As a recent transplant to Atlanta from Los Angeles I found myself glued to my television as the NFL set the stage for Super Bowl LIII in my new hometown. Downtown Atlanta already teems with a bevy of game day activity and advertising, and as of Sunday (Saints fans would say, thanks to a bad call) the Los Angeles Rams will meet the Patriots-Brady Dynasty just down the street from my office. What could be better? My old team in my new city – in different ways two underdogs trying to change the world. So why did I wake with an aching pain in my heart on Monday?
Like all social media junkies, I automatically turn to Twitter and Facebook for a quick fix before I sleep. Its pabulum provides my melatonin and Sunday night was no different. But while New England and Los Angeles fans celebrated their teams’ successes, the country prepared to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I found myself frustrated and conflicted.
I believe that the Super Bowl will be great for Atlanta. It’s estimated to deliver $400 million in economic impact to the city, and the stadium represents an amazing venue for Atlanta’s reputation and brand. But against a backdrop of MLK Day, furloughed federal workers, and extreme poverty, I struggle not with the game, but with human behavior. According to social media, some people paid $57,500 for a Saints Super Bowl ticket on Friday (now worthless), and another bettor plunked down $500,000 believing that in the Saints-Rams game that the teams would score more than 57 points – the game ended with 49 points on the scoreboard (another now worthless action). And now just in – a New England fan paid $180,685 on StubHub for 8 seats to the Super Bowl. While 71,000 people will pay on average $3,400 for a ticket to the game, 136,911 federal employees in Georgia will remain without a paycheck requiring them to turn to unorthodox sources for help. As of January 17, approximately 2,000 GoFundMe campaigns raised only $500,000 to support those impacted by the shutdown – ironically less than those two Super Bowl bets.
It’s always the right time to do the right thing. Many Georgians and dozens of universities, state agencies and localities that rely on DC for paychecks, grants and financial support are in a state of panic and economic disaster. There is something that we can do, but it will put our ideas of civic leadership to a test. "Democracy and politics can only function well with an engaged and aware civic community". Walter Lippman penned those words 90 years ago, and today they could not be more relevant. With engaged civic leaders we can rise above the noise and change the world one community at a time, but this entails a profoundly different type of inclusive, collaborative leadership team with an unwavering commitment to the common good. We must all step up as civic leaders.
Most familiar to Americans is Dr. King’s “I have a dream speech”, but less well known is what he did weeks before his assassination. In March 1968 Dr. King launched the Poor People’s Campaign. More than 50 multiracial organizations gathered in Atlanta to develop a platform to petition the government to pass an Economic Bill of Rights to uplift the economic conditions facing millions of people. Dr. King didn’t view poverty as another political issue, or poor people as a special interest group. Instead his campaign was a demand for economic and human rights for all poor Americans from diverse backgrounds.
Following in the footsteps of Dr. King’s legacy, Operation HOPE relocated its corporate office to Atlanta in 2017 to deliver its mission. Committed to bringing lasting economic inclusion to underserved communities around the US, HOPE is also dedicated to economic improvement in the greater Atlanta area where 27% of the population still lives in poverty. HOPE’s goals are rooted in dignity and inclusion through the implementation of programs that move from Civil Rights to Silver Rights, with Atlanta and Dr. King’s message as a moral compass.
Done properly, economic inclusion, financial literacy and access to capital can uplift any community and eliminate poverty at its core. However, sustainable community change requires the collaboration of many leaders and many organizations - each of us resolving bits and pieces of every issue through our competencies and experiences. The synergy of that collective directed properly and purposefully can drive transformative social change. All of us in Atlanta can provide the framework and resources for defining a future that places common good front and center.
Operation HOPE and many of its partners in the community are stepping up to help individuals and families impacted by economic crises. In partnership with SunTrust Bank, Synovus Bank, Wells Fargo, RBC, Delta, UPS, and Coca Cola, HOPE Inside locations in Atlanta offer free financial wellbeing assistance to people in need. HOPE Coaches help build budgets, negotiate with creditors, write letters, work with the banks, delay or reduce monthly payments, and introduce those in need to strategic alliance partners who can help as well. In addition to Atlanta, Operation HOPE offers 120 HOPE Inside locations in 26 states staffed by financial wellbeing coaches. If you, or anyone you know, suffers from and economic disaster, including this shutdown, HOPE can help.
Maybe I am wrong to feel conflicted. During this time of incivility, when people cannot find a pathway to communication, perhaps there is nothing better than football to bridge that gap. On February 3, we will don our blue and yellow, or red, blue, and silver, and for those 60 minutes of regulation time we will remain optimistic that our heroes will reach the goal line as a team – a lesson our political leaders could learn. Until then, there is HOPE. To find a financial wellbeing coach near you, head to www.operationhope.org/map or contact the HOPE call center at 888-388-HOPE(4673).