from yoga in their lives.  As I began to evaluate what those reasons are that these groups, including people of color, men, and different body sizes, don’t practice yoga, I began to suspect it was not just a financial matter. The barriers are the same barriers that I experienced in not seeing myself represented and in breaking down the monoculture of yoga. When I started this fellowship with CCI, I wanted to create more leadership in yoga that looked like the people that exist in my community.

The style of yoga that I teach is an integral approach to yoga that has alignment based asana practice, a lot of meditation, as well as nutrition and lifestyle education. It’s not an athletic form of practice, it’s a lifestyle practice. We have a lot of public servants show up at our studio and they’re drawn to the practice because it’s not just a workout, it’s asking questions such as: How do I heal despite all of the stress and trauma that I deal with at work? How do I take care of myself as a whole person? We teach people how to take care of themselves. In order to take care of yourself you have to work on the many aspects that allow you to be well.

The Dharma Project is a nontraditional way to address a very common issue. In the public service sector, there is a high rate of burnout and turnover. We have a lot of teachers, social workers, nonprofit workers already coming to our studio who are doing the work to serve others. We also already know that public servants are not taking care of themselves. This approach has proven to be effective as well in reducing stress and increasing focus and mindfulness, so why not start at the top. Then, because public service organizations have already developed a relationship of trust with the groups they serve, through them we also get the opportunity to expose this practice to a lot of people who aren’t represented in the larger yoga culture.

How has CCI supported you in your work?

I love to work on my craft, to teach, and to serve. I don’t want to spend my time looking at the numbers. Selling my idea isn’t the challenge- I have a lot of conviction and experience to know that this works because I have seen people’s lives change. CCI has helped me to think with more of a business mindset. I love that now I know what I need to know in order to propel my idea forward. In the past I felt like I was shooting in the dark, but now all of the business components have come together and allowed me to continue my work.

How do you change people’s perceptions of yoga?

When something makes you feel good, you’re going to do it. But getting to that point can be hard. It happened immediately for me, I had a glimpse of what my life could be like the very first time I took a yoga class. I had a glimpse of my anxiety levels reducing and me feeling comfortable and strong in my body- and that glimpse was enough for me. But sometimes that glimpse doesn’t come for everyone.

It’s about access and experiencing it. I think it’s like art. As soon as you start exposing people that don’t typically have exposure to art, the artists will emerge. The people who have it as a calling don’t know that until they are exposed to it.

The essence of this practice is becoming self referential. Everything in our life right now is separating us from feeling: our food contains chemicals, our media is numbing us from violence, and our environment is toxic. But yoga gets you to start feeling. It is designed to make you feel and be sensitive, and make choices that move you towards being kind to yourself and others. The empathy that is required to take care of other people is being lost because we’re so numb, and this needs to change. Yoga is one way to do that.

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

I believe the two biggest challenges are affordable housing and climate change. I live in a neighborhood near Grant Park that has been neglected for the longest time. We lived quietly and peacefully in this really diverse little community, but in the past two years because the Memorial corridor is changing hands, almost all of the old residents have been pushed out of the neighborhood. This is a huge problem for our community. In addition to this, as a result of climate change, there is less oxygen in the atmosphere. This has big implications for a practice that requires a lot of breathing.

Any unexpected challenges you’ve faced or advice for Atlanta’s newest social entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurs are so focused on the work, on constantly giving. I’m still learning a lot about the nonprofit world, but it seems as though selflessness is glorified. A lot of the nonprofits that I talk to don’t prioritize taking care of their staff, even though it should be a part of the programs that they offer. If these organizations have money, of course they want to give it to their programs. While this may seem like a no-brainer, self care is also important in order to enable staff to do this kind of work. Self care is an important part of what we do and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that, but getting funders and leaders to take action to change this culture is a new concept. I want people to do this practice with the same importance that they put on brushing your teeth in the morning. You wouldn’t leave your house without brushing your teeth. That is my vision for the world-- that people take that 10-15 minutes to reflect on their day and take care of themselves.

What partnerships is the Dharma Project currently working on?

