Atlanta: Here’s how we Lost it

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The gray-haired men standing next to Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin is a crook, and evidence of his criminality is is Atlanta's famed Butler Street YMCA — one of the oldest black YMCA's in the country. This YMCA is steeped in history. It is said Martin Luther King, Andy Young, and Ralph Abernathy planned their first protest actions here. But for the past 20 years something foul has been happening in it you should know about, something not unlike the pattern of greed and stupidity that has come to characterize Atlanta's black high and mighty.

This YMCA with its many dormitory rooms is not fit for human habitation and that's because instead of using money given to it for much needed renovation, the administrators– under the direction of the gray-haired man pictured above — have lined their pockets with the loot. This explains why none but the virtual homeless rent rooms in the Butler Street YMCA.

But you wouldn't know this by the huge sign outside that proclaims "Newly Renovated Rooms!" You also wouldn't know this by the beautifully renovated lobby. In fact, the only way you see evidence of the thievery is by renting a room and going upstairs, which I did 10 years ago, right after the supposed "Newly renovated Rooms" sign went up.

But this sign was put up to deceive. When I checked in I was appalled. I'd seen squalor before, but never here in America: filthy windows — windows so caked with grime and broken it was clean they hadn't been cleaned or repaired in decades — windows with cloth stuck in the cracks to keep out the cold, paint peeling so badly, you could pull huge chips off the wall, beat-up furniture that surely had been there since the place opened in the 1920s, a bathroom with all the toilets broke, and in the shower, just one functioning shower head. And then the piece de resistance — cheap, "Heat Devil" heaters to heat the rooms because the central heating system had given-out way back in the 1960s.

All this, and each morning the executive director, an incredibly well-dressed little man who avoided the residents like the plague, would pull up in his shiny black Mercedes Benz and rush to his office as quickly as he could.

This is the disconnect I speak of when I talk about how we foul-up shit once we get to the top. How does this man and his partners in crime sleep at night? How do they go to church and pray without being struck by lightening? Some of the greatest names in recent black history came to Atlanta penniless but found refuge at the Butler Street YMCA.

Back then it provided clean rooms, a wholesome Christian environment, any number of self-help courses and programs in its community rooms, a gym and swimming pool for sport and fellowship. But today the rooms are unfit for human habitation, the gym and pool have long been out of commission, and no educational or social activity has been held in the community rooms in years. In fact, the only reason the place still exists is to collect government rent checks from the mental cases and homeless men who live there.

This, I submit to you, is a reality of Atlanta rarely spoken of, the reality of how we can be depended upon to foul-up once achieving a certain level of success.

How many young men wound up failing in Atlanta because they couldn't find a affordable place to live? How many young men would have not gone to strip bars and crack dens for fellowship had the Butler Street YMCA been run the way every other YMCA in the country was run?

And meanwhile, the thief pictured above hobnobs with luminaries like Mayor Shirley Franklin — actually invites them into the downstairs renovated part of the building to wine and dine her. Also, right around the corner, the famed black newspaper "The Atlanta Voice" keeps reminding its readers of the great job it's doing no matter the appalling black-on-black crime going on right under their noses at the Butler Street YMCA.

The above is one example of how we lost Atlanta, but there are many others. As with Bill Campbell, Morris Brown president, Deloris Cross, the executirve director of the Butler Street YMCA, convicted felon, forger, weed-head ex-State Senator Ralph Abernathy III, medium_abernathy.jpgand numerous other high-level blacks entrusted with large sums of money, power, and influence, time and again they have succumbed to the kind of greed and thiervery that hurts the chances of so many other black folk. Time and again they pull us back into the mud.

ricland

04/23/2006

Atlanta: How did it get so Awful…?

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I'm writing this from the University of Cincinnati Student Center. This cleverly-appointed facility is an airport terminal sized, perfectly air-conditioned place; and, since it's the end of the school year, virtually depopulated.

