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Leading with Racial Equity

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, TN. We were moved by a piece authored by Odetta MacLeish-White, Managing Director at TransFormation Alliance and our SPARCC Atlanta partner, commemorating the life and work of Dr. King and connecting it to the work she, her organization, and community are currently doing. Today, on the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, we are sharing an extended version of her piece which was originally posted in the TransFormation Alliance newsletter. We are honored to be working with partners that are committed to advancing racial equity and fairness for all across the U.S.

By Odetta MacLeish-White

This month is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I’ve been thinking about what I could write that could do justice to the moment. My equity and social justice training has taught to speak from my “I position” – that space of personal truth that conveys your experience and perspective without shutting down the possibility of someone else’s personal truth. These three images propel me to my personal truth every time I see them.






That’s Dr. King on the left, Emmett Till in the middle, and my own son is on the right, taken when he was about five years old. He’s ten now, and I see him growing taller and bigger, and I worry about how this country will treat him. I truly believe that our nation’s shared prosperity requires us to set the conditions that unlock everyone’s potential, but the drive that gets me out of bed each day is my fervent wish to create a safer world for my son and daughter, so they can fulfill their potential and make their contributions to the world, unharmed.

This year, the TransFormation Alliance rewrote our memorandum of agreement, a statement of our shared principles as a collaborative. The very first principle is “Leading with Racial Equity”, an acknowledgment that decisions made about the built environment were, and are, based on structural racism and have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low income communities. As of March, we are up to 28 members all of which have signed this new MOA centering race in this explicit and honest way. While not legally binding, this support is a profound and deeply encouraging indication that people of good will and action are drawn to our work. Another encouraging sign has come from the first graduating class of our citizen academy, the TransFormation Academy – graduates have asked me for additional materials on equitable transit and how to have productive conversations on race and equity. I’m so grateful that they have absorbed the information and are seeking to bring it into other areas of their lives. We just need several million more of these “conversions”! This month is also the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, a powerful national statement on the importance of access to affordable and safe housing. The TransFormation Alliance is working to develop permanent affordable housing in one of our partner neighborhoods, in close conversation with the residents who will drive and walk past it every day. This single project won’t stem rising housing costs but we hope it will provide a template for a New Atlanta Way in housing development – one that is tailored to the community while it provides a return on investment.

Maybe the best words to share are Dr. King’s own on the three evils of racism, poverty and war, delivered in 1967 to Atlanta’s Hungry Club Forum: “For those who are telling me to keep my mouth shut, I can’t do that. I’m against segregation at lunch counters, and I’m not going to segregate my moral concerns. And we must know on some positions, cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?” But conscience asks the question, “Is it right?”

Here’s to doing what’s right, for everyone.

Odetta MacLeish-White is the Managing Director at TransFormation Alliance



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