Beacon Vol 3


Do we get the leaders

we need or deserve?

When Savannah turns 300 in 2033, these kids will be eligible to vote.

What kind of city will we create for them?

How do we make a place for them at the table?

How will we prepare them to lead?

Savannah’s Civil Society p. 52

Leadership on the Field p. 64 Meet the Bridge Builders p. 72






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First Illuminated April 2019


One Topic to Rule

Them All: Leadership


Michael C. Traynor


Executive Editor

Susan Catron


Editorial Page Editor

Adam Van Brimmer


Associate Editor/Beacon

Amy Paige Condon

Contributing Writers,

Researchers and Editors

Molly Clancy, Betty Darby,

Bill Dawers, Ariel Felton, Nancy

Fullbright, Anthony Garzilli, Meaghan

Walsh Gerard, Andrea Goto, Rabbi

Robert Haas, Allison Hersh, Tom

Kohler, Jessica Leigh Lebos, Patrick

Longstreth, Sara E. Murphy, Heather

Ohlman, Rebecca Rolfes

Graphic Design

Kristen Morales

Contributing Photographers

and Illustrators

John Carrington, Siobhan Egan,

Molly Hayden, Beau Kester




1375 Chatham Parkway

Savannah, Georgia 31405

BEACON magazine is published quarterly by

GateHouse Media Georgia Holdings, LLC d.b.a.

Savannah Morning News, 1375 Chatham

Parkway, PO Box 1088, Savannah, Georgia

31402. Reproduction in whole or part without

permission is prohibited. Advertising rates

are available on request. Postmaster, please

send change of address to the address above.

Periodical postage paid at Savannah, Georgia,

and additional mailing offices.

Beacon had its genesis more

than a year ago when community

leaders and others expressed

interest in developing a vision for

what our community could be by

2033 – Savannah’s 300th anniversary.

With those conversations in

mind, this publication was born

just five months ago. Our goal

was to challenge and raise the

level of discussion by presenting

facts, details and ideas around

a topic. As we held discussions

about the first topics on infrastructure

and affordable housing,

the conversations always turned

to vision and leadership.

The decisions to fix the problems

around these topics are

long-term ones, requiring planning

and a systematic approach

through leadership. Yet there was

a constant sigh that the “bench”

for tomorrow is quiet and the will

to make long-term decisions is

weak. We turn to Leadership for

this edition.

The questions are many: How

do we get the leaders we need and

deserve? How do we close the

gap between what we want in our

leaders and what we actually get?

How can we cultivate new leaders

and encourage people to run for

public office?

In this issue, we explore the

paths to leadership positions, the

groups working to fill the “bench”

and the mindsets of those who

lead and encourage others.

In our system, healthy communities

rise from a balance of

leadership from business, government

and civil society made

up of neighborhoods, nonprofits

and social groups. We look at the

pieces of our leadership pipeline.

The publication was created to

offer ideas and potential solutions

to address the key opportunities

in our community. It is about

thinking with a broader vision

and not about thinking small or


This issue is no exception.

Today we shine the light on those

who’ve come before and those

who are helping others to grow

into tomorrow’s visionaries, connectors

and leaders.

Who among us will invest in

others, let down the ladder for

others to climb and work for goals

only realized when they are gone?

These are today’s challenges for us

now and our children.

We appreciate any comments

from you as we move forward

with Beacon. Please send them to or

Thank you for reading.

Michael Traynor, publisher

Susan Catron, executive editor








Think. Serve. Lead. Grow.










A fearless


and a concerned

mother prove

that leadership

requires passion

Pages 18 & 26


We’ll never move

forward unless

we learn to talk

to one another

again Page 22




Sage advice

from the torchbearers

Page 42



A look at the

“third sector”

Page 52



Youth leadership


Page 58




Leadership on

the field

Page 64



Creating a

culture of


Page 68



Meet nine



Page 70



From nonprofit

boards and city

commissions to

elected office,

there are many

ways to step up

Page 29



Rebecca Rolfes

Page 82



Rabbi Robert


Page 84



Tom Kohler

Page 86



Do we need a

new form of local


Page 88


From the

Editorial Page

Page 90



Future Voters/

Future Leaders

Models: (from

left) Mark

Mrsan, Dennis

James Ceasar,

Emoree Reed,

Oscar Blu, and

Kenai Groomes.

Grace Wren

Carey is pictured

on page 43.


Hancock Askew

Board Room


Molly Hayden

Mea Culpa

On page 82 of the June 2019 issue of Beacon, the Our View column states that

17,000 locals sit on the waiting list for subsidized housing. That figure should have

read 13,000. Fewer, but still significant.

September 2019 BEACON 9

Leading The Way to a Healthier Tomorrow.

To ensure the long-term health of our community remains

robust, St. Joseph’s/Candler partners with a wide variety

of educational institutions that inspire, train, and mentor a

new generation of healthcare leaders.

One of those leading partnerships is with The Medical

College of Georgia (MCG) School of Medicine.

For more than a decade, St. Joseph’s/Candler has

served as a site of the Southeast Georgia Clinical Campus

of Medical College of Georgia training third- and

fourth-year medical students through clinical rotations

under the mentorship of private volunteer physicians.

This hospital-based, hands-on educational experience

allows students to train with highly skilled specialists,

video conference with other MCG campuses, confer

with professors and visiting professors, take tests and

maximize their participation with colleagues on other

campuses throughout the state.

It’s just one of the many

ways St. Joseph’s/

Candler works to

protect the health and

wellbeing of our community

and its future.


an immersive 4D experience

Book now at


We asked our contributors to tell us their

biggest takeaways from working on this issue.

Molly Clancy

Most nonprofits

operate on very

lean budgets.

That puts a lot

of responsibility

on their boards

and on our


to cultivate

leaders who

are truly willing

to serve and

will rise to the

challenge of

serving them


Amy Paige


The best


remember that

they represent

the people,

whether those

people are the

ones that report

to them on

the job or are a


where nearly

half the people

did not vote

for them. They


that when they

create space

for the most


then they have

created a place

that serves the

needs of all.

Betty Darby

Finding a leader

willing to run for

office reminds

me of that old

adage: It’s hard

to find someone

smart enough

to do the job

and dumb

enough to take

it. Combine the


with the exposure,

and who

wants to be

on the ballot?

But there’s a


with political


where you can

exercise power

without public

scrutiny or voter


Bill Dawers

We complain

endlessly about

local leadership,

but too many of

us never get off

the sidelines.

We don’t vote,

don’t run for

office, and don’t

participate in

civil discourse

in the public

realm. If residents


more engaged,

we will inevitably

have leaders

who are more

responsive to


Ariel Felton

I didn’t know

much about

the history of

the Savannah

Fire Rescue,

but with

Kelly Zacovic

and Luciana

Spracher at

City Hall, I was

able to chase


down to a single

source. I could

see any discussion

about the

term “master

firefighter,” as

well as departmental







Houston said it

best when she

sang, “I believe

the children are

the future.” In

all seriousness,

adults in this


should pull a

chair up to their

table and start

taking notes.

What they’re

doing will

impress you.


Walsh Gerard

Leadership is

not about titles

or flowcharts.

It’s about who

shows up and

gets things

done. Anyone

can be a leader

because anyone

can identify a

need and do


about it.



Leadership is

effective when

there is trust.

In the Jenkins


program, trust

is based on the

players and

coaches knowing

they are in it

together. If the

players trust

and listen to the

coaches, then

the coaches will

give everything

they have to

help the players

succeed. In

turn, the student-athletes

will show up

and do their

best for each


Andrea Goto

It was

refreshing to

see leaders


not competing.

When we lift

others, we lift

ourselves, and

that kind of

thinking and

action is at the

root of all that

is good in our


Allison Hersh

Leadership truly

is a learned

skill that can

be nurtured,


and shared.



offers a wide

range of



resources and



for emerging

leaders with a

hunger to get

involved and

make a positive

impact on the


Jessica Leigh


I wonder

if today’s


young leaders

have the same

support and

guidance as

the activists

of the last

century. The

leaders of today

and tomorrow

must not only

inspire, but

be effective:

It’s going to

take more

than marches

and meetings

to create

equitable job


prepare for

climate change

and create

solid policies

that uplift

and protect

every citizen of




Strong leaders

see themselves

thrust forward

by necessity,

rather than


Sara E.


None of the

people I interviewed



leaders, even

though every

single one of

them clearly is.

When pressed,

they seemed to

think that “real”

leaders fit a

more anachronistic


and reflected

deeply embedded

views about

who is allowed

to occupy

positions of

power, and how

that power is




I was deeply affected

that the

transient nature

of my generation

will affect our

community’s future


We want to see

a lot of change,

but apparently

we don’t want

to stick around

one place long

enough to

make it happen.

Although there

are many ways

to define a good

leader, people

know a bad

leader when

they see one.


"Helping Our Clients Lead the Way"






Lay of

the Land

If we were to ask if you would

consider running for office, how

many of you would raise your hand?

What about serving on a nonprofit

board or one of the many publicinterest

commissions or authorities

that hold real power over decisions

that affect our lives and the future of

our community?

Hmm. That’s what we thought.

Whatever the reasons, it’s clear

that at all levels of leadership —

corporate, communal, educational,

governmental — we often have a

real divide between what we seek

in our leaders and what we get.

As a representative democracy,

the leaders we end up with largely

depend upon our own engagement.

But because of both real and

perceived barriers, qualified and

visionary people often throw in the

towel before they even throw their

hats in the ring.

You don’t have to be the mayor

to make a difference or CEO to

inspire the best in others. There

are many ways to serve … and to

serve nobly. Herein, we explore the

many pathways to leadership within

our community and talk with a few

daring souls who have stepped up.






On the day of the 2015 general election in Savannah,

local Facebook feeds were dotted with

posts from folks who went to their usual polling

places only to discover that they didn’t even live

in the city. It is tempting to mock residents who

don’t know where they live, but the confusion is

understandable, at least to a point. Our political

boundaries often seem arbitrary, even nonsensical.

I suspect relatively few area residents can reel off

the names of all the elected officials who represent


Try it.

Whom have you and your neighbors elected to the

U.S. House, Georgia House, Georgia Senate, county

commission, city council, school board and so on?

I was reminded of that 2015 election day confusion

after I was asked to share some thoughts about

political engagement and civic involvement for this

issue of the Beacon. We live in a

curious era of mass media and

social media; many Americans

know minute details about President

Trump’s latest tweets but

know relatively little about basic

governance in their home cities

and counties.

Basic Information

Residents who want to become

more engaged in the community

should probably start by

looking at maps and reviewing

other basic information. Local

governmental bodies publish

a wide range of information —

from meeting agendas to crime

statistics — that citizens can access




leaders that

represent the

interests of

the people


largely on a

public that

is interested,

informed, and



And even though this may

sound self-serving, your local

newspaper can fill in the background

and backstory on topics

important to you. We also

have other media outlets that

cover a wide range of important

local news, but too many area

residents rely on social media

pages and other sources that

have little if any editorial control.

Too much of our public

discourse, especially on social

media, consists of rants that are

disconnected from actual facts.

In particular, poor knowledge

of political boundaries, governmental

structures, and demographics

hampers our civic

discourse. [See sidebar: Improve

Your News Literacy.]

For example, I encounter

many residents who dramatically

overestimate the regional

population. The widespread

ignorance about basic demographic

data leads to frustration

that we don’t have everything

that can be found in bigger cities

and to a sense of hopelessness

about our collective ability to effect


According to the U.S. Census,

the population of Chatham

County is approaching 300,000.

About half of those people live

within the Savannah city limits.

The population of the Savannah

Metropolitan Statistical Area

(Chatham, Effingham and Bryan

counties) is just shy of 400,000.

By contrast, the Charleston,

South Carolina metro area has

more than 700,000 residents.

The sprawling Atlanta metro area

has nearly 6 million residents.

Savannah’s small scale certainly

has drawbacks, but we

should focus on the upsides.

Our area is large enough that

residents can find myriad opportunities

to engage in civic

life, but small enough so that

individual actions can have immediate

positive impacts.

Interested in helping households

that struggle with food

insecurity? Check out the volunteer

opportunities with America’s

Second Harvest of Coastal



The Pew Research Center

confirms that people tend to

gravitate toward news sources

that support their political beliefs.

But, efforts such as the News

Literacy Project, directed toward

high school students, and Stony

Brook University’s Center for News

Literacy, focused on creating

resources for journalists and other

writers, are helping to combat

“confirmation bias” [see page 22].

We citizens must get better at

parsing fact from fiction and

recognize propaganda designed

to distract and outrage. The truth:

There is not, on every story, equal

arguments on both sides. Some

arguments are backed by facts,

history, science. Fortunately,

discernment is a learned skill. So,

before you share something on

social media, check your facts (and

your bias) at these websites: — places stories

from a variety of sources on a

spectrum, far-left to far-right and

side-by-side. — for 15 years,

the Annenberg Public Policy

Center has been holding politicians

accountable for their misleading

statements and outright lies. — a project

of the Poynter Institute that

assesses the veracity of claims

made by politicians, pundits, and

commentators on a scale from

“True” to “Pants on Fire.” — an

online news source focused on

open government, accountability

and transparency. — identifies

the sources of funding donated to

candidates and elected officials.

Washington Post Fact Checker

— equal-opportunity analysis of

claims made by politicians, news

outlets, ads and political action

committees. It uses Pinocchio

emojis to rate “truthiness.”

Know the difference between a

reporter and a columnist? Can you

list reputable sources for reporters?

This quiz will test your news



Do you think libraries serve important civic

functions? Live Oak Public Libraries, which has 16

branches in the area, is always looking for volunteers.

Want to help address homelessness? Check out

the volunteer programs at the Chatham-Savannah

Authority for the Homeless.

If you want to help unwanted animals, the Humane

Society of Greater Savannah needs volunteers,


These are just examples, of course. Depending

on your skills and passions, you can almost certainly

find a nonprofit group or house of worship that

needs your help. Individual actions can make profound


Individual votes matter, too.

Fewer than 40 percent of voters in the city of

Savannah turned out for the runoff election in

2015. Eddie DeLoach became mayor with only

12,472 votes. In the general election in November

2015, Estella Shabazz needed just 1,435 votes to be

re-elected in the city’s 5th aldermanic district. Van

Johnson was reelected in the 1st district with just

1,744 votes.

In 2016, Al Scott ran unopposed in his bid for

reelection as chair of the Chatham County Commission.

The winners ran unopposed in five of the

eight County Commission races.

With so little competition, candidates rarely

have to engage in vigorous debates about public

policy. Elected officials have little incentive to listen

to residents who are unlikely to vote.

Grassroots Level

We need to have an all-hands-on-deck approach

if we want to address the endemic problems in the

Savannah area – the high poverty rate, the high crime

rate, the low level of educational attainment – but

our local politics have been scarred by complacency,

cynicism and a widespread sense of powerlessness.

But we do not have to accept the status quo.

Residents who want to get off the sidelines

should probably begin by engaging their immediate

neighbors. The city of Savannah has 105 official

neighborhoods – yes, 105 – and every resident,

whether homeowner or renter, deserves a voice.

Keep in mind, however, that our voices will

have the most impact when we engage in direct

conversation. Neighborhood groups on Facebook

and other social media sites can play important

roles, but they can also be platforms for spreading

misinformation and sowing suspicion. We need to

make sure that our online gathering points break

through boundaries rather than solidify them.

And, we need to remember that we face boundaries

beyond those on maps.

With good will and honest talk, we can use our

various civic platforms to break down other barriers,

especially the divisions of race and class that have

played such sinister roles in Savannah’s history.

We are all in this together.

September 2019 BEACON 17


From the Heart



In conversation with Diana

Morrison, founder and president of

Ad Specialty Services

Note: This interview was edited

for space and clarity. For more

of our conversation, visit

Being raised by a Depression-era mother made a lasting impression on

Diana Morrison, who maintains that leadership is not something you do,

but rather a culture you create.

Morrison, a native of Clarkston, Georgia, near Stone Mountain, learned

from her mother the intrinsic value of sharing time, labor, and expertise not

just to succeed in business but to help uplift others. She carries those lessons to

the office daily as the president of Ad Specialty Services, a thriving promotional

products and apparel company she founded in Savannah more than 30 years

ago. A bona fide business leader, Morrison was only the third woman to serve

as chair of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce in its now nearly 215-year

history. She’s started more than 40 mentorship groups in the city and serves

on countless boards, including United Way, YMCA of Coastal Georgia and the

Armstrong Foundation of Georgia Southern University.

How were your ideas about

leadership shaped by your


I was raised by a group of women. My

mom was widowed twice. I was raised by

women who were taken out of high school

to come home and work the farms during

the Depression. If you had this and I didn’t

have that — they all supported each other

in mentoring, shaping, and supporting.

It shaped who I think is important in life,

and that people care about other people.

You started your business in the

trunk of your car. How did you go

from trunk to go-to promotional

products supplier?

I had my daughter when I was just

over 18. I was a single mom before she

was three, so getting a job without a really

nice pedigree behind me was not the

easiest thing in the world. My soon-tobe

ex-husband [knew] this man who did

customized branded products. I walked

into his office and spent a day with him,

and I came out with a trunk full of catalogs.

I knew that I had to sell $450 worth

of product every day to eat, and I didn’t

come home until I did every day.

So [I built] one customer at a time, and

eventually, I got to the point where I couldn’t

keep up. Many people feel like they have to

be huge to be successful and have notoriety.

The book Small Giants [by Bo Burlingham]

changed my life because now, I don’t really

want to be bigger. I just want to be better,

and so that’s what we strive to do every day.

You offer flexible working hours.

Was this an important benefit for

your employees because of your


It was, but also because of my past

where everyone supported everyone.

We’ve [offered] flexibility that allows [employees]

to be the parents that they want

to be and have the work-life balance that

they want, and also feel that they’re contributing

to their household income.

What’s the difference between

being a business owner and a


I don’t know that there is a difference. I

think a lot of people resent what they call

“leadership” because some people don’t


lead. They try to push or pull, and I

think that true leadership is giving

back your time and your expertise and

allowing them to do their jobs.

