Atlanta is a city in transition. As one of the fastest growing cities in America, gentrification and displacement is common. However, one neighborhood in southeast Atlanta is challenging the narrative and creating real, lasting community change. When a group of philanthropists decided they wanted to help a community without imposing their will on it, the SPARK Community Fund was born. With CommunityBuild Ventures consulting and facilitating the project, Thomasville Heights’ dedicated community leaders are paving the way for sustainable development. The THRIVE Thomasville Heights initiative was created in an effort to give members of Thomasville Heights access to financial resources to address community concerns.
In the two meetings I observed, I have fallen in love with this group. Comprised of residents from around the community, all age groups are represented as well as several community organizations. There are baby boomers and Thomasville Heights Civic League executives, high school and college students, and representatives of the Forest Cove Tenants Association – an apartment complex that houses a large portion of the Thomasville Heights residents. At the first meeting, there was an obvious love for the community which lead to group trust and cohesion. A long day of trust building, envisioning a better community, defining community needs, application creation, and reflecting ended with the group agreeing on a motto that sums up their entire purpose: Caring, Sharing, and Building Bridges for a Brighter Community.
As a student at Howard University and an Atlanta metro-area native, I am used to seeing the effects of gentrification. Washington, DC is being gentrified at one of the fastest rates in the country. During my freshman year, I was part of a radical student organization that – in part – focused on community empowerment and bridging the gap between the Howard community and the DC community at large. Along with local community organizers, we focused on centering community development that served the community’s unique needs. However, it was – and continues to be – an uphill battle. So, seeing a community come together to build sustainable development is a welcome change of pace as well as personally inspiring.
The THRIVE Thomasville Heights is an example of what community development can look like. It is an example of what happens when philanthropy allows community leaders to determine what their community needs. It is a shining model for Atlanta and cities across the country to develop with the consent of the residents and create opportunities while bettering the community.