Sunlight pours across the thickly carpeted floors from block-long plate-glass windows. The Center has free Wi-Fi, electric outlets everywhere, plush leather lounge chairs all around, sparkling clean restrooms downstairs, three different levels for your relaxing pleasure, an eclectic food court during the week, microwave ovens here and there, a small but well-stocked convenience store, and several sprawling balconies each with a plentiful array of wrought iron furniture. All this and it's walking distance to downtown Cincinnati too. All of this and the campus and all its amenities are freely open to the public.

I spent the night here writing most of this piece. Somewhere around 3;00 am I went to sleep on one of the plush couches and did not wake up until 8:00 am at which time I went to the restroom washed, and changed clothes.

Nobody bothered me. Nobody even looked at me funny.

Compare this to the lock-down status to be found at the Atlanta University Complexe, Georgia State, and Georgia Tech or just about any public place in Atlanta.

Oh, and I should mention that the same set-up described above at the University of Cincinnati Student Center is also to be found at Cincinnati State, the two-year college a little further out from the heart of Cincinnati, to include showers, a Swedish steam room, a gym and weight room, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool, all, as with the facilities at the University of Cincinnati are freely open to everyone student and non-student alike.

Nothing like this exists in Atlanta anymore, not even close. Even Georgia State, which has a downtown campus, is a dull, tightly restricted, utilitarian government issue archipelago compared to the college campuses to be found in Cincinnati (and many other mid-size towns): campus security guards everywhere, crummy restrooms, beat-up computers, and a creeping sense of claustrophobia wherever you go. In fact, these same adjectives describe much of what Atlanta has become: claustrophobic, crummy restrooms, security guards and cops at every turn, a city with the personality of a subway car full of people who'd all rather be somewhere else, people who dare not look at each other.

And yet Atlanta was once great metropolis — the greatest of metropolises! Twenty-five years ago it was called the Queen City of the South, the place to go if you were young, black, and ambitious … the black capital of the United States, Amrica's Black Mecca — the world's Black Mecca! Today, however, Atlanta is a bloated, overpopulated, outrageously expensive, a sprawling, spewing, sputtering, traffic-strangling mess.

Forget about the town Maynard Jackson and and Andrew Young put on the map. Forget about the Atlanta Braves. Forget about Cynthia Mckinney's shenanigans. Forget about Spelman, Morris Brown, Morehouse. Forget about Sweet Auburn Street. Forget about the swell-looking black television news anchors to be seen on every local network. Forget about all those stories of people who went to Atlanta with $50 and 15 years ago are driving Lexuses and pulling down six-figure salaries. Forget about all of that. Today the only real success stories in Atlanta — the only people really kicking butt– are the foreigners, the people who know nothing and care less about Atlanta's much ballyhooed black history, the people who slowly but surely are wresting control of our black Mecca from us. The immigrants both legal and illegal.

That's right: Atlanta is no longer a shining example of black success. It is no longer a testament to how far we can go if given a chance. It is, in fact, a testament to how we hit a break wall every time we reach a certain plateau, how we seem to live under some intractable curse that dictates black folk can only climb so far in life before they burst like a raisin in the sun.

A good example of this is the Morris Brown financial scandal. For more than 120 years Morris Brown managed to produce black college graduates and stay financially solvent. It had a competitive football team, a respected under-graduate and graduate programs, a staff of over 140 PhDs. Then six years ago in one fell swoop Morris Brown was no more. It lost its accreditation, its students, and in a blink of an eye its faculty was without tenure or jobs.

Many including the federal government point to Dr. Deloris Cross, the black women educator/administrator from Chicago hired as president of Morris Brown eight years ago. But even if the woman was an outright crook, which she is, it's the Morris Brown board of trustees who did nothing while she was running her scams, rifling bank accounts, obliterating the school's credit rating that made her thievery possible — how could they have been so negligent? The women was sucking every nickle from Morris Brown she could find while the Morris Brown Board of Trustees did nothing, save issue glowing reports about what a sublime choice for president she was and attend the many parties and functions she threw.

We should now expect the once great Morris Brown will be torn down and its assets and incredibly valuable land — land the black community has owned for over 100 years — will be carved up and sold to the highest bidders who will in all likelihood be new-age land barons like Nare Patel of whom I write of below.

