Atlanta Business Chronicle reached out to some of the city’s business and community leaders to get their reactions to the violent demonstrations that began the night of May 29, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Read what Peachtree Providence Partners founding member, Milton H. Jones Jr., had to say about what Atlanta’s business community should do in response to the demonstrations, and how to move forward.
Atlanta was rocked by violent demonstrations that began the night of May 29. Atlanta Business Chronicle reached out to some of the city’s business and community leaders to get their reactions, to ask them what Atlanta’s business community should do in response, to ask them, “what is the way forward?” Here’s what they had to say.
Milton H. Jones Jr., Member, Peachtree Providence Partners, LLC
We all as human beings, regardless of our demographic category are understandably full of righteous indignation for the wrongful death of Mr. Floyd and the pain inflicted on his family. In Atlanta we have always been a city that came together through its business, faith-based and civic leaders to resolve issues that troubled us as citizens. The speed and level of violent reaction that we have seen is not typical of Atlanta, as Mayor Bottoms accurately states. However, we cannot idly stand by and silently watch economic disparities continue to grow. What we are seeing in the streets of Atlanta and cities across our nation is frustration that has been festering for years as black Americans see blatant racism, both economic and social, continue to have a prominent place in our society. One must ask the question “Do all citizens believe the American Dream is a possibility no matter the color of your skin”? We cannot continue to ask people to be patient and wait for improvement when the pattern of facts clearly indicates otherwise. We, as business and community leaders in Atlanta and across America must focus on preventing atrocities like the death of Mr. Floyd, address the root causes of social and economic disparities and simultaneously build processes that clearly respond swiftly and fairly if prevention fails. Great communities earn the patience of their citizens to believe in the dream of a better life, economic opportunity and equal justice by demonstrating that leaders will deliver on these fundamental promises.
AJ Robinson, President, Central Atlanta Progress
Like most of Atlanta, I was saddened and disappointed that meaningful peaceful protests morphed into violent confrontations and random destruction of property. Many of us have worked hard to create an environment that we thought would prevent such occurrences here. Obviously, we have a lot more to do. No doubt, we will survive the physical damages, as we did in the cases of the Olympic bombing, the Rodney King riot, and even the last tornado. But we must solidify the soul of Atlanta, by recommiting ourselves to making our City free from racism of any kind, and the best we can be on all levels of racial equality.
Doug Hooker, Executive Director, Atlanta Regional Commission
The recent, senseless deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd have brought to a boil the long simmering tensions and anger of many people. No one should find these protests surprising.However, during a time when the world is suffering through a pandemic, we should all be especially disappointed that riotous acts across the country are pointlessly piling on damages to businesses and communities that are already distressed.I am reminded of the words of Dr. King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Virginia Hepner, Corporate Director
The equity gap in America continues to widen, in wealth, income and access to healthcare, education and numerous services. Sadly, we also know this gap extends to justice and fair treatment under the law if you are a person of color, especially Black. What must we do to give voice and hope to our fellow citizens so they too can achieve their dreams? Are we using our full power and influence to effect change? I know I am not. Beyond what we can do within our companies, the greatest immediate opportunities to act right now are these:
Ernest Greer, Co-President, Greenberg Traurig
As a father, as an Atlantan, as a leader, and as a black man, I deeply feel our city’s anger and heartbreak. I do not condone violence, of course, not here, or anywhere else. However, we can acknowledge that, as Dr. King said, what we are seeing is “the language of the unheard.” Atlanta can heal from this if we are bold enough to listen. With other community leaders I look forward to creating a forum where we do not simply speak about the issues at hand, but commit to listening to those who are often underserved and marginalized, even within our great city. We simply have too much at stake to take anything but an urgent approach to this dialogue of justice and freedom. We can never be truly free if we do not respect the needs of others. I have spent a lifetime taking action to foster diversity, inclusion, and opportunity. This next chapter will demand more, but I am up for the challenge and I know that Atlanta is as well.