How do you define a good


No matter what you do, I just don’t

feel like leadership is a thing you do.

It’s a way of life and it’s a culture that

you create around yourself to allow

others to sit with you and learn from

you, or to have you sit with them and


Have you had to fight any

stigma as a female executive?

Absolutely. I’ve been asked a lot of

times who I had to sleep with to hold

the gavel [Chamber of Commerce

chairperson]. My answer always was,

‘You know who I had to sleep with to

get there and hold that gavel? Myself.’

Is the Savannah community

receptive to women leaders?

Yes. If you asked me that 25 years

ago, I would’ve said no.

What’s changed?

Eleanor Roosevelt’s theory. Add value,

speak when you know what you’re

talking about and you know it’s relevant,

and it’s logical, and it’s correct.

Why did you want to serve as

the chamber president?

I didn’t want to be a woman that

took the gavel as the third woman in

201 years because I was a woman and

they needed one. I didn’t want that. I

just wanted to be there to show that all

women are not there just to be pretty

and giggle. I wanted to be taken very

seriously — and I really have this drive

for people to understand the value of

small businesses in this country. And

women-owned small businesses.

I get asked all the time, ‘Diana, 20

years ago, how did you get around

the table with the business guys with

white shirts?’

And my answer is always the same:

if you run your mouth too much, people

don’t want to hear you. If you have

something to say that has value, say

it. If what comes out of your mouth is

practical and logical, it will always be

respected, and that is an Eleanor Roosevelt-thing

from day one for me.

What was your greatest

accomplishment as president

of the chamber?

Putting small business on the map

in front of big business. Helping them

to understand our value and also our

challenges. Most small businesses

don’t really know what they need to

know. Nobody coaches us after about

our fifth year of business. The city

helps you get started ... and then they

have nothing for you.

Did you model your leadership

after anyone?

You know how much I love Eleanor

Roosevelt, but I also have many local

mentors and leaders I admire: Dr. Joe

Buck, Dr. Bill Cathcart, Jenny Gentry,

Gail Eubanks, Marjorie Young. There

are so many, I could list a book’s worth.

Why do you admire Eleanor

Roosevelt so much?

It’s kind of like this: my humble beginnings

came from the wrong side of

the track. Got pregnant in high school.

Didn’t have the opportunity to go to college.

I was raised in the ’50s and ’60s by

a single mom — and that wasn’t accepted

then. And here is Eleanor. Ugly as a

mud fence. Had a husband who couldn’t

keep his pants zipped up and was in the

public eye. Died with a woman at her

side before it was OK for same-sex relationships.

Yet she was asked as the only

woman to sit around the table to form

the United Nations because she was

logical and practical, and she knew that

when she spoke, what came out of her

mouth had to have value.

What is an under-valued or

overlooked leadership trait?

Mules. All I ever hired were race

horses — because they were like me. A

race horse can never do anything but

race to the end. They can’t figure out

how to do the things it takes to get to

the end. But, it takes a mule to take the

idea you have and figure out how to

make it successful and sustainable.

What is a business owner’s or

community leader’s greatest


The respect and trust of human collateral.

You can’t buy that.

What always gets you through

tough times or hard decisionmaking?


What legacy do you want to

leave in the Savannah business


This is probably the most important

thing to me in life, and I would love for

it to be on my tombstone if I’m buried,

but I don’t really want to be buried; I’d

rather be cremated. ‘She replaced herself.’

Because if you’re doing good work,

and you have a value in the community,

and you hold on to that and you never

give it away to somebody who comes

behind you, you failed ultimately. Because,

it wasn’t sustainable.

September 2019 BEACON 19


the Rules of


To realize our city’s potential, our leaders

need to seek input from unexpected corners


When voters approved the

1-cent Special Purpose Local

Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) VI

in 2015, $7.25 million was earmarked

for the Pennsylvania Avenue

Resource Center (PARC),

which opened in July of this year

at 425 Pennsylvania Ave. A sleek,

modern facility planned and

built within a year, PARC offers

a menu of culinary training, nutrition,

fitness, youth, computer,

and arts programs through a

variety of partner organizations

to serve eastside neighborhoods

long-bereft of community spaces.

Adult and family memberships

are free, which gets people

who need the services through

the front door. But, to create a

stream of currently unbudgeted

operating funds, a membership

fee is being considered for 2020,

which may price some of the

core constituency of low- and

fixed-income citizens out of the

market—unless said fee is administered

on a sliding scale.

At present, no quality, affordable

child care services are available,

and after-school programs

do not yet extend to children

younger than middle schoolaged,

so single parents may opt

out of a much-needed resource.

Plus, the hours of operation

(Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.;

Friday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.; and Saturday,

9 a.m. – 2 p.m.) make it hard

for working parents to partake of

all but the slimmest of offerings

during their downtime.

So, how does something so

well-intentioned and much-needed

fall just shy of actually fulfilling

the needs of the community?

The multiple points along the

decision-making process that got

us here — county commission

and city council meetings, intermittent

District 3 town halls —

is dizzying to navigate for even

the most well-informed citizen.

Almost all commission, council,

and board meetings are scheduled

during the work day and

downtown where parking is limited

and access for people with

disabilities is challenging. The

reality is when people in power

only seek to meet the minimal legal

requirements to invite public

participation, the process often

omits the very people, the vulnerable

and marginalized, who

are the intended beneficiaries.

Whether the oversight is intentional

or inadvertent, the results

can spawn myriad problems,

from program failure to political


Frankly, it’s long past time to rethink

the rules of engagement. So,

we asked a few citizens to offer our

leaders their suggestions on how

to build a better public meeting.



Make Space for a Diversity of Voices

Be Inclusive

The first step is to agree that all stakeholders in a decision

should be involved. It’s not enough just to invite people, cess’ becomes an abstract thought,” says

“Without money and resources, ‘ac-

though. Declaring an open meeting doesn’t go far enough, Smith. To build a better meeting, leaders

should consider different constitu-

nor is it sufficient to hold that meeting at city hall and advertise

it on Facebook and in the Savannah Morning News. encies’ needs when it comes to timing,

“People in power are typically not representative of the transportation, childcare, accessibility,

people for whom they’re designing policy,” says Charity Lee, religious strictures, and more. And it’s

founder of the ELLA Foundation. ELLA aids those who have always a good idea to offer food and refreshments.

been affected by violence, mental illness, or the criminal justice

system. “If you can’t pay your own private therapist $150 Through partnerships with licensed

to $300 an hour, and you have no insurance and are barely care providers, cities such as Ithaca,

getting by, you’re certainly not sitting down at a community New York, and Pittsburgh, have begun

meeting or a think tank.”

offering child care at city council meetings

so that young, working families

Anthony Smith, a spoken-word artist with the Spitfire

Poetry group observes that “the people who suffer the material

consequence of policy are always the people missing cording to an article by Rebecca Ritzel,

could remain politically engaged, ac-

from the table.” Smith, whose stage name is Jive English, is a a freelance journalist for Next City, a

military veteran who has experienced homelessness. He has nonprofit organization that reports on

been involved with such causes as Black Lives Matter Savannah

and Shine Inc.’s Annual Walk for Homelessness.

novation in cities throughout the world.

social, economic and environmental in-

Critically, Smith says, you have to be open to the notion These changes have been spurred, she

that the next great idea will come from unexpected corners. reports, by younger and more diverse

In one of his spoken-word poems, he muses, “Those curse groups of candidates running and winning

council seats.

words from that bum on the corner are starting to sound a

whole lot like wisdom these days.”

To truly engage marginalized communities,

you have to go to them, even

Oftentimes, the composition of the people in meeting

rooms looks a lot different than the demographics of the if it means stepping far outside your

community because we still rely on long-entrenched patterns

of public engagement. According to a study by Boston “Leaders need to go to these com-

comfort zone.

University in March, analysis revealed that nationwide the munities and be ready for some pushback,”

Smith says. “There will be people

majority of individuals who attended public meetings tended

to be older white males, who were longtime residents who doubt your sincerity and intentions,

and you’re going to have to be

and homeowners and who voted in local elections. Because

they showed up, resulting decisions overwhelmingly favored dogged and persistent. You don’t know

their priorities, which often led to inequities.

how long it’s going to take for me to

Mashama Bailey, executive chef at The Grey and a former

social worker, echoes Smith: “A lot of black folks here build into your budget or your timeline.

trust you – it’s not something you can

don’t feel comfortable in a room full of white people.” Bailey You have to build authentic relationships,

and let people see you fulfilling

notes that in the hospitality industry, she works with people

we don’t see on Broughton Street or at Telfair Museums, or the promises you make.”

even eating in her restaurant, but they do go to The Grey “Leadership means leaving as few

looking for jobs.

people behind as possible,” says Peggi

Noon, director of Pegasus Riding

“There’s a certain disconnect and depressed state of mind

among people who don’t feel educated, or who haven’t had Academy Savannah, a nonprofit that

the same opportunities as those with a bit of money,” Bailey provides equine-assisted activities and


therapies for people with disabilities,

many of whom are low-income people

of color and for whom English is a second

language. Given the special needs of Pegasus’ client base, Noon also suggests that

wheelchair accessibility (including bathrooms) be a consideration in meeting locations.

Megan Ave’Lallemant, senior program director at Deep Center, observes how often

stakeholders are perceived as a problem to solve.

She emphasizes that when decisions are being made about young people, for instance,

they need to be in the room leading those discussions. “Young people should have a say

as to who is on the school board,” Ave’Lallemant says. “They should weigh in on how the

criminal justice system handles them. We need to center young people who don’t have a

vote and are often ignored.”

One of Deep’s projects involves teens conducting participatory action research in their

communities to identify what’s harming them. “In doing this work, we ask what structural

barriers and systems are leading to the root cause of a given problem,” Ave’Lallemant

explains. “So often, people prune the branches without addressing what’s sickening the

tree at the root.”



Identify all of the

stakeholders. Before any

public engagement process

begins, elected leaders and

professional staff should

identify the different groups

and constituencies affected

by the outcomes of proposals

and decisions. Create

outreach plans to invite

children, teenagers, single and

working parents, teachers,

the formerly incarcerated

re-entering society, people

experiencing homelessness,

and more into the process.

Consider how stakeholders

receive information. Social

media and newspapers are just

two tools of communication.

Flyers, direct mail, public events,

church groups, book clubs,

libraries, nonprofit organizations,

after-school programs all

provide avenues by which to

reach potential stakeholders

and to create partnerships for

stakeholder engagement. Also,

take into account whether

stakeholders speak English or

another language.

Meet people where they

are. Council chambers,

offices and board rooms

may dissuade people with

valuable contributions

from voicing concerns

and sharing ideas. Hold

meetings within community

spaces, such as churches

and schools, to encourage

greater participation. Work

with groups to provide child

care and refreshments

to allow working families

opportunities to attend.

Provide at least a 72-hour

window for people who

need accommodations for

physical accessibility to

make requests. And although

livestreaming meetings is

available in some instances,

a video is no substitute for

being present to speak to an

issue that affects you.

Allow for question-andanswer

sessions outside

the limited timeframe

of meetings. Ensure that

stakeholders have plenty of

time to review proposals and

respond through email, online

and print surveys, and phone



bias occurs

from the direct


of desire

on beliefs.

When people

would like a

certain idea

or concept

to be true,

they end up

believing it to

be true. They

are motivated

by wishful

thinking. This

error leads the

individual to

stop gathering


when the


gathered so

far confirms

the views or


one would like

to be true.

Once we have

formed a view,

we embrace


that confirms

that view

while ignoring,

or rejecting,


that casts

doubt on it.”


Psychology Today,




Two Ears/

One Mouth


To actually get better at

conversation, we have to

master those ‘soft skills’

In Dare to Lead: Brave Work,

Tough Conversations, Whole

Hearts, author Brené Brown

writes, “People are opting out

of vital conversations about diversity

and inclusivity because

they fear looking wrong, saying

something wrong, or being

wrong. Choosing your own

comfort over hard conversations

is the epitome of privilege, and

it corrodes trust and moves us

away from meaningful and lasting


So, how do we get better at

those tough conversations?

According to Celeste Headlee,

former host of GPB’s On Second

Thought and author of We Need

to Talk: How to Have Conversations

That Matter, we need to listen

more and talk less.

“Long before the smartphone,

human beings were crappy listeners,”

she says, pointing out

that people often recall only 50

percent of what they hear. “We

are better communicators and

collaborators than the world has

ever known, yet we choose not

to do it.”

Part of the problem, she says,

is that we do not lionize good

listeners. “We tend to admire

people who stand their ground

– and people who stand their

ground, they are not listening.”

Headlee leans on science for

understanding this quirk – even

though we were given two ears

to our one mouth. Because verbal

and audio functions take

place in different parts of the

brain, she says, we need to focus

more intentionally on listening

When we don’t

know what

to say or feel


‘ask questions

and let the other

person talk.

Don’t rush to fill

the voids.’

to have deeper conversations.

We can accomplish this feat by

both “listening to hear rather

than respond” and overcoming

a propensity for confirmation

bias steeped in partisanship and


“Smarter people are more

prone to be influenced by their

bias than others,” she admits.

“You assume you are not. You

assume that you know what the

person is about to say. When

you are smart, and you have lots

of interesting things to say, you

want to share what you know.”

Having knowledge at our fingertips

in the form of portable

computers has only exacerbated

our innately poor communication

skills. Search engines create

a “knowledge illusion” that

makes people think they are

smarter than they really are, and

people who rely on social media

and quick searches tend to reinforce

their own opinions rather

than being open to facts and new

information. And, texting is not

your friend. “You cannot lead

through email,” she warns. “We

are not designed as animals to

get physiological benefits from a

text or Facebook message.”

But, says Headlee, we have a

biological superpower that can

help us break through the noise:

the ability to forge empathetic

bonds. “This is our fail-safe

against confirmation bias.”

Sharing our stories face-toface,

with honesty about what

we don’t know and owning our

mistakes allows peoples’ brainwaves

to sync.

“We create mind-melds,”

Headlee enthuses. “Hearing

other people’s voices allow us

to recognize their humanity. In

the end, people are transformed

by listening and being heard. It

becomes self-reinforcing. Your

body, your brain have better results.”





The Georgia Ports Authority supports

more than 439,000 jobs across the

state, including 39,000 in Chatham







THE GPA MISSION: to empower entrepreneurs, strengthen industries,

sustain communities and fortify families by relentlessly striving

to accelerate global commerce.



The Weight

of Words

The language we

use can signify

whether someone

belongs … or not


This past April, Derek Minard was named chief of Savannah Fire Rescue. The

announcement came just two months after a study by the University of Georgia

shed light on the department’s “workplace climate challenges, including

low morale; dissatisfaction with pay; perceptions of inequity in regard to promotions,

discipline, and transfers; poor communication; and distrust of senior

management.” As eyes turn to Chief Minard to see how he leads the department

through these first challenging months, our ears listen for the tenor of his words,

specifically whether he seeks to create a more inclusive department.

The new chief did not respond to requests

for comment, but according to Savannah’s

Fox28 WTGS, Minard was quoted as saying,

“I am a person that is inclusive, so I look to

the youngest firefighter all the way up to every

level of the organization to be involved.”

He may have his work cut out for him.

Of the 330 employees of Savannah Fire

Rescue, only 5 percent are female (and onethird

of those women fill administrative/

clerical roles), and fewer than 23 percent are

African American, Hispanic, or multi-racial.

To lay out the welcome mat for greater diversity

within the department’s ranks, he

should start with renaming classifications.

Between the “captain” and the “advanced

firefighter” categories is the “master” firefighter—a

designation that has been used

off and on in Savannah since 1797, when

the city council elected 10 fire masters to

better organize fire scenes and services.

During this time, fire services were provided

by volunteer citizens and enslaved Africans.

When the first officially organized fire

department was formed here in 1825, one

or more of its members were given the title

of “Masters of Engines.” These members

were authorized to administer “prompt and

immediate correction” whenever a slave

“disobeyed or otherwise offended.” By 1828,

Savannah Fire Rescue’s volunteer force consisted

of 178 enslaved men, 96 free men of

color, and 17 white men.

As more white volunteer companies

formed, conflicts with African-American

firefighters over apparatus and monetary

rewards increased, and many black firefighters

were driven away. By 1871 Savannah

Fire Rescue was staffed entirely by

white volunteers. The department would

not reintegrate until 1963, when the local

NAACP chapter negotiated with city officials

to hire six African-American college

students: Purdy Bowers, Lewis Oliver,

Theodore Rivers, Porter Screen, Cordell

Heath, and Warnell Robinson.

The last time the term “master firefighter”

was discussed was in 1976, when the

rank was brought back into use after the

city conducted a Classification and Compensation

Study. Other than departmental

restructuring, no reason is given for the

term’s reappearance, and it has been in

use ever since. Knowing the history of the

word “master,” freighted with the weight

of history and enslavement, it’s hard to

imagine black firefighters not taking issue

with its continued use, especially when

considering Atlanta, Macon, Hilton Head,

and most other surrounding cities have

replaced “master” with “lieutenant” — or

never used “master” in the first place.

The continued usage of this language

illustrates how the vestiges of the past

can remain embedded in our present. .

— Ariel Felton




In Conversation with

Diane Jackson, founder of

Young Men of Honor


Diane Jackson knows a

thing or two about cultivating

leaders. Fifteen years ago,

she founded Young Men of

Honor, a nonprofit organization

dedicated to inspiring

and enabling young men —

especially those from socially

and economically challenged

families — to realize their

full potential as productive


I recently sat down with

Jackson to talk about her

work, her leadership, and

what Savannah needs to do to

nurture its next generation of

leaders. When I first called to

set up the interview, Jackson

was surprised that I wanted

to talk to her.

Note: This interview was edited

for space and clarity.

When Beacon’s writers and

editors met to discuss this issue,

several people brought up your

name. Why didn’t you think you

were an obvious choice for a

discussion on leadership? Do you

see yourself as a leader?