This incident goes back to the point I made earlier about Atlanta black folks reaching a certain level of success before self-combusting. That is, unlike other ethnic groups it would seem once we reach the big time, rather than translate that success into meaningful forces of change, we wind-up strangling ourselves with it.

Former Mayor Bill Campbell's criminal prosecution is a good example of this. With the possible exception of Maynard Jackson, Campbell was the most successful mayor Atlanta ever had. With this background he should have gone on to even greater success — a governorship, cabinet post, whatever. Instead, he took to stealing, stealing amounts in aggregate that won't even add up to half what his legal fees and fines will soon be.

Of course he's guilty as hell no matter that now all the charges against him have waddled down to income tax evasion. Ten members of his administration are either facing charges or in jail and he didn't know anything about their thievery? Give me a break. But then read the Atlanta newspapers going back 20 years and you'll find incident after incident of high-level black folk running afoul of the law.

More recently, the Fulton County Sheriff's chief of staff was convicted of stealing $600,000 of federal funds he received while the founder and owner of a jive Welfare recipient training company. What did he do with the loot? the Negro simply squandered the $600,000 it which explains why he was still working (at 66 years of age) a few years after he stole it. And the Welfare recipients he was supposed to teach job skills too? most no doubt still on welfare.

And before I give the impression this is only happening at high levels consider this: Go to any Pickadilly's in Atlanta and no matter how many workers are black the cashiers will invariably be Asian or Latino. A coincidence? Yeah, right.

Again, the theme here is how we as a people hit a brick wall once we achieve a certain level of success, the results of which are to be most tragically seen in Atlanta, a town that 25 years ago held such spectacular promise for black folks, promise we, as the old folks say, just frittered away.

Atlanta is no longer a town we can call ours. No longer a town we can point to with pride and that's because it is no longer ours. That's right, we lost it (if we ever had it at all)and what better example of this do we have but the spectacular success stories Latinos and other ethnic groups now enjoy in Atlanta? Mind you, a black mayor, chief of police, city council do not do not advancement for the race makes if a generation later economic success has not trickled down to the masses; that is, the same black presence is not achived across the business world. The black mayor, chief of police, city council, etc., open the door, but if no one walks through that door what do we have but with little more than what we had 140 years ago — a few black faces in the Big House?

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Why, for example, aren't there any black-owned strip malls in Atlanta? How is it explained that in certain parts of the Atlanta area (Gwinnett County) entire zip codes are owned and run by former illegal Mexican immigrants? I remember these people from 20 years ago. They arrived on Greyhound buses or stuffed in darkened windowed vans like sardines. They spoke no English, took jobs like digging ditches or making-up hotel beds, yet, today own strip malls, fast food chains, sprawling flea markets, clothing stores, five star restaurants, miles of prime commercial real estate, their own mortgage companies, insurance companies, banks — and none ever received a SBA loan or gone through one of those tedious SBA training programs.

Commercial bankers jump at the chance to give them loans. They drive better cars than most black Atlantans do. They've carved out their own neighborhoods where the streets are wonderfully clean and the crime non-existent. Their businesses are on every page of the Yellow pages. And this is just the Mexicans. The Asians and Indians are operating at a level few black businessman ever reach.

This latter fact became clear to me when I discovered the massive office building I was working in is owned by a guy named Jare Patel, an East Indian who started-out a minimum wage 7-11 clerk 25 years ago. The building is surely worth several million dollars.

Bottom line, if you go to Atlanta expecting highly visible small-to-midsize black businesses you will be tragically disappointed. Beyond the Bar-b-que joints, barber shops and beauty saloons, there are very few to be seen indeed– far fewer than any other ethnic group.

It should also be noted that black soul food restaurants are all but gone from Atlanta. Oh, there are plenty of soul food restaurants to be found here, but they're all run by Koreans. For example, the only soul food restaurant chain in the Atlanta area is Donnies, a place where a baked chicken dinner with complementary corn bread and ice tea can be had for $5.50. Compare this to what you pay for the same thing at famed 'Satterwhite's' one of the few remaining black-owned soul food restaurants — $8.95, and that with no complimentary ice tea.

