“A Year of Disclosure”: Runs after the Pandemic, Protests, and Test of Atlanta’s Promise

When someone tries to hit Nikima Williams because she is not a native of the city, she replies that her story at its core is Atlantan. Williams, who was elected in November to former Congressional Representative John Lewis after his death last year, grew up in Smith Station, on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Alabama, growing up in a house without indoor plumbing.

When she was a student at Talladega College, a historically small black school in Alabama, she and her friends traveled to Atlanta to shop and party. Ms. Williams, a Democrat who recently served on the state Senate, has seen elected black officials, business leaders, artists, and civil rights leaders. “I have seen blacks live the full promise of this country,” she said.

Ms. Williams said, “I got here without knowing a soul, but I was able to share, share and find my way.” But, she added, “we still have a way to go.”

There has always been a gap between the aspirations of “Atlanta Road” and the reality that many residents live in.

“Atlanta is one of a kind and it has this special way,” Ms. Lee said. “However, let’s be clear when we think about what that means: We have this fact, and some kind of hype and PR campaign – these are separate things.”

A series of events this year shed new light on the split.

One evening in May, after George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody, protests erupted across the country, crowds in Atlanta smashed corporate windows in downtown, vandalized the CNN station, and set a police car on fire. “What I see happening on the streets of Atlanta is not Atlanta,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a raw press conference, which was re-broadcast over and over on local TV and radio stations.

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The demonstrations gained new power after Richard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, was shot dead by Atlanta Police. Officers were called to the Wendy’s car park, where authorities said Mr. Brooks had slept in his car in the driveway. The city’s chief of police, Erica Shields, has resigned, and the officer who shot Mister Brooks is fired and charged with murder.


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