I would love to find people that want to share this experience as I continue to share with more organizations. I would also love to be certifying people within organization, but this piece of the project hasn't happened yet, because we’ve only been around for a year. Right now we’re trying to lay the groundwork for our full programming, which requires a lot of patience. We’re working on a partnership with another CCI fellow, Jeffery Martín of honorCode. The kids that his organization works with often come from low income school systems, where many issues develop as a result of these kids living in poverty. Teaching kids how to code is awesome because after high school they can get a job and make a significant living, but you haven’t addressed the social emotional issues within the person. Those issues will just continue to surface and cause problems, so we’re partnering honorCode and the Dharma Project as a way of getting kids out of their head and into their own bodies.

Another initiative we are working on involves police officers and law enforcement. We’re really excited about this idea, but it’s also one of the hardest systems to crack. But I am hopeful because I believe that this project will have a really big impact. Research has shown that police officers manage their stress in very toxic ways, and that many police officers are having stress-related health issues. There is a lot of space to develop alternatives to current outlets for stress reduction.


We’d like to send many thanks to Rutu for discussing her experiences with such candor and for inviting us to experience her practice first hand at her studio, All Life is Yoga, in Inman Park. Attend a class and try this alignment based practice for yourself! More information on the Dharma Project + honorCode partnership can be found here.

Atlanta is filled with incredible people and organizations doing meaningful work throughout this 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. This blog series will highlight one entrepreneur or organization from Atlanta every week. We hope their stories will inform and inspire.

Recap: Who is Atlanta Building For?

Along with the partners at Our Future Atlanta, the Center for Civic Innovation hosted a panel on gentrification this past Monday.  A recent survey conducted by OFA showed that Atlanta residents found the issue of gentrification to be one of the most important things to consider as we elect a new mayor. The event on Monday had over one hundred concerned and engaged residents in attendance.

Slide Presentation

There was a short presentation with a few fun slides and facts. You can download it here.

Panel Discussion

Thomas Wheatley of Atlanta Magazine moderated the panel and introduced the topic and each of the panelists.

The panel consisted of Atlanta scholars, social workers, policy experts, and non-profit workers who are actively testing and pushing new solutions to gentrification and affordable housing.

The panelists were (from left to right): LeJuano Varnell – Historic District Development Corporation, Dan Immergluck – Georgia State University Urban Studies Institute, Darin Givens – Thread ATL, Che WatkinsCenter for Working Families, and Kate Little – Georgia Advancing Communities Together.

The panelists were (from left to right): LeJuano Varnell – Historic District Development Corporation, Dan Immergluck – Georgia State University Urban Studies Institute, Darin Givens – Thread ATL, Che WatkinsCenter for Working Families, and Kate Little – Georgia Advancing Communities Together.

Panelists discuss what they would recommend to the future mayor this coming January if they were his or her policy expert on gentrification.

Panelists discuss what they would recommend to the future mayor this coming January if they were his or her policy expert on gentrification.

The panelists shared their opinions on an assortment of factors that affect gentrification such as naturally-occurring affordable housing, inclusionary zoning, transit-oriented development, housing insecurity, red-lining, and the minimum wage. Panelists discussed the power the mayor has to generate housing and rent subsidies, emphasizing the need for residents to get out and vote on November 7th! They also focused on limits of city budgets, population demographic trends, and non-profit housing developers.

Most residents of Atlanta that are pushed out of the city go to the five outer counties, most notably Clayton, Gwinnett, and Cobb County. The elected officials in those counties are responding to this new population surge in different ways. Notably, Sandy Springs is seriously considering passing an inclusionary zoning ordinance. Atlanta loses approximately 1,000 affordable housing units a year due to “natural” market forces, and it further hurts that the federal government has reduced funding available for housing programs that can help in terms of infrastructure and help subsidizing rents and developing affordable housing. Professor Dan Immergluck said, “Density at market-rate is not going to solve the problem.”

An audience member asks the panelists if they have noted any cultural displacement trends here in Atlanta.

An audience member asks the panelists if they have noted any cultural displacement trends here in Atlanta.

