Opinion: Uniting for a greater metro Atlanta

Credit: Mike Luckovich

Credit: Mike Luckovich

This past year was truly a make-it-or-break-it moment for not only our nation, but for the world. And from my interactions with hundreds of our nonprofit partners, corporations, the government sector, among others, we were not broken.

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. ... This is the interrelated structure of reality.” — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

More than a year ago, COVID-19 quickly swept into our lives. We all lived it — some with hardships much more difficult than others. Almost every industry saw job losses, cut hours and diminishing revenue. And as you already know, that greatly impacted the lives of children, families and communities across greater Atlanta. Some children and families even saw challenges they never thought they would have to face. The phrase “we’re all in this together” was plastered on billboards and added to signoffs in emails. And as stale as the phrase might have become, it was true. For the first time in a long time, we all shared a bond. At the same time, a captive world audience witnessed the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, further exposing deeply rooted realities of systemic racism and inequity facing this country.

This past year was truly a make-it-or-break-it moment for not only our nation, but for the world. And from my interactions with hundreds of our nonprofit partners, corporations and the government sector, among others, we were not broken.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

At United Way of Greater Atlanta, “united” is part of our legacy as well as our name. The practice of bringing people together to solve complex problems is baked into our DNA. From the moment COVID hit and the potential impacts on our community became a reality, I watched people unite as never before. I’m proud of the work that we and our many partners have done to rise to the multiple challenges created by the pandemic.

I believe many of us shared the sentiment expressed by one of our 2-1-1 Community Connection specialists. She said, “The need is greater, and the call volume is high, but it’s not a stressor to me. The only stressor to me is that I can’t save the world.” While no one person or organization can save the world, what we have seen in this pandemic is the extraordinary number of people who stepped up and joined us to do what they could to save their communities.

Looking forward, we see that the need to unite is at the center of our community’s ability to thrive. United is the way forward. We need more allies and advocates to meet the monumental tasks of erasing learning loss; creating more jobs that pay a living wage; ensuring we have a workforce trained for the jobs of the future; and ensuring the well-being of every child. And we must do all of this through a lens of equity. The pandemic clearly revealed how the old normal was not working for everyone. COVID only further exposed the barriers that keep children and families from thriving; it didn’t create those barriers. The digital divide was more present than ever as children were forced to learn from home and families searched for COVID testing and vaccines. The employed were just one paycheck away from eviction and going hungry.

Recognizing these challenges, our communities rallied around a new vision for the future — a future of equity, opportunity and inclusion. A future that works for everyone. Let’s not lose that community willpower, or that momentum. If we are to achieve a truly equitable recovery, we must harness the power of our voices, resources and volunteer hours in service.

During the pandemic, volunteers were an essential part of providing basic needs to our community — whether virtually or in-person. This week, more than 1,000 volunteers will continue doing just that by giving their time at over 40 sites across greater Atlanta during our Unite for Service Week. Those hours of dedicated service are the commitment we need from each and every individual if we are going to build our communities back better.

There is an expression, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Over this past year, we disproved this expression. Together, with our partners, we showed that we can go fast and far when we go together.

We need every person to commit to doing their part in equitable recovery. While one person can’t do it all, that one person’s efforts, combined with others, creates a positive ripple effect. Every hour spent in service goes further than you could ever imagine, every life changed will go on to change the destiny of children, families and communities. The impact is exponential. And it’s what helps direct the path to an equitable recovery.

Together, when we unite for more, I’m confident we can truly build a greater and more equitable Atlanta.

Please join us to unite for more!

Milton J. Little Jr. is president and CEO, United Way of Greater Atlanta.