Really? How would you define


A real leader is someone who pushes

others forward. Certainly, there are times

when you have to be at the forefront,

but real leaders are always trying to push

others to excel. It’s not all about giving

orders. Take the young men with whom

I work. I know what I want them to do,

but as women, we have to plant an idea

in people’s minds and make them think it

was their own. We have to give them the

idea that will help them do better in life.

I think you just described

yourself, though! Are you still

going to stick with this line that

you’re not a leader?

(Laughing) When I look at leaders, it

seems like they have so much more education,

political involvement, and things

like that. I’m just a mama.

You’re a mama who did

something big.

My pastor once told me, “Remember

wherever you go, make a difference.” I’ve

seen so much stuff that pressed my heart,

and I learned that the village really does


You’ve heard the old African proverb,

“It takes a village to raise a child.” I got

to experience the village because when I

came up, neighbors and other community

members were involved in your life.

That has changed. People are afraid of

saying something, because society has

decided that it’s not their business. We

should never be afraid of children, but I

understand why people are hesitant.



How did you start

working with children in

the first place?

My husband always worked

with children, and he told me,

“Somebody’s got to.” My mother

used to sweep the streets at 5 and

6 o’clock in the morning, just

speaking to the children. They

needed to know that somebody

cared, and what she said to them

may have been the kindest word

they heard all day.

There was an article in 2000

in the Savannah Morning News

called “Lives Lost,” saying that

40-some kids had been killed on

the streets of Savannah. It did

something to me. There were

children in the picture who had

gone to school with my children,

who had been to my home,

and now they were dead. And I

started thinking, what could I

have done differently to help, or

to change the outcome? We always

think it’s somebody else’s

job. We complain, but what are

we doing?

Not long after that article, a

young man who had been shot

ran past our house. My husband

was outside at the time but didn’t

realize what was happening. It

turned out the young man was

trying to get to the home of a

relative who was a nurse. He

thought if he could get there,

he would get help, so he passed

people who would have helped

him. The next morning, he was

found dead on his family member’s

doorstep, reaching for her

door. Can you imagine reaching

for help and finding nobody

there? How many of our children

are reaching for help in the same


How does that experience

inform what you do with

Young Men of Honor?

I tell the children in our program

that their environment

doesn’t determine who they are,

that where you begin isn’t nec-

‘Can you



for help

and finding


there? How

many of our

children are

reaching for

help in the

same way?’

essarily where you end. I’ve seen drug dealers! I’ve

seen people killed! But it doesn’t make me a drug

dealer, a murderer, or a thief. Even though you’re

around all of this, and you may have some family

members in that life, you don’t have to conform to

that environment.

In the Young Men of Honor program, we have

a motto: “I will remember the past, embrace the

present, and look to the future with great expectations

of success, for we are somebody, we are men

of honor.” Then we do a call and response: “Minute

to minute, hour by hour, if we lose our faith, we lose

our power. Minute to minute, hour by hour, if we

lose our history, we lose our power. And if truth is

the light, then knowledge is power. But if it is to be,

then it’s up to me.”

So, you’re trying to raise up better


Yes. These are the leaders of tomorrow. If they

stay in the state they’re in, can you imagine what

our future leadership will be like? These are the

children who are often left out of field trips and

such, often because of behavioral problems. What

incentive do they have to do better? If we don’t listen

to them and include them at the table, there

are some folks standing on the corner who will.

What do you want Savannahians to know

about why the people you serve are not

included in the decisions that affect them?

What needs to happen to get them to the


When decision-makers are trying to come up

with solutions to the gang, drug, and violence issues

we face, the people who are affected should be

part of that process. People always say to me, “Oh,

you’ve done so much for these young boys,” and I

say, “These young boys have done so much for me.”

They have taught me a lot. But you can’t learn if

you don’t listen.

Consider the city’s summer camps. The upper

age limit is 13. What happens to those in-between

kids? They’re too young to work, so what are they

doing? In single-parent homes, that parent has no

choice but to go to work, and those kids have a

whole lot of time on their own with nothing to do.

We have this gap, and guess who’s looking to fill it?

The people on the corner.

What practical steps can decisionmakers

take to make it possible for

the communities you serve to be more


Childcare at meetings, and some snacks on the

side. If there’s food, we all come out! (laughing)

September 2019 BEACON 27

Headed for

an Evolution

From The Prince to The Servant Leader, what we seek in those

who lead changes over time, but the ability to adapt may be

one of the most desired qualities of all


When Dr. John Banter, associate director of

Georgia Southern University’s Office of Leadership

and Community Engagement, teaches

courses on leadership, he has students write their

definition of the hard-to-nail-down descriptor at

the beginning of the semester.

“It’s an interesting exercise,” he says. “We revisit

it at the end of the semester to see if their definitions

changed, and typically they have.”

Just as students’ ideas evolve, so to have leadership

theories. Banter notes that although leadership

has always been around, writing about it in a

formal way has changed over time.

“The Great Man Theory of the 19th century

is how things truly started. The traits of leaders

were intrinsic to what they were naturally gifted

or born with. Intelligence, gender, even height

were all things that would be looked at as making

you a leader,” he says. “I often tell students that

the Great Man Theory is why we talk about the

Napoleon Complex. Because he was shorter, people

questioned his leadership.”

Although remnants of the Great Man Theory

are often visible in many of our modern and individualistic

assumptions about leadership, theories

about leadership have continued to evolve.

No longer is the history of the world simply the

“biography of great men,” as historian and writer

Thomas Carlyle claimed in 1840. Subsequent

theories have focused on individual traits and

behaviors, situational factors, the relationships

between a leader and her followers, and the

collaboration required to address challenging


Trait Theory

Whereas the Great Man Theory

believed great leaders were born

with those innate characteristics,

the Trait Theory hypothesized

that great leaders exhibited essential

traits, such as initiative, tenacity,

creativity, charisma, confidence,

and honesty and integrity.

However, researchers eventually

determined both leaders

and followers exhibited these

traits, although leaders typically

demonstrate more self-confidence

and extroversion. And

although certain traits are characteristic

of strong leaders, not

everyone who possesses these

traits becomes a leader.

“In recent history, when studying

charismatic presidents and

those in the public eye, traits such

as charisma may be determined

to be a leadership trait under this

theory,” says Banter. “While traits

enhance the leader and are used

in the ways they lead, they are not

truly leadership qualities.”

Behavioral Theory

Since traits were ruled out

at as an indicator of an excellent

leader, researchers began

studying the external behaviors

of leaders. Again, the ageold

struggle of nature versus

nurture was considered. Are

you born a leader or can you

learn to lead? Under the behavioral

theory, the answer

was both.

Behavioral theory examined

both task-oriented leaders,

who focus their behaviors on

the organizational structure,

and people-oriented leaders,

who are more concerned with

motivating employees with encouragement,

coaching, and


“Behavioral theory was not

just focused on the leaders, but

on the people they were leading,”

Banter notes. “How can

leaders influence other people,

and how can they share the direction

to accomplish goals?”



Leadership Theory

The biggest change in leadership

theory came about in

the late ’70s, when James Mc-

Gregor Burns’ book, Leadership,

outlined both transactional

leadership, which is based on a

“give and take” approach, and

transformational leadership, a

process by which leaders and

followers work together to help

each other advance to a higher

level, change the organizational

structure, and ultimately develop

followers into leaders.

Burns believed transactional

and transformational styles of

leadership were mutually exclusive.

Transformational leaders

enhance morale and motivation,

serve as a role model, and help

followers understand their crucial

role in the overall organization’s


“Transformational leadership

is more about a reciprocal process

and getting your employees

on board,” says Banter. “It takes

into account the values and motives

of people and brings everyone’s

ideas together to move the

organization forward.”

Adaptive Leadership


A typical chain-of-command

style leader expects to direct those

who report to her, who in turn filter

down certain actions to those

reporting to them. While that

style may have worked 50 years

ago in a no-questions-asked environment,

it is not so in a modern,

ever-evolving workplace.

The idea of adaptive leadership

— a theory that frames

leadership in challenging and

constantly-changing environments

— was developed by Dr.

Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky

at Harvard University. It focuses

on how adaptive leaders respond

to changing environments with

creative solutions in ways that

empower all employees.

“The biggest change since the

beginning of leadership theory

is there’s more of a focus on the

relationship between a leader

and their followers,” says Banter.

“A leader’s role is no longer

based on what you were born

with but how you can rise to the

challenge and also empower the

people you’re working with to

meet the challenge.”

So, for someone who studies and teaches leadership, what

exactly makes a great leader?

“A good leader is someone who can take people from where

they are and move them ahead in their own personal and

professional development while also accomplishing the

goals that are set. Leaders also have to deal with the context

and culture where they’re leading. What works in Savannah

may not work in New York,” says Banter. “You have to be a

thermostat rather than a thermometer. Don’t just take the

temperature; set the temperature.”


You don’t have to run for office

to have an impact on the future

of our community. Here’s a

rundown of the various boards,

commissions, and authorities

that help shape policy, influence

elected officials, and make

development decisions

Compiled by Meaghan Walsh Gerard


To apply for consideration to any City

of Savannah board, commission or

authority, go to


Qualified applicants will be considered

and appointed by the council.




Comprised of volunteers representing

seniors, persons with disabilities, and

caregivers residing in the Coastal

Georgia region. Advocates for aging

population and at-risk seniors.



One citizen is appointed to the

board that oversees and makes

recommendations regarding public





Seeks consensus to community

environmental issues.



Develop and oversee implementation

of comprehensive plan for public and

private agencies to effectively address

the needs of people experiencing

homelessness in our community.


Hear appeals from disciplinary

action against an employee when

it is alleged the action is taken for

political or religious reasons. Must

be a Chatham County resident for at

least five (5) years.




CORE MPO Board has the primary

responsibility for the formulation

of transportation-related policies

in support of the overall goals and

objectives for the CORE MPO MPA.

September 2019 BEACON 29


Thirsty for power? Eager for influence?

Want to have a hand in running things, saying

“yay” or “nay” to developers, committing

public dollars, courting new industry?

Well, one route is the ballot box. Run for

office, convince 50 percent of that portion

of the populace that votes plus one voter to

select you, and you’re in. Now, you’re most

likely part of a public panel instead of an individual

officer, and you have to scrape and

claw with other members of your council,

board or commission to get what you want

done, done. You’ve gone through the public

exposure of a campaign, you’ve had the

public sit in judgment on any conflicts of

interest you might have, and, if you want

to stay in office, you must remember that

you are answerable to those same voters for

your actions.

Hmm, ultimately, power doesn’t sound

all that powerful, does it?

There’s another way. Skip the electorate

altogether and angle for appointment to one

of dozens of local and state boards, commissions

and authorities. Doesn’t sound as

exciting as being elected a leader? Consider

the following major developments:

• Armstrong State University, for 85

years a Savannah institution, is now a satellite

campus of Georgia Southern University

in Statesboro.

• Memorial Health University Medical

Center, for 60-plus years the safety-net

hospital for the indigent in Chatham

County and surrounding area (not to mention

the only Level 1 trauma center closer

than Jacksonville or Charleston) was sold

to a for-profit healthcare corporation.

• The deepening of the Savannah River

channel will keep the economic behemoth

that is the Port of Savannah viable with its

high return on investment and environmental


These are some of the most important decisions

made in local civic life in recent years,

and their impact will resonate for decades.

And they’re the work of appointed boards

composed, with few, if any, exceptions of

people who have never faced a voter.

Appointed boards, commissions, panels

and committees abound, and they range

from the ornamental to the Machiavellian.

The most powerful ones tend to be state

ones, appointed by the sitting governor, but

local ones carry clout as well, such as the

Chatham County Hospital Authority.

Some of these appointments, both local

and state, are to mundane boards and pro-


vs. Po

Real power often comes

without public accountability

30 30 BEACON







Fifteen (15) members consisting

of the following: Unincorporated

Chatham County (3), City of Savannah

(3), City of Bloomingdale (1), City

of Garden City (1), City of Pooler (1),

City of Port Wentworth (1), Town of

Thunderbolt (1), City of Tybee Island

(1), Town of Vernonburg (1), City of

Richmond Hill (1), and Effingham

County (1). The Citizens Advisory

Committee (CAC) membership is

made up of appointed local citizens.



Provide education or training opportunities

that will assist regional

workers in achieving a family sustaining

wage while providing employers

with the skilled workers they need

to compete in the workforce.




Advisory body charged with the responsibility

of recommending a comprehensive

plan and program for a community

cultural arts services program.




Encourages construction of new

parking facilities and provides

financial incentives for private

projects which have economic

benefits to the downtown area.



Seeks to reduce conditions that

cause poverty by working directly

with poverty-level individuals

throughout Chatham County.


Reviews complaints filed against

elected officials of the City; if such

complaints involve impropriety of

elected officials and violation of the

provisions of the Ethics Ordinance,

and if such violations affected the

elected official’s ability to carry out

his/her official duties.



A demographically broad

representation of the community

and economy in the Savannah

Metropolitan Area with an interest in

international issues.

September 2019 BEACON 31



Must include one small business

owner with an architectural


Makes decisions on new

construction and any changes to

historic structures in the city’s

historic districts.




The appointee should be a

well-acquainted member of the

community and have knowledge

in some of the following areas:

National Register nomination,

historic tax incentives,

streetscapes and urban design,

historical research and surveys, or




To address the housing needs of

Savannah’s low-income population

while focusing on the educational,

job training and economic selfsufficiency

needs of the residents of

public housing neighborhoods


Shall include representatives from

the news media, businesses, city

government, civic associations,

and neighborhood groups. Works

with the city in developing a

program to control litter and assist

beautification efforts on streets,

sidewalks, parks, and private




Makes studies of present and

future development; assists local

government in translating study

results into plans, policies and

programs; recommends zoning

ordinances and subdivision




Active advisory council to the

Mayor and Aldermen and the

official voice to the Mayor and

aldermen on behalf of the citizens

on issues affecting scenic parks

and the urban forest. Must be a city


vide the holder nothing more

than the opportunity for public

service. But a handful of state

boards involve independent revenue

streams, paid staffs of their

own, and real estate holdings.

Seats on those boards are coveted

political appointments.

Consider, for example, the

Board of Regents for the University

System of Georgia. Those

terms are for seven years – meaning

the governor who fills an appointment

is extending his or her

political influence years beyond

his or her own four-year term

(which can stretch to a maximum

of eight years if he is re-elected).

This board has 19 members, one

per congressional district and five

more at large. Current chairman

is Savannahian Don Waters.

If you wonder just how seriously

power circles in Atlanta

take these appointments, you

need look no further than the

first few weeks of Gov. Brian

Kemp’s administration. The

Kemp administration stepped in

and nullified 64 appointments

made by outgoing Gov. Nathan

Deal as he left office, including

three on the Board of Regents,

on a legal technicality – a clear

reminder of the changing of the

guard and the political value of

those appointments. Kemp later

reappointed one of three Regents

but made his own picks for

two of those seats.

Another example: the funding

to enable the upcoming expansion

of the Savannah Convention

Center on Hutchinson

Island was tied to restructuring

its governing board. The newly

formed Savannah Georgia Convention

Center Authority of 11

members includes six appointed

by Kemp, with the other appointments

divided among the

local legislative delegation and

the presidents of the Savannah

Economic Development Authority

and Visit Savannah. All

but one of the members is a Savannahian;

the exception is Lori

Smith, Kemp’s chief operating


The Georgia Ports Authority

board has 13 members, with

staggered four-year terms, and

Kemp has already made his first

appointment to that panel.

Which boards among local offerings

are the heavy hitters? Remember

to look for an income

stream that does not require approval

by an elected body, control

of real estate, and a staff to

support its work.

The Savannah Airport Commission

ticks off all three of those

power boxes. It is a five-member

board appointed by Savannah City

Council for overlapping five-year

terms, with the mayor serving in

an ex officio role. You can trace

some of the history of the board

members as you approach the

airport via the grid of streets connecting

all those chain hotels – the

commission named many of those

new streets for then-members.

The Savannah Economic Development

Authority is another

land/money/staff power broker.

Its 19 members serve five-year

terms and are selected on an

alternating basis by the Savannah

City Council, the Chatham

County Commission and the

SEDA board itself. This 19-member

panel courts new industrial

prospects for the region, extends

bond funding and manages industrial

real estate.

The Metropolitan Planning

Commission board wields a lot

of influence, but lacks the independent

income stream that

would make it a powerhouse.

Still, it’s plenty powerful if you

are a developer or someone who

lives with the consequences of

development – although decisions

can be overruled by the

elected bodies. It provides the

staff for zoning- and development-related

studies for the city

and unincorporated Chatham

County. It also provides staffing

for the Historic District Board

of Review, which is an impactful

panel for a tightly defined area of

downtown Savannah.

If you are starting to think

there are lots of these boards,

you’re right [see sidebar]. On its

website, the City of Savannah

lists some 31 agencies to which it

has the power to appoint about


184 individuals. (The number is

a bit vague, because some positions

are specified for council

members themselves and other

appointments are in unspecified

regional capacities.)

Chatham County lists 41 boards

and authorities to which it appoints

members, some exclusively

(such as the hospital authority)

and some along with other entities

(like SEDA). Again, some of those

appointments are restricted to

commission members themselves.

As you browse through

the membership lists of these

boards, you notice names tend

to be repeated. If you’ve got the

clout to land one prime post,

you’ve probably got the clout to

land another. Waters, for example,

participated in the Georgia

Southern/Armstrong acquisition

as a Regent and the Memorial

sale as first the chairman,

then a member of the hospital

authority. Stephen Green is

on both the Savannah Airport

Commission and SEDA board.

Ted Kleisner is on both the

Downtown Savannah Authority

and the airport commission.

So, how do you get on these

boards? There’s more involved

than a willingness to serve. Let’s

face it, people don’t tend to appoint

their political foes, and instead

tend to fill the power slots

with party faithful, their own

political supporters, influential

business figures and the like.

The powerful boards tend to be


City of Savannah

Chatham County Commissioners

State of Georgia

overwhelmingly male and majority

white. Money helps – the

people who make highly publicized

charitable donations tend

to show up on these panels.