An audience member receives the loudest applause of the night after speaking passionately about gentrification in her neighborhood and asking why the city always has money for other projects but never for affordable housing.

An audience member receives the loudest applause of the night after speaking passionately about gentrification in her neighborhood and asking why the city always has money for other projects but never for affordable housing.

Video

This event was jam-packed with hard hitting questions and well thought responses. If you want to watch how the exciting night went down, watch this incredibly educational and informative panel discussion here.

#CCIspotlight: Joe Reynolds, Love is Love Farm

For this week’s #CCIspotlight, we traveled to Love is Love Farm at Gaia Gardens to see the brainchild of #CCIsuperstar Joe Reynolds and to pick his brain. Joe is a 2016 Food Innovation Fellow, an urban farmer, and an organizer. He and the farm play an integral part of our community food systems.

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

I am from a military family, as my dad was enlisted in the Air Force. We moved around a lot, and I definitely did not live in many places for longer than four years until my dad retired! The last base we landed at before his retirement was in rural  South Georgia, in Valdosta. I went to high school there with a lot of kids that grew up on farm, in the presence of a strong Future Farmers of America program – but I knew nothing about farming. I went to college in Valdosta as well, and although I assumed that I would transfer somewhere else, it was an easy place to finish college. I got a degree in Anthropology and Sociology after starting as a Biology major with an Anthropology minor. Having lived in a lot of places and studying in some field schools abroad, I was interested in living in different places and understanding different cultures and different cultural foods. In college, I visited Belize, Palestine, and Israel; after finishing school, I did what a lot of rural Georgia folks do and moved to Atlanta.

I started working in a restaurant after college—all through high school I worked in restaurants– so I continued that after graduation. I worked in Decatur at the Brick Store Pub, and my friend (still the head chef there) connected me with the job. I liked Brick Store’s approach to business…. because the way they did things was rooted in a “this is family” style. We all intermingled and worked tables together, without assigned tables or territory, and that approach created a lot of chemistry among the staff. Subsequently, it created a lot of romantic relationships! My wife Judith and I met working at the Brick Store Pub. While working there, I had an interest in Central America and traveled there for three months. I studied Spanish in San Salvador, El Salvador and volunteered on a coffee farm. I was really interested in the political economy of coffee; I was treated nicely there, but one thing I did not understand is what it meant to work the land. I overthought and took for granted what it meant to grow things. I spent a lot of time reflecting on that travel experience and what it taught me. 

When I came back to Atlanta, I continued working at Brick Store, and heard about a farmers market that was starting in Decatur, where a friend’s husband sold. I was working with her one morning and asked her if she could connect the two of us because I was interested in volunteering, and he called me a few days later to offer me a part time job. That is how I got into farming! After this part-time experience, I worked in a few other farms (including a farm to school program) before being asked to help take over a family farm west of the city. My wife and I moved out to live and work that land.

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

Working that family farm was an incredible learning experience. We dealt with so many challenges, including extreme flooding that really hurt a lot of farmers in the region, but I think my wife and I really grew from that experience. After being unable to renew our lease long-term, we moved Love is Love Farm from the Glover Family Farm to Gaia Gardens, where we are today.

How has CCI supported you in your work?

The Center for Civic Innovation and Food Well Alliance’s Food Innovation Fellowship was a great developmental learning experience for the farm and for me. The cohort itself was filled with so many passionate, like-minded people. Keeping that kind of company was an asset itself, because these Food Fellows are the people that are improving our local food systems. Farming can be a pretty lonely enterprise, but the fellowship brought us together and helped us connect with each other. There was a lot of creative synergy among the Fellows, and we tackled problems together. I remember discussing financial numbers and examining one year and five year projections as a fellowship class, and it was demonstrative of the common experience and challenges that we as growers face. The resources from the partnership with the Food Well Alliance was also super valuable. Funding from the Alliance made the experience possible.

