In the 40 years I have lived in the Atlanta region, so much has changed. In 1973, finding a good Chinese restaurant was an exercise in futility, race relations meant only black and white, and outside the Perimeter was quite rural.
Fast forward to 2013. There are 50 languages spoken in the first grade at the International Community School in Decatur. The term diversity now includes culture, ethnicity, religion and immigrant status.
Most people accept that it can be hard to know and fully embrace people who are different from themselves. However, we must be deliberate in our efforts to learn about one another and to build relationships that value each member of our community — regardless of our similarities or our differences. We are a stronger, more interesting and richer place because of our variety. Together, we are one region.
A significant change in the demographic makeup of metro Atlanta is the approximately 100,000 Muslims currently living here. And they are diverse. Many were born and raised in Atlanta. Some are recent arrivals, while others are refugees from war-torn countries. World events have focused attention on Muslims for many years. Yet our knowledge of the Muslim community has not grown. I’m referring to real knowledge of our neighbors and colleagues: the firefighter, the nurse in the emergency room, the college student and the owner of a high-tech company.
At the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, we believe that when people of all cultures and faiths come together to invest in the collective success of all, trust and goodwill — important ingredients to a healthy community — grow. It is in this spirit that we have developed the One Region Atlanta initiative. Launching today at the 2013 Neighborhood Summit, One Region envisions a community where race, culture and faith are embraced, harnessed and valued.
Earlier this year, the Community Foundation interviewed key stakeholders in the Muslim and interfaith community to gain a perspective on the Muslim-American experience in metro Atlanta. One result I was particularly excited about is the incredible asset we have in this community’s young people. They are energetic, passionate and have big ideas about how we create connections and deepen interfaith and intercultural relations.
So what does One Region Atlanta entail? Starting this fall, we will offer civic engagement and community-building events and opportunities to connect metro Atlantans of all backgrounds and beliefs. Through plays, lecture series, art exhibits and round tables, we hope metro Atlanta residents and leaders will come together to bridge differences, demonstrate and expand cooperation, and advance awareness of who we are individually and collectively.
We encourage you to join, learn and share with us. Together, we can build a more informed and engaged region that works together across faith and culture lines to celebrate our diversity — and make a greater region for all metro Atlantans.
To learn more, visit One Region Atlanta at www.oneregionatlanta.org.
Alicia Philipp is president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.