Walter M. “Sonny” Deriso Jr., Chairman, Atlantic Capital Bank
At a time when the world is hurting in a pandemic and many people have lost their jobs, it is shameful to see the willful destruction of businesses that provide those jobs. Peaceful demonstrations are protected by the Constitution. Unlawful damage to persons and property is not. Atlanta is a better place than these riots would suggest and decades ago adopted the mantra of “a city too busy to hate”. Let’s stop the hatred and come together to demonstrate the good in the community.
Egbert Perry, Chairman and CEO, Integral
I draw a very clear distinction between the peaceful protests that we saw during the daytime and the violent episodes that took place at night. The protests are supposed to draw attention to the deep-seated frustration over the inequities in our society and the conditions that were imposed, by design, on many minority communities, and which persist today as a result of both legacy and apathy. The violence we saw is a combination of a cry for help by some, and an opportunity taken by others to exploit the extreme tensions that were present.
While many of our leaders are content with nice progressive slogans about what we are as a country and a nation, there is a longstanding contradiction between those slogans, and the reality for minorities, particularly African-Americans. Their race and class have been criminalized, and they have been over-policed and over-incarcerated. The frustration over the disparities went on display for all to see. As a community, until we seriously attempt to address the underlying issues, we should logically expect repeat performances, perhaps with ever increasing intensity.
Instead of focusing on the symptoms, we need to be outraged over the decades/centuries of destruction of the lives of so many people that have been sentenced to live in communities that rob them of any opportunity to pursue their full potential. Those communities offer an excess of negatives, which include: concentrated poverty; criminalization of poverty; poor schools; lack of access to essential technology; poor transit connectivity; disproportionate presence of environmentally concentrated sites; lack of healthy food choices; poor access to quality healthcare; lack of access to meaningful jobs, careers and entrepreneurial opportunities; and lack of affordable housing in healthy environments.
While we cannot guarantee equal outcomes, we ought to be vigilant about pursuing strategies to offer equal opportunity. That’s a good place to start.
Jimmy Etheredge, CEO – North America, Accenture
I am devastated by the recent tragic events in our communities and stand as a proud ally of our Black and African American communities and communities of color everywhere. We must continue fighting for justice and humanity and to end racism. Racism is not just a people of color issue; it is a human issue. While each of us will experience these events in our own personal way, we need to come together and demonstrate our respect, understanding and compassion for one another.
Sheffield Hale, President and CEO, Atlanta History Center
The actions that led to the death of George Floyd are disturbing. The pain and peaceful protests are an understandable outgrowth of that and similar acts of violence, but I deeply lament the widespread destruction in Atlanta after the peaceful protests ended. This is an important moment in history and our work is particularly relevant in times like these. At Atlanta History Center, we use history to help cultivate new perspectives, develop empathy, and encourage investment in community. All of this provides a basis for the hard work each of us must do to create a fair and functional society for future generations.
Renee Glover, former CEO, Atlanta Housing Authority
The protests and looting in Atlanta and throughout the nation are outcries of pain, hopelessness, despair and frustration. In no way is violence and destroying property acceptable. That said, bad behavior by a few bad actors should not take our attention away from the real problems. These outcries are evidence that America is not on a sustainable course.
Here are just some of the facts:
(a) While being filmed, a police officer and his associates “murdered” a black man, with arrogance, indifference and no fear of accountability. This is just one of too many such incidents.
(b) COVID 19 is disproportionally killing black and brown people because of poverty and structural health disparities.
(c) The overwhelming majority of prisoners in U.S. prisons are black and brown people.
(d) The income and wealth gaps continue to grow exponentially while too many hard working Americans are one pay check away from financial ruin.
(e) Too many black and brown communities suffer from concentrated poverty and decades of disinvestment.
(f) Access to capital, quality education, quality healthcare, healthy foods; safe neighborhoods and developed parks is out of reach of a majority of black and brown families.
Before his death in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pronounced that in order to become a just and thriving country, America had to work on eliminating the foregoing structural disparities, which are all the legacy of Jim Crow and systemic racism. Sadly, too little has been done.All of the foregoing problems are solvable. It is time for the business, political, faith, philanthropic, civil society and other community leaders to come together to solve these structural problems. Our future as a nation depends on it.
The time for platitudes and broken promises is over.