Above all, the Center for Civic Innovation really helped us to think strategically. I am a farmer with goals that extend beyond this land, in terms of growing our CSA and the broader food systems, and that means dealing with stakeholders that operate in different contexts. As part of our final event, we each gave a five minute pitch to funders. All of the Fellows struggled to condense the presentations of our work down to five minutes, a common experience that we all grew from. As farmers, we are doers more than we are visionaries, and we are usually not thinking about the broader picture and the impact of our work. The fellowship taught us to think and engage in the ways of these stakeholders, and that has been so helpful in facilitating the advancement of our work.

Any unexpected challenges you’ve faced or advice for Atlanta’s newest social entrepreneurs?

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Because of my personal experiences, I always encourage people to walk through doors when they open. I never thought that I would be working as a farmer, but I walked through that door when it opened for me. I think that advice really manifests itself in partnerships. Take a look at our compost partnerships. We have always composted on the farm, and we love it, but it is incredibly labor intensive. It requires turning and mixing and a sizable labor quotient all around. Through our partner Compost Wheels, we have been able to aggregate enough material and utilize their compost savvy to get our compost production to where it is today. Maxwell, one of our young farmers, is also extremely passionate about composting. With his energy, we decided to apply for a Food Well Alliance grant to look at how composting could improve our process and yield. More doors opened after pursuing that work, and now we are conducting a study on fighting infections in plants through compost and a compost tea brewer, funded through a government grant. This pursuit was made possible by our being receptive to the open doors around us, and I encourage all social entrepreneurs to think this way.

A big shout out to Joe for welcoming us to Love is Love Farms, letting us get our hands dirty, and see urban agriculture in practice! Check out Love is Love here.

Atlanta is filled with incredible people and organizations doing meaningful work throughout this 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. This blog series will highlight one entrepreneur or organization from Atlanta every week from now until the end of the year. We hope their stories will inform and inspire.

Meet our #VoteLocal Ambassadors!

On Friday, June 16th, the Center for Civic Innovation welcomed our first ever #VoteLocal Ambassadors. Our #VoteLocal Ambassadors are Atlanta residents that care about making sure their community's voice is heard in November's mayoral, city council and school board elections!  We are so excited to work with individuals who will bring greater awareness, education, and continued engagement to their peers and neighbors.

We are excited to welcome our awesome Ambassadors who are representing clusters of NPU’s that we have designated as ‘Areas” (a few neighborhoods are listed as a reference):

  • Area 1 (NPU A, B, C, D) Buckhead, North Atlanta: AMBASSADORS NEEDED
  • Area 2 (NPU E, F, G) Midtown-West Midtown -West Highlands: Ross Hegtvedt
  • Area 3 (NPU J, K, L) English Avenue, Vine City, Grove Park: Gwen Marshall & LaTeef Pyles
  • Area 4 (NPU H, I, T) West End, Ashview Heights, Adamsville: Melissa Wardley
  • Area 5 (NPU M) Downtown-Five Points-Castleberry Hill: Howard Robinson & Michelle Schreiner
  • Area 6 (NPU N, O, W) Inman Park-Kirkwood-Old 4th Ward-EAV: Sophia Gallagher & Constance Franklin
  • Area 7 (NPU V, X, Y, Z Adair Park, Mechanicsville, Thomasville): AMBASSADORS NEEDED
  • Area 8 (NPU P, Q, R, S) Cascade-Adams Park-Greenbriar-Oakland City: Charnette Trimble & Candice Key

Friday's training was the first time that our #VoteLocal Ambassadors were in the same room together. They began by mingling and introducing themselves, giving them a chance to connect and share experiences. Each of them will host informative events on elections, civic engagement and local issues, become a presence in their neighborhoods, and act as a liaison between the Center for Civic Innovation and individual community.


Ambassadors will be hosting a new program called Civics 101 in their communities. This program was created with the belief that civic participation increases as people are (re)educated on how local government works. Civics 101 kicks off with a game and describes the processes and players in a functioning city government. Throughout their training, the #VoteLocal Ambassadors learned and began to implement their new knowledge. We know that the work they'll do is critical for spreading knowledge about our city’s government! Through events like Civics 101 and other programming that our Ambassadors will implement in communities, Atlantans will begin to feel more knowledgeable and engaged while shaping the future of their city. 

