Community Solutions: Westside Innovation Lab

On Tuesday, May 25, at Brown Middle School in the Vine City neighborhood, the Center for Civic Innovation hosted its final community forum as a part of its Westside Innovation Lab, a process to identify and support community-built ideas and interventions in neighborhoods on the Westside of Atlanta.  After receiving over 120 ideas, three community forums were held, where over 40 people pitched their ideas to tackle social challenges in their neighborhoods to over 300 community members.

These forums made clear that the Westside is an integral part of Atlanta, not only for its history and culture, but also for its talent and commitment to community collaboration. On Tuesday night, members of the Vine City/Washington Park community pitched a wide range of ideas, from communication programs to sustainable agriculture initiatives and everything in between. These ideas were created and cultivated right in their community in order to improve the lives of everyone who calls the Westside home.

Some community members proposed ideas regarding increased educational opportunities. Angela Goggins of the Grown Folk Talk program is committed to teaching communication and parenting skills in order to manage conflict within families in her neighborhood. Talitha Anyabwele seeks to expand a spoken word program for students of Atlanta Public Schools to empower these young people academically and socially. Breanna and Naida, two Spelman College students, want to bridge the STEM education gap in the Washington Cluster through their coding program, Code Black. For nontraditional students, Box of Chocolates Media founder Kelly Brown advocates greater community education to help connect these students with resources that may allow them to return to school. SaraMaat Malika Imhotep dreams of a Vine City Press where the voices of her community are no longer silenced.  

Many residents also recognized the lack of athletic opportunities on the Westside for the youth. Through Park Flava Sport Academy, Hassan Barclift aims to merge and uplift educational and athletic opportunities through group mentorships and team sports. Similarly, Oliver Cherry wants to reshape the Westside through a youth soccer academy program. Moreover, CJ Stewart, the creator of LEAD, emphasized the importance of bringing student athletes together in order to cultivate a Human Ambassador Project within different Atlanta communities.

Vine City/Washington Park residents also pitched ideas combatting health and environmental challenges. Rosario Hernandez of Made to Be aims to enhance community farming within Vine City so that her community can fully realize the value of their soil and land. Similarly, through Golden Growers, Cashawn Myers desires to reconnect the elderly and the youth through sustainable agricultural practices. J.R. Murphy proposes the creation of a Joy and Reflect Garden, a greenhouse on the Westside so that the community can “eat right and live right.” Recognizing that the Westside deserves more healthy food options for people who cannot grow their own food, Stafford McIntosh proposes developing a juice and smoothie café that could tackle health and employment challenges at the same time. In order to transform the landscape of energy sustainability on the Westside, Malachi Garcia has developed Seeds Urban Market Oil Recycling, an environmental initiative to convert used vegetable oil into biodiesel.

            Out of concern for the next generation of Westside residents, a number of the pitches on Tuesday proposed developing entrepreneurial mentorship programs for the youth. Devonte Muhammad seeks to inspire the youth in his community through Pies With A Purpose: A Sweet Alternative, where young people can learn entrepreneurship skills. Similarly, Lateef Pyles of University Barber aspires to create a mentorship and apprenticeship program through his barbershop where he can train young people to become barbers and expose them to other trade options. After starting his own successful business, Andrew Kelly has created educational and mentorship opportunities through his restaurant, the Mardi Gras Café. Recognizing the positive impact of culinary and entrepreneurial skills on the youth, Elijah Mateen intends to create a youth culinary initiative.  

This is why the Center for Civic Innovation launched the Westside Innovation Lab. Because we have seen so many talented entrepreneurs who are solving many different challenges within their respective communities. Because we want to invest capital, time, and resources in these ideas and help them grow.  Because, as seen through these pitches, the solutions already exist.

“These neighborhoods are doing it on their own; we don’t have to bring in new ideas,” remarked Rohit Malhotra, the Executive Director and Founder of the Center for Civic Innovation. “Your zip code shouldn’t dictate your likelihood of success.”

 So, to our Westside family, we believe in you, and we cannot wait to see all the change each of you bring to the Westside and to Atlanta.