Glen Jackson, cofounder, Jackson Spalding
Like everyone, I am heart broken by what tragically happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and countless others. What started as a peaceful and purposeful protest in Atlanta turned into action not reflective of the city I know and love. I am very proud of Mayor Bottoms and her leadership. She has been a voice of wisdom and strength. Atlanta historically has been a role model for racial reconciliation. Once again, we need to lead the way here. We can do it, and the Atlanta business community will be there to help. Listening is an important first step.
John T. Grant, Executive Director, MEAC SWAC Challenge Kickoff, Celebration Bowl, ESPN
Our country is at a tipping point. What we are witnessing, is the struggle for the soul of America. Atlanta has always been a symbol to the world of how people can come together and solve difficult and challenging problems. The peaceful protests turned violent do not reflect the spirit of Atlanta. However, during this convergence of a global pandemic, significant unemployment, and economic downturn, the underlying bigotry of the country has been laid bare for the world to see. America can no longer hide the flaws of hate and racism as it has for decades. It is time to face ourselves and realize that this is the cancer of the nation. We stand at a pivotal moment in time to make this country better. Change never occurs without disruption. This is our tipping point.
Pat Upshaw-Monteith, President and CEO, Leadership Atlanta
While the looting and destruction of property in Atlanta and elsewhere cannot be condoned, we cannot overlook the black lives taken at the hands of law enforcement throughout the United States that preceded this unrest. Damaged property can be revived. The black lives lost to police brutality cannot. I empathize with the burgeoning anger, frustration, and hopelessness that many Atlantans, many Americans – both Black and White — feel right now. But, we must channel that energy constructively. Protest peacefully. Volunteer with grassroots organizations. Donate to causes that respect diversity, promote equality, and advance social justice. Lobby for structural change. Above all else, make your voices heard: VOTE.
Helene Lollis, President & CEO, Pathbuilders
Friday night’s violence came close enough to our offices that Saturday became a day to secure our space and remove critical items. Violence can’t be the answer; but, we’ve got to work toward answers. And, as leaders of people it starts with driving dialogue inside our own businesses about inequality and change.
Rodney Bullard, Executive Director, Chick-fil-A Foundation
My heart is heavy. I am a native Atlantan. I realize that what we’ve experienced in the past few days is not the Atlanta I love and not the Beloved Community of Dr. King. However, generations after the civil rights movement, we continue to find America struggling with fundamental issues of race and racism. The recent highly publicized and horrific deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others have rocked our city and nation and shed light on the injustice, systematic racism, and disparities that African Americans endure daily. We are at a crossroads – a moment of decision. Now, more than ever, Atlanta influences the world. But, if we are to reach the true measure of our potential, we must pull together to address the glaring brutality that we too often see on display, as well as the underlying inequalities that continue to persist in our community — income inequality, gaps in education, and differences in meaningful access and opportunity. Atlanta has long aspired to be better: the city too-busy-to-hate. Now is our time to show the world who we really are.
Ann W. Cramer, Senior Consultant, Coxe Curry & Associates
In the midst of my feeling the deep pain, anger, frustration and disillusionment that so many are experiencing: physically, economically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, and mentally; and being distressed by the violence, not the protests – my baptismal covenant commands that I live into a spirit of love over indifference; faith over fear; hope over despair; strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being!! And to live into the vision that Atlanta leads the way in civil rights and civil discourse!! Love conquers everything!! It starts with me!!!
