Brookhaven Reporter - January 2021

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JANUARY 2021 • VOL. 13 — NO. 1

Brookhaven Reporter


Students find creative ways to support the community in pandemic crisis P19-30


Social justice commission kicks off with orientation on city’s diversity

Looking back at a historic year P6


Peering into the 2021 crystal ball



A map of the City Centre Master Plan area as shown on the city’s public input website.



New Year, New Beginnings P16

The Brookhaven Reporter is mail delivered to homes on selected carrier routes in ZIP 30319 For information:

City Centre Master Plan begins public input BY HOLLY R. PRICE The city of Brookhaven on Dec. 3 began public input on its City Centre Master Plan. In two public sessions, residents were led through a website created to show residents what information has been gathered thus far and how to provide input. To view information and provide input into early January, residents can go to The city’s 2034 Comprehensive Plan calls for a “City Centre” to complement a longdiscussed redevelopment of the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA station. A new City Hall is a main expected feature, but the plan is also intended to guide future mixed-use

developments of the commercial area along Peachtree Road. The planning area extends west to the Brookhaven Drive area, east along Dresden Drive to Conasauga Avenue, and north past Osborne Road. The southern border includes MARTA right of way, Sylvan Circle, and part of the Dresden Drive corridor. In a change from a previous draft map, it includes Brookhaven Park. The same material was presented at both sessions, and included an introduction of the project team, process and timeline, which is expected to be ready for a City Council review in June 2021. The process inSee CITY on page 4


See Page 98

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst started off the first meeting of the city’s Social Justice, Race and Equity Commission Dec. 17 by making clear his intent for the group. “I didn’t want to just check a box,” he said at the virtual meeting. “I wanted to dive deep.” “I know this isn’t going to solve the world’s problems,” Ernst continued, but said that “we are living in times of great mistrust, upheaval and fear.” The 37-member, diverse group of volunteers was created after the nationwide protests in early summer against racial injustice and police brutality. It will review the city’s vision, mission statement and charter, its policies and procedures, public engagement and communication outreach. The group, divided into four different topic committees, will also be looking at the Brookhaven Police Department’s use of force policy, oversight and accountability to identify, evaluate and report potential recommendations to the city council. Commission Chairman John Funny told the group not to go into their mission thinking there were any problems to find. “This doesn’t mean there’s an issue,” he said. It’s just a look at what’s going on and See SOCIAL on page 14

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Atlanta Hawks refinance local facility to support Black-owned banks; tax break remains BY JOHN RUCH The Atlanta Hawks is refinancing the $35 million construction loan for its Brookhaven practice facility and sports medicine complex through Black-owned banks in a groundbreaking deal the basketball team’s owner says shows it can be “a positive agent of change.” The refinancing does not change an $11 million tax break the Hawks got for the facility through the city development authority. That deal has been controversial for its impact on another majority-Black constituency — public schools — and a DeKalb County commissioner says the team should give up the tax break if it is “serious about equity.” The Emory Sports Medicine Complex, jointly operated by the Hawks and Emory Healthcare, opened in 2017 at 1968 Hawks Lane in Executive Park, an area that Emory intends to remake into a billion-dollar, mixed-use center. According to a Dec. 10 press release announcing the refinancing, the deal was facilitated by the newly formed, Atlanta-based National Black Bank Foundation, which operates the Black Bank Fund, and involves a syndicate of banks led by Savannah-based Carver State Bank. The deal “marks the first time a professional sports franchise has had a significant loan underwritten exclusively by Black banks,” the release said. The NBBF says that Black communities are underserved by banks, leaving many people vulnerable to high-fee lenders and services, discriminatory lending and other serious equity problems, which contribute to racial disparities in wealth and other financial troubles. At the same time, the NBBF says, Black-owned banks are dwindling, with only 18 left in the nation. “Today’s announcement reflects our commitment to putting our values into action — by choosing to work with Black banks and drawing attention to the need for Black banks to thrive as they work toward addressing the lack of access to capital in Black communities,” said Tony Ressler, the principal owner of the Hawks, in the release. “We always strive to ask ourselves how the Hawks can best help those in the community that are already helping others, and today’s announcement is another step in our commitment to use the Hawks as a positive agent of change. This is both good for the community and good business to empower new and existing Black businesses.” Robert E. James II, a Carver State Bank executive and chairman-election of the National Bankers Association, praised the deal in the release. “What we earn from this loan strengthens our collective ability to provide even more loans and financial services to Black small businesses and consumers, and we are able to show our ability to pull off a large, sophisticated loan transaction,” James said. “Tony and his team are real allies in the movement for racial equity.” The banking deal follows months of nationwide dialogues about race and racism in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. That discussion has come to Brookhaven’s city government as well, which recently formed a Social Justice, Race and Equity Commission that is scheduled to begin meeting next week. Commission Chair John Funny is praising the Hawks’ move as a “tremendous act of providing economic opportunities.” “Securing funding with Black-owned banks will have a significant impact on improving the fortunes of these financial institutions and provide for better economic mobility. The Atlanta Hawks is truly a trailblazer,” Funny said in a written statement. “And, with them having their Emory Sports Medicine Complex practice and training facility in Brookhaven, I’m proud to call them neighbor and a community business partner. It is essential to the progress and the sustainability of our united fabric to recognize diversity, equity and inclusion as a strength and not a mandate as we build the Beloved Community, especially here in the city of Brookhaven.”

Tax abatement controversy

The Emory and Hawks facility came to Brookhaven in a deal secretly crafted with government leaders, including the tax abatement approved by the Brookhaven Development Authority under the code name “Operation Windmill Dunk.” The development authority acted as a pass-through for the construction financing, using its tax-free status to offer a discount on property taxes worth an estimated $11 million. The Hawks agreed to make an annual payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, of $302,900 for 15 years, but only to the city and not to the county and state coffers that otherwise would have gotten a share. The city so far has used that money to buy a property on Buford Highway for a DeKalb County ambulance station. According to city and Hawks spokespeople, the refinancing of the construction loan will not alter the abatement or the PILOT. “There have been no changes or restructuring from this financing,” said Garin Narain, the Hawks senior vice president of public relations, in an email. Tax abatements granted through development authorities have become intensely controversial in recent years, especially in DeKalb and Fulton counties. The deals are intended to spur development by offering a short-term reduction in taxes on the hope that the development will lead to overall increased taxes later. Critics say that many of the abatements go to developments that would happen anyway, unnecessarily cutting into budgets, particularly for public schools. Last month, Brookhaven and a developer withdrew from a previBK

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ously announced tax abatement deal for a project on Dresden Drive amid controversy from neighbors and DeKalb County officials. The Hawks’ tax break was controversial, too. Shortly after its 2016 announcement, some county and state officials called for reforms that would require all local governments to be informed about and involved in such taxbreak deals. One of those critics, DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, said in an email that the Hawks and the development authority should consider giving up the tax-break deal that they are “enjoying at our expense.” “It is particularly appropriate that the Hawks not only seek to benefit Black capitalists by doing business with their banks, but also the children of our majority-Black school system, who are struggling as never before under the pedagogical and financial challenges of the pandemic,” Rader said in an email. “These are the least powerful but most needy of the stakeholders in this deal, and they certainly are a higher priority for me than tax abatement to rich team owners, and BDA consultants, advertising, professional staff, and ‘promotional’ budgets. If the Hawks (and BDA) are serious about equity, they will pay the taxes necessary to give these kids a future.” Narain, the Hawks spokesperson, did not respond to a question about whether the team would consider ending or modifying the tax abatement.