Our Ambassadors are coming from all over the city and different walks of life to promote the importance of getting engaged in the electoral process. Meet our Ambassadors and help us celebrate their dedication to our city:

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Michelle Schreiner

Representing Downtown-Five Points-Castleberry we have Michelle Schreiner & Howard Robinson! Michelle applied to be an ambassador because she wanted to make a positive difference in her community. If Michelle could pick any anthem song it would be “A Beautiful Day” by U2, and says her spirit is like a dolphin.

 

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Howard Robinson

Howard Robinson Jr. joins the #VoteLocal Ambassador team from the Downtown-Five Points-Castleberry area. Howard has consistently supported CCI and its programming so we are elated to announce he is an Ambassador. He joined the team because he believes, “There is no place like home!”, and that Atlanta contains some of the most creative people in the country and that Atlantans have used this time and again to solve issues in the city. If Howard had an anthem it would be “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison, and his spirit animal is a gorilla, “...because they’re strong vegans”.

Lateef Pyles 

From English Avenue-Vine City-Grove Park, we have Lateef Pyles. Lateef was a Westside Innovation Fellow, and is now a neighborhood ambassador looking to spread the word about local elections. His favorite part about Atlanta is the Southern hospitality, because everyone smiles and greets each other. Lateef resonates with the spirit of a turtle and if he had an anthem, it would be “Liberation” by Organized Noize.

 

Candice Key

Hailing from the Cascade-Adams Park-Greenbriar-Oakland area is Candice Key. Candice joined the team excited to educate her local community and loves Atlanta’s diverse people and wealth of opportunity. If Candice could pick any animal that reflected who she is, she said she would be an elephant. Her theme song would be “Unity” by Queen Latifah.

 

Charnette Trimble

The Cascade-Adams Park-Greenbriar-Oakland communities are lucky to have Charnette Trimble as one of their #VoteLocal Ambassadors! Ms. Trimble is eager for the chance to educate her neighbors about the upcoming elections. Charnette’s favorite part of Atlanta is Downtown’s skyline and if she had an anthem it would be Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin On.” When asked about what animal would she be if any, she shared, “Cougar”.

 

Ross Hegtvedt

Joining as a #VoteLocal Ambassador from the Midtown-West Midtown-West Highlands area is Ross Hegtvedt. Ross’s favorite parts of Atlanta include the abundance of trees and the great people of the city. Ross joined the team because he believes strongly in both the idea of a citizen mayor and in social entrepreneurship. If Ross had a theme song it would be, “So Fresh, So Clean” by Outkast.

 

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Constance Franklin

We are excited to welcome Constance Franklin, our new #VoteLocal Ambassador from the Inman Park-Kirkwood-Old 4th Ward area! Constance loves Atlanta’s rich history and culture, as well as the various pockets of diversity throughout the city. “Amazing Grace” would be Constance’s anthem, and if she could be any animal, it would be a butterfly. Constance joined our team because she believes in people’s abilities to be the change they wish to see!

 

Gwen Marshall

Joining the team from the English Avenue-Vine City-Grove Park area is Gwen Marshall. Gwen loves Atlanta’s rich history, and became a #VoteLocal Ambassador because she knows just how crucial voter and civic engagement is to the future of Atlanta. If Gwen could channel any animal to represent who she is, she said it would be a tiger, and if she had an anthem, it would be “Just Fine” by Mary J. Blige.

 

Sophia Gallagher

Joining us from Inman Park-Kirkwood-Old 4th Ward-EAV, we have Sophia Gallagher. She joined our team to empower and educate communities. Sophia loves the vibrancy of people in Atlanta and all the trees! If she could pick any song to be her anthem it would be “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow” by Funkadelic.

 

Melissa Wardley

Melissa Wardley joined the #VoteLocal Ambassador team because she wanted to help voters understand the power that they hold. As a resident of the West End-Ashview Heights-Adamsville area, Melissa notes that her favorite parts of Atlanta are its history and the food. When asked about the animal that best reflected her personality, Melissa’s animal of choice was a lion and her anthem would be “Holy War” by Alicia Keys.

