Faye Hammonds, the AWER Program Leader for May, presented Mr. John Ahmann, President of the Westside Future Fund and leader of the huge community change project on Atlanta’s Westside. John, who’s been a major ‘go-to’ person for decades benefiting many organizations, including Atlanta's Olympic Games, the State of Georgia, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, two terms on the Decatur School Board, and the Atlanta Committee for Progress. John noted some of the substantial people from the Atlanta Westside who added to the history of Atlanta and our nation. He specifically expressed thankfulness for Grace Hamilton, W.E.B. Dubois, Dorothy Bolton, Alonzo Herndon, Julian Bond, Herman Russell, and The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. to name a few whose contributions have substantially impacted the look and character of Atlanta and beyond.
Westside Future Fund concentrates its change agenda on four neighborhoods: Vine City, Ashview Heights, English Avenue and the Atlanta University Center neighborhoods covering a 2.4 square mile area. In the 1960s the population was 50,000, and in 2020 it has shrunk to 18,000 and primarily lower income black citizens.
WSFF is led by a board of directors, now chaired by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, retired president of Spelman College. The board is diverse in race, gender, occupation and community representation. John laid out the impact strategy for WSFF in several key several areas, including (a) availability of high-quality, affordable housing to meet the needs of low-income, legacy residents. WSFF aims at enabling housing costs of less than 30% of family income. Currently, about 85% of residents are renters with 15% of four areas comprised of homeowners. WSFF’s Home on the Westside targets the acquisition of property because only 39% of the dwellings (for owners, the government domiciles) is controlled by WSFF. This leaves 61% of the housing stock accessible to developers for speculation who see attractive investment opportunities because the area’s close proximity to Atlanta’s downtown and the Atlanta airport. John said he and the WSFF board of directors have a major commitment to raise funds to stabilize the neighborhoods for its core and legacy resident population. (b) Education aims at the four main APS schools: M. Agnes Jones Elementary School, Hollis Innovation Academy, Brown Middle School and Booker T. Washington High School, plus several preschools. An important WSFF goal is to dramatically increase academic performances and enrollment. (c) WSFF commitment to public safety has led to huge reductions in crime and becoming much safer in every neighborhood.
When Faye introduced John she mentioned the Westside Summit – semi-monthly gatherings at The Gathering Spot to promote participation, underscore its moral base, support community goodness and responsibility, and share opportunities and results. Some 200 people gather for a breakfast, courtesy of Chick-fil-A. John commits substantial time and resources to the WS Summits because he wants to engage, inform and promote the Westside. He believes everyone – literally – has an opportunity to contribute in ways that add value ethically, pragmatically, financially and personally to the positive health and future of the Westside. He and Faye invited all to participate – 7-9am two Fridays per month. The next meeting is on Friday, June 5th.