The Beloved Benefit was the idea of Dan T. Cathy, chairman of Chick-fil-A and son of the chain’s founder. He was inspired by a vision of social connection and greater economic opportunity for Atlanta and gathered other major corporations like The Home Depot and Georgia Power as well as large philanthropies like The Arthur M. Blank Foundation to come together to create the event. Its name is a reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of how people could live among one another in a “Beloved Community.” Since 2019, the benefit has raised more than $20 million.
Cathy has personally paid nearly all the overhead for the event, according to Rodney Bullard, founder and CEO of The Same House, the organization that puts on the Beloved Benefit.
Addressing Atlanta’s complex challenges
Atlanta may be the city too busy to hate, but it is not without its problems. It has the highest income inequality of any city in the nation, according to last year’s Census data. A child born in poverty in Atlanta has a very small chance of making it to the top of tier of earners, researchers have found.
In his remarks at the benefit, Dickens acknowledged Atlanta’s shortcomings.
“Atlanta is great, but we are not perfect,” Dickens said. “Our challenges, like those facing other American cities, are complex.”
The event’s beneficiaries are all in some way working towards addressing those complexities through economic and community development:
- Urban League of Greater Atlanta, a group dedicated to the economic empowerment of African Americans
- Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, an organization serving the region’s kids and teens
- Westside Future Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing Atlanta’s historic westside
- Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit dedicated to developing, growing and scaling Black entrepreneurs.
- First Step, a staffing agency for people experiencing homelessness or who are low income or previously incarcerated
There were also three mental health organizations that were honored: Silence the Shame, Hillside and CHRIS 180.
“This is a time of celebration, time of thanksgiving, a time to put a light on some of the wonderful organizations that are uplifting employment and specially focused on upward economic mobility,” Cathy said.
The groups were chosen by the Beloved Benefit’s corporate sponsors, who also provided most of the nearly $9 million raised, Bullard said. The sponsors also choose how the money is split among the beneficiaries.
About 40 organizations have benefited from this event over the past four years, including Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, City of Refuge, the Atlanta Police Foundation, Goodwill Career Training Centers, Village Micro Fund and the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project.
At times, Thursday’s event felt more like a Hollywood awards show than a fundraiser. It opened with a musical number performed by a group of actors and dancers illustrating a seemingly single mother stressed about money, but who didn’t have to face those challenges alone. “We’re all in the same house,” the lyrics declared. “One dream, one love, that’s us, yeah. We’re not alone in this big ol’ city. You’re right at home.”
Some 2,000 attendees gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center and mingled at long family-style tables set with velveteen tablecloths, small but decadent floral bouquets, where they enjoyed a three-course meal.
Though extravagant, the Beloved Benefit is not exclusive. It bills itself as a come-as-you are event, and indeed, people came as they were — in suits or jeans, in Gucci sneakers or Nike dunks. Individual tickets cost $1,000 and tables were $10,000, but upwards of 20% of the tickets were given away, according to Bullard.
There were plenty of planned bits, like Taylor bringing out a live cow when Chick-fil-A’s president and COO was introduced. But the night also highlighted Atlanta’s deep legacy of civil rights as the Beloved Benefit aims to continue supporting organizations doing that work.
In 2019, the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis attended the first Beloved Benefit and said, “We’re one people. We’re one family. We all live in the same house. The house of Atlanta, Georgia.”
Lewis’ family, in attendance Thursday, echoed his sentiments.
“When I think about the word community and one house, I think about the congressman’s life because he worked his entire life trying to make the world a better place to live,” said his younger brother, Henry Lewis. “Reminding people that we all live in this one house and we have to learn how to get along to make this house produce like it should.”
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