The City of Savannah runs

the available appointments on its

website and even offers a link to

an application. It would be surprising

if going that route actually

landed you on the SEDA board

or airport commission or MPC,

of course. But you’ll find plenty

of other boards and panels of less

prestige that still do interesting

work, be it fighting litter or advocating

for cultural resources.

Would you like to attend the

meetings of any of these groups?

Odds are good that you can – most

are covered by Georgia’s Open

Meetings Law (although remember,

that’s a pretty fragile law because

it can only be enforced by

those in a position to break it or

by legal action). The sheer number

of them alone means most boards

and panels are unattended by

members of the general public and

news media.

In the end, you have a mixed

bag – panels of well-meaning

citizens armed with good intentions

struggling to give public

input into the minutia of governing,

and political patrons

who are well insulated from the

wrath of the public and let the

politicians who appointed them

stand at arm’s length from the

decisions they make. Whatever

else it may be, it isn’t dull.


Administers the City of Savannah

employee retirement plans.


Licenses pilots, prescribes rules

and regulations, sets fees and

imposes penalties, sets and collects

penalties for vessels refusing to

take pilots or mistreating pilots.

Must include shipping agents,

exports, or merchants, or others

engaged on or familiar with marine

shipping and the requirements of

the Port of Savannah.




Responsible for the operation,

development and maintenance of

municipal airport; and independent

authority with its own staff

and revenue sources. Must be a

Chatham County resident.




Determines the health needs and

resources by collecting, analyzing

and evaluating health data

pertaining to the health of the





Facilitates and coordinates

community efforts to improve

the quality of life for citizens with

disabilities for the City of Savannah

and Chatham County through

advising local leaders.





Recommends plan and cost

estimates for the erection of

any monuments or substantial

restoration of same in the City or

County and may hold title and pay

for same.




Conducts a program of industrial

and port development for the

City of Savannah and Chatham

County, and is self-funded. No one

holding public office or receiving

compensation from either public

entity can serve.

September 2019 BEACON 33



Finding dedicated people to serve is the challenge

– and an opportunity to build a base of strong leaders

for years to come


From September through November

last year, Suzanne Kirk worked around

the clock. October is Breast Cancer

Awareness Month and, as the immediate

past board chair of the Susan G. Komen

Foundation of Coastal Georgia, Kirk

tried to be at every Big Wig fundraiser.

“We could have several every single week

throughout those months,” she recalls.

On top of running regular board meetings,

overseeing financials, and planning

events, she spent her evenings meeting

donors and sponsors and serving as the

face of the organization. It’s hard for Kirk

to quantify the number of hours she dedicated

to the organization. “Depending on

the cycle of events, it fluctuated dramatically,”

Kirk says.

Julie Olsen, a principal at Workplace

Advancement Strategies, which consults

nonprofit boards on development and

human resources, estimates that volunteer

board members, especially chairs,

may dedicate anything from a few hours

a week to several dozen a month to community

organizations. That level of time


and energy commitment can

lead to burnout.

“People might join not understanding

the responsibilities

of the board,” Olsen cautions.

“So, start with what it means to

be on the board before you think

about your contribution. As a

board member, you are responsible

for the financial and ethical

operations of the organization.”

“Give, Get or Get Off”

Nearly all of the 800-plus

nonprofit organizations in Savannah

are run by working volunteer

boards. Prospective board

members must truly understand

the role they play, beyond altruistic

measures. Yes, you may be

making a positive impact on your

community, but there’s also the

personal benefit of networking

and resume-building. But, are

they also willing to pay close attention

to financial documents

and insurance policies, commit

to training and fundraising on

weeknights and weekends, donating

their own funds in addition

to time?

Colleen Campbell Bozard of

the Georgia Center for Nonprofits

speaks explicitly about those

responsibilities, “We need people

to not just attend but participate.

That means coming to the meetings

prepared. Reading the reports.

Doing any homework necessary

so they can really engage

in good debate and discussion.”

According to Bozard, board

members have two roles: governance

and support. When they

are governing they serve as a

collective, setting the direction

of the organization, providing financial

oversight, and ensuring

that financial and staff resources

are available to accomplish the

organization’s mission. In the

support role, they act as an individual

providing technical assistance

and boots-on-the-ground

efforts to the professional staff.

“When board members say,

‘Oh, we’re just volunteers,’ it

doesn’t convey how critical a

board is to the success of the organization,”

she counsels.

That support function increases

dramatically for small

nonprofits where the board

needs to both govern and manage

the day-to-day functions of

the organization. There are more

than 800 active 501(c)(3) organizations

(excluding houses of

worship, schools, parent-teacher

organizations) in Savannah listed

with the Georgia Secretary of

State. Of those, 215 – 25 percent

– operate with revenues under

$200,000, meaning they likely

have a one or two staff members,

if any staff at all. Filling a nonprofit

board is no longer a matter

of calling on neighbors and

friends, Bozard warns.

“In the old days, we took

warm bodies to fill seats,” she

says. “Today, nonprofits are so

much more accountable. It’s really

important that they look at

the strategic plan and what skills

and expertise they need to move

the plan forward.”

Mission Driven

Tying the work back to the

mission of the organization can

mean the difference between

an engaged, vibrant board and a

bunch of people nodding their

heads around a conference table.

“Look for ways to get board

members involved in generative

discussions on important

topics. Take a minute to have

a staff person tell a story about

something that made an impact.

Start the meeting knowing why

you’re there,” says Bozard.

In her time on the board of

the Komen Foundation, Kirk

instituted board development

practices like annual reviews

and onboarding to move the organization

in the right direction.

“Any organization is fortunate

to have someone who is passionate

about the mission who

wants to help,” Kirk explains,

who own passion was fueled by

her mother’s battle with breast

cancer. “Board commitment is

a different type of engagement

that’s not for everybody. That’s

where the organization has to

balance what they need [with]

who wants to serve.”




Arranges the contractual

agreements between Candler

General Hospital and purchases of

hospital authority bonds used to

finance the building of the complex

off DeRenne Ave.




Serves as an advisory body on

recreational programs and facilities.





Must be Chatham County resident.



Rules on appeals from decisions of

the zoning administrator and hears

and rules on requests for permits

which require the board’s approval.

Must be city resident and not hold

public office.




Makes policy recommendations

impacting parking and routine

tourism-related traffic activities,

the enforcement of tourism

management regulations, and

other related issues. Appointed

by respective neighborhood

association or industry.


Improves safety and resident quality

of life and livability by reducing

the impact of vehicular traffic on

residential neighborhood streets by

modifying driver behavior through

education, enforcement, and

engineered traffic calming solutions.

September 2019 BEACON 35

Pathways to L

Whether in business, politics, or the community,

every leader blazes his or her own trail






For anyone aspiring to leadership – or called to serve by circumstances – it’s always good to

talk with the people who came before you, to learn from the triumphant moments and the missteps.

We asked four local leaders to share their insights on …

When did you know it was

the right time to step into

a leadership role?

Edminster: I was producing

a lot of events in the Starland

District, art events, concerts, etc -

and I remember thinking: none of

these business owners know each

other. That is still my number one

priority in leadership, to make

connections between people and

provide space for them to flourish.

Hopson: When I heard gun

shots behind my house. I relocated

to Savannah almost 5 years ago

and had no idea how challenging

things were here. There was no

other choice for me.

Papy: I took a look at Savannah,

at this place that I had been

forever warned was a place that

you got stuck in, and I decided

that might not be true. I decided

I wanted to belong to a community,

that I wanted to come back

home and do whatever I could to

push the ball forward. This place

is worth fighting for, Savannah’s

people are worth fighting for,

even when that is hard as hell.

Morris: Leadership is a role we

step deeper into with every day

that passes. I was first inspired by

the difference an individual can

make when called to lead by my

grandfather, Joe Upchurch, who

described to me at an early age

and in vivid detail the efforts he

and others close to FDR [Franklin

Delano Roosevelt] made to bring

this country out of the Great Depression,

conquer Nazi fascism

and win World War II. If not for

true leadership, this country and

the world could have gone down

a very, very dark path.

How well did your education

and academics prepare

you for leadership?

Edminster: Academics were

only helpful when they encouraged

creative and critical

thinking. The social life around

academics was crucial though! In

high school I learned early on you

could make your life a lot easier

if you befriended the janitors and

secretaries. They are the ones

running the show. Part of leadership

is being able to understand

where power is said to be and

where power really is. School was

helpful for eroding the myth that

power is always at the top.

Hopson: I believe it has more

to do with my personality than

anything else. I’ve always spoken

out and advocated for those who

can’t or just don’t have the tools

to do so themselves.

Papy: Other than the wisdom

that comes from navigating

student loan debt, I think college

served as a vehicle for a smalltown

Southern kid to expand

beyond what was expected or

possible, to learn how to be intellectually

curious, and the humility

that comes with learning about

the world as a young person.

Truthfully, being back home and

learning how to work within this

community in all its nuances

and complexities has been a far

greater learning experience.

Morris: Yes. Academic rigor

prepares the mind to see the

big picture and focus on true

achievement. I really don’t think

particular classes or subjects

prepare you for a leadership role.

But, mentors within a university

can be very instructive and helpful.

Teachers who share their life

experiences and make the course

work come alive can leave lasting

impressions on our youth.

Some people suggest that

the loss of privacy and the

intrusion of social media

prevent them from seeking

leadership positions. How

has social media affected

your professional life?

Edminster: Social media has

blended the idea of professional

and personal life. We have to

work overtime now to make our

personal lives more professional

or our professional lives more

personal. Both are difficult, and

we lose the privacy of an insulated

personal character. On

another note, social media has

been critical to helping me create

myself and is a huge influencer

for how folks see me, and for the

most part it’s been really won-




Starlandia Art













The Change


Coco Papy

Director of




Deep Center



Robert Morris




Georgia Ports


derful getting to connect with so

many people.

Hopson: Well, I don’t want to

date myself, but, when I began

my working, social media wasn’t

what it is today. That said, I’ve

kept up with the changing technology

and use it to reach target

audiences in all aspects of my life.

Papy: Social media is a tool, and

tools can be used for good, bad,

annoying, and effective. When it

works well, it can act as a catalyst,

a vehicle for solid information

and a way to exchange ideas in a

digital town square. When it’s bad

...well, I mean, we’ve probably all

seen what it looks like when it’s

bad. What I am most concerned

about right now, especially as we

move into election season, is the

proliferation of bad or distorted

information being shared, and how

algorithms meant to connect us to

our interests have now seemingly

hardwired us for obfuscation and

ineffective noise.

Morris: Social media has

allowed our team to reach

customers and stakeholders in

new and dynamic ways. Because

social media is becoming more

and more a part of our world, it

becomes increasingly difficult to

separate our social and professional

lives. The best we can hope

for is that our employees leverage

their personal social media to

enhance their business pursuits.

Some of the barriers to

elected leadership are personal,

some are financial.

Would paying our elected

leaders a professional salary

ensure more responsive,

effective leadership?

Edminster: It’s quite simple;

you just pay them more. There’s

nothing difficult about that. I think

you simply just pay local leadership

more money. I have a very public

opinion on this, and lots of folks

will tell me that leadership should

work for it, or that they don’t

deserve it, but they’re missing the

point. You get what you pay for. If

we want good leaders, we need to

pay those positions better.

Hopson: Here in Savannah,

council members have to work

straight gigs because they’re not

paid enough. I believe if they

were paid enough to solely focus

on running our government it

would benefit everyone.

Papy: Solutions for me look

like a stronger union presence,

stronger dialogue on what a

living wage actually looks like,

what affordable housing looks

like, what affordable daycare

looks like, what upward opportunity

really looks like. Also, this

is unpopular, but I believe we

should pay our elected leaders to

work full time at a living wage. If

we wonder out loud why certain

people are left out of politics, it’s

because there’s a financial gap

that ends up prioritizing those

who are retired or wealthy or

business owners with flexibility

— and to have a whole representation

of leaders, we have to take

into consideration the fact that

many of us don’t share this reality.

I also firmly believe that with

that raise, comes term limits.

Morris: I believe true leaders

are not motivated by mere financial

reward but strive to make a

difference for our community

and our world.



Appointed by Superior Court Judge

Functions as the superintendent of

elections and conducts primaries

and elections in accordance with

State law. The Senior Judge of

Superior Court of Chatham County

appoints the Board of Registrars

from a list of ten names submitted

by the Grand Jury.


Appointed by county commissioners

Discovers, lists, and determines

the fair market value (FMV) of all

real estate and tangible personal

property within the county.


Appointed, by the Chatham County

Grand Jury

Governs the conduct and business

of the board of equalization as to

provide oversight and supervision of

tax assessment.


Appointed by Senior Judge of

Superior Court of Chatham County

Registers voters properly, update

the county voter files daily, conduct

absentee mail-out voting, absentee

early voting, issue voter photo ID and

operate satellite early voting sites.



Appointed by county commissioners

Service providers for children, youth,

adults, and families with mental

illness, developmental disabilities,

and/or addictive diseases.


Appointed by county commissioners

Governs a tri-county public library





Appointed by governor and Chatham

County commissioners


Enhances the economic and tourism

environment for Savannah, Chatham

County and the state of Georgia.


Does the low pay for the hours

required of an elected leader dissuade

potentially good candidates, especially

younger professionals, from running for

office? Let us know your thoughts at

State of Georgia

Senators and Representatives $17,342

Savannah-Chatham County

Public School Board $12,000

Chatham County Commission

Chairperson $57,000

Commissioners $25,000

Savannah City Council

Mayor September 2019 $57,000


Aldermen $25,000




BankSouth Savannah Advisory Board Members (L to R):

Kay Ford, Julie Wade, Stan Strickland, Steve Eagle, Bill Daniel,

Raymond Padgett, Danny Falligant, Richard Coomer, Michael

Kaigler, Truitt Evanson, Joe Buck, Kathy Love and Laura Moore)

(Not pictured: Cheryl Dozier, Nancy Thompson, Jack Wardlaw,

and Ansley Williams)

Banking About You

Leadership About You

Meet BankSouth Savannah Advisory Board, a team of leaders

committed to putting the people of Savannah first.


Savannah, GA 31401


Savannah, GA 31405


BankSouth. NMLS #688851. BankSouth Mortgage Company, LLC. NMLS #690971. BankSouth Mortgage is a wholly owned subsidiary of BankSouth.


A Leadership


We want leaders from our city

streets to our city and county halls

who inspire people beyond their

fears; who listen to hear, not to

respond or react; who let the ladder

down behind them; who know how

to set a welcome table; who possess

equal parts humility and humor; who

are lifelong learners; who evolve;

who know when to compromise and

when to set boundaries; who have

thick skins; who know where to find

the helpers, and who understand

that we can bake more pies, rather

than parse the leftovers.

Where do we find those people?

How do we lift them up?

How do we raise them?

September 2019 BEACON 41




Throughout mythology, a key character archetype is the mentor – a person who guides the heroine

(or hero) across thresholds and through a series of escalating tests. With advice, instruction, and

encouragement, the mentor helps the hero overcome her deepest fears and to accept the call to adventure.

Think Gandalf, Obi-Wan, Glenda the Good Witch.

They seem to have superpowers, even in real life, but what they really

possess are finely tuned instincts, vivid imagination, courage in crisis, and the

ability to inspire others to rise to the need of the moment – mad skills honed

by equal parts failure and fortune.

Herein, we talk with two former mayors, both of whom experienced triumphs and tragedies

as city leaders. Perhaps their wisdom will light the way for someone new to answer the call.

September 2019 BEACON 43




Still at

the Table

Former Savannah mayor Edna Jackson

hardly rests in retirement – instead she

mentors future female leaders


Ever since she was a young woman,

Edna Jackson has never been afraid to

wade into the big issues — literally.

In 1960, along with eleven others,

Jackson spent the night in the Tybee Island

jail for swimming in the ocean, a crime for

people of color on Savannah’s whites-only

beach. That “wade-in” was just one of many

peaceful protests, voter registration drives,

and other effective efforts organized the

local NAACP chapter led by W.W. Law, the

beloved activist and nationally recognized

civil rights leader. As one of Law’s first

disciples, Jackson made history.

She made history again in 2011 when,

after serving three terms on the Savannah

City Council, she was the first (and

thus far only) African-American woman

to be elected to the city’s most prominent

public position. Often called “Madame

Mayor,” Edna Jackson was known for the

flower on her lapel and unflappable composure

during a tenure marked by violent

crime, a city manager scandal, and a federal

investigation and subsequent incarceration

of a police chief.

Her administration is also credited

with simplifying city procedures for small

businesses, increasing the police department

budget for recruitment, and tirelessly

advocating for solutions that would

“bring everybody to the table.” Her reputation

for consensus building has not

waned since she lost her bid for re-election

in 2015. While she continues to serve

on several boards and travels around

the region as a WomenHeart Champion

health educator, Jackson has also been

supporting the next generation of Savannah

political leadership.

“Edna is a treasure of our community.

When she could have stepped back in

her retirement from civic life, she instead

readily accepted our invitation to serve as

a board member,” says Murem Sharpe of

Georgia’s WIN List, a political action committee

that recruits and trains progressive

women candidates and elected officials

statewide. “Women running for election

and re-election, from city to county to state

to federal office, regularly ask for Edna’s

savvy advice, which she offers with tireless

generosity and unparalleled knowledge.”

Amanda Hollowell, who completed

Georgia’s WIN List Leadership Academy

in 2017, admires how the septuagenarian

leads by example.

“For me, being able to watch Mayor

Jackson is always a blessing. You can learn

so much from someone by just being in

their presence,” says Hollowell, who currently

serves as the Georgia state director

September 2019 BEACON 45

of the national women’s advocacy non-profit 9to5.

“Also, her fearlessness is awe-worthy — that has inspired

me to stand in my power.”

When Jackson is not attending a community

meeting or guest speaking, she prefers to relax

in the house that she has lived in since 1971, near

Savannah State University where she received her

B.A. and Masters’ degrees and worked as an administrator

for over 30 years.