Cassius F. Butts, President and CEO, 1st Choice Credit Union
In the middle of a global pandemic, while we are all adjusting to a new of way existing as human beings, we also find ourselves dealing with the aftermath of an unfortunate tragedy. As citizens of Atlanta, a city rooted in the civil rights movement and Georgia, a state that is a global business center – we also find ourselves at the epicenter of a national protest. It is critical that we get it right. The non-violent protests of our past paved the way for societal change that led to greater equality based on race, gender, age, and sexual orientation. Yet despite this significant progress, our work is still unfinished. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” While in no way will riots and property destruction resolve the unjustifiable killings of African Americans, they are a result of the anger that many people are feeling across our community. The best way to honor our history of peaceful protest and the community leaders who have set the example of constructive protest, is to treat others as you would want to be treated. Let us be the solution for peace and the example for respectful solutions. I welcome my friends, business associates and colleagues to look within yourselves and reflect on the words of Mahatma Gandhi “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Bob Hope, Co-Founder, Hope Beckham
The rioting in Atlanta is a tragic reaction to a tragedy and clear example that two wrongs don’t make a right. I have long been proud that my city was known as the place where race relations thrived, the wellspring of the civil rights movement, the home of great leaders like Martin Luther King, Ivan Allen Jr., John Lewis, Andrew Young and many other heroes. Now, i know my view was a delusion. We can’t keep resting on our laurels. There is work to be done. We live in a damaged city in a damaged society. On the bright side, God bless Keisha Lance Bottoms, Killer Mike, Bernice King and Ambassador Young for speaking from the hearts and saying what needed to be said.
J. Veronica Biggins, Managing Partner and Board of Directors Practice Leader, Diversified Search
Saying “I am not racist” is not enough. Business leaders need to stand up and speak out by acknowledging the inequities that exist in Atlanta and indeed our entire nation. I am concerned for my family, my friends and my country. I am concerned for our employees and their families. Business leaders need to acknowledge the pain that their employees of color are experiencing.
Michelle Nunn, President and CEO, CARE USA
We are bearing witness to a grief and outrage born of gross, long-standing inequities and endemic structural racism. We must call upon our leadership and citizenry for urgent and serious action – now. We need serious reform of our justice systems, significant investment in our health systems, and an extensive set of policy commitments to address poverty in our state and nation. And we must use this moment to renew a dialogue on race and the burdens of our history. We need Georgia to lead the way in the creation of a future that squarely addresses systemic racism and renews our democracy. The stakes are high and so must be our commitment.
Sarah Morrison, President and CEO, Shepherd Center
In the midst of this destructive pandemic, the senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor are sickening reminders of the price that is too often paid by many of our fellow citizens because of racial injustice and brutality. As Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms implored us this weekend, we must not let incidences of violence that have undermined peaceful protests distract us from the real issue: how do we end hatred, bigotry, racism and injustice? As a white woman, I have not personally experienced racism and the pain it inflicts, but I pledge to seek a better understanding and look for ways to work toward a solution. I will encourage and empower others to do the same. We must all search our hearts, open our minds and educate ourselves. I refuse to remain silent, and I am asking each of you to do the same. Atlanta has a proud history of effectuating change without violence, and I pray we will honor that heritage by uniting and providing our country with another example of how to restore hope in our nation during this challenging time.
David Cummings, founder Atlanta Tech Village
We are heartbroken for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, their families, and communities. As for the Atlanta Tech Village, rioters smashed glass and stole a number of items. We love our city, we love our fellow Atlantans, and we believe we’re better than this. Now is the time to heal, not hurt each other.
Gary Reedy, CEO, American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society is saddened and distressed by the unrest in our nation and our home city of Atlanta. As an organization deeply committed to addressing health disparities, we recognize that health equity cannot be fully achieved without equity in all aspects of American life. We join Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in calling for open and thoughtful dialogue about how we address systemic injustices and move forward to a more equitable and just society.
Dexter B. Warrior, Principal & Chief Operating Officer, T. Dallas Smith & Company, LLC
The actions of arrogance and hatred by four Minnesota police officers added George Floyd’s name to a long and growing list of unarmed black men and women who’ve died at the hands of law enforcement. As a black man, son and father, I hurt. My family hurts. Our community hurts. Peaceful and unrelenting protests are justified to bring attention to and prosecute any and all officers who had a role in creating this community pain through brutality. However, we cannot end pain by causing more. Threatening police officers, destroying property and looting and stealing merchandise will not lead to the justice and peace that we so desperately seek. I, like you, deserve to walk the streets without fear of those sworn to protect, and I stand with anyone who is willing to peacefully illuminate that message and lawfully demand change.
