ACC Commission proclaims that Black lives matter, establishes Community Corps

The ACC Commission issued a unanimous resolution proclaiming that Black lives matter at their voting session on Tuesday. 

Commissioner Ovita Thornton, headshot
Commissioner Ovita Thornton

This resolution was written by Commissioner Ovita Thornton in collaboration with other Black community leaders. It gives a short history of the African-American experience, including both a list of their accomplishments and of the “inhuman treatment” they have suffered, which causes “trauma” still to this day. It mentions slavery, lynchings, segregation, redlining and mass incarceration as well as several specific events such as the massacre and burning of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa in 1921 and the shooting of Edward Wright by ACCPD in 1996.

The resolution doesn’t dwell on acts of white terrorism for long, instead devoting far more space to a discussion of Black accomplishments in Athens. For example, it mentions the integration of UGA, the hiring of the city’s first Black police officers and the founding of WXAG, the first Black radio station here, among others. “The history of Black people in Athens needs to be re-told,” Thornton said.

A commitment to address systemic racism

While acknowledging the local government “can never heal the trauma of Black people,” it calls for a commitment to “building real equity” and an “extended and intense effort to address systemic racism and demonstrate the importance of Black lives.” With this resolution, the commission promises to do several specific things to meet this goal:

  • Explore participatory budgeting
  • Support small businesses and co-ops
  • Create green job opportunities as Athens transitions to 100% renewable energy
  • Support neighborhood health clinics who serve the uninsured
  • Support festivals celebrating Black culture, such as the MLK Day Parade, Hot Corner and the Kwanzaa Celebration
  • Establish Juneteenth as an annual holiday

The resolution passed 7-0, with Commissioner Russell Edwards not voting due to his serving as mayor pro tem while Mayor Kelly Girtz is on vacation.

A fractured commission

This resolution is similar to others the commission has passed recently, such as one in support of the Latinx community last year. In light of that, one might assume the current document would be non-controversial, passed in a celebration of shared values.

Not quite. 

This particular document was released to the commission just hours before the vote. Despite unanimous support, its passage seemed to highlight the fractures spreading through our local legislative body since the George Floyd protests began. 

All commissioners supported the resolution, but there are two distinct groups forming with different perspectives on this issue. The first is composed of relative newcomers to the local political scene who feel very connected to national and international protest movements. On the other hand, we have commissioners in the second group who don’t identify with these movements but who have been deeply involved in the Athens community for decades.

Commissioner Mariah Parker
Commissioner Mariah Parker

Commissioner Mariah Parker, as a leader and organizer of several protests in Athens recently, is certainly in touch with the demands coming from the streets. She asked that a reference to the central plank of the Movement for Black Lives platform be included in Thornton’s resolution.

“If we’re going to proclaim that Black lives matter, it’s very important for us to also show up for the movement in terms of policy commitments,” Parker said. “Issuing such a proclamation without those policy commitments would be problematic at best.”

Thornton disagreed. “My resolution was designed for Athens,” she said. “I welcome you to present a resolution, and I could probably even vote for it, but I’d like this to be about Athens.”

She also rejected Parker’s assessment that her resolution did not contain specific policy commitments. “With the budget we approved, there’s going to be money to get behind this and really make some of these things happen,” Thornton said.

Parker’s amendment was withdrawn, and a separate motion to table for 30 days failed 4-3, with Commissioners Tim Denson and Melissa Link voting with Parker and Commissioners Mike Hamby, Patrick Davenport and Allison Wright voting with Thornton.

Athens Community Corps

The commission approved additional “resiliency package” measures to fight the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic at this meeting as well. One noteworthy item in this package is the “Athens Community Corps,” a new program funded with $525,000 which will hire ten people at a “living wage” for 11 months.

These temporary employees will “undertake civic improvements that enhance the community and strengthen civic pride” while they are gaining valuable skills. This will be a diverse group who “could be part of the Diversion Center program,” referencing the commission’s desire to create a pipeline from prison to employment.

Two projects on the list for this group to tackle include landscaping in Dudley Park and along MLK Parkway and also the restoration of the Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery.

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