Though the former Madame Mayor may not be

wading into political waters herself anymore, she

has no intention of leaving the beach. She invited

Beacon over for a glass of sweet tea to discuss Savannah’s

biggest challenges, why it’s OK to lose an election

and what it will take to lead Savannah into 2033.

As someone who has been a leader in this

community since you were a teenager,

what do those coming up need to

understand about leading Savannah?

I was fortunate because I was trained by good

mentors like W.W. Law and Judge Eugene Gadsden.

They taught me that integrity is the most important

quality in a politician, that you could never

allow anyone to buy your vote, to buy you to get

your support. That you should always be in a position

to speak up and speak out.

You have to be doing it for the right reasons. Just

because you want to run, it doesn’t mean that you

will make a good public official. You just can’t proclaim

yourself a leader.

What makes a good public official?

You have to show you really believe in the people

and the community, and that you want to make

positive changes. It’s about being true to what

you’re standing for. When a crisis happens like the

Augusta Avenue shooting [in 2014], you have to

maintain peace and remind everyone that we are

One Savannah.

Honestly, I didn’t even want to go into public

office. [Former mayor] Floyd Adams talked me into

it during his first campaign for mayor. That time,

I ran and lost for alderman-at-large, but it didn’t

matter because it wasn’t about me — it was about

helping the first African-American mayor of Savannah

get elected. That was done by people who

didn’t necessarily want to sit up on that council but

who wanted to elect officials who had integrity and

commitment to the community.

Savannah’s City Council was first

integrated under [former mayor] John

Rousakis, and you were the first female

African-American mayor. We have had

a diverse city council for almost three

decades. Now what is the challenge in


We need leaders who aren’t just looking out for

themselves. I think what’s been happening is that

some people elected have the mindset of “what am

I getting out of it” instead of what’s good for the


city. When I was alderman-at-large, a fellow city

council member said my son, Kevan, is an aeronautical

engineer and he ought to be appointed

to the Airport Commission. I said, “No way, that

would not be appropriate!” But you have other

council members who would have no problem

with that today.

Being mayor is about moving nine people in the

same direction. A good leader is going to take the

time and get everyone on the same page before

any final decisions are made. You have to be a good

listener. You have to be able to determine whether

it’s time to move forward or continue to talk.

Former mayors Floyd Adams and Dr. Otis Johnson

set the example of what true leadership in

Savannah should look like: The diversity of large

businesses, small businesses and residents working

together. We don’t have that now. You look

at Savannah, maybe housing is desegregated, but

now what we have is gentrification. It used to be

African Americans and whites living downtown.

Now it’s not about black or white, it’s about working-class

people not being able to afford to live


How should our leaders address that?

You have to make decisions based on the people

who are living here. There needs to be more

dialogue. I did not do everything right when I was

mayor, but when I look at what’s happening now,


Edna Jackson’s


are filled with


up Savannah and the region to other countries to

bring companies to our area and provide jobs, and

that board needs better representation as well.

Affordable housing is another big issue. Everyone

can’t buy a home, but everyone deserves a decent

place to live. That needs to be a top priority

and it goes hand in hand with employment.

We also just need more people looking out for

people, the masses. Simple as that.

how our people — and by that I mean black, white,

polka dot, what have you — it is not right that

they cannot afford to live downtown. We made it

so people would be comfortable anywhere and we

talked about it. I don’t hear these discussions continuing.

How does one maintain composure when

issues get heated? Is it OK to alienate


My attitude was always, “let’s talk about it.” We

may not come to the same conclusion, but I have

respected you enough to hear your side, and you

have respected me enough to hear my side, and we

can know where each other is coming from. We

might be able to negotiate and use a piece here,

a little piece there so that everyone can be a part

of the whole. I think that’s more important than

making a fast decision.

What are the three most important issues

facing Savannah today?

First, economic development. One of the best

things Savannah ever did was create SEDA [Savannah

Economic Development Authority], but I feel

that the board should better represent the people.

It needs more diversity and more residents that

have an interest in the kind of businesses that they

want to come to the community and how we keep

it here. The World Trade Center has also opened

It’s financially difficult to run for office,

and these days there’s also a price to pay

for putting yourself out there. How can upand-coming

leaders maintain morale?

It’s so different now with social media. People

have become cutthroat. They’re not kind to each

other, I’ve never seen people so nasty. I’m not going

to lie, it’s hard. You have to have a tough skin. You

have to stand up, you have to push. Sometimes you

have to go against the guard.

You have to set your goals. What do you want

to accomplish — not for yourself, but for the city

of Savannah? If you have something to offer to this

community, then go for it!

Also, find a mentor. Someone you admire, not

necessarily in politics, but a leader. Someone who

can teach what you need to know, but not necessarily

what you want to hear. If you’re going to be

a good leader, you need to surround yourself with

good people — I call it my “kitchen cabinet.” Your

true friends won’t ask you for anything, and if they

see you moving in the wrong direction, they’re going

to sit you down and tell you. That’s what my

true friends do; they have my back, sides and front.

You also have to realize you don’t always win.

You have to accept losses. If you maintain integrity,

it’s OK to lose. You take it and use it to get to where

you want to go.

It’s important to remember that you can still

be a leader without having a title. If you’re doing

something positive for the people, you will be recognized.

Look at the ribbon-cutting we just had

for the Pennsylvania Avenue Community Center; I

know I was a part of that, and that’s very satisfying

to me.

Was it hard to lose your re-election

bid in 2015?

Yes, only because of the people. Some of my supporters

were upset, because we’d worked so hard.

But I know we lost for the right reasons: Because I

didn’t change for the sake of a few people. Because

my position was for the many and not just a few.

I believe I earned the respect of even more people

because of how I handled the loss. My grandmother,

Sadie Branch, always said, “Your name is

all you have, use it for the right thing.”

God has a way of showing you that you need to

slow down. I feel like if I had won, I would be dead.

Because I was working too much, not saying “no.” I

didn’t know how to stop.

September 2019 BEACON 47



For ‘Mayor Joe,’ the tough moments

offer the best opportunities to serve


Full disclosure: I am not unbiased when it comes

to former Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.

As a graduate student back in the early 1990s, I

wrote to him for advice on the topic of scattered-site

housing for a research paper. He answered the letter

and connected me with key staff. Later, while working

as an urban planner, I heard Riley speak at a conference,

and I carried the piece of paper on which I

took notes with me from Fort Worth to Miami, until

it softened so much from folding and unfolding over

the next 16 years, it fell apart and faded away. In that

former life, Riley was somewhat of an oracle to me

on everything from new urbanism and historic preservation

to the dignity of the dispossessed and the

magic of water. Still, with all the awards and accolades,

he appeared humble and gracious, even when

confronted by his critics.

I have been told it’s not a good thing to meet

your heroes. That may be true in some cases, but

not in Riley’s. He’s every bit as gracious and humble

in person, even as he talks about the lessons gained

from such tempests as Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and

the murders of nine members of Mother Emanuel

in 2015, bookends of his 40-year tenure as the Holy

City’s mayor.

His office, on the second floor of a 19th century

building that bears his name, is simple, filled with

more books than photos – and those are of family,

not celebrities and other marquee politicians. He

works from a desk that, with the flip of a switch,

raises when he needs to stand. Behind him, stacked

with papers, is the antique secretary used by his

grandfather and restored as a gift from his family after

he retired from public service. On the wall next

to it hangs a watercolor, painted as a “thank you”


September 2019 BEACON 49


to Riley from the author and historian

David McCullough. He had just

started reading McCullough’s latest

book, The Pioneers, and was moving

back and forth between it and David

W. Blight’s biography of Frederick


“I enjoy history because it’s interesting,

but it’s also teaching you,”

he says, peering out a window that

overlooks his hometown, founded

in 1670. “History doesn’t just happen,

people make it happen – they

can make good things happen or bad


Riley has made his own mark on

history, running and getting elected

to the South Carolina House of Representatives

in 1968 at the age of 25,

just one year after he graduated from

the University of South Carolina law

school. He served three terms, but

with a young family, he wanted to

be home more often instead of two

hours away in Columbia.

Riley had never thought of being

mayor, had never even been to

a city council meeting, didn’t know

what the job entailed, he admits.

But in 1975, some of the city’s African-American

leaders as well as

white business owners approached

him and said he needed to run to

help bring unity at a time of growing

racial unrest. His law partner at the

time, Riley laughs now, “described it

as a parade of people coming here to

urge me to run.”

“I was interested in racial progress,

and I think [they] could see

that, and it was kind of surprising to

them that a young, white guy from

downtown Charleston … well, I saw

it as an opportunity to be a bridge

builder,” he recalls.

He felt an obligation to his community

and promised his wife he’d

only serve one term if he won.

Famous last words.

One of the longest serving mayors

in U.S. history, Riley learned

all about the strong mayor-council

form of government on the job. Serving

as the city’s CEO was a job that

he clearly loved, and still does. As

he speaks about both the demands

and the honor, he grows animated,

talking with his hands, voice rolling

like a preacher’s, bright blue eyes

sparkling beneath frosted eyebrows.

He shares the intensity with



which his community weathered Hugo, a Category

4 hurricane, telling of how he called in political

chits with the power company, got food delivered,

swept the muck from his own home, and never let

up until there was some normalcy restored.

“I didn’t want to miss any deadlines,” he says,


Despite the hardships, Riley saw the storm,

something he could not control, as an opportunity

for his staff to serve the citizens when they needed

it most. He told his team then that “if we do the

best job that any city ever did, then the goodwill

of the community and a sense of achievement is

something you will carry for the rest of your life.”

Riley’s disaster response became a model for the

country. Three years later, when South Florida was

pummeled by Hurricane Andrew (Category 5), Riley

marshalled city staff and sent a team to Miami.

“Our police department made the first arrest in

Homestead for looting,” he says with a smile.

Twenty-six years after Hugo, as Riley approached

his final year in office having announced

his retirement, his community rose to the occasion

once again. Around 9 p.m. on the evening

of June 17, 2015, a gunman murdered nine people

in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church,

“Mother Emanuel,” the oldest black church in the

South. By midnight, Chief of Police Greg Mullen

and Riley were standing side-by-side in front of the

church, trying to navigate the community through

its heartbreak.

“I do believe it is a hate crime. It will be investigated

as a hate crime,” Chief Mullen told reporters

on the scene.

“The only reason someone could walk into a

church and shoot people who were praying is hate.

The only reason,” interjected Riley, balancing both

his public role with private grief.

“It was very important, and we knew it was very

important, to tell what happened,” he says now. “It

was essential that the African-American community

see that we would not sweep anything under

History books

share shelf

space with



the rug … It wasn’t lunacy. It was


He acknowledges that, while

progress on race relations have

been made since he campaigned

nearly 50 years ago to get the

first African American elected

to the South Carolina legislature,

we have not done a good

enough job teaching the history.

“We don’t know the brutal

harshness of the Middle Passage.

We don’t know the brutal harshness

of enslavement and the tragedy.

We don’t know that, and we’ve

never felt that or honored it.”

Much of what occupies this

76-year-old’s time these days is

teaching that history through

something he envisioned nearly

20 years ago during his inaugural

address – an International African

American Museum on the site of

Gadsen’s Wharf where more than

100,000 enslaved men, women

and children first stepped foot

on U.S. soil nearly 400 years ago.

He has led the $25 million private

fundraising effort to match $50

million in public funding from the

city, county and state. He is on the

homestretch for the final $5 million.

The push for the museum has

not been without controversy, but

he has held fast to its promise.

“What I try to do [is first] understand

the hearts of my citizens

and work for initiatives … things

that you have confidence – reasoned

confidence, not whimsical

confidence – that, if you get

there, if you achieve it, and it

might be controversial now, but

if you get there, then your citizens’

hearts will be fulfilled,” he

explains, cautioning against hubris

and arrogance and affirming

the art of intentional listening.

“You can listen to people in a lot

of ways. Through their eyes, you

can see how somebody feels. You

can listen through body language;

you can listen through letters to

the editor; through comments on

the street or in meetings. There is

a plethora of opportunities for a

leader to hear how people feel, and

your job is to get them to a place

where their hearts are fulfilled. I

knew that if we did it, everybody

would be so proud.”

September 2019 BEACON 51




Important decisions are often made behind the

scenes, at the fish fry, over friendly lunches,

through the connections forged by association


In Columbus, Georgia, there was the storied “phone

booth” committee, the key five or six committed civic

leaders that if you gathered them in a phone booth they

could agree on what needed to be done, walk out, and it

would be done. In Miami, it was the elusive Non-Group

that could work behind the scenes to make things happen,

everything from organizing boycotts to passing bond


In Savannah, this civil society is exemplified by the exclusive,

nearly all-male Irish-American organizations, with

roots leading back to the Emerald Isle; University of Georgia

alumni groups; civic clubs, like the Jaycees; black sororities

that transcend social constructs because of sisterhoods

strengthened through the civil rights struggle; hunting

and shooting clubs; and even a private ladies’ bridge group

made famous in “The Book.” At its best, this “third sector”

behind government and commerce fosters coalitions that

give voice to the community’s needs; at its worst, it can calcify

progress through patronage and the maintenance of

the status quo.



Tearing Down Silos

One of the chief complaints

across Chatham County is that

the patchwork of governmental

jurisdictions does not work together

effectively – at great cost

to its citizens. The evidence: the

dissolution of the consolidated

police department and a spate of

incorporation efforts. So, while

individual groups may struggle

to crack Savannah’s armor of

influence, coalitions can muster

enough political power to break

apart silos to move efforts, projects,

and programs forward. Coalitions

also can better channel

the aspirations, priorities, and

needs of a community while coordinating


Jeb Bush, executive director

of the Forsyth Farmers’ Market,

says there’s no way his team

could provide all the services it

does for Savannah’s low-income

residents without collaborating

with broader civil society. Forsyth

is the highest redeeming

SNAP/EBT (food stamps) farmers’

market in Georgia and was

one of the first markets in the

United States to accept SNAP/

EBT. Moreover, SNAP/EBT users

receive half off of all the market’s

produce, allowing them to

purchase fresh, healthful, local

produce at affordable prices.

Bush highlights the market’s

participation in Healthy Savannah,

a coalition of more than 150

public and private community organizations

working to support a

culture of health. “We also work

with community groups surrounding

Forsyth Park, churches,

community centers, and other

nonprofits, many of whom serve

the same customer base we do,”

Bush explains. “We are one piece

in a very large puzzle.”

Creating Social Networks

Social media certainly has

created new associations that

can mobilize in short order

to address a problem. Case in

point: After anti-Muslim hate

groups launched a campaign

this summer to spy on and endanger

Islamic houses of worship

in Georgia, including the

Islamic Center of Savannah,

Imam Khuzaima Ilyas says his

congregation has been afraid

to attend prayer services at the

mosque, or to wear clothing in

public that indicates their faith.

“We are always hospitable

and welcoming,” Ilyas said, “so

when these people came to our

mosque and said they wanted

to come in and learn, of course

we let them in and spent hours

with them. We had no idea they

would spread malicious lies

about us.” The infiltrators falsely

claimed that the Islamic Center

of Savannah was a terrorist

training base, a charge that

could clearly incite violence.

The Islamic Center already

had a good relationship with

Savannah’s police and the local

FBI, according to the imam,

and the law enforcement agencies

have been helpful in responding

to the hate groups’

threats. At a deeper level, the

imam highlights interfaith services

and activities between his

mosque and Savannah’s Jewish

and Christian communities as

especially helpful in “warming

people who thought they were

really different from each other.”

All across social media, interfaith

groups and concerned

citizens raised awareness of the


“It has helped to bridge an

imaginary divide,” Ilyas explains.



Compounded Interest

In addition to pooling society’s

political clout, coalitions

can also expand access to funding,

which is a constant struggle

for Savannah’s newer civil society

entrants. To wit, Healthy Savannah

recently secured a $3.4 million

grant from the Centers for

Disease Control and Prevention,

a coup that the group’s individual

constituents almost certainly

couldn’t have achieved on their

own. The five-year grant, called

Racial and Ethnic Approaches to

Community Health (R.E.A.C.H.),

significantly expands Healthy

Savannah’s ability to serve the

full range of Savannahians who

could benefit from its programs

and has given a substantial boost

to the Tide to Town greenbelt


Richard Reeve, director of financial

education for the Consumer

Credit Counseling Service

(CCCS) of Savannah, notes

that while a few local organizations

are backed by foundations,

the rest must work tirelessly to

fund their services. His organization

delivers professional

and confidential debt management,

housing counseling, and

consumer credit education to

all segments of the community,

regardless of their ability to pay.

Reeve says CCCS’s status as

a United Way member agency

helps, and similar mechanisms

would be tremendously useful

to nonprofit service providers

in Savannah and beyond. The

United Way, of course, is itself a

coalition that pools fundraising

and support efforts for charitable


A challenge in Savannah, however,

is the sheer number of organizations

vying for limited funds

(see Undercover Bosses, page 34).

Joanne Morton is the Savannah-Chatham


Coalition’s (SCSC) director

of community engagements

and events, and she has been

running Savannah’s Earth Day

Festival for the last five years.

While many entities in Savannah

are working on environmental

issues, “the efforts right

now are fragmented and disparate,”

Morton said. “Every group

seems to be off in its own silo,

even though so many of us are

working toward the same goals.

You see multiple groups going

after the same limited pot of

money, even when they’re trying

to achieve the same thing. Why

don’t they work together?”

Noting that the environmental

challenges we face warrant

year-round attention, Morton is

building a coalition of nonprofit

groups to approach various

stakeholders in Savannah on issues

related to the environment

and sustainability, aiming to

“make earth day every day.”

Dark Side

Of course, as coalitions grow,

so, too, does their political power.

Left unchecked, that power

can be abused to achieve decidedly

selfish ends. An extreme

example: the billionaire Koch

brothers, who have organized

coalitions of mega-wealthy donors

over decades to fund super

political action campaigns

(PACs) and dark money groups

to manipulate public opinion

and swing elections.

The people who threatened

the Islamic Center of Savannah

earlier this year had themselves

formed a coalition. And, there

are always those who stoke the

fires, like the retired Woodstock,

Georgia, police chief, who spent

several years teaching anti-Muslim

hate classes to law-enforcement

officers around Georgia

for training credit.