 


#CCIspotlight: Shawn Walton, WeCycle Atlanta

“Use whatever you can to make way for not only yourself, but a lot of other people”

This week on #CCIspotlight, meet #CCIsuperstar Shawn Walton! Shawn is an Atlanta native, Morehouse alum, founder of WeCycle Atlanta, and a Westside Innovation Fellow. Throughout our interview at his storefront in Historic Westside Atlanta, kids, cyclists and neighbors greeted Shawn enthusiastically as he helped them fix their bikes or advised them on the best bike routes nearby. Witnessing Shawn in his element allowed us to see firsthand the integral role he plays in the community.

Tell us a little more about yourself. Where did the idea come from for the work you do? How did you get to where you are today?

First and foremost, I am not supposed to be here. Because of Atlanta’s income inequality and social immobility issues, I am not supposed to have had the opportunities and access that I do. I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunities because they have allowed me to make my own decisions based on my interests in life.

WeCycle Atlanta is all about providing a roadmap for getting from point A to point B with the resources and assets you have available to you. Over the years, I have internalized this philosophy through cycling. Cycling was my way to gain access to opportunity. It has been my vehicle to getting my own place in the neighborhood and creating high impact relationships with the youth. I use it to provide guidance that communities can utilize to stabilize, stimulate and sustain their communities. It’s definitely bigger than the bikes. It’s about providing access.

This can become complicated because people want to see complexity. They want to see you accomplish a lot, and they want you to have millions of dollars to solve problems, but we don’t work like that. My mom taught me that if there’s a will, there’s a way. Half of the battle is just being willing to do the work. Once you have willingness, small steps and persistence will allow you to make your way and accomplish your goal.

I had a vision of the concept of fairness first. I grew up as a the youngest child and my siblings excluded me from a lot of activities. I thought to myself, that’s not fair. This concept and understanding of fairness translated into a lot of social settings and spurred my involvement in activism from a young age.

My interest in social advocacy and fairness grew and expanded as I learned how to navigate poverty with sports and recreation, and then got involved with youth movements that promoted social equality at Morehouse College. I learned a lot in my youth, and decided to study early childhood education because I wanted to give back what I had gotten.

Throughout college, I was always riding a bike. I biked back and forth to different schools for my student teaching. At these schools I began to realize that the social setting was not fair: 25 kids with one teacher isn’t fair for the students or for the teachers. I thought to myself, I love the kids, but I don’t love this setting where the teacher is fighting to teach with a hand tied behind their back. How do I find a way to teach kids the life lessons I had learned? Riding my bike one day, I was trying to figure this out. And then summertime hit and we had to figure out what to do with all of these kids. I decided that I would teach them about the life lessons I have learned through cycling: work ethic, health, environment, economics, leadership, and sustainability. These were all things that help me to navigate poverty.

I took my last refund check and started a little bike shop community center in my garage, and I haven’t looked back. Despite all of my hard work, I haven’t risen out of poverty yet. I’m not supposed to be here either. But whether you’re a kid or a student in college or an adult, you can make it through this.

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

WeCycle Atlanta is like a home, and our day to day activities look like what kids would do at home. We look out for the kids when they come here. We have games, snack time, movie time, soccer, basketball...you name it. Aunties and uncles come in all the time to teach different things. I’m the bike uncle: I teach kids how to fix their bicycles and how to ride safely. In addition to our daily programming, we try to expose the kids to colleges, farms, and other institutions that they don’t usually get access to.

Abbey Henderson (another Westside Innovation Fellow) is the garden aunt: she founded Gangstas to Growers and teaches the kids and formerly incarcerated youth about agriculture. WeCycle is about bringing different people together to use their strengths to move the community forward. Even when there is no teaching or programming happening, the doors are open. We want to make sure the kids are engaged and have something productive to do. There was a time when we focused heavily on programming, but it wasn’t enough for the amount of kids we wanted to engage. The kids know that they can always come in here and be a part of this community. Youth engagement isn’t difficult: open some doors up to kids and simply be present.