Theodore I. Blum, Managing Shareholder-Atlanta Chair of Corporate and Securities-Atlanta, Greenberg Traurig LLP
Echoing Mayor Bottoms, I love this city. Atlanta has a rich legacy of black leadership, of opportunity for minorities, and of overcoming injustice and oppression. We need to hold tight to that legacy and build on it. Now more than ever we need to be vigilant so that we can quash injustice before it begins. Community leaders need to come together to put in place a multi-step, holistic plan of action that looks at the sources of inequality in all of its forms: economic, educational, religious, healthcare and the justice system itself, as a start. Most importantly, we will need to recapture and grow the trust Atlantans may have come to take for granted. Atlanta has shown it can be a leader in positive change. It’s our time now — our humanity, consciousness and future are at stake.
Kevin Green, President, Midtown Alliance
Sometimes it takes protests, riots and a global pandemic to bring the simmering obvious into stark focus. As we’ve experienced, we may all be in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat. Flights of oratory, hopes and hashtags won’t get us there. Nor will silence. It’s past time to dig deep, be honest with ourselves and lead with action. For example, if change flows from the power to vote, why should we accept voting districts that are gerrymandered with computer precision to suppress voting power for some in order to maintain privilege and power for others? This is just one opportunity and the list is long. This is a struggle we are all in, and Atlanta and Georgia can lead by example.
Leona Barr-Davenport, President & CEO, Atlanta Business League
It’s difficult for me to view this weekend’s images of protest and destruction as just a Georgia resident, woman and president of the Atlanta Business League. I also see the anger through men in my family: my two nephews, a brother, a brother-in-law and my husband. I personally internalize pain from everything I watch on news reports, because everyone I just listed is an American of African descent. We understand the sadness and hurt that has overwhelmed our community.
We appreciate those who empathize with us. But it should come as no surprise when I note that this display of anger seen the last 72 hours has been bottled up, individually and collectively, for quite a long time. I believe in the rights of citizens to peacefully protest! That doesn’t mean I excuse the violence, looting or property destruction. I neither condone nor support it. However, the systemic disrespect that impacts the lives of Black Americans on a daily basis is often hard to bite back.
Blatant murder, exposed lies, a lack of accountability and disregard for human rights at all levels is something we want to end. But perhaps for that to happen, more people have to see the problem through eyes other than their own. I am extremely sad that George Floyd and Ahmaud Aubery have joined the untold legions of young and older men who were killed in the United States because they were black. However, I bleakly rejoice in the fact that we live with technology that no longer requires me to explain the level of institutionalized terror that infects all African-Americans. The videos show the horrors for me.
Now how do we keep them from happening? What decisions must be made by what types of leaders to accomplish the kind of peace and justice everyone deserves? I stand ready to do whatever is necessary to provide answers to those questions and solutions to these racially based problems because I earnestly believe we are all interconnected. We will rise and fall as one. I sincerely want us all to rise.
David H. Eidson, President and CEO, Coxe Curry & Associates
My heart is hurting right now for all of our country, but particularly for our African American community. I can only imagine the fear, anger, and frustration they are experiencing. It is a disgrace that the injustices continue to occur on such a frequent basis – some big and well-publicized and even recorded for everyone in the world to see, but most silent yet equally disheartening. There can be no equivocation between the murder of innocent black men and the loss of physical property. Yes, it’s sad to see parts of our city burn and suffer destruction, but it is impossible to compare that to the pain of seeing a black man murdered by police…again. It is beyond time for white leaders, particularly white men, to use our voices, use our influence, use our actions, and use our wallets to level a playing field that should have been leveled decades, if not centuries ago. Please don’t view the protests around the country – even those that have turned violent – as anything but a very powerful call for justice and equity. These demands are something that my privilege has prevented me from ever having to worry about for myself, but something that business and civic leaders must take seriously for the sake of every person in this country. Asking for an end to the protests without addressing the root issues underlying the protests is asking for order in lieu of justice. It’s asking for submission to an unjust system. I look forward to being an active part of finding the path forward.”