“We need to work hard to use

the platforms available to us to

clarify misconceptions everybody

has about other groups or

organizations,” Imam Ilyas says,

“and to help smooth the tension

that arises from cultural differences.”

The challenge, then, for the

civil society is to build broadbased

coalitions that can leverage

political power and funding,

while upholding the intent behind

those two words: civil and


September 2019 BEACON 55





ng Savannah

Student leadership


foster hope and



When Heysi Alvarez immigrated

to this country from

Honduras at the tender age of

nine, she admits she struggled

academically, culturally, and


“I had to learn English so that

put me in a shell. It was hard for

me to speak out for myself,” recalls

the oldest daughter of a single

mom. “I had to grow up and

find my own voice, quickly.”

Alvarez didn’t have high


“Given my immigration status,

I thought my future would

be cleaning houses,” she admits.

“I didn’t know what the future

held for me, but I knew I had to

look out for myself.”

And then she got involved in

Gulfstream’s Student Leadership

Program (SLP). After graduating

from the program and Groves

High School in 2014, she ended

up landing a job at the company

that taught her and other high

school students about the foundations

of leadership.

“Now I work at a corporation

that not only is a good place to

work, but it also helps the community,”

says Alvarez, a senior

technician in Gulfstream’s Human

Resources Data Quality

department. “SLP gave me the

right influence at a time when

you are vulnerable to the wrong

influences. It became my backbone.”

All over the world, youth

leadership programs provide

September 2019 BEACON 57

young people with the knowledge

to build leadership skills

and increase opportunities for

empowerment. Programs take

myriad forms, including advocacy

groups, peer education,

service-learning, mentoring

programs, and local government

youth advisory councils and

boards, all in the name of boosting

young people’s self-esteem,

social skills, and problem-solving


The need is great. Based on

data from the United States

Census Bureau, there are 73.3

million people under the age of

18 living in the United States,

22.4 percent of the total population.

The national high school

graduation rate stands at 84.6

percent while the poverty rate

is at 18.4 percent. In Chatham

County, kids under the age of 18

fare a bit better—86.6 percent—

when it comes to graduating but

face a crippling poverty rate of

24.2 percent.

That’s why any and all efforts

to build up children in this community

are necessary. Herein

are but a few of the programs

giving a lift to our future.

Half of all girls

between the

ages of 10 and

13 experience


Starting at age 9,

their physical activity

starts to decline.

Girls on the Run

Maria Center, executive

director of Girls on the Run

(GOTR) Coastal Georgia and

Lowcountry, wants to dispel a


“This is not a track club. Running

is merely a vehicle,” she

says. “Our ultimate mission is to

inspire girls to be joyful, healthy,

and confident. We use an experience-based

curriculum that

creatively integrates running.

Our vision is a world where every

girl knows and activates her

limitless potential and is free to

boldly pursue her dreams.”

The after-school program

targeting third through eighth

grade girls is a national program

that was founded in 1996 in

Charlotte, N.C. The local council

has been in place for about

13 years and is on track to serve

1,500 girls in the 2019-2020

school year across Bryan, Bulloch,

Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty Counties

in Georgia, and Beaufort and Jasper Counties in

South Carolina.

The ten-week program meets twice a week for

an hour and a half each time. Sessions start with a

snack and then the girls participate in interactive

activities, running games, and deep-dive discussions

into topics designed to help them navigate

the changes of growing up and entering adolescence.

In addition to developing and executing a

community service project, girls also participate

in a 5K race, an event that typically draws 4,000

cheering community members.

“One of my favorite topics the girls discuss is

‘What is Real Beauty?’” says Center. “We look at

magazines and advertisements and try to instill in

them that it’s not your face, it’s what’s in your heart

and head. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and

every color in the rainbow.”

Other topics include self-respect, respecting

others, responsibility, the importance of work,

conflict resolution, and the art of negotiation.

“We also teach goal setting, which is fundamental

to any success in life, and that’s where the 5K

comes in,” says Center. “They gradually build up

their stamina and this is a goal they can work toward

and experience a sense of achievement that

will bleed into other areas of their lives.”

According to Center, half of all girls between

the ages of 10 and 13 experience bullying, and their

physical activity starts declining when they turn

nine, a decline that continues throughout adolescence.

“There are risky behaviors that can be avoided

if these girls have a positive outlet and positive

messaging with caring adults guiding and helping

them. With our poverty rate, a lot of these kids

don’t have these influences. That’s why it’s needed

in a community like this with a high proportion of

disadvantaged children.”

Moving forward, Center says GOTR is looking

at new models, such as Saturday/Sunday programs,

to serve girls who can’t meet during the school

week or have transportation issues. The group

also recently worked with the National Center on

Health, Physical Activity and Disability to develop

curriculum adaptations and resources for girls

with sensory, physical, and cognitive disabilities

and will be offering this new curriculum spring of


Fees are based on a sliding scale of anywhere

between $40 (for those who receive free school

lunches) to $185 (full fee). That includes trained

coaches, 30 hours of high quality structured learning,

all materials and supplies, snacks, T-shirt, water

bottle, registration and finisher’s medal and discounted

registrations for family members.

For those interested in registering, coaching,

or volunteering, call 912-349-1528 or visit


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M.A.L.E. Dreamers

The M.A.L.E. (Motivated Aspiring

Leaders of Excellence)

Dreamers at West Chatham Middle

School, a mentoring program

for middle school boys, came

about because Robert R. Jordan,

Jr., a seventh-grade special education

teacher, saw a need as the

only male teacher at his school.

“I found myself gravitating

toward the boys to talk to them

about social problems and how

to think things through,” recalls

Jordan, whose background is in

clinical social work. “These boys

need someone to mentor them.

I thought about it over the summer

before the 2015-2016 school

year and brought the idea to my

administrator. Over a period of

time, it just developed.”

Initially, Jordan inducted 15

boys into the program, a number

that’s since grown to more

than 60. Students in the no-cost

program benefit from being mentored

socially, behaviorally, or academically

by a team of a dozen

Dream Coaches, and participate

in a variety of activities, like touring

the Jepson Center, bagging

groceries at Salvation Army, hosting

a Mother-Son formal dance as

a fundraiser, or meeting state legislators

at the capitol in Atlanta.

“I got donated suits and bowties

and the Dreamers were

dressed from head to toe,” says

Jordan. “It’s important to expose

them to something outside the

norm. If we can capture their

attention in middle school and

show them options, then we can

impact what society is going to

look like.”

Jordan wants to spread

M.A.L.E. Dreamers throughout

the school district, targeting

middle schools, and ultimately

open a Dreamer Center for Boys.

Like his work at West Chatham,

Jordan says he would focus on

character, integrity, leadership,

scholarship, and citizenship, “all

of the areas boys can be an asset

and not a liability to society.”

His next campaign is to recruit

20 dedicated men to volunteer

with the program.

“Boy, if I had the funds like



LeBron,” Jordan laughs. “I would

set up Dreamers programs around

this district and go in and train

staff and administration on what

mentorship looks like. Some of

the boys may move on to being a

mentor themselves, because once

you become a Dreamer, you’re a

Dreamer for life.”

To volunteer or for more information

on the program, call 912-


Savannah Youth


Margaret Williams, assistant

director of Human Services for

the City of Savannah, says times

have changed drastically for

young people.

“With social media, kids can

be alone with their phones and

think they’re engaged,” she says.

“It’s so different from interacting

with real life.”

Savannah Youth Ambassadors

(SYA), a year-round initiative

of the City of Savannah’s

Community Services division,

aims to give young people that

real-life experience.

Established on the values

of social awareness, civic engagement,

and personal and

professional development,

SYA fosters youth leadership

and civic engagement through

City-sponsored training, cultural

exploration opportunities,

and community impact projects.

Targeting ninth through

12th graders, the program covers

topics like financial literacy, the

importance of voting, managing

communication and interpersonal

skills, and community service,

among others.

Last year, for example, students

participated in service

projects such as Slam Dunk to

Funk, a community cleanup

effort, and St. Joseph’s Smart

Living and Health Fair, where

they volunteered at the door

and assisted attending seniors.

Throughout the year, the group

also took field trips to the Georgia

Ports, International Paper,

Georgia Southern University,

and Savannah-Chatham Day at

the state capitol in Atlanta.

Robert R.


mentors the

Dreamers of

West Chatham



“We’ve designed the program

so that they can be actively engaged

in what goes on in their

community,” Williams says.

“This allows them to come to

the table and gives them confidence.”

During the school year, sessions

are held on the second

Saturday of the month from 10

a.m. until noon, and SYA summer

sessions are held Tuesdays,

Wednesdays, and Thursdays in

June from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.

All program costs are covered by

the City of Savannah.

Participants must be a resident

of the City of Savannah and

enrolled in school. Last year, the

29 Ambassadors completed 892

leadership training hours and

423 community service hours.

“Workforce development and

workforce readiness is a huge

challenge and we want to prepare

students for that,” Williams

says. “Our ultimate goal is to

start them on a career path and

have the kinds of citizens we

want in Savannah.”

For more information on how

to apply or how to sponsor SYA,

call 912-651-6520 or visit

Student Leadership


In probably one of the best examples

of a public-private partnership,

Gulfstream partnered

with the Savannah-Chatham

County Public School System in

2008 to help students graduate

high school. The resulting Student

Leadership Program (SLP)

has now evolved to be so much


“We’ve grown the program

to 600 ninth through twelfth

graders with the goal of giving

local students the opportunity

to connect with business leaders

and help foster their own leadership

identity,” says Chris Nowicki,

public affairs and community

investment consultant. “Businesses

and private industry have

a priority to partner with the

public school system to achieve

its mission so public schools

don’t have to do it alone.”

During the six leadership

sessions held throughout the

school year, students learn

about personal leadership development,

time management,

conflict resolution, working in

teams, making first impressions,

financial literacy and dining etiquette.

In addition, between

their junior and senior years in

the program, students take a

trip to Washington, D.C. to give

them a broader perspective on


“We focus on giving them experiences,

like taking them to

military installations or a twoyear

or four-year or technical

college to see what experiences

they could have there,” Nowicki

says. “Students also begin to understand

what it takes to manage

your money and write a résumé.

All of those things are going to

be crucial to their success.”

There is no cost to the program

other than the students’

commitment, notes Nowicki,

and all 11 public high schools offer

it. Nearly 600 students apply

each year for 150 slots. To date,

more than a thousand students

have graduated from the program.

“It doesn’t matter what part

of town you’re from, this reaches

every school and brings every

student together,” says Nowicki.

“Young people are prone to

building a wall around themselves

and saying they can’t. My

passion is getting them to bust

that wall down and become a

sponge to learn everything they


With the school district’s successes

over the past dozen years,

Nowicki says it’s time to re-evaluate

and revamp the program’s

focus. A steering committee of

business leaders is examining

the model and students’ input

will be solicited over the next

year to re-imagine the program

and maintain relevance. A new

SLP will be relaunching in fall


To apply or to learn about how

you can volunteer with the SLP

program, visit

September 2019 BEACON 61


Deep Center’s ART Team

One of Savannah’s newest

youth leadership initiatives is

courtesy of the Deep Center, a

local nonprofit known for its

creative writing workshops.

“Young people were stepping

up in our normal program spaces

and taking leadership roles

naturally. Checking in on their

peers, offering to help the teaching

artists, things like that,” says

Megan Ave’Lallemant, senior

program director. “Young people

at all levels would write these

super passionate pieces and have

such big things to say and then

bump into ceilings they didn’t


As a result, Deep established a

Youth Leadership Team in 2017

with two pathways: the Slam

Team, a competitive spoken

word team giving voice to Savannah’s

stories, and the Action

Research Team (ART), a group

of five students working as researchers,

artists, creative writers,

and organizers to identify

Heysi Alvarez

excelled in

the Gulfstream




policies and systems adversely

affecting our communities and

advocate for change.

“When we’re talking about

youth leadership, we’re asking

young people to be the experts

of their own lives. They are at

the epicenter and are directly

affected by it, so they are the experts,”

says Ave’Lallemant. “Our

goal is to help young people

use those powerful stories they

write to critique the issues they

see surrounding them and then

connect that to action they can

take to transform the problem.”

This year, the team developed

a central research question

that is impacting young people:

how do dealings with the Savannah-Chatham

County Public

School System’s discipline policies

and practices address root

causes and accountability processes?

ART members have collected

stories and surveys and

built a simulation about how

different policies don’t always

address root causes.

According to Ave’Lallemant,

the simulation is a no-win game

with the ultimate goal of building

empathy by demonstrating and

communicating a visualization of

what it’s like to be a high schooler.

This fall the self-proclaimed

group of “artivists” will hold an

Advocacy Day to get the simulation

in the hands of community

leaders in a position of power and

hopefully inspire change. And

that, says one student, is the definition

of leadership.

“Leadership goes hand-inhand

with teamwork and we are

all leaders,” says Hennessys Ortiz,

a senior at New Hampstead

High School. “If we can bring

our findings to the table, we can

all work together to help advocate

for a solution.”

There are five students on Deep’s

current Action Research Team, but

Ave’Lallemant expects that number

to grow. Interested high school

students can email writewithus@ or call 912-289-7426

for more information.


Continuing a

Savannah Tradition.

Hodgson Memorial Chapel

7415 Hodgson Memorial Drive

Savannah, GA

T (912) 927-1999

Garden City Chapel

2794 Highway 80 W

Garden City, GA

T (912) 964-2862


Discipline +

Knowledge +

Accountability =


For ‘Coach Cam,’ it’s more

than sprints and tackles


There’s a fierce competition among members of

the Jenkins High School football team, one of Savannah’s

ascending programs.

The Warriors, under third-year coach Jason Cameron,

have won 21 games the last two seasons, including

the first undefeated regular season in school history in

2017. The team has reached the quarterfinals of the Class

AAA state playoffs each of the last three years. That success

has garnered the program recognition (Cameron

was named the Savannah Morning News football coach

of the year in his first season as head coach), and its

players have been highly sought-after by major colleges.

With 16 players having committed to play in college

during the last three years, including four commits this

season and two more expected to accept offers during

the school year, the competition naturally appears to be

about who can be the best on the field.

Not quite. Under Cameron’s leadership, the Warriors

have focused as much on success in the classroom

as they have on the field.

Cameron, 33, said as a coach and teacher he wants

his players to be prepared for the next steps in life, not

just for the next Friday night football game.

“It goes further than football,” said senior Taurus

Simmons, who has committed to play at West Virginia



September 2019 BEACON 65


Combined with being a stickler

for discipline (make sure you

adhere to the school dress code

and don’t even think about being

a second late to practice or a team

meeting), Cameron said the Warriors

have made attaining good

grades and having strong SAT

scores as necessary as outscoring

their opponents. Akelo Stone, who

has committed to play at Georgia

Tech, has earned a 3.3 core GPA

and scored a 1,200 on his SAT. Joah

Cash, who is weighing offers from

several universities, earned an

1,100 on his SAT. He plans to study

oceanography in college. And Daylan

Dotson (Alabama A&M), said

after not thinking much about

studying as a younger student, he

took Coach Cameron’s tutelage to

heart and has improved to a 2.9

core GPA and scored a 970 on his


Dotson said his teammates will

joke with each other on bus rides

about who is getting the better

grades and who scored higher on

the SAT. The motivation, Dotson

said, comes from Cameron’s leadership

and guidance. He’s holding

the team accountable because he

wants what’s best for them.

“In 10th grade, I didn’t take

studying and being accountable

serious,” said Dotson, a senior

linebacker and defensive lineman.

“But I saw that my teammates

were good, but they didn’t

go to a major college because they

didn’t have top grades. For me, I

came to Coach Cam. I wanted

to start studying and bring my

grades up so that I can be a successful

young man.”

Said Cash: “I never had anybody

to push me; I never wanted to do

anything. But as soon as Coach

Cam came here, he provided us

with tutors and he mentored me.”

Cameron, also a special education

teacher, thinks the team

thrives on wanting to be the best

in the classroom.

“One of our senior athletes got

a 1,200 on the SAT, in their minds

they want to get a 1,200. It’s more

than sprints or tackles,” he said.

“Daylan wants to be considered

the best student on the team;

Ronald Cooper (Navy) wants

to be the best student, which is

starting to breed an excellence in

the classroom.”

Cameron honed his work ethic

by watching his family put in the

long hours necessary to support

one another and from the guidance

by his own caring coaches.

He grew up in Cliffside Park,

New Jersey, nurtured by a working-class

family: his father worked

seven days a week, driving a school

bus Monday through Friday, then

he drove a taxi on weekends. His

dad woke up at 4 a.m. on Saturdays

and worked until 6 p.m. He

did it again on Sundays. His mother

worked as a secretary but always

made sure she drove Cameron to

each of his athletic competitions.

The tenets of life success that

Cameron instills in his players

grew from this household. Hard

work and discipline were the

starting points to living well.

In Cliffside Park the children

knew they were going to attend

the Cliffside Park School District

and everybody knew coach John

Brunelli. Brunelli, who is in the

state’s coaches hall of fame, taught

at Cliffside High for 42 years and

was a longtime baseball and football

coach. It was under his tutelage

that Cameron learned what it

meant to be a leader.

“Coach Brunelli is like my second

dad,” said Cameron, who

played three sports in high school.

“Just showing how much he cared

about us. He didn’t have any kids of

his own, but he constantly said that

we were his children.”

Brunelli didn’t shower his student-athletes

with any poignant

sayings, but he preached discipline

and respect. If the team arrived

for an away game and the

locker room was clean, then they

weren’t leaving until they left it as

clean as when they had arrived.

That attention to detail stuck with

Cameron, and if there’s a singular

maxim for leadership, to Cameron,

it’s a doctrine of discipline—a

word he mentioned more than 10

times during a wide-ranging interview.

Sitting in his office at Jenkins

High, which is just off the gymnasium,

with football practice

just minutes away and players and

coaches darting in and out, he

chuckled before expanding on another

point about guiding his players.

