Opinion: Good reasons to celebrate Jimmy Carter’s birthday

Gwinnett County’s diversity and economic success owe much to the former president’s support of immigration to the U.S.
Kyle Williams, a sign installer for Alpha Graphics puts up a banner on Jimmy Carter Boulevard in Norcross on Monday, May 22, 2023. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Kyle Williams, a sign installer for Alpha Graphics puts up a banner on Jimmy Carter Boulevard in Norcross on Monday, May 22, 2023. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

As a member of The Carter Center Board of Councilors, I have witnessed firsthand how Jimmy Carter’s legacy of waging peace, fighting disease and building hope continues to be built upon by all those he has touched throughout his storied life. Carter is reaching a milestone seldom few can celebrate: a 99th birthday. As a special token of appreciation, I want to share another reason we wish him a happy birthday.

I am the Director of the Gateway85 Community Improvement District, in the heart of Gwinnett County, which is where you can find the former President’s namesake road -- Jimmy Carter Boulevard. Gwinnett County truly represents the world. With the most diverse population in the state, 25% of the residents are born outside of the U.S. They speak 108 languages and represent 181 countries – all within the Gateway85 Community Improvement District. Along Jimmy Carter Boulevard one can find a rich history and eclectic workforce that includes over 3,000 businesses that employ more than 47,000 people – representing 16% of Gwinnett County’s job force.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Back in May, Gateway85 celebrated and paid tribute to the Peach State’s President in a forum that reminded those in attendance of the impact Jimmy Carter has had on championing the many diverse backgrounds living and prospering in this area of greater Atlanta. One attendee, Patty Thumann, shared her special experience with me. She recalled having a “full circle” moment when hearing Jason Carter, grandson of Jimmy, speak. Patty realized the personal impact that President Carter had on her life; if it were not for him, she would not be where and who she is today.

In 1980, the Mariel boatlift brought waves of Cuban refugees to the shores of America. Among those on board were young children like Patty Thumann. Policies enacted by Jimmy Carter allowed her family to leave the communist country of Cuba in search of true freedom and new opportunities. Thumann, a Gwinnecian of 40 years, came to the states when she was 7; and at 13, she began working on Jimmy Carter Boulevard to help provide for her family. Now a business owner, foundation director and a public servant serving on several local boards, she lives out her version of the American Dream.

In so many ways, President Carter’s legacy is being felt as we join millions of others across the nation to wish President Jimmy Carter a happy birthday on October 1st. We continue to recognize the incredible impact he has had on lives, not just in Atlanta, Georgia, and the United States, but all around the globe.

The Refugee Act of 1980, signed into law by President Carter, established a framework for the admission and resettlement of refugees. It ensured that people seeking safety had a legal pathway to seek asylum and build a new life. This law reflected America’s values of compassion and inclusivity, principles that have always made this country a beacon of hope for those fleeing persecution and searching for a better life for their families.

We take for granted our freedom and the beauty of bringing the world together in a place where communities connect. Acceptance of all groups prevails and the word diversity takes on an even greater meaning.

Adapting to a new culture, language and way of life is difficult for many who come to the United States. However, the opportunities afforded by Jimmy Carter’s recognition of the need for improved refugee services proved America provides boundless freedom to pursue happiness and success. Education, employment and the freedom to express oneself were no longer just dreams, but tangible possibilities.

President Carter is deserving of great fanfare for his commitment to helping refugees and laying the foundation for a brighter future for Gwinnett County, and the U.S., to thrive with diverse perspectives from all over the world.

Today, we join as one voice to say: Thank you and happy 99th Birthday, President Carter.

Emory Morsberger is CEO of the Morsberger Group and founder of HelpingUkraine.us.

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