Driving the streets of Atlanta brings up images of icons. But when we meet Kweku Forstall, he has an image of an empty field in a small neighborhood in his mind.
He’s thinking about both the area and what happened there the night before we met.
“We had National Night Out at James Bridges Field,” Forstall said. “And kids were playing with each other, with their parents. That’s what a community should do, not struggle to survive.”
Over the span of three days, we talked to Forstall in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Atlanta. Scripps News spoke to Hope Wollensack in the Old Fourth Ward area, and we spoke to Lauren Thomas Priest from downtown.
Each is using a different approach to attack one of the city’s most pressing issues.
In this city of symbols, the gap between those with the most wealth and those with the least wealth is the widest in America. This is called income inequality, and nowhere in America is exempt from it.
“We’re talking about inequality built up over generations and it’s going to take generations to fix,” Priest said.
Even in cities where income inequality is less extreme, the top 20% earn nearly ten times more than the bottom. This is nothing new, but it is getting worse every year. Those we interviewed believe the solutions are obvious and they are pursuing them in Atlanta.
works for the priest Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta. Their data says that one of the biggest obstacles to wealth is debt. So they’re setting up a pilot to relieve thousands of dollars of student debt from a handful of Atlantans.
runs forstall Atlanta Civic Site of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. He oversees Pittsburgh Yards, a massive co-working and development space for Black entrepreneurs.
“The one thing that’s missing is a real conversation about the racial aspects of all this,” Forstall said. “This is because they need extra support to show what they can do to earn their way to prosperity like everyone else.”
runs wallensack Georgia Resilience and Opportunity Fund. They’re providing hundreds of dollars in guaranteed monthly income to hundreds of Black women in the Old Fourth Ward and beyond.
“We know it works really well,” Walensack said. “There’s a lot of evidence, but sometimes evidence alone isn’t enough to really move the needle on public policy.”
The Needle often stops at City Hall. There are efforts underway from leaders in Atlanta that take aim at income inequality. But equally notable are people from outside groups, sometimes with the help or participation of the city, working to eliminate an issue that has long been a problem.
It’s what Forstall saw on that field that night: families thriving in neighborhoods, rebuilding. This is the future he sees from the solutions underway in this city of symbols.