“I sound like a broken record,

but it all reverts back to disciple,”

said Cameron, noting the team

charts unforced errors such as too

many men on the field and offsides

penalties and false starts. “If you are

disciplined in all parts of your life,

the scholarships are going to take

care of themselves, and while we

are getting that notoriety individually,

we will win some games.”

The importance of restraint and

self-control was evoked early in his

tenure as Jenkins head coach. Cameron,

who also learned from Jose Rebimbas,

his basketball coach at William

Paterson University in Wayne,

New Jersey, returned to Cliffside

Park after graduating from college in

2008. There, he coached basketball

and football at the high school while

he taught at the elementary school.

He coached in his hometown for

three years before he arrived in Savannah,

where his wife Brooke was

raised, and served as the Jenkins offensive

coordinator for five seasons

before taking the head coaching

duties in 2017. It didn’t take long for

Cameron to make an impression on

his players. In fact, all it took was one

weight-training session.

To get the program moving

in his direction, he scheduled a

weight-lifting session on the first

Monday in May after he was hired.

The school bell rang at 2:30 p.m.; the

training was slated to start 20 minutes

later. At 2:50 p.m., with most

of the players ready to get to work,

the coaches locked the door. Three

returning starters arrived a minute

late. They knocked. The doors remained


“I told them to go home,” Cameron


The tone was set. The rest of

the team was impressed. Their

new leader wasn’t messing around.

“That really opened my eyes,”

Dotson said.

“He sent them home,” Simmons

said. “He’s not playing.”

Cameron said being on time is

an aspect of being accountable.

And once the coaches earned

their players’ respect, they saw the

players start holding their teammates

to certain standards.

“The team started policing each


other and held each other accountable,”

Cameron said.

“That’s when, in my mind,

they are getting it.”

Simmons and Stone said

what makes Cameron a good

leader is his willingness to engage

with the players and to

show them how to do something

instead of just yelling

and screaming about what

should be done. They appreciate

Cameron and the staff’s

willingness to teach the finer

points of techniques on the

field and to stay involved in

their lives off the field.

“There’s a difference between

a boss and a leader. A

leader is going to show you

how to do it; a boss is just going

to tell you,” said Simmons, who

plans to study animal sciences

at West Virginia.

For the last two years, Cameron

has set up biweekly progress

reports with the team’s

teachers. He created a form

that the teachers fill out, indicating

if there were any disciplinary

actions taken and how

the students are doing academically.

The form is signed by the

teachers and returned by the

players to Cameron. The coach

and the staff then see if a tutorial

or any extra help is needed.

During the offseason, instead

of four days of workouts, the

team trains for three days and

leaves Wednesdays open for

mandatory tutor sessions. The

upperclassmen have ACT and

SAT prep classes run by the

school’s National Honor Society


Little things have proven to

make a difference.

Cameron said a player tutored

on how to use a graphing

calculator saw his SAT

score climb to an 1,100 and

his college football offers rose

from two to 15.

“If we are not successful in

football, he’s going to make

sure we are successful in life,”

Simmons said.

“It sounds cliché, and I’m

sure everyone says it,” says

“Coach Cam,” “but student

comes before athlete. And it’s

the truth.”

September 2019 BEACON 67






To quote JFK:

‘Leadership and learning are

indispensable to each other’

Columbus State University’s Leadership Institute, a professional,

research-based executive consulting and training program,

asks a provocative question: “How deep is your bench?”

An old sports metaphor that refers to the depth of talent and the

ability to call upon the strengths of up-and-comers – not just

the veterans and the superstars – to lead the team. Through its

decade-plus work with corporate and government clients, the

institute has affirmed that visionary and strategic leadership is

essential from the executive suite to the front office. Without

that infrastructure in place, businesses – and communities – experience

leadership voids.

We like to think that leaders are born, which absolves us of

our individual responsibilities when it comes to what Melinda

Gates calls “the moment of lift,” but leadership is, in many ways,

a learned skill that can take a lifetime to master. In Savannah, a

number of organizations seek to educate and empower the next

generation of leaders by providing vital opportunities to pass

the torch from today’s visionaries to tomorrow’s changemakers.

Still, to build a deeper, more inclusive bench for our city,

county, and region, we need existing programs to grow beyond

networking, to re-institute community-based projects, develop

participants’ affinity for collaboration and, ultimately, encourage

them to take their learned leadership skills into the public

sphere by serving on boards and commissions ... and running

for office.


Leadership Savannah inspires

professional growth by providing

a wide range of learning

experiences for emerging

leaders. Designed to offer a

deeper understanding of the

issues affecting the Savannah

community, this year-long

program prepares participants to

be creative problem-solvers who

can tackle the city’s current and

future challenges.

Limited to 42 individuals, every

Leadership Savannah class

features a curated cross-section

of emerging community leaders

who reflect the city’s diverse

industries and talents. The

program’s distinguished alumni

include local luminaries in a wide

range of fields, from business and

education to government and the


Organized by: The Savannah

Area Chamber of Commerce

Did you know? The Savannah

Area Chamber of Commerce

originally launched Leadership

Savannah in 1961 to educate

future leaders about important

local issues. Today, it is one

of the nation’s oldest and

most respected communitybased

leadership development


Cost: $2,750 per person

Financial assistance: A limited

number of $1,000 need-based

scholarships are available.

To apply: savannahchamber.





A five-month, regional program,

Leadership Southeast Georgia

focuses on empowering

community leaders through a

strong emphasis on conflict

resolution, self-awareness and

critical thinking. The underlying

message of this popular program,

which is now in its twentieth year,

is the interconnection between

the Peach State’s coastal


Participants from Bryan, Bulloch,

Camden, Chatham, Effingham,

Glynn, Liberty, Long, McIntosh

and Screven County spend one

weekend a month traveling to

surrounding counties to take a

deep dive into regional issues.

Together, they explore topics

ranging from education and

healthcare to transportation and

economic development.

Organized by: Leadership

Southeast Georgia

Did you know? Leadership

Southeast Georgia participants

have toured dozens of sites across

the area, including the nuclear

submarine base in St. Mary’s, Fort

Stewart in Hinesville and a working

farm near Statesboro.

Cost: $2,000 per person

Financial assistance: Limited

need-based scholarship funds

are available to provide partial


To apply:


The local chapter of the

International Junior Chamber of

Commerce, the Savannah Jaycees,

was chartered in 1942. During

the organization’s first 50 years,

members led the charge for the

adoption of the city’s councilmanager

form of government in

1954, decentralizing voting in

Chatham County even before

the 1965 Voting Rights Act was

signed, building the Savannah

Civic Center, and raised more than

$50,000 for the restoration of the

Forsyth Fountain in 1985.

While its membership and

influence waned in the 1990s, the

new crop of young professionals,

ages 21-40, have re-energized the

chapter through the Leadership

Now series of expert lectures by

industry leaders, online training

and certification, a Toastmasters

program to hone public speaking

skills, community improvement

projects, and a vital network

of alumni that includes county

commissioners and corporate

trailblazers. In 2020, Savannah

Jaycees will host the statewide


Organized by: Savannah Jaycees

Did you know? The Jaycee Hut,

101 Atlas St., just underwent a

complete renovation to bring its

dated 1980s interior into the 21st

century. The “hut” will be available

for affordable rental by local

nonprofits and individuals.

Cost: Open to young professionals,

ages 21-40, for $245.50 annual

membership fee

To apply:



A grassroots leadership development

initiative designed to create more

engaged, more informed citizens

capable of elevating the community,

the Neighborhood Leadership

Academy explores communitybased

topics and unites established

and emerging leaders from across

the area with a focus on advocacy,

critical thinking and problem-solving


This 12-week program at Savannah

State University is open to citizens

who want to develop effective

advocacy skills and broaden their

understanding of community issues.

Upon graduation, participants are

encouraged to assume leadership

roles within local neighborhood

associations, boards and other

groups working to effect positive

change in Savannah.

Organized by: Step Up Savannah

Did you know? Every year, the

Neighborhood Leadership Academy

accepts a cohort of 25 participants

from a diverse pool of applicants

with varying backgrounds and

leadership experience levels.

Cost: Free

To apply:

Want to Be a Mentor?

One of the best ways

to “pay it forward” is to

serve as a mentor, sharing

hard-earned life experience

and priceless work-related

knowledge with others.

These local programs offers

creative ways to get involved

and support future

generations of leaders in


Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club

Help local students with homework, teach children to read, coach a sports team or

join a field trip.

Junior Achievement

Visit local classrooms to energize students about future career opportunities,

entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

Junior League of Savannah

Volunteer with non-profit agencies and community-based programs to support

education and childhood development.

SCORE Savannah

Mentor aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners by offering free services

and valuable resources.

September 2019 BEACON 69



What Would

Howard Do?

When Howard Morrison passed away on January 24 of this year, the greater Savannah

community lost one of its greatest connectors. A native son, Morrison traveled far and wide from

the coastal enclave of his birth. And yet, after a career in banking in Atlanta, he returned during

retirement to the family farm out on U.S. 17 – although retirement hardly trucked with Morrison.

His boundless curiosity, egalitarian ethos, wit and wisdom enjoined people of all stripes and

persuasions on causes as diverse as technology and the environment, women’s health and historic

preservation, energy innovation and youth enrichment, ginger and turmeric. Stalwart programs

we now take for granted, such as the Oceans Exchange, Creative Coast, Savannah Children’s

Choir, and Loop It Up, all began in conversation with Morrison.

“What would Howard do?” is not an uncommon question heard as people continue to process

such loss. So, we went looking for the bridge builders, the ones who exemplify his legacy of

wonderment, solution-oriented focus, and uplift. Although the nine people featured on the

following pages by no means represent an exhaustive survey of this community’s helpers, it’s a

start toward spotlighting the kind of spirit and leadership this community so sorely needs. Think

of this, then, as a conversation-starter, which is exactly what Howard would do.

Contributors Amy Paige Condon, Meaghan Walsh Gerard, and Andrea Goto

Photography by Molly Hayden Image of Howard Morrison by Steve Bisson

September 2019 BEACON 71

The Advocate

LaToya Brannen

A Savannah native, LaToya Brannen thought she knew

her city. But like most people, she really only knew the

small community that surrounded her. “It’s easy to work,

go home, go to church, live in your little bubble and think

‘if it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care about it,’” she admits.

Volunteering changed all that, widening Brannen’s sense of

community and revealing the real needs of the people in her

city and the resources available, though often untapped.

In 2010, Brannen’s volunteer work on the community investment

panel for United Way of the Coastal Empire opened

her eyes to the extensive work Savannah’s nonprofit organizations

do for the people of this city. Once aware of these

services, she began directing others to them.

Over the years, Brannen’s list of volunteer experiences

has grown to include Second Harvest, Komen Race for the

Cure, Faith and Ministry in Action, and Savannah Black

Heritage Festival, just to name a few.

From volunteerism came activism and advocacy. While

working for the Department of Public Health as economic

support consultant, Brannen, a single mother, connected

people to health-care related resources. “I’m passionate about

women being able to receive affordable health care,” Brannen

enthuses. “If a woman doesn’t have children, she isn’t eligible

for Medicaid. We need to do a lot of advocacy, education and

lobbying towards helping women get health coverage.”

Brannen’s federally funded position ended this past summer,

but her work was hardly done. She recently stepped

down from her board position at Step Up Savannah to serve

as a facilitator for the organization’s neighborhood leadership

academy, and she was quickly recruited as one of two Savannah

chapter organizers for 9to5 Georgia, a nonprofit agency

that supports working women, including advocating for equal

pay, the Family Care Act, and voter registration. As part of an

8-week community internship program through 9to5 Georgia,

Brannen works with six young women ages 15-18. “We

talk about civic engagement, voter rights, districting, what is

power and who has it — things of that nature,” Brannen says.

“We teach them basic strategies to help uplift voices and really

understand what is happening in our local communities.”

For Brannen, everything comes back to volunteering, and not

just a few hours here and there, but offering up a real commitment

of time, energy, and resources. “People ask me why I do all

this volunteer service,” she begins. “I do this so that the next generation

of my family can see that it’s possible to do these things

— so that my little cousin, my nieces and nephews know what

it means to help out … I know the feeling all too well of being

paid just enough to not be eligible for certain benefit programs,

but not being paid enough to make it paycheck to paycheck. If

there’s any way I can give, I’ll do it.” —Andrea Goto


The Seeker

Marjorie Young

Three years ago, Marjorie Young temporarily walked away

from the successful small business she had built over two

decades while raising her daughter on her own and walked

toward a more meaningful and intentional work/life balance.

This metaphorical move began with a physical journey,

walking the El Camino de Santiago—a 500-mile pilgrimage

across Spain. Young first learned of the El Camino when she

saw The Way, a 2010 film about the walk. “It just marinated

in my head for a couple of years,” Young recalls. Then, in

2016, she realized she “needed the headspace” to think about

the next step for her business, and a solo trek at El Camino

would afford just that.

“The pilgrimage gave me 40 days to think—to listen to

God, and find answers about life and business,” Young says.

“It was profoundly impactful. My biggest problem for 20

years was thinking I could do everything by myself. But I

went to Camino by myself, and I met people along the way

and survived because of those relationships.”

Consequently, Young sees collaboration as making both

business and life easier. Young has grown her own team and

each person works remotely and is cross-trained, making it

possible to take time out for family. She also partnered with

former competitor Cecilia Russo as a way for both business

owners to “actually have a life.” This allowed Young to

embark on the pilgrimage and it gave Russo the time off she

needed when she got married. “We’re on this planet for life,

not to work,” Young notes. “If you can incorporate them

together, it makes for a much better existence.”

Young recalls hearing Howard Morrison speak about what

he called the “5-person rule,” which means supporting a new

small business by introducing them to five people who can

help them in some way. “We have an incredible small-business

community in Savannah where we mentor and help

each other along the way,” she says. “A healthy small-business

community means a healthy city.”

This year, Carriage Trade Public Relations will celebrate

an impressive 25 years of business in Savannah. This success

puts Young in a position to give back, which she does

wholeheartedly. “Part of my mission is to help people start

businesses,” Young says. She does this as an SBDC mentor,

by producing an online program, “Open for Business,” that

interviews prominent CEOs for tips, and authoring a book

to be released this year called The Reputation Matrix: How to

Create a Word-of-mouth Marketing Strategy.

“I wrote it because every day I’m talking to small-business

owners who are calling me with questions,” says Young. “This

book is a road map for them.”

—Andrea Goto

September 2019 BEACON 73

The Counselor

Dr. Zke Zimmerman

In 1961 at the age of 16, Dr. Zke Zimmerman parked the delivery

truck he was driving and walked away from his job with

the Orangeburg, South Carolina, school system. Still a student,

he was ferrying brand new textbooks and microscopes

to the all-white high school and picking up the well-used

cast-offs for drop-off at the black high school that he attended.

At the time, black students were charged rental fees for

the used supplies, so he asked what the white students paid.

“Not only were they not paying more; they were not paying

anything,” he recalls.

He walked straight to the local NAACP office and became

one of four student leaders for the local civil rights movement,

working through high school and college to desegregate

lunch counters, bathrooms, and schools. By the time he

graduated with a degree in mathematics, both the 1964 Civil

Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act had been signed

into law.

That kind of fortitude was instilled in Zimmerman from

a young age. His father expected him to take responsibility

for his own decisions by the age of 12. A church deacon — a

farmer in town — called on him to serve as the Sunday school


“He had high standards he never backed off from,” says

Zimmerman. “We respected him and held him in high regard.

Those people you do that with, you don’t want to disappoint.”

Zimmerman, a Vietnam veteran and longtime educator,

might as well be talking about himself. Tall with a resonant

voice, his broad, welcoming smile radiates a warmth that

belies a takes-no-guff approach to youthful hubris.

He has mentored hundreds of young men and women,

from Colorado Springs to Newport News to Savannah, and

his MegaGenesis program has helped thousands of area high

schoolers to “connects the dots” from education to college to

career. At 100 Black Men, Zimmerman has contributed his

time and talents to the Youth Leadership Academy, where

teen-aged boys and girls hone skills in finance, situational decision-making,

communication, and etiquette. Over the past

nine years, 117 students have participated in the program; 115

have gone on to four-year colleges and two have entered the


He expected no less from his own children, all 26 of them.

In addition to one biological son, the Zimmermans raised

more than two dozen teens, most of them former students

who needed a supportive family structure. On the day each of

them moved in, he told them, “One, I will be your father for

the rest of your life. That will never change ... And two, you

will go to college. That is non-negotiable.”

—Amy Paige Condon


The Connector

Neel Foster

In the best-selling book, The Tipping Point: How

Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000), Malcom

Gladwell identifies three groups of people with a

particular set of social gifts. One of these groups he

calls “connectors.” Connectors are described as having a

large network of friends across a variety of social circles,

and they have a special gift for bringing people together.

Local artist Neel Foster is the definition of a connector,

though she may not identify as such. “I’m just

a person going through life,” she demurs. But that’s

the thing about connectors, they don’t work at linking

people or even seem aware they’re doing it—the quality

is intrinsic to their personality.

Years ago, Foster worked out of a studio in City Market

and taught art to children. But when she and her husband

moved to Wilmington Island in 1998, they built a studio

on their expansive property. Foster was concerned that

she’d lose some of her students, but a good friend encouraged

her, saying the familiar phrase, “Build it and they will


“I built it and sure enough, they came,” Foster says,

laughing. “I didn’t lose any students; in fact, I got more.”

She also opened the studio up to other artists, inviting

them to join her to create, chat, or simply hang out.

They, too, came. There are several regulars and others

simply come when they can—they’re a mix of people

from Foster’s neighborhood, church, book club, rowing

team, and Citizen Advocacy, for which she has been an

advocate ever since moving to Savannah in 1986. The

studio has also become a place for artists to give workshops

on everything from portrait painting to memoir

writing. “I think the studio is a magnet for people who

are looking for a place to be creative or just for a place

to be around creative people,” Foster says.

Upstairs, in the studio loft, Foster hosts a book club

that’s 20 years in the running. A new addition provides

space for a bicycle workshop for her husband, Savannah

native Don Stuber. The retired Gulfstream engineer and

former racing cyclist fixes up bikes and gives them to people

who need one. Out back, he tends to a healthy garden.