Do you feel like you get the right support from the community?

I do. My work is not glamorous- it is attempting to mitigate and solve problems that are rooted in systematic racism. Articulating this can be uncomfortable in certain settings, particularly for donors. So we don’t always get the help we need, but we get enough to stay open. I know that I can always call some kid’s mom right now and say hey send them down, we need some help and the kids will come help out.

There’s a lot of work to do, but not a lot of people want to do the work. I’ve had the pleasure of learning to value the people who are there and are supportive, and I've learned not to care about the people who aren’t. Don’t waste your time with that. Grow and listen, because some criticism is empty. You have to keep doing the work.

Any unexpected challenges you’ve faced or advice for Atlanta’s newest social entrepreneurs?

Focus on the people who are there and what you can do. Don’t worry about what you can’t control and what other people are thinking.

You’re going to have to get numb to no and the feelings that come with this answer. How you react to no is probably the greatest determining factor of your success. Because no comes can create the most devalued feeling, especially if you’ve put your heart into your work. You could spiral into why that person doesn’t care, but that’s not that important. The question is: why do you care and what are you going to do to make sure that people are being cared for? The only thing that matters is finding that joy and deciding how you are going to use it to keep you doing the work.

Don’t harbor over no because some no becomes yes. The owner of the building who’s giving us our contract, said no at first. I didn’t berate her, say oh you don’t care about the kids. I thought - I’m going to keep doing this work...I can do it under a tree but it needs to be done. Three years later, I called her back and she said yes. Why yes now? She said, “I kept up with you and you’re doing the work.”

What keeps you going in this line of work? What inspires you?

I can’t escape why I do this. I live in the same environment that I am a product of, an environment that can be improved to create a better quality of life for people. What keeps me going is opening my eyes....walking the streets, knowing my neighbors, knowing the kids and what they’re going through, and knowing what I’m going through. I’m still navigating poverty. We are all in this thing trying to figure it out. Because I’m passionate about it and because people have believed in me, I want to continue to do what is on my heart and make sure that they’re proud.

I want to make sure that we’re creating new paradigms and institutions that are more responsive to our community’s needs. Because we need them. It’s safe to say that a lot of the institutions have failed. Not wanting things to stay the same drives me.

WeCycle, which started as a community center in Shawn’s garage and then moved to a prime storefront in the Westside, will soon be expanding to a new space! The WAY, or Westside Activity & Youth Center, will be a space for community members and organizations to help engage youth through programming and presence. Check out this incredible initiative here. Shawn’s TEDxYouth@TheBeltline talk is here.

Atlanta is filled with incredible people and organizations doing meaningful work throughout this 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. This blog series will highlight one entrepreneur or organization from Atlanta every week. We hope their stories will inform and inspire.


 

 

#CCIspotlight: Sagdrina Jalal, Georgia Farmers Market Association

We sat down with Sagdrina Jalal, Executive Director of the Georgia Farmers Market Association, at her office at the Center for Civic Innovation. Sagdrina is committed to reconnecting our society through food by increasing access and helping people lead healthier lives.

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

I am a quintessential Georgia girl! I was born in Augusta at Fort Gordon Military Base and raised in Savannah. I graduated from the University of Georgia, and my family and I have now lived in the Atlanta area for 23 years. That is where I come from in a nutshell.

During my third pregnancy, I was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease. In an effort to address my health, I started paying more attention to my nutrition. Little by little, I became more interested in my food, where it came from, and sourcing it locally. Eventually, I started consulting directly with small organizations and companies to implement wellness plans. One of my clients had an autoimmune disease, and we were very successful with putting her rheumatoid arthritis in remission. As a result, we started an organization in 2013 called Project Generation Gap which was geared to helping those who don't have the opportunity to research and understand the connection between food and health. The goal was to connect them with information on the nutritional value of food and how to access that food locally.