Speaking of black restaurants, during my trip the best soul food I had was at little roadside bar-b-que joint called "The Boss." The only thing is the price was $9.95 and the place was a dump. Apparently the place has been there for decades, no matter, the owners still don't get it. They still haven't figured it out yet. They'll remain a road-side bar-b-que joint instead of opening other places and at some point franchising because they've hit the wall I mention above — the inability to progress from small business to mid-size business jinx.

This said, let me share with you something, perhaps, even more depressing about Atlanta, its quality of life. It sucks. Mind you, 25 years ago, this wasn't the case at all. Twenty-five years ago Atlanta was a glorious place to live and work in. But 25 years ago, Atlanta had half it's current population. Also, 25 years ago Black streets like MILK, Auburn Street, Campbell ton Road, were streets with wall to wall black businesses. MILK between Morris Brown and Ashy Street (Rev. Lowery) a distance of less than two blocks, had no less than six soul food restaurants, seven, if you include Paschal's Hotel restaurant (where I worked as a front desk clerk). There was also a black-owned pharmacy, real estate-insurance companies, the famed black-owned Paschal's hotel, and numerous other black owned establishments.

All gone now.

You'll also be none-too- thrilled with Atlanta's abominable traffic. Here's a town with no place to park and no way to get there in time.

I'm speaking of the heart of Atlanta. The strip malls, of course, have plenty of parking places, the better to get your money.

But planning to visit AUC? Sweet Auburn? Georgia State? the downtown public library? the Underground? Any where on Peachtree? expect to pay for parking. And Atlanta isn't really a walking town; that is, a town where you walk to get to places. No matter MARTA, car culture is a way of life here.

And did I say the traffic was abominable? Hmm, maybe that's too harsh. Here's another adjective — impossible.

Here's a place that no matter the time of day try to go anyplace and you run right smack dab into a traffic jam. Why is traffic backed at 6:00 am? Why is it backed-up at 10:00? on a week night? where are these fools going?

And the really bad thing about Atlanta traffic is that you need a car to go anywhere or do anything. Remember, Atlanta isn't a walking city. Here in Cincinnati, for example, you can park your car and walk to the main library, department of motor vehicles, post office, a bevy of restaurants, the University of Cincinnati, the Underground Museum, the RiverWalk, even Kentucky, right over the bridge!

Not so in Atlanta where nothing is within walking distance.

And did I say the traffic is abominable …?

Finally, and perhaps most telling, there is no longer a sense of community in Atlanta. It's all gone. In fact, I feel fortunate that I experienced Atlanta's sense of community when I lived here twenty-five years ago. But again, this was when streets like MLK, Auburn, Campbellton Road had wall-to-wall black businesses. But these places and others like it are now all but abandoned by black Atlantans the result of which the town no longer has the identity it once had which was a rich and long Southern identity. Today the Arabs run all the grocery and convenience stores, the Korans all the restaurants, Businesses on Peachtree are still either lily-white or now Indian or Asian, and prices for everything in the black community are the highest to be found anywhere. Expect to pay $1.65 for a 16 oz bottle of pop, $3.00 a gallon for your gas. Either that or drive to white Buckhead where everything is about 30% cheaper.

The fact is, the Arabs, Asians — hell, even the Ethiopians and Somalians! who have come into the black community and taken over all the stores have exacted an almost third world pogrom here — they'll sell us our food, cigarettes, malt liquor and put up with our bullshit, but at a ruthless tax. Go in these places and you'll see behind the counter foreigners of every point of origin and description, but never an African-American. Whether from experience or bias, they don't hire African Americans. But who is complaining? My expedience has been that black grocery store clerks are some of the most bad tempered people there are. Meanwhile, the foreign grocery store clerks are all smiles; and why shouldn't they be? They're making twice as much as they should be because they've re-tagged everything a whopping 30% higher and their black customers are too dumb to do anything about it.

Atlanta sucks, that's the message here. The quality of life is abominable and it's getting worse. And I never thought Id be writing this. If you read my earlier posts, you know that only as recently as a month ago, I was one of Atlanta's biggest supports. Not anymore. Wild horses couldn't bet me back to that miserable place.

ricland

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