“Tomatoes end up in everybody’s house in the summertime,”

laughs Foster.

Foster and Stuber’s world may seem quaint—reminiscent

of a time when people made the effort to build

actual communities over virtual ones. But their world

is also quite big, just like their arms. “Sometimes I just

get a call from someone who has heard of my studio

and I say ‘Come on over, any old time,’” Foster says. “I’m

happy to share it.” —Andrea Goto

September 2019 BEACON 75

The Pathfinder

Brynn Grant

Here’s the thing: When you sit down to talk with Brynn

Grant, you better prepare yourself to be enlightened, challenged,

and inspired. Your brain’s synapses will start firing and

you’ll be a little dizzy when you leave. Days later, you’ll still be

thinking about the conversation.

We were going to talk about leadership, but somehow,

we got to talking about grief counseling for people who live

in communities that experience sustained trauma, which

morphed into creating pathways for people by meeting them

where they are, which then led to a discussion about the Savannah

Early Childhood Education Foundation.

“I’m just beginning to get involved … What’s fascinating,

they are working with Georgia Southern University’s education

department on real research, following those early

participants and their children so that they can see what kind

of effect that might be having in their lives …”

As the chief operating officer of the Savannah Economic Development

Authority (SEDA) and vice president of World Trade

Center Savannah, it’s her job to connect Savannah and the

surrounding region to the global economy. But, she gets that the

really juicy part of her work, is bringing the right people together

with interests and ideas, so that the greater community — all

parts of it — can thrive and benefit in a growing economy.

Her well of empathy runs deep. This mother of three knows

first-hand what it takes to grow strong from the broken places.

“I don’t know if you know who you really are until

you’ve really had to struggle … not that I wish that

on anyone ever. But, who I became …” She nods

and offers the knowing smile of one who has

discovered her own resilience.

Her special brand of resilience is a valued

commodity, as she’s been called in to provide

continuity and stability to such organizations

as the precursor to the Savannah Music Festival

and The Creative Coast. Her community

involvement extends to the boards of Leadership

Southeast Georgia and the Savannah

Technical College Foundation. Education

clearly is a passion, and she’s bullish about the

potential of the much-maligned Millennial,

often recommending her younger colleagues to

organizations who approach her to volunteer so

that those coming behind her have an opportunity

to flourish.

Grant says, “The greatest economic success

I’ve seen from an economic development

perspective always involves many committed

players moving in the same direction.”

—Amy Paige Condon


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The Motivators

Stacey Fuller and Jenna Bower

Stacey Fuller stepped up when she saw the need to

get a handle on litter and dumping in Savannah. “Don’t

wait for government officials to make a difference. Spring

into action and rally your neighbors to … We can’t do this

alone, we all need each other to care just a little. One simple

action can turn into a movement.”

It has. In just over a year, she and co-founder Jenna

Bower formed Savannah Trash Warriors, which has hosted

dozens of pick-up events and gathered nearly 1,000

bags of trash and recyclables — items that otherwise

would have ended up in area waterways.

“Originally, I wanted to start Savannah Trash Warriors

because I knew there were other residents in Savannah

that must be nerdy about picking up litter, but I didn’t

know how to find them,” says Bower. “We needed something

that could unite all of the trash warriors in the city,

so we could make a bigger impact … It can be hard to

tackle that huge pile of trash on your own, [but] in most

cases, these become a lot more manageable with a team

of people that are there to help.”

For such a small city, Savannah seems to have an

oversized trash problem. Litter is a quality-of-life issue

throughout the community — trash lining sidewalks,

wrappers stuck in bushes, junk floating in canals. It’s not

good for the environment, for wildlife, or for the psychological

health of a neighborhood. According to a Keep

America Beautiful report (2009), people litter when they

see litter: the broken-window theory. Eighty-one percent

of littering is intentional, and people will litter 2-3 times

more in an area that is already dirty.

Bower adds, “If you’re passionate about something and

want to make a difference, you probably aren’t alone in

your quest. Find people in your neighborhood [who] are

passionate about that cause and team up. There’s power

in numbers, and in this technologically isolated age,

getting to know your neighbors might just be the most

radical thing you could do.”

People’s behavior changes for the better when they

see someone else picking up trash. Those benefits exponentially

multiply with the health impacts of walking

around, spending time outside, and meeting new friends

who share the same enthusiasm. The Savannah Trash

Warriors provides that inspiration in addition to making

a measurable impact.

“We post our data of how many buckets of trash and

recyclables we pick up on each of our weekly outings,”

Fuller explains. “It helps to paint a story of the impact in

each neighborhood we visit for onlookers. Other folks

share their pictures that they take … and we post them to

our site. We try to share information on our group page

that we feel is educational to our mission. I think picking

up every Saturday morning speaks volumes to our commitment

to our cause.”

—Meaghan Walsh Gerard

September 2019 BEACON 79

The Curators

Peter Roberts and Austin Hill

Nearly three years ago, after Austin Hill

bought the historic building on the corner

of Whitaker and Taylor streets to house his

growing real estate business, he recognized

that the expanse of street-facing windows

could appear like dead space smack in the

middle of a vibrant corridor filled with

artists, designers, and shops. His suspicions

were confirmed at Design District meetings,

where neighbors expressed dismay

that an office was replacing an antique


“To me, it’s so sad to have such a wonderful

space and not use it to its highest

potential,” Hill recalls. “I wanted it to be a

lively space. I didn’t want it to feel like an


He and friend artist Peter Roberts met

for lunch at Soho South, where Hill posed

the question, “What do you think about

putting a gallery there?”

Hill, however, wanted it to be something

more. “I didn’t want it to be something I

made money off of … but something that

would help local artists and the local community.”

Roberts thought it was a great idea. “And

then [Austin] said, ‘Do you want to run it?’”

As a working artist, Roberts had coordinated

several silent auctions for local

nonprofits throughout the years, from Hospice

Savannah and the Historic Savannah

Foundation to the Downtown Neighborhood

Association. Through that process he

came to understand that “art, when paired

well with nonprofits, expands the audience

for the artist and the art collector. If you

can put that art on brand with a particular

nonprofit [mission], it becomes a threelegged

stool to raise more money.”

Their Location Gallery has shown more

than 200 artists in group and solo shows

and has raised funds for more than 20 local

organizations. The shows, often themed

with Roberts’ playful, cheeky irreverence,

imbues meaning into the works, and attracts

a large number of first-time buyers

who become regulars.

“Art can be a souvenir of the times,” says


Participating artists receive 50 percent

of the sale of their works, and the rest goes

toward the nonprofit, which helps artists

make a living and expands Hill’s capacity to

support local causes. It also has opened his

eyes to other community needs.

Says Hill, “One nonprofit I have ended

up loving is Deep Center, which I didn’t

know a whole lot about before … as much

community involvement as I have had.”

He and Roberts have since expanded to

include a satellite gallery at the LGBT Center

on Bull Street that shows works exclusively

by LGBTQ artists. They have hosted dual

openings between the two spaces to create

a synergy not only between downtown and

the Starland neighborhood, but also to build

awareness of the center’s activities.

“I never imagined that this space

would have become a space booked

a year out that attracts the crowd

and the diversity of the people in

this town,” Hill says with genuine

astonishment and excitement. “It

exceeded any ideas that I had.”

Hill initially did not see a direct

correlation between the real estate

business and the gallery, but it has

generated a connection between

art lovers and homebuyers. He

has listed homes for people who

wandered in to see the art and has

helped new homeowners find art

for their freshly painted walls.

Plus, it’s enlivened his own

daily routine. Hill’s office walls

are adorned by a floor-to-ceiling

Katherine Sandoz mural, a present

from his friends -- and a stunning

visual gift to people window

shopping along the street.

—Amy Paige Condon


September 2019 BEACON 81


The leaders

we deserve

Only 68 of the 180 incumbents

in the Georgia House

of Representatives faced an

opponent in the last election.

Republicans scored a trifecta

in the state, winning control of

the governor’s office, the Senate

and the House.

Were the incumbents doing

such an outstanding job that

no one thought to run against

them? Did no Democrats run?

In a state where Democrats and

Republicans are virtually equal

in the percentage of registered

voters, is something else preventing

a balanced, competitive

political landscape?

All valid questions. But let’s

ask it a different way.

Must Georgia voters validate

someone already in office rather

than choosing between two

competing sets of ideas? Is voter

turnout so low because a): the

outcome is a foregone conclusion

or b): “none of the above” is

preferable to the candidates—or

candidate—running? Are these

candidates the best we can get?

Do we get the leaders we


The answer to that is no. And


The No Votes

We do not get the leaders

we deserve because we deserve


The bipartisan, cooperative,

get-it-done legislative bodies

that voters say they want are

not who they’re electing—but

not for lack of trying. Partisan

gerrymandering means that

even though votes fall more or


Rebecca Rolfes, president,

League of Women Voters of

Coastal Georgia

less equally between the two

parties, one side wins again and

again. In North Carolina, battleground

of the recent Supreme

Court decision, Republicans

won 50 percent of the vote in

2018 but got 70 percent of the

seats. That sort of egregious

manipulation means that the

other side stops running, and

discouraged voters stay home.

We get the same candidates, not

necessarily the best candidates,

not even new candidates.

The thing about elections,

as anyone who ran for class

president in sixth grade can tell

you, is that you can lose. Better

to rig the system to ensure the

outcome and the voters be


All elected officials proclaim

sincerely that they are doing

what’s best for their constituents.

They believe, quite honestly,

that if they are re-elected,

if their party can retain control,

they can fulfill their agenda, and

all will be well. The temptation

to gerrymander is strong and

both parties are guilty of it.

Gerrymandering is the 21st

century technology-enabled,

legal (per the recent Supreme

Court decision) version of stuffing

the ballot box.

The Yes Votes

We do get the leaders we deserve

because we don’t demand


If the system is rigged, we

need to petition, call, write

those in office to demand that it

be unrigged. We need an independent

commission to handle

political redistricting rather

than leaving it in the hands of

those who have been elected

and would like to make sure

they get re-elected.

Eight states now redistrict

via nonpartisan, independent

commissions. According to the

Brennan Center for Social Justice,

election outcomes in those

states more closely match actual

votes cast. In other words, a fair

and transparent redistricting

process yields fair and transparent

election results. In Georgia,

districts are drawn by the

legislature “as needed,” there is

no public hearing process and

no access to a ballot initiative


that would allow voters to vote

for reform. The For the People

Act, passed by the U.S. House in

2019, would reform the entire

election process including the

prevention of gerrymandering.

The Democracy Act, proposed

by the ACLU, would amend

the Georgia Constitution and

put the issue to bed once and

for all. If you want to start that

petition drive for change, either

of those would be a good place

to start.

If we want better candidates,

we need to make it easier for

people to run. We will not

achieve true representation

until the elected look more like

the electorate. In Georgia, 72

percent of General Assembly

members are white, almost

three-quarters are male and

over 55. The adult population

of Georgia is 40 percent nonwhite,

over 50 percent female,

with a median age of 36.2.

Like promotes like, simple

human nature. That’s why the

most popular kid gets to be

sixth grade president. American

politics should not be a popularity

contest but without a

diversity of candidates, it is.

Image can outweigh qualifications.

The tendency to vote

for people based on the most

obvious of reasons—race, gender,

sexual orientation, age—or

the shallowest—looks, wardrobe,

weight, hairstyle—is a lot

less work than sitting through

repeated candidate debates and

making an informed decision.

The 2020 version of single-issue

voting is Instagram voting; a

candidate’s friends, followers,

likes, shares sway our decisions

because, in the social media age,

it’s easier to vote with “people

like me” than to make up our

own minds.

We deserve the leaders we

get when we forget that we are

citizens of a united country—

state, city, community—rather

than members of a loosely

organized virtual tribe.

Voting for Better

Not all politicians are leaders.

The system needs some

foot soldiers. To rise to the level

of leader is an exponential leap

that not everyone can make.

Everyone can’t be out in front

taking the arrows if there are no

archers behind them shooting


For leadership, you need two

things, according to Plato. (Yes,

Plato.) In The Republic, he says

that there are only two qualities

necessary for statesmanship:

Truthfulness and expertise. In

the 2,400 years since that was

written, there’s still no arguing

with it.

Ask yourself a question: Do

I deserve this or do I deserve

better? The answer and its implications

for the future are up

to you, the voter.

If you want to petition for better

leaders, visit or join

one of the league’s postcard-writing

efforts. They’ll even provide

the stamps.

American politics

should not be a

popularity contest

but without

a diversity of

candidates, it is.

September 2019 BEACON 83


The Blessings of

Moral Leadership

Many of us have served

under that boss. We all know

the one. The leader who expects

us to email them every detail of

our daily lives, yet who blames

us for not communicating. The

captain of our ship who leers

at us with the evil eye from

the back of the room when we

deliver a presentation. The boss

who seems to forget how to

speak in a calm tone whenever

we meet privately. Unfortunately,

these classically stereotypical

and disappointing bosses seem

to have missed out on the very

basic tenets of Leadership 101.

When I think of the horrible

bosses that I’ve been plagued

with, as have so many friends

and family members through

the years, I often wonder, “Why

do these seemingly intelligent

and often capable individuals

fail so miserably?”

As a rabbi, I usually head

straight to the Bible or later

Hebrew scripture when I’m

troubled. If we want to uncover

examples of quality leadership,

one trailblazer stands out above

all others in our tradition. We

call him Moses.

In this prophet, we discover

many examples that illustrate

his character and leadership

skills. For instance, in the book

of Numbers, Moses asks permission

from God to actually

instill a part of his very spirit

into 70 elders when he feels he

needs assistance in leading the

people. He’s willing to share his

responsibilities to the point of

offering a portion of his spiritual

strength. Too often, leaders


Rabbi Robert Haas, ,

Congregation Mickve Israel

crave the spotlight for themselves

alone. Too often, they

seek to stymie the other members

of their team, or worse,

steal credit for the accomplishments

of the many. Moses

eventually learns that sharing

responsibility invigorates the


As if sharing his own spirit

wasn’t enough, he then demonstrates

an even more essential

leadership trait: gratitude.

When two men miss the official

spirit exchange ceremony, but

still walk through the settlement

successfully preaching the

ethical laws of God, complaints

arise over the veracity of their

audacity. Moses answers these

complaints by reveling in the

two men’s success rather than

berating them. He demonstrated

that a great leader truly

appreciates the success of those

for whom they serve. He reminds

everyone that the success

of these two men equates to

everyone’s success.

How often have we lived

with or worked for someone

who grows jealous because of

someone else’s success? These

leaders refuse to leave the shell

of envy, worried that an “underling”

will surpass them in

any way. They view another’s

achievement as a dagger in their

heart, sucking away the triumphant

spirit of anyone who

dares to overshadow them, as

opposed to a Moses who freely

shared his own spirit with the

70 elders.

Where and how did Moses

learn these skills? His own father-in-law

and mentor, Jethro,

set the example. When Jethro

sees all that Moses has accomplished,

far surpassing himself

as a leader, Jethro only feels

“nachas,” (pride) in his son-inlaw’s


How much better would we

respond to a leader who revels

in our successes, promotes our

accomplishments, showers us

with deserved praise, encourages

us to reach for opportunity,

even if he or she understands

that those opportunities may

force him to work harder to find

our replacement? Likewise, how

much more respect would we

feel for our bosses if they shared

the burden of responsibility

with the rest of us?


The Beacon Project aims its light on the Coastal Empire, illuminating

who we are as a region, leading us where we want to be, and the way

to get us there. Using research, expert analysis, and community voices

who are already looking ahead, we will offer paths and solutions for the

future. As a spotlight, each edition will isolate tough topics and explore

their complex perspectives and potential answers. We aim to

set forth a common set of facts with an in-depth exploration of the

ideas for the challenges and dreams for what Savannah can be in 2033

—the 300th anniversary of Oglethorpe’s landing.


Want to keep up with The Beacon Project between issues?


beacon, you’ll find e-versions

of Beacon, select articles and

stories by newsroom reporters

that cover the day-to-day

follow-up and follow-through

on topics raised in each issue.

Questionnaires and polls keep

the community conversation




Where Can

You Find Beacon?

Beacon is delivered quarterly

with the Sunday edition of the

Savannah Morning News. The

next issue, out Dec. 15, will

shine a spotlight on education.

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Morning News hosts Views and

Brews, a Facebook Live panel

discussion at a local restaurant

with some of the leading

voices on Beacon topics.

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Want more of the story? Join

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September 2019 BEACON 85


Talk to Me

People learn in different ways.

Some are book learners; they

were the ones who made the

good grades. Others learn from

experience. Unless they do it,

they don’t understand or believe

it. Others are people learners.

They soak up knowledge and important

life lessons by engaging

with other people. I am one of

those types, learning from other

people’s hard-won wisdom.

Judith Snow, a Canadian

writer, activist, and artist, who

passed away last year, first visited

Savannah in the early 1980s. She

returned several times over the

next 30-plus years, to enjoy a Tybee

rather than a Toronto winter,

and was often asked to speak

with church, community, and

civic groups about the power of

imagination. She always traveled

with a couple of personal assistants

and a powered wheelchair.

Because of life-long spinal paralysis,

she could only move two

fingers on one hand, but enough

so that she could manage the joy

stick that navigated her chair.

The inability of her body to move

never stopped her. With that

chair, those assistants, and a cornucopia

of curiosity, she traveled

anywhere she wanted, including

up the sides of mountains.

She could also move her

mouth and allowed her sharp

mind and quick wit to manage

any situation. Judith would ask

things like, “Is dependence the

opposite of independence? Is

dependence a crime? Is disadvantage

a crime? If not, why do we

act like it is?” What do you say to

someone who rolls up in front

of a class of 30 graduate students

and asks “Is adding a ramp to a

building an accommodation, or

does it correct a design flaw?”

Two very different ways to think

about the world. She wondered

aloud if we should encourage


Tom Kohler, former

executive director of

Chatham-Savannah Citizen

Advocacy and a co