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

Project Generation Gap eventually became the fiscal sponsor for the Georgia Farmers Market Association. The Association had been in existence for about 6 years, and it was an informal meeting of sorts between farmers and market managers that were trying to share best practices and support each other, creating a local food experience in communities across the state. When we became the fiscal sponsor, one of the things I was asked to do was to serve as Executive Director of that organization as well as Project Generation Gap. At this point, most of our work is done through the Georgia Farmers Market Association. Who we are to the world, really, is the Association.

Our focus is helping people to understand the distinction between local food and what they buy in the grocery store while at the same time increasing access to that local food. It is important to note the distinction between affordability and accessibility. Access should not be limited to only those that can afford it. Aside from the nutritional and health benefits of local food, our work impacts the community clearly in other ways as well. When individuals buy food locally, 60% of the value of their purchase stays within the community. The carbon footprint of growing and selling that food is also significantly lower. There is a quality assurance quotient as well-- local growers are growing food that they feed their own families.

Before our relationship with CCI, the organization had an office with a garden that engaged seniors and other members of the community. Currently, we have a project in Walton County. It has a garden as well, which supports our  free mobile Farm-acy, in partnership with Walton Wellness.

I think the underlying passion that really fuels me is a perspective on food as a tool to heal. In this way, I really see and understand food as a social justice issue, a viewpoint I did not have initially. I began this work because I looked at food from the perspective of improving my own health and improving the health of others. But equity issues really are at play here. Now more than ever, I see the role that food plays in addressing the disparities that exist in our communities.

How has CCI supported you in your work?

My relationship with CCI began through the Food Innovation Fellowship. I think that the fellowship was a tremendous opportunity for me. The fellowship helped me understand the perspective of local farmers to food better than any prior experience.

Then there is CCI as a physical space. The environment is creative and inspiring! Just being around the energy of the space is so helpful when grappling with ideas and working through issues. When you are around other people that understand your challenges as well as your triumphs-- that is really special. That gets to the core of why we decided to move to and co-work out of CCI. We are home here.

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

Food can either bring people together or create challenges for connecting people. In Atlanta, I think we see both. There is not one predominant food culture. Some may see it as oriented around the South, but Atlanta is more cosmopolitan and diverse than that. That is a challenge; Atlanta is still finding itself.

Food growing is a part of this process and that is what makes it so important to me. Food growing should be seen as an act of love. In an age of connectedness, I think we are more disconnected from food and where ours comes from than ever. I think this plays into how disconnected we are from each other as well.

In my original journey to understand where my food came from, I experienced processing chicken. We took the whole bird to the meat that we take for granted. That experience connected me to the chicken that I eat. Because or that, nowadays it is hard for me to eat chicken frivolously. Back in the day, we really valued the act of preparing and eating meat- it was a special experience. Now we have really lowered the value of food. I think that shifting our focus back to the quality and value of food should be our goal. Finding and preserving Atlanta’s food culture goes hand in hand with reconnecting us to the value of what we eat.

Any unexpected challenges you’ve faced or advice for Atlanta’s newest social entrepreneurs?

I had no idea what I was getting myself into-- If I had analyzed this more, there is no way I would be here today, doing the work I do. To that end, I advise Atlanta's future social entrepreneurs to just dive in! Get good advisors, listen to people that have experience and knowledge around what you do, and go for it. Do not become paralyzed by over-analysis. Learn along the way, but don’t lose that passion. Over-analysis could lead to losing your passion.

Also, eat well! Well-being in this space allows you to do your work to the best of your ability and drive change. Fuel your body well. Check our farmers markets around Atlanta, like Freedom Farmer’s Market, Peachtree Road, Grant Park, Green Market at Piedmont Park, East Point, Ponce City Market on Tuesday nights, East Atlanta Village, Decatur, and Bolton Road, a new addition to the fold. We have some amazing markets and growing communities.

Sagdrina has accomplished so much through her work and we are honored to support her through the fellowship and as a resident of the Center. Learn more about Sagdrina and the Georgia Farmers Market Association through their initiative Nourish, an effort to bring local food to the family table.

Atlanta is filled with incredible people and organizations doing meaningful work throughout this 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. This blog series will highlight one entrepreneur or organization from Atlanta every week. We hope their stories will inform and inspire.