Gladys Knight serenaded Fonda with ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’

Jane Fonda came back to Atlanta, the city she lived in for two decades, to celebrate her 85th birthday and raise more than $1 million Thursday for her non-profit group she founded in 1995 to reduce teen pregnancy in Georgia.

Her guests included R&B legend Gladys Knight, actor and musician Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, actress Catherine Keener, Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, author Glennon Doyle, Spanx creator Sara Blakely and filmmaker Tyler Perry. Knight, a Georgia native, serenaded Fonda with a couple of tunes including her iconic “Midnight Train to Georgia.”

“I’ve been with Gladys before and I’m very grateful she is doing this,” Fonda said in a Zoom interview Wednesday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before the party, which was held at the Pink Castle in Buckhead.

The Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential, which goes by GCAPP, has funneled tens of millions of dollars over the years into training educators and youth groups to help teens make better choices. Over that time, Georgia’s teen pregnancy rate ― once the worst in the nation ― has dropped 73%. (The state is now ranked 37th, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

“There are a lot of reasons for that, not just GCAPP,” Fonda said. “But GCAPP is the only organization that has kept this issue on the front burner all these years. It’s really made a difference.”

Credit: Getty Images for GCAPP

Credit: Getty Images for GCAPP

The group is currently focused on comprehensive sex education and youth empowerment and is actively working with 20 school systems in the state including DeKalb County and Atlanta Public Schools. It also works hand in hand with non-profit groups like the Boys & Girls Club and multiple churches and has broadened outreach to parents.

The organization is currently “lean and strong,” said Ronald McNeill, GCAPP president since 2018. “We have 22 full-time employees and a team of consultants and contractors.” The organization raised more than $3.5 million in 2020, according to the most recent 990 form provided to the government.

McNeill said Fonda, as chairwoman emeritus, remains active in the organization, texting and calling him regularly.

“She has remained committed to ensuring there is systemic change on behalf of those who are vulnerable, who are less fortunate and don’t have equal opportunities,” McNeill said. “We’re fortunate to have a leader and founder who has touched so many lives over so many generations. She remains relevant today. She is using her celebrity and platform to elevate really important issues that impact society in a significant way.”

Fonda came to Georgia this week and was with McNeill as the midterm election results rolled in. “It came in better than we expected,” she said. “There’s still a lot to be done... I was very happy to hear that Ron’s developed relationships in the Georgia legislature with both Republicans and Democrats. Those with young children get it and understand why our work is important.”

She is worried about the current abortion restrictions in Georgia, which largely prohibit abortions after six weeks from inception. “There are a lot of young girls getting pregnant and all too often it’s incest,” she said. “If these young children become pregnant and you don’t offer them a way to end the pregnancy, it’s cruel. The work of GCAPP is more important than ever.”

Fonda left Atlanta about a decade ago and misses her friends and “the colors of the trees at this time of year,” she said. But she said she comes back often.

As for the fundraiser, besides raising money, she looked forward to seeing how well the live auction would go. One of the items up for auction includes drinks with Fonda at the movie screening of her sports comedy film with Tom Brady “80 for Brady,” which comes out in February.

Credit: Getty Images for GCAPP

Credit: Getty Images for GCAPP

She invited Atlanta comic Heather McMahan to sing “Happy Birthday” to her at the fundraiser after the two met at the taping of a Netflix comedy special earlier this year. McMahan is hosting instead, Fonda said.

“I’m totally humbled and honored and flattered,” McMahan said before the event. “I’m putting on my glitter jacket and rolling up my sleeves. We’re going to raise a bunch of money!”

Credit: Getty Images for GCAPP

Credit: Getty Images for GCAPP

At the event, Perry toasted Fonda, noting that she “inspired me so much. From the bottom of my heart, I want to give you love, prayers and grace. Thank you for what you’re doing for all of these kids with GCAPP.”

Glennon added: “Her name has become a clarion call, ethos in itself, and a battle cry. I love Jane Fonda means… I love justice, I love truth, I love fiery women who risk it all, it means I want to be like that.”

Ludacris initiated “Happy Birthday” for the whole party to sing, and Fonda then blew out her candles on stage.

Fonda recently publicized the fact she has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. “I’m halfway through my chemo and I feel good,” she said.

She remains friends with media mogul Ted Turner, her husband from 1991 to 2001. He was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia in 2018 and has made few public appearances since then. “I had dinner with Ted and he’s doing well,” she said.