Kyle Waide, President & CEO, Atlanta Community Food Bank
To my African-American friends, neighbors and colleagues, my heart goes out to you as you once again experience the trauma of witnessing violence rooted in racism. As you relive your personal experiences with bigotry and hatred. As you sit down again with your children and remind them of what they need to do, what they must do, when they are inevitably pulled over, to protect their own safety. I can only imagine how exasperated you are with having to fight for the basic protections under the law that I take for granted. What can I do? I can recognize that the sadness I feel does not remotely approach the depth of pain you feel. I can offer to hear you and hold you and care for you, with humility and patience. I can also stay focused on the core issues and not get distracted by the spectacle of unrest in Atlanta and around the country. I can commit myself today, once again, to begin acting more courageously to help change the heart of our community and our country. All of us must act more courageously. As leaders in local, state and federal government, in business and nonprofits, in the media, in our schools, we must do what is necessary to ensure that all of our children, and especially children of color, grow up in communities that are safe and peaceful, where food is abundant, schools are exceptional, and opportunity is everywhere. May God show us the way and give us strength to stay on the path.
Charles F. Easley, Jr.
This hurts…deeply…we are seeing the tip of the iceberg of a floating symbol of pain, despair, and intentional neglect for about 400 years and 8 months or so…depending upon your frame of reference. As I reflected on what to share so many things came to mind and a flood of emotion was at times overwhelming. I think because the catharsis would be helpful, yet the risk/reality of things remaining painfully the same was even more daunting. Hope is so very powerful. It allows the human spirit to endure and overcome just aboy about hardship inflicted upon a human being…that plus a sense of how long and WHY or better yet Purpose.I have personally experienced my share of the demeaning and destructive behavior of racism. Additionally, I have friends that have shared countless experiences as well. The numbness that comes and potential paralyzing fear is daunting. Yet you chose to stand and face it. Intimidation eventually gives way and can keep us from positive for only so long.
Atlanta has a proven ability to move beyond and a social and political will to effect lasting positive change. This is our latest opportunity. Let’s see what we have done 365 days from today and 100 years and one day from what happened in Tulsa. WE CAN And WILL RESPOND IN A POSITIVE WAY!!!
We invite others to learn from and join us. Atlanta is special in that way.
The residue of the actions positive and defacing linger. You can see the contrast by what is left on the streets and buildings and in jail. Yet as Mayor Bottoms so eloquently said, Atlanta and our country is better than the random unfocused chaos. We were taught better and we do it differently in Atlanta. It is in our community DNA to rise. We will come out of this better than we went in…it is Atlanta’s way. The world often looks to us. This is the place. Between our current leaders, past leaders, history, the MLK Jr Center for Non-Violent Social Change and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights…This is the Place for positive and lasting change to happen. Again we have an opportunity to show and lead the Effective Empathetic, and Everlasting Way.
It is what we are known for…additionally we have to claim being “too busy to hate” and call out those that do not know, were not taught and or need reminding because their actions indicate that they forgot.
As leaders, we are often called and in many instances it is unplanned. Remember how the call found Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma. We have to trust each other and move forward with integrity and authenticity. It is when things go wrong and are unplanned that our “character and the Real Inner Us” comes out. Atlanta as a community can and needs to reveal this at each and every opportunity. So start with bringing brooms and buckets instead of bottles and bricks.
Next, there is a real readiness for true conversations and understanding. Personally,I have had intense meaningful interactions with many in my journey — from a kindergarten teacher, to middle school coach, a high school teacher, other coaches, family, mentees, friends, teammates, classmates, clergy, and educators. Next my hope is that we come together to channel the emotion and energy that drove everything from actions the past few days and tied to the past 400 years for some, 40 years for some, 40 months for some, 40 days, 40 hours, 40 minutes or 40 seconds….put it into committing to making a lasting change. There is 8 days to VOTE. Then there will be 157 days or less. If we want Atlanta to be an example, then challenge ourselves and other communities to seize the moment. As mentioned in the movie Selma…to paraphrase… DEMONSTRATE, NEGOTIATE , LEGISLATE…..and I’ll add PARTICIPATE=VOTE.
Then as a community we need ALL hands on deck to repair, rebuild, and reform. The community, it’s leaders and elected officials need to “Call the Baby Ugly” and set correction action, fair opportunity and empathetic listening to focus on what is broken, put changes in place and hold each other accountable.