The Emory Sports Medicine Complex as it appeared shortly after its 2017 opening. FILE


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DeKalb Schools may return to in-person in January with new metrics BY HOLLY R. PRICE The DeKalb County School District has announced staggered dates to return to inperson learning in January if COVID-19 positivity rates remain at certain levels. Staff could return as soon as Jan. 4, and some students as soon as Jan. 19, the date classes are scheduled to resume after winter break. Previously, DCSD officials said they wouldn’t return to face-to-face learning until the countywide COVID-19 diagnoses dropped below 100 cases per 100,000 people for 14 straight days. As of Dec. 13 those numbers were 373 cases per 100,000 people. But at a Dec. 14 town hall meeting, Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said the district is planning to allow staff to return to school when there is a 10% positivity rate for two weeks. They would be teaching remotely at that point. The school district had no comment about the new dates., said Carla Parker, communications specialist. As of the dates Nov. 26 through Dec. 9, the positivity rate was 10%, according to Eric Nickens, spokesman for the DeKalb County Board of Health. If the positivity rate is between 8% and 10% Jan. 19, students in Pre-K; kindergarten through second grade can return, along with sixth- and ninth-graders. The remaining grade levels will phase-in on Jan. 25 if the positivity rate is between 5% and 8%, following a hybrid model of the school district’s plan. The district will follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing and cleaning and disinfecting. The district will continuously monitor current COVID-19 data and assess the level of spread to determine if and when the current learning model should be adjusted, according to its website. The next assessments will be presented during upcoming board meetings. At the town hall, questions from the public ranged from what happens if kids don’t wear masks to whether the schools are going to hire more nurses or medical staff. The answers were that kids would be provided masks and made to wear them. And medical staff is being hired for all schools who don’t already have them. Some parents have been vocal in wanting their children back in school, saying the district’s metrics were unreasonable.The Georgia Department of Education reported last month that less than 7% of Georgia’s school districts have no face-to-face learning. Parents aren’t the only ones that have been frustrated. “Every school system around us is back,” said Dunwoody City Councilmember Jim Riticher at a Dec. 14 council meeting. Just because students return doesn’t mean a school won’t close or a students have to quarantine if positive cases start to escalate. DSCD has learned from neighboring school districts who are already back in school what to do and not to do, Watson-Harris said.

City Centre Master Plan begins public input Continued from page 1

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cludes a study of current conditions, an evaluation of community needs, a review of the zoning code and suggestions for streetscaping and public art. The city also held in-person visits to review the plan in December at City Hall. The center will be a self-guided extension of the online experience and will include project packets and interactive stations. City Hall has COVID-19 safety protocols in place, including required mask-wearing. The presentations started with a look at information gathered to start the process. The most recent development in or near Brookhaven has been mid-rise luxury apartments, the presentation said. Employment growth in central Brookhaven has been driven by the finance industry and right now, Chamblee and other areas serve the major retail needs. Other parts of the presentation included a look at maps where various data is available involving accidents at intersections, available sidewalks, and general routes taken by residents when leaving the MARTA station. Some of the maps are interactive where residents can leave comments and even pictures. There are several other ways to participate in the site by leaving information or taking surveys. The City Council in September approved a $309,384 contract to prepare the plan.


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CONTROVERSIAL ANNEXATION ENDS WITH BROOKHAVEN WIN The city annexed approximately 28 acres at Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads after an arbitration panel ended a challenge from DeKalb County. An arbitration panel rejected all the county’s arguments and made it pay additional fees. DeKalb County had opposed part of the annexation involving nearly 7 acres at 2601 North Druid Hills Road, where a redevelopment is planned to include a 140-room hotel, 300 apartments and 55,000 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space.


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The controversial Dresden Village development on Dresden Drive and its large tax break got killed for the time being. The Brookhaven Development Authority had granted the mixed-use project a property tax break worth up to $13.5 million under the code name “Project X,” but faced court opposition from DeKalb County government and the school district, with support from some neighborhood associations. J.R. Connolly II, the CEO of developer Connolly Investment, said the company intends to make unspecified changes to the plan and reintroduce it later.

COMMISSION TO TACKLE RACIAL AND SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES In the wake of nationwide and local protests about the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd, the city granted history-marker recognition to the historically Black Lynwood Park neighborhood and announced the formation of a Social Justice, Race and Equity Commission to review city policies and practices.



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The city’s move to reopen a road in Murphey Candler Park for parking triggered a neighborhood association complaints about safety and environmental issues. The loop road, off Candler Lake East, was originally gated to cars in the late 1970s because of crime concerns.

VOTERS SAY NO TO UNLIMITED TERMS FOR MAYOR Voters killed a city attempt to eliminate mayoral term limits. The failure of a ballot question by 55% in the Nov. 3 election means the mayor still can serve only two consecutive four-year terms. Incumbent John Ernst is in his second term and will be ineligible to run again.

BY HOLLY R. PRICE & JOHN RUCH The city grew by annexing more land and started a plan for a downtown “City Centre.” It pushed through the pandemic, requiring masks and closing City Hall at the first positive test of COVID-19. Following the racial justice protests across the country, the City Council formed a commission to take a closer look at the issues closer to home.

DEKALB SCHOOLS FINALLY GETS A SUPERINTENDENT Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris took over the DeKalb County School District this summer after months of turmoil, including a Board of Education rejection of prior candidate Rudolph Crew, who claimed the vote was discriminatory. Watson-Harris came on in the midst of the pandemic and debates about when to return to in-person classes.

CITY CENTRE PLAN STARTS The City Centre Master Plan, which will guide future developments in the area concentrated near the BrookhavenOglethorpe MARTA station, launched late in the year. The area that will be considered the city center includes the commercial areas on Peachtree Road, extending south near Colonial Drive, east to Conasauga Avenue and north past Osborne Road, according to the scope of the project. The council is set to vote, after several community input meetings, on the plan in June 2021. The master plan is set to include a study of current conditions, an evaluation of community needs, a review of the zoning code and suggestions for streetscaping and public art.

CITY TACKLES THE PANDEMIC The city took an active approach to the pandemic. City Hall shut down March 14 after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, sending city officials (as well as a freelance journalist for the Reporter) into quarantine. The city adopted the slogan “Brookhaven Strong” and made it a theme for a national anthem sing-along and an art contest. The City Council was an early adopted of a mask-wearing mandate, though Mayor John Ernst later drew criticism for allegedly going maskless at charity softball games. The city made news for using federal relief funds to pay off residents’ overdue utility bills and an offer to help with unpaid rent, among many other efforts.

FORMER MAYOR WILLIAMS DIES Former Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams died March 11 from cancer at age 70. She was remembered for her career as a journalist at TV networks and locally, with husband Dick Williams, at the Dunwoody Crier newspaper. She worked for several years at Atlanta’s WXIA-TV station where she won three regional Emmys and went on to a 20-year career with ABC News as a national correspondent. Rebecca Chase Williams was elected to the first Brookhaven City Council and was appointed as the second mayor in 2015 after J. Max Davis stepped down to run for state office. BK

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Around Town

Joe Earle is editorat-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached at joeearle@

Fighting a deadline in pursuit of an Eagle

Avery Maxwell knew from the start that she wouldn’t have time to spare. She was in a race with the calendar. There would be lots to do, and, in the beginning, she figured she’d have only about two years to do it. She had to wrap up everything before she turned 18. Her 18th arrives next month, on Valentine’s Day. “It’s so close, yet so hard,” the Dunwoody High School senior said recently, “because there was so much work to do and so little time to do it.” Before she started in 2019, she charted what she had to do on an online task board. She figured out her deadlines along the way and determined she could just make it in time. So, she set to work. This month, Avery is scheduled to wrap up her race to become one of the first girls in the country to be awarded an Eagle Scout rank by the Boy Scouts. Yes, you read that right. Boy Scouts. If all goes as planned, Avery will join the inaugural flight of girl Eagles. In February of 2019, the Boy Scouts of America changed. The organization, renamed Scouts BSA, for the first time allowed girls to join. That meant girls, in girls-only troops, could earn BSA merit badges, go camping as BSA scouts, and earn the BSA’s highest rank, the Eagle Scout. Avery wanted in. Her two older brothers had been Boy Scouts and had reached Eagle rank, and she wanted to do the same. She had tried Girl Scouts for several years when she was younger, but quit, she said, after deciding that program wasn’t for her. Continued on page 8 ROBERT MAXWELL

Avery Maxwell works on the observation platform she planned and built at the Dunwoody Nature Center to earn her Eagle rank through Scouts BSA.


