Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul sits during a county meeting at the Fulton County Government Center, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in Atlanta. Mayors and other representatives of Fulton County's 14 cities met to discuss a possible TSPLOST for next year. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
Photo: Branden Camp
Photo: Branden Camp

Protests over injustice give north Fulton mayor new insight

The expressions of pain and anger over injustice and race since the death of George Floyd in Minnesota have been a jolt to a north Fulton official. Mayor Rusty Paul has a plan to help eliminate racism in Sandy Springs but says it includes looking at his own biases that he was taught as a child. 

Paul told City Council members at a meeting, Tuesday, that he has been deeply moved by peaceful protests and the national outcry for change in the U.S. after Floyd died in police custody. Sandy Springs will change the spelling of Lake Forrest Drive as an early step on the city’s part. The new spelling might be changed to Forest with one ‘r,’ through a resolution introduced at the next City Council meeting on June 16.

Some residents have said the street was named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan and a Confederate general. Others disagree. 

“It doesn’t matter,” the mayor said, adding that the possibility that it’s true concerns him.

The city will soon host community conversations on race with diverse groups of people to help all residents feel Sandy Springs is an inclusive city, Communications Director Sharon Kraun said. Paul is also asking faith-based organizations and civic groups to host discussions and report back to him what arises.  

“We need to hear from minority residents,” Paul said. “We have to begin the process of trying to eradicate racism from our community.”

The mayor said he has come to new insights, recently, after in-depth conversations with his family on race and personal efforts to undo his own biases.

He described childhood in his native Alabama as an era of overt racism. Racial slurs were part of the everyday conversation, he added. 

“I’ve spent my life trying to pull the weeds of racism out of my head and out of my mind, and overcome the things that I was taught as child,” Paul said. “It’s something that we all struggle with but it’s time that we begin to address this at a very deep and fundamental level.”

Paul was critical of violent protesters but said he understands the outrage of injustice voiced in the peaceful marches and it presents an opportunity for people to understand the experiences of different races.

“There’s genuine outrage on the streets of Atlanta, in our whole region and across the country,” he said. “There’s a group of people saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ And we have an obligation to not just listen but to act.”

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