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Fighting a deadline in pursuit of an Eagle Continued from page 7 She wanted more camping and outdoor activities. Her dad, Robert Maxwell, said that when the Boy Scouts first announced plans to allow girls to join, “she made a beeline for me and said, ‘Dad, I’m joining.’” The Scouts BSA program did offer her the chance to get out into the wild. She took part in an eight-day canoe trip near the U.S.-Canada border in 2019, she said. She planned on hiking this past summer at the Boy Scout’s Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, but that trip was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, her main goal remained earning that Eagle rank. Only a small fraction of the boys (and now girls) who start out in

scouting reach that rank, she said, “and I wanted to be part of that 5 percent.” Why? “It means you can work for a long period of time and actually put your mind to doing something that big,” she said. In September, Scouts BSA announced that all the girls across the country awarded Eagle rank by Feb. 8, 2021, would be considered part of the inaugural group of girl Eagles and their awards would note that fact. That appeals to Avery. “Having that on your resume…,” she said, “saying, ‘I’m in the first group of [girl] Eagle Scouts,’ that will be amazing.” To make it in time, her father said, she needs to wrap up her project and application so it can be approved by the middle of this month, her dad said. “I will make

it,” Avery said. “I just need to get the paperwork done.” What do her brothers think of her becoming an Eagle Scout? “They think it’s really cool that I was able to join them, especially in the time I had. They took their own sweet time about it. They got [something like] six or seven years [to finish]. I had two.” And the COVID-19 pandemic slowed things at times, making it difficult to do things she needed to do to collect some of the ranks and badges she needed. Still, there were only a couple of time when she questioned whether she could finish. For her Eagle Project, she decided to build a pavilion at the Dunwoody Nature Center where visitors can observe a working beehive. She organized construction of the structure and raised

money through a Go Fund Me page to pay for it. Any excess contributions, she said, will go the nature center. In December, she and her crew of volunteers (including, her dad said, both her brothers and her boyfriend) were finishing up the project, the last thing on her list before submitting her claim on Eagle rank for review. What did she have to say now that the end of her two-year Eagle pursuit was so near? She thought about that a moment. “It’s been a lot of hard work …,” she said. “It’s crazy… Wow.” Then she was off to spend part of her weekend writing emails to solicit more contributions for her project. Her deadline loomed. She had things yet to do and the days were growing short.

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If you have recently visited the West Paces Ferry Shopping Center, you’ll notice a “city block of Paris” developing across the street at 3200 Howell Mill Road. The gated Parisian-inspired senior living community, Corso Atlanta, is not only reshaping how senior living looks but how we think about the senior experience. Transforming senior living from a need into a want has been Founder and CEO Tim Gary’s passion for over two decades. Corso Atlanta’s parent company, Galerie Living, began with a single community in Commerce, Ga., in 1996. Since then, Galerie Living continues to lead the senior living industry through award-winning community concepts, expert management, and most uniquely, through creating unexpected happiness. “Whether you’re 8 or 80, happiness matters,” Gary said. “We define happiness as a feeling of belonging, purpose, comfort, independence and security. It’s in the moments shared around the family dinner table or running into an old friend while getting coffee. Adding chandeliers and Olympic-sized pools will change someone’s surroundings. But finding ways to add connection and joy into an everyday moment – that changes someone’s life.” Galerie Living’s in-house design, operations, and technology teams have worked to build moments of “unexpected happiness” throughout Corso’s 500,000 square feet of residential and common space. The team recognizes the multifaceted approach

between infrastructure, programming and technology as critical to building dynamic communities. “Operations, technology and design must work together to create the sophisticated product seniors are looking for in today’s market.” Chief Operating Officer Kari Samuelson explained. “What sets Corso apart is that the entire campus is engineered to be both beautiful and functional.” This balance of form and function is largely based on human-scale design principles. Human-scale architecture focuses on creating people-centered environments that foster positive interaction and connection. Corso’s human-led architecture and programming are informed by decades of developing, owning and operating communities for seniors. The minds behind Corso understand that the way people interact with spaces often shifts with age. A family home that was once a place of comfort can slowly become a burden. Stairs, heavy doors and long driveways that once added character to a home can become cumbersome to everyday life, leaving many seniors feeling overwhelmed. Senior Living Consultant Kim Linder has helped many seniors overcome the fear that downsizing their home means downsizing their quality of life. “When I’m working with seniors planning for their next home, I ask them to consider two questions: ‘Does this add value to my life?’ and ‘What do I want my life to look like now and when I need care?’ Searching for a senior living community requires different considerations than searching for a typical home. It’s less about square footage and more about the services, experiences and relationships improving your everyday life.” Linder emphasized the importance of planning for potential care needs when choosing a senior community. Needs can arise unexpectedly, resulting in seniors and families scrambling rather than carefully weighing all the options. Planning ahead and asking the right questions provides peace of mind, added control and a smoother transition. For active seniors seeking a vibrant social scene, it’s easy to focus on the services and amenities offered to independent living residents without considering how offerings may shift should care needs arise. More traditional communities may require you to

move into a separate building to receive assisted living services or you may have to hire your own caregiver from an outside agency. These are just a few of the questions to ask when choosing your next home. Corso’s “no-move” care model is especially appealing to those who prefer to plan ahead. Residents of independent living can receive assisted living services without moving to a new residence. While many future residents do not currently need care, it provides peace of mind knowing Corso’s in-house nurses and care staff are there if you need them. Knowing your next-door neighbors will be your neighbors for years to come builds strong ties that are essential to overall happiness. The same commitment to providing seniors with peace of mind, flexibility and control applies to Corso’s leasing model. Unlike more traditional continuum of care communities, there are no large buy-ins or invasive financial assessments. Residents of Corso are in full control over their financial and personal decisions. Corso has to earn the trust of residents and families daily because it is their choice to call Corso Atlanta home. The community is now pre-leasing city homes, independent living, assisted living and memory care homes. City homes are distinguished by their private front door entrances and patios overlooking Corso’s vibrant courtyards. In addition to having their own private exterior entrances with a second entrance to the main building, city homes offer refined architectural details such as rounded corners, coffered ceilings, elevated trim work, and top-line appliances, including hidden Sub-Zero refrigerators. The community offers over 45 floorplans including specialty unit styles with added design details. All residents of city homes, independent living, and assisted living have full access to a wide range of destinations, including a formal dining venue, wine and cheese tasting room, bistro, on-site florist, full-service salon and spa, theater, heated pool and more. Each destination is thoughtfully designed to create “familiarity with the past while giving the ability to experience beauty on a dayto-day basis.” Corso also provides unparalleled concierge services such as black car transportation, valet, pool-side service, 24/7 security, and additional services such as private dining in the teahouse, floral arrangement delivery and spa services. Every amenity and service has been intentionally included to make Corso Atlanta a place residents and guests look forward to enjoying together.

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Carol Niemi is a marketing consultant who lives on the Dunwoody-Sandy Springs line and writes about people whose lives inspire others. Contact her at

Boxing is a knockout exercise for people with Parkinson’s

An estimated 1 million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease, with 60,000 new diagnoses every year, 13,000 of them here in Atlanta. Many famous people have PD, including actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease (YOPD) at age 29. So common is PD that most of us have known someone with it. I watched it destroy my former father-in-law -- who before PD was a healthy, confident small-business owner -- physically, mentally and emotionally. It also wreaked havoc on his brokenhearted wife,is awho regretfully sent him a nursing home when she Carol Niemi marketing consultant who lives on theto Dunwoodycould no longer help him getSprings out of chair. Sandy lineaand writes about people whose lives inspire Contact at That was 20 years ago. others. There washer and still is no cure for Parkinson’s, but if my fatherin-law were alive today, he would have the hope of slowing the progression of his disease. That hope is boxing. And one of the leaders in the Parkinson’s boxing movement, Boxing for Parkinson’s, is headquartered in Sandy Springs. An all-volunteer organization sponsored by the nonprofit Livramento Delgado Boxing Foundation (LDBF), it moved in September to its own 4,700-square-foot, state-of-the-art wellness center and is flourishing in the midst of one of the worst years any of us can remember. Recently, LDBF Chairman Denise Formisano, who has not only PD but also multiple sclerosis, invited me to attend a boxing class with my contact Ellen Bookman, the LDBF communications director. But why boxing? Because it naturally incorporates elements that can alleviate PD symptoms: footwork, balance, agility, movement in all planes, hand-eye coordination, Continued on page 10


Chairman Denise Formisano and Director of Operations Tom Jeffrey of the Livramento Delgado Boxing Foundation pose among the bags at the Sandy Springs boxing gym.

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10 | Commentary ■

Boxing is a knockout exercise for people with Parkinson’s Continued from page 9 strength, endurance, flexibility, posture, breathing, cognition, aerobic conditioning and camaraderie. Upon my arrival, Tom Jeffrey, Denise’s husband and LDBF’s operations director, took my temperature and squirted sanitizer into my hands. He then fitted me with sanitized hand wraps over which he placed boxing gloves. One side of the room was lined with rows of hanging punching bags, which we vigorously attacked after a warm-up that included jumping jacks. The full-time volunteer instructor, a former Air Force boxing instructor now working on a Ph.D. in ancient history, began calling out patterns of numbers and random dates. The numbers represented different boxing punches. If the instructor called

out 1-2-4-3, the students had to know they meant jab, cross, rear hook and lead hook in that order and be able to repeat the pattern rapidly until the next sequence. If that sounds easy, try not only instantaneously remembering what each number represents but also repeating the punches in sequence while jumping around. I’m a gym rat, but this class challenged me physically and mentally. And the dates the instructor called out along with the punch numbers? They were all from ancient history, and the students had to be able to repeat them at the end of each sequence. They were then told why the date was significant. A boxing workout and ancient history lesson all in one class! According to the Parkinson’s Outcome Project, the largest ever clinical study of Parkinson’s disease with more than

13,000 participants in five countries, exercise helps improve not only motor skills but also mood, depression and anxiety, all of which can affect people with PD more than motor impairments. The study also found that the sooner after a diagnosis people begin exercising, the more they can slow the decline in their quality of life. Denise says she was lucky because her diagnosing doctor stressed the importance of exercise and she started exercising immediately. She was so impressed with the results that she gave up her fulltime career in fashion design to become the full-time volunteer chair of LDBF. Ellen Bookman, the LDBF communications director, wasn’t so lucky. “I was diagnosed by a doctor who handed me a brochure and said, ‘Go boxing,’” said Ellen, who received her diagno-

sis of YOPD at the age of 52. “I came home, got on the internet and freaked out. Then I did nothing for a whole month but sit on the couch totally depressed.” When she finally looked into boxing and called Denise, everything changed. “Denise saved my life,” she said. Ellen currently writes a blog about living with YOPD, called “Loving & Living,” and plans to launch a YOPD mentoring program in April. Boxing for Parkinson’s offers a variety of classes, including yoga, six days a week. Its 200 members range in age from 38 to 92, with varying skills, including some who use wheelchairs. The address is 6667 Vernon Woods Drive, Suite A-16, in Sandy Springs. For information, call 404-747-3032 or go to

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Permit data shows how local construction is weathering the pandemic storm BY JOHN RUCH AND MAGGIE LEE The commercial and residential con-

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filings is a general indicator of developers’ and homeowners’ confidence in growth and investment. And those numbers were broadly similar in 2020 compared to 2019, despite the apocalyptic pandemic and its economic fallout. Officials say that the lack of severe plunge in permit filings illustrates some of the industry changes in the

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pandemic. City halls shifted to online permitting and virtual inspections. The construction industry remained an “essential” business immune to shutdown

orders. And there was a boost in home renovations as some people who shifted to teleworking found themselves eager to spruce up the four walls they were now staring at all day. The city of Dunwoody successfully shifted its planning staff to teleworking, says Community Development Director Richard McLeod. “We never really shut down. We closed City Hall for the most part, but we had everyone working at home and we could handle [permits] pretty well,” he said. In his city, McLeod said, “the commercial permits have dropped a little,” while residential permits “ticked up because so many people were doing home projects.” While the number of permits were similar, McLeod said, the fee revenue dipped because, especially on the commercial side, 2020’s projects were smaller. Last year, for example, including permitting for one of the new skyscrapers at State Farm’s new complex in Perimeter Center. A similar drop in large-scale projects is part of the story in Atlanta, the local city that did see a significant dip in permit filings. The city of Atlanta also briefly shut down its permitting and inspections in March. City Planning Commissioner Tim Keane said that new residential and commercial permitting citywide in 2020 is about 70% of what it was last year. But here’s the thing, he says: 2019 was Atlanta’s biggest-ever development year.

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“If you consider that we’re in a global pandemic, to be at 70% of the permits we did last year, the busiest year in the city’s history — it’s pretty impressive,” Keane said. Permitting in the last quarter of the year has picked up to about 85% of 2019 numbers, he said. Permit filings in Buckhead’s main

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Community | 13

JANUARY 2021 ■ development along Abernathy Road and Glenridge Drive. Ginger Sottile, the city’s community development director, said the permit mix changes naturally year to year, and in 2020 might be tilted toward renovations rather than new construction. “I think our overall permit numbers are very consistent over the past few years,” she said. Building permits are just one window into the state of the construction industry. Not every permit it approved, and many projects that get a permit are never finished. Big projects will have many permits filed over several years. Time will tell whether the pandemic may have longer-term impacts on what is built and when, noted Burke Brennan, a spokesperson for the city of Brookhaven, which continued its permitting uninterrupted and saw little change in the numbers. “Building permits are … a step in a process, which is often months, sometimes years, in the making,” Brennan said. “As it pertains to what plans may have been interrupted by this pandemic, those results may have yet to be seen.”

WORTHWHILE CONVERSATIONS WHAT NOW? WEALTH PLANNING AFTER COVID-19… DOES THE COVID-19 EXPERIENCE MEAN THAT WEALTH PLANNING IS NOW TOTALLY DIFFERENT? No, not necessarily. Market and economic conditions continue to change, but good wealth planning comes from being consistent in making sound decisions. HOW CAN YOU MAKE SOUND DECISIONS WHEN THE FUTURE IS SO UNCERTAIN? In 50 years of wealth planning, we have worked with families who can personally recall terribly uncertain conditions. In 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union were staring each other down over nuclear missiles in Cuba and plenty of people felt it could be the end of civilization. In 1974, a sitting U.S. President resigned from office in disgrace and the average citizen’s faith in our government reached an all-time low. There have been times, of course, when the future looked bright. In 2000, we ushered in a new Millennium amidst great optimism, following a decade that saw the fall of the Iron Curtain and a peace dividend.

during the month of the Cuban missile crisis, you were 30% richer one year later. If you put money to work in U.S. stocks during the month Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency, you were 250% richer ten years later. If you waited for the optimism of the new Millennium to put your money to work in U.S. stocks, you were 35% worse off two years later.

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14 | Community ■

Social justice commission kicks off with orientation on city’s diversity Continued from page 1

partment, which Funny called one of the most diverse in the state. There are 26 a chance to change the city for the better. women and 74 men. The police departThe hour-and-a-half meeting was an ment make-up is 53% White, 23% Black, introduction and explainer session on 3% Asian and 19% Hispanic. how everything is going to play out in the Everything started out casually next 12 or so months the board will be enough as commeeting. missioners got City Manager used to the Zoom Christian Sigman technology - the gave the group a cameras catch evlook at the city’s erything. Raborganization and bi John Hearshan the demographwas still eating his ic make-up of the Chinese food. Funcity staff. He gave ny still wore his the commission a “I Voted” peach breakdown of the sticker from earlirace and gender of er in the day, and the 168 employees. one commissioner Of those, 36.3% are said he’d changed women and 63.1% shirts three times are men. The racial to make sure he breakdown is 52.5% SPECIAL didn’t blend into White; 26.9% Black; John Funny, chairman of the Social the background. 2.5% Asian; 15% HisJustice, Race and Equity Commission. Rev. David Alexpanic; 0.6% Pacifander read a poem ic Islander and 1.3% by Barry Middleton as the invocation. It two or more races. Another 0.6% chose talked about light bringing hope and jusnot to identify their race. tice to the world. Sigman did the same for the police de-

cords request to look at their text messages if they brought up commission business.

This is a real historic moment for Brookhaven. JOE GEBBIA CITY COUNCIL MEMBER

“Don’t do that,” he said. “It’s more important than, ‘Don’t text and drive,’” he said. Chrysalis Lab is a group hired by the city to facilitate and organize the group. Lesley Grady from the company said the commission would be divided into committees, including a look at the police department and the city’s hiring practices. Before the next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 21, the group would be given surveys

“I hope we may bring our lanterns to the table,” he said. City Council members Joe Gebbia and Madeleine Simmons attended the meeting. “This is a real historic moment for Brookhaven,” said Gebbia. City Attorney Chris Balch went over legal issues dealing with being a public entity. Now that the members are on a public commission, they need to be careful to keep their private and public roles separate, he said. He said someone could use a public re-

to help decide what their interests are and where they might best serve, Grady said. “We’re committed to promoting honest dialogue,” she said. At the end of the meeting, there was a public comment section where anyone had three minutes to speak. The instructions were given in Spanish also. There were no takers. For details on the group or to watch the taped meeting, see the commission’s webpage at


Community | 15

JANUARY 2021 ■

No new runways, but more planes, in airport plan


BY HOLLY R. PRICE There will be no new runways, but plenty of storage for more planes. That was the message officials at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport gave the public Dec. 10 at the last of several meetings on the non-commercial hub’s 20-year master plan. Built during World War II, the 730-acre airport has grown to house 355 aircrafts, host 160,000 flights a year and create $16 million in local and state tax revenue. Classified as a general aviation reliever airport, PDK has four aviation service companies, seven flight schools, and two helicopter operations. It is the second-busiest airport – behind Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International – in the state. Located on Clairmont Road in Chamblee on the Brookhaven border, the airport is at capacity for storing planes, Duguay told a virtual audience in an hour-long presentation and question/answer session. The $79 million improvements over the next 20 years will include more hangers for current planes that are housed outside and an expected 120 additional planes in the years to come. A new taxiway leading to the main 6,000-foot runway will be added. The airport could get as many as 218,000 takeoffs and landings in the next 20 years, consultant Jim Duguay said. The approach lighting system on the runway will be extended as well as the protection boundaries. There could also be 15 additional hangers holding between one and two planes each. The administration building will undergo renovations. A couple of other items mentioned in the master plan lack details. One calls for adding a two-story parking deck, possibly with retail space on its ground floor. Another idea is an aviation museum. A foundation earlier this year proposed creating an Atlanta Air & Space Museum at the airport. There are no plans to extend the runways at the airport or add additional ones, Duguay said. In order to get grants and other money from the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, the airport has to have a master plan. Both organizations will review the plan before it goes before the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners for approval. A timeframe for all of that has not been set. Noise is a perennial issue in neighborhoods and cities around PDK, with a voluntary curfew on night flights and a complaint reporting system. Questions at the end of the second session centered around noise levels. It was asked whether there was any thought to trying to decrease that. Mario Evans, head of the airport, said that flight paths are set by the Federal Aviation Administration. Another question centered around air quality and Evans said one assessment had been done and another was in the works. “I think we should identify what we are doing to the community,” he said. “The airport stands on trying to do our due diligence.” BK








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16 | Commentary

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Our mission is to provide our readers with fresh and engaging information about life in their communities. Published by Springs Publishing LLC 6065 Roswell Road, Suite 225 Sandy Springs, GA 30328 Phone: 404-917-2200 • Fax: 404-917-2201 Brookhaven Reporter | Buckhead Reporter Dunwoody Reporter | Sandy Springs Reporter Atlanta INtown Atlanta Senior Life

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Commentary: Looking into the political crystal ball for 2021 Every year, the Reporter asks local leaders to predict the biggest local issues in the next 12 months. In 2020, no one saw a world-changing pandemic on the horizon. In what will hopefully be a safer and calmer 2021, here’s what they see in this year’s political crystal ball. For more of what each had to say, see

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Mayor Lynn Deutsch Dunwoody This time last year, I wrote this in the Reporter: “Dunwoody’s opportunities abound and 2020 promises to be an exciting year.” Of course, we all know what happened. And while the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the work we wanted to accomplish, it has not stalled it. We will continue to work on improving connectivity, whether it be infrastructure and pedestrian improvements or better internet connectivity. We have taken possession of the old Austin School property and have demolished the building. In 2021, we will work with our residents to develop a plan for the future use of the property. The new park at Waterford will have tennis courts and a pavilion available by the end of the

year. As the necessary restrictions related to COVID-19 are loosened, I look forward to seeing a full range of programming at Brook Run Park and our other parks.

Jim Durrett Buckhead Coalition and Buckhead Community Improvement District Without question, increasing the safety and security of the people who live in, work in and visit Buckhead is the number one priority for the Buckhead Coalition and the Buckhead CID in 2021. We’ll be working very closely with our partners to implement the Buckhead Security Plan and begin to restore public confidence in the safety of our community. In addition to the work on public safety, the Buckhead Coalition will focus on issues of homelessness. The Atlanta region is facing an intractable housing crisis. With the threat of evictions rising at the close of the year, the Coalition will work with government and community leaders to relieve the suffering of our neighbors experiencing homelessness and to preserve the desirability of Buckhead for life and commerce. The Buckhead CID will continue to

improve streets and sidewalks throughout the district and to help beautify and maintain our community’s public spaces.

Mayor Rusty Paul Sandy Springs Based on what we know today, job one as we enter the new year is ensuring that we effectively and efficiently deploy the COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they are available. It is a critical step to ameliorate the economic and health impacts of the virus. As COVID lessens, we want to relaunch a full line of concerts and performances at City Springs, with plans to announce the lineup this spring. In the coming year, we will continue pursuing our goal of securing control of our water system from the city of Atlanta. Renovation will begin on our newly acquired public safety complex, and we will start construction on two new fire stations in the central and northern portions of the city, with projects including training facilities for our first responders. Also among our top goals is to continue our efforts to make every Sandy Springs resident feel valued and included within the community at large. And finally, we stand ready to meet the unknown

represent the views of Reporter Newspapers or Springs Publishing.


Commentary | 17

JANUARY 2021 ■ challenges, keeping the safety and security of our residents the top priority.

State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick

Mayor John Ernst

One of the big issues we will face is the economic impact of the COVID virus on our state revenue and budget. We have less revenue to work with and more needs, especially in healthcare, including mental health. I have a bill being drafted to address patient safety concerns about sedation in the outpatient setting, and another to put some guidelines in place on sober housing facilities for people in recovery. I have other bills related to insurance reform of networks and prior authorization requirements, both of which can have a big impact on patient access to care. I work a lot on veterans issues and am excited that we will soon have a transition center in the metro area to assist people coming out of military service into the private sector. I am also working to update our laws on autonomous vehicles to accommodate new technologies.

Brookhaven At the top of the list is transit, and I’m looking forward to continuing to address long-term traffic concerns with the I-285 top end transit project. In addition to connecting the existing and future GDOT ventures and implementing transit options such as light rail and bus rapid transit, the top end mayors are also exploring a trail system along both sides of I-285, running east and west. Speaking of trails, design should be completed on Phase II of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, paving the way for right of way acquisition and then development in 2022. Other 2021 milestones will include the grand opening of our new public safety building and wrapping up most of the parks bond projects approved by the voters in 2018. In fall of 2021, our City Centre Master Plans will be completed, which will guide future developments in the area around the Brookhaven MARTA Station for years to come Finally, in 2021, I want to assist in getting the COVID vaccine to as many locations as possible so we can put an end to this long, global nightmare and get back to living life the way we used to. Brookhaven will celebrate with a party like no other, once COVID is eradicated and it is safe to do so.

J.P. Matzigkeit Atlanta City Council Safety remains my highest priority. I am excited about the recently announced Buckhead Security Plan, which I call “Buckhead Blue.” It’s a collaborative effort of the city, its police, business and citizens groups, and the Atlanta Police Foundation to build a coordinated and comprehensive safety plan for Buckhead. We must implement competitive and fair impact fees on development that adds demand on city services. It’s been a quarter-century since we raised the fees that are used for transportation infrastructure, public safety and parks. We also must pass a comprehensive tree ordinance to better preserve our tree canopy and simplify the requirements. The one we have is not strong enough and is outdated. I’m committed to preserving Atlanta’s precious tree canopy and keeping Atlanta’s moniker of a “city in the forest.”



State Rep. Matthew Wilson D-Brookhaven We have a lot to do in the legislature, including jump-starting our business climate, but most especially ensuring that Georgians who have fallen on hard times during this crisis are not only taken care of today, but have the same and even greater opportunities to succeed in the days to come. I’m also thankful to say that, thanks to the voters of DeKalb County, 2021 will bring us a fully reconstituted DeKalb Board of Ethics. But even as we have had success addressing local issues, what we don’t need to be doing is continuing to rehash the results of the 2020 election. I will strongly oppose any attempt to add more barriers to democratic participation in our elections based on conspiracy theories.

State Rep. Josh McLaurin D-Sandy Springs We are not out of the woods yet with the pandemic. With Congress failing to act, state and local governments must do everything we can to provide relief to residents. Now that we know state revenues for FY2021 will be higher than originally projected, I’m hopeful that we can increase our commitment as a state to ensuring basic

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necessities are met. One of the worst problems we face is continued housing insecurity. Amid the pandemic, we are also dealing with an artificial controversy surrounding one of our most fundamental rights: the right to vote. Although there is no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud, the majority party has signaled it is going to restrict or even eliminate noexcuse absentee voting this upcoming session. I will do everything I can to fight against efforts to restrict access to voting.

Moving into the 2021 legislative session, we must focus on issues that will impact our community and Georgia for years to come. We now must fight harder than ever to ensure all Georgians have access to voting. Our democracy only thrives when all eligible voters have access to the ballot. Also, every 10 years there is redistricting in our state due to the new Census. This process is where gerrymandering occurs. This redistricting will not only change the House district lines, but also for the state Senate and Congress. We must also focus on helping our communities and small businesses that are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Last, but definitely not least, we must make sure our public schools are properly funded and we must make sure that children can return to school safely.

Jeff Rader DeKalb County Commission 2021 will be a challenge to all governments as we start seeing the longerterm impact of the pandemic on our economy and the public we serve. Locally, commercial tax assessments are vulnerable to appeal as property owners demonstrate that empty buildings are worth less than leased ones. Our public utilities will see higher delinquency rates due to strapped ratepayers. Public safety and social service demands will grow just as revenues erode. But it is darkest before the dawn, and I’m hopeful that governments at all levels will work to restore our commitment to the public interest and confirm the promise of our republic. I hope to continue to expand and improve greenspace, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and manage the growth in DeKalb that can change our communities for better or worse.

State Rep. Betsy Holland D-Buckhead The COVID-19 crisis will impact everything we do in the 2021 Session. Our top

priorities need to be strengthening our healthcare systems, protecting the health of Georgians, administering the vaccine, and forging a path to economic recovery. The legislature also faces the challenge of finding new streams of revenue to restore funding to the state budget without creating an undue burden on Georgians. After the COVID-19 recovery, the next hottest topic for the legislature this year will be reapportionment. With the results of the 2020 Census coming in, the state will need to redraw lines for state House and Senate seats as well as the U.S. Congressional districts. This has a huge impact on citizens for the next 10 years.

Lee Morris Fulton County Commission In 2021, Fulton County government, which has responsibility for public health, will continue to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our citizens and businesses. That will be the number one issue facing our neighborhoods, state, country and world. I will continue to work with the Buckhead Coalition, the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods and others, to do what we can to curb crime that makes citizens feel so unsafe. But my own personal crusade will remain property tax relief and fairness for homeowners in Fulton County, as it has since I took office. As the pandemic may cause the tax base to fall and as costs of government rise, there will be pressure to raise tax rates, imposing more burdens on homeowners.

Robb Pitts Chairman, Fulton County Commission Although the coronavirus halted some of my initiatives, I will rededicate my efforts to continue with the expansion of the Charlie Brown Airport, the building of a first-class animal control facility, and work to create a viable transportation plan for Roosevelt Highway and the South Fulton Parkway. I will also work to complete our Library Facility Master Plan and reopen senior centers and other government offices and facilities. I will also continue my efforts toward justice reform by working with the new sheriff and district attorney. And lastly, I will continue my efforts to develop a first-class medical facility in south Fulton.


Education | 19

JANUARY 2021 ■


Tomorrow calls for a new kind of leader.

These students found ways to give back during a year of pandemic, politics and societal change BY COLLIN KELLEY

January is usually the month we present our 20 Under 20 honorees, recognizing the extraordinary work students do in the community and for nonprofits. But after the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, divisive politics, and a new reckoning over racial injustice, it didn’t seem right to hold a competition. Instead, we decided to speak with a group of young people who dedicated themselves to helping others and making a difference – even from behind their computer screens – during an unprecedented year.


tlanta International School sophomore Asanshay Gupta, 15, developed an app to help makeshift COVID-19 facilities in India during his summer internship with Allied Medical, which makes high flow oxygen therapy machines. More than 100 medical practitioners are now using Gupta’s app to monitor the oxygen supply and flow rates in their facilities. “My family is from India, so I was hearing many stories of how such a huge country was responding to the pandemic on a huge scale, by making makeshift hospitals in stadiums and other large venues. When I heard from my grandfather that the very people who are saving lives in these COVID-19 response centers are wasting valuable time doing tedious calculations that could be easily automated, I designed an app that allows them to easily perform these calculations. I am looking forward to visiting some of these hospitals to see my app being used and getting some realworld feedback, and also continuing some more projects such as my eye tracking power wheelchair for paraplegic patients. I want to see how I can use my interest in robotics to serve my local community.”

Asanshay Gupta


risto Rey Jesuit High School senior Marquel Jones, 18, has been a student leader and community volunteer for years, including creating the monthly Teen Talk Back sessions that have addressed everything from religious tolerance, to LGBTQ youth, to incarceration rates in the criminal justice system. As president of the DECA club, he helped raise $50,000 to renovate the school’s media center, a project put on hold due to the pandemic. Marquel shifted gears to assisted with the DECA Christmas Tree Giveaway to needy families as well as the 12 Disciples Food Box Drive to provide food security to Cristo Rey families during the pandemic. He has volunteered at Open Hand Atlanta and the Million Meal Pack. “The most valuable lesson I have learned as a volunteer this year is that if you want to see change, you have to be that change. I recognize sitting back and hoping that things get better does not actively improve anything. When I put action behind the ideas that I have, I am able to foster real change and that is heart-warming.”

Marquel Jones


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abriel Howland, 17, is no stranger to giving back to not only the local community, but on a national and international scale. He traveled to Jamaica to help an impoverished elementary school start an organic garden, worked with Native American students on environmental issues in California as a “Bioneer,” founded a drone photography company, mentored at summer programs, and is a member of Dad’s Garage Theatre Company’s youth ensemble. During the pandemic, he coordinated directed, and edited a play for a summer camp via Zoom. Gabe also helped a prepare a pre-school for reopening in September and assisted in setting up outdoor classrooms at the New School where he’s a senior. When his grandmother told him that one of her neighbors needed help getting groceries and help around her home during the pandemic, Gabe volunteered his time. “I think that the pandemic and 2020, in general, made me realize what type of person I am. Hardship really can bring out the best and worst in people, and I hope that this year brought out the best. Honestly, helping other people is what helped me get through this year, especially when it was around gaining a semblance of normalcy.”

Gabriel Howland

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ike many others stuck at home due to the pandemic, Leah Nuffer began baking. A lot. Over the summer, the 17-year-old Woodward Academy senior created Leah’s Bakeshop (leahsbakeshop. com) to benefit Families First, an organization that provides mental health support and educational services to those in need. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from the bakeshop are going to the charity. Leah also worked with Horizons Atlanta as a K-2 “Literacy Coach” where she tracked the students’ progress, observed classes, set individual goals, met with students individually, and became a cheerleader for their success. “The pandemic actually forced me to discover new ways of being involved in service that I didn’t even realize were possible. Not only did I begin to interact with communities virtually, but I also realized that some of the biggest help is done just through organizing programs and raising money. Volunteering for “behind the scenes” work of non-profit organizations is just as important as helping in the face-to-face interactions.”

Leah Nuffer


uring the COVID-19 shutdown, Maddalena Jones, 17, created a virtual dance program to keep children physically active and occupied at home while their parents continued to work. The 45-minute classes were also educational, and Maddalena created tutorial videos to post on social media to remind the children of the skills they had learned. A senior at Holy

Maddalena Jones

Continued on Page 22 BK

JANUARY 2021 â–


Education | 21

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Continued from page 20 Spirit Preparatory School, Maddalena said 2020 helped her to have more patience and be grateful for the gifts we are given. “Teaching these online Zoom classes to younger children was certainly challenging at times for myself because I did not have much experience in this area and I was unsure if the children were really appreciating the classes half as much as the time and effort I was spending putting into them. However, I realized that if I was patient, then everything would work itself out the way it was meant to. Another thing I realized was how blessed I am to have been able to grow up with a wonderful gift such as dancing. Sharing that gift with younger children during the pandemic was really something special and it warmed my heart getting to see the smiles on the younger kids’ faces every time that I would teach a class.”


he pandemic couldn’t stop Zoe Glickman, 17, and her dedication to combating racism, anti-Semitism, and discrimination against the LGBTQ community. The North Atlanta High School senior developed the idea for a Black and Jewish student coalition and reached out to peers from both those groups as well as community leader to present the idea of a union. Despite the challenges of COVID-19 and social distancing, Zoe’s efforts resulted in the inception of the first student organization of its kind at North Atlanta. “The most valuable lesson that I’ve learned as a volunteer this year, is to take time to educate yourself rather than sitting and waiting for someone else to do it. By educating yourself, I mean taking time to listen to stories of people whose lives are far different than your own, as well as learning the history behind why a community might be hurt.”

Zoe Glickman


li Rubenstein, 16, was feeling isolated and lonely during the pandemic, so he came up with an idea to create an online community for LGBTQ teens – the only one of its kind in Georgia. Early last summer, the Ben Franklin Academy sophomore launched “The Closet,” an online chat for teens age 14 to 18 held every Friday and Saturday night. The online chat events are moderated by an LGBTQ adult to ensure the space is safe, appropriate, and fun. The chats have been such a success, that Eli hopes to create a hybrid of virtual and in-person chats post-pandemic. “Starting ‘The Closet,’ I was able to virtually connect with kids from Georgia who had similar interests and it really gave me a sense of community. We watched movies, talked, and were able to share what we were all going through during a really difficult time. I’m really looking to connecting face to face with all the friends I’ve made online and expand our relationships.”

Eli Rubenstein


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Kaili Stith

aili Stith, 12, organized a protest in Morningside against police brutality and racial injustice at the height of this summer’s demonstrations, rallying dozens of her classmates and neigbhors to participate. The Howard Middle School seventh grader also designed and commissioned the manufacturing of a line of shirts on Etsy called, Tee Shirts for Justice. The shirts sold out almost immediately and Kaili is using the proceeds to put together care packages for local women living in shelters. “I am looking forward to continuing protesting for human rights, but with a larger audience. I look forward to giving back in a way when I can interact with people face to face, that really just brightens up my day when I am able to see the impact I make.” BK

Education | 23

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harlie Kazazian, 16, received the Congressional Gold Medal this summer for his 400 hours of volunteer work with the nonprofits MedShare, Action Ministries, NFCC, Must Ministries. For the last few years, the Wesminster junior has worked with the nonprofit Mad Housers, which helps provide temporary shelter to the homeless by building individual wood huts. During the pandemic, Charlie downloaded the hut schematics and built a hut with his dad, which was then deployed to designated location in Atlanta. He said he wants to continue his volunteer work post-pandemic, including building more huts. “Serving in this way has really helped me get through the pandemic.”

Charlie Kazazian


cademe of the Oaks senior Lucy Sackin, 18, is a budding social justice advocate and ally to black and trans women. During the pandemic, Lucy sprang into action following the tragic death of Oluwatoyin Salau, which inspired her to do more by organizing a GoFundMe to fund self-defense items for Black and trans women in Atlanta. Her goal was to raise enough money to supply self-defense products to 50 women since Black and trans women are at a high risk of assault. She achieved her goal by using social media and via support from her classmates. “Seeing the lack of response from our own government made me realize just how important it is to work directly with my community. I realized that mutual aid is the backbone of any social movement. Protecting and supporting Black women and trans women is so important to me because I want to create more accepting and safe communities for everyone.”

Lucy Sackin

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JANUARY 2021 ■ ary Baptist Church, he has volunteer in food drives every Saturday since pandemic began and assisted with organizing virus testing for the community. He participated in marches against racial injustice both in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. and created his own company, Empire Films, to make a documentary, “Through the Black Lens,” about the impact COVID-19 has had on families and schools. All the profits received from the documentary will go to helping

Elli Moraitakis


he pandemic fueled Elli Moraitakis, 17, to continue serving her community with a focus on what could be done rather than what could not. Her first opportunity arose when The Schenck School needed their alumni to help encourage students struggling with virtual learning. Understanding the complex issues that dyslexia present, Elli presented via Zoom a list of successful tactics she was employing during the lockdown. She and her family helped pack 300 “Bags of Love” for the homeless with toiletries, socks, underwear, water, non-perishables and a handwritten word of encouragement or Bible verse. The Greater Atlanta Christian School junior also volunteered to package and deliver more than 3,000 orders during the virtual Greek Festival at her church, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation. Over the holidays, she performed random acts of kindness to mark the 12 days of Christmas, including raking leaves, paying for someone’s food at the drive-thru, and buying blankets for the homeless. “Even in the hardest of days, there is always something good that can be done.”

John Edwards


ohn Edwards, 14, has devoted himself to helping others affected by the pandemic and racial injustice. At New Birth Mission-

communities and organizations such as Hosea Helps and the NAACP. A student at Dekalb Agricultural Technology and the Environment, said he was humbled by the people he met and things he witnessed during 2020. “The pandemic and 2020 in general, strengthened my resolve to give back to the community, specifically helping to cut down the shortage of food resources and every-

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Education | 27

JANUARY 2021 ■ “My favorite thing is Interacting with my teammates because I never want to be lonely,” a third grader shared. COVID-19 did have an impact. The nonprofit typically fields 100 teams in the fall, 140 in the spring. This fall, only 42 teams participated, with only two teams meeting in person. But through Zoom conversations and exercises like

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munities that didn’t offer GOTR Atlanta joined eight open teams. The virtual format allowed for girls from Duluth, Mableton, and South Fulton to participate on the same team. “For being completely virtual and just about all strangers, our girls did a phenomenal job becoming a team,” a coach shared. “They supported each other and really opened up, sharing personal anecdotes and details. It was amazing to watch and be part of.” And at the end of fall season, the girls still came together for a celebratory virtual rae, “5K Your Way,” which recognized that not all girls had the

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got their bibs, their medals and finisher t-shirt. We had girls on bikes, on rollerblades, running laps around buildings and dancing in their living rooms. It was neat to see how they put an exclamation point on the end of the season,” Rolfes said. Registration is open for the spring season, which begins on Feb. 15. “We are trying to identify places where we can have practice – parks, churches or any public building – and implement protocols of masks and social distancing. We are hoping to have half of the teams meet in-person, half virtual. There is definitely going to be something for everyone – even if GOTR hasn’t been in your community before,”

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A Q&A with advocacy groups about APS’s in-person return BY JOHN RUCH The public schools systems in Atlanta and DeKalb County are tentatively set to return to optional in-person classes in January, depending on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, after months of advocacy by parents, teachers and staff. Everyone agrees that in-person classes should resume, but when and how remains controversial. In Atlanta, a group called We Demand Safety APS has advocated for better safeguards before an in-person return. Another called Committee for APS Progress has advocated for an immediate in-person option. The Reporter asked those

groups for their opinions about the return plan. The answers, which were edited for length and clarity, were provided by David Hayes, a Buckhead resident and chairman of Committee for APS Progress, and the steering committee of We Demand Safety APS: Markesha Daniel, Canek Fuentes Hernandez, Allison Glass, Laura LaHiff, Andy McIntyre, Jennifer Rogers-Givens, Sara Totonchi, Elizabeth Wickland, Sara Zeigler and Robin Deutsch Edwards. Now that APS has set tentative in-person return dates, how much does that satisfy your group’s concerns?


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Committee for APS Progress: APS families have been shut out of schools for over 270 days and the option to return to face-to-face learning could not come soon enough. We were sitting in a similar situation in October, when the superintendent and Board of Education pulled the plug on that reopening plan and kept our schools closed to our children. We are cautiously optimistic, but have no faith in the superintendent or board that they will follow through with the current plan. We will believe when we see it.

We are fighting for the parents, students, teachers and staff who simply want the option to return to face-to-face learning. One size does not fit all, and it doesn’t have to. The ramifications of this extended period of school closure will be felt for years to come.

We Demand Safety APS: The entire APS community would like to return to face-to-face learning; however, it is essential that it be done in a way that prioritizes equity, safety and health for staff, students and their families. While we understand that there is tremendous pressure to reopen schools, we want to be sure this is done in an equitable manner that centers the needs and concerns of the most vulnerable among us. Based on what was shared in the APS community Town Hall on Dec. 3, we appreciate that APS is prioritizing and funding upgrades to HVAC systems for all schools, developing a COVID-19 testing plan, and identifying a capacity cap for all schools of 60%. However, it is critical that efforts be made to improve transparency and communication.

Committee for APS Progress: Our first priority is to give parents, students, teachers and staff the option to make their own personal decision on returning to face-to-face learning. This can be done safely by following the CDC guidelines. Right now there is no option. There will be COVID-19 cases in schools once they reopen. We fully expect there to be periods of quarantine and shortterm closures. This is why a mitigation and isolation plan is vital. Volumes of recent public health research and studies tell us school is actually the safest for children during the pandemic and that face-to-face learning actually reduces overall community spread.

What is the most urgent concern that motivates your advocacy? We Demand Safety APS: We would like the district and individual schools to be transparent about their aspirations for how in-person learning will be conducted versus what it will actually look like in schools. And in the push to return to in-person instruction, the most urgent concern should be the safety and needs of APS staff to ensure a successful learning environment for students. Voices and expertise of APS staff should be solicited and amplified, affirming success and innovation around virtual teaching and learning -- and the expertise should be shared across the entire district so all schools can benefit and implement the safest and best educational models for learning in this unprecedented time.

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Committee for APS Progress: We have seen a dramatic loss of learning and development in students at all levels from this extended period of school closures. Despite the hard work of APS teachers and staff, virtual learning is no substitute for face-to-face learning.

Major concerns about in-person return timing are public health and quality of education. What are your points of agreement with those concerns and where do you differ with other advocates?

We Demand Safety APS: We recognize that there are children who would benefit greatly from face-toface instruction, especially children with disabilities and special learning needs, our youngest learners, those without adult supervision at home, those with internet connectivity issues, and those struggling with mental health concerns. We remain steadfast in our belief that the entire APS community would like to return to face-to-face learning; however, it is essential that it be done in a way that prioritizes equity, safety and health for staff, students and their families. Recent studies suggest that while schools do not drive the spread of COVID-19 in communities where schools have been opened, they do mirror the rates of transmission of COVID-19 within their communities. We urge APS to engage state governmental and public health leadership in Georgia to prioritize supporting schools with additional resources to implement testing and contact tracing strategies. What has your group learned from the Fulton County School System, which has returned to in-person classes but also had to close many schools? We Demand Safety APS: One of the major lessons we have Continued on Page 30 BK

Education | 29

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Continued from page 28 learned from school reopening efforts across the U.S. is that schools need to have a detailed mitigation strategy for ensuring the COVID transmissions can be prevented and detected rapidly. When schools do not put multiple mitigation strategies in place, such as 100% mask wearing, testing, and creative scheduling (e.g., cohorts, alternating or staggered schedules) to provide social distancing, COVID can spread -- putting too many people at risk. Committee for APS Progress: Obviously, COVID-19 cases are going to be a fixture of the next several months. The key is mitigation and isolation. What Fulton County and countless other school districts locally and nationally have shown us is 1) face-to-face learning can happen during this pandemic, and 2) the importance of a plan for mitigation at the school level. APS has not shown such a plan. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Unfortunately, there will COVID-19 cases when APS schools reopen; this will be true despite the diligent work and planning of the individual school principals. However, all the research shows that open schools don’t contribute to community spread. Instead, research has shown us that open schools are actually linked to reduction of community spread. Once the pandemic ends, are there any long-term changes to education policies or practices you would see coming from your advocacy? Committee for APS Progress: Once schools reopen, the damage done to our students through school closure needs to be addressed and a plan for making up for this loss needs to be implemented. In the long term, we will be focused on electing an APS board that won’t allow politics to drive its decisions, that will hold the superintendent accountable, and that will make educating students its top priority. We Demand Safety APS: We hope that the voices and expertise of APS staff and the APS community are solicited and amplified beyond the current crisis. APS staff has shown great resilience and creativity during the pandemic and success stories should be acknowledged and recognized. This pandemic has reminded all of us of the essential roles that teachers and schools play in our society -- and how under-resourced schools are. It is time for us to consistently reward dedicated education professionals and ensure that our state resources prioritize funding for all public schools and teachers so that all students in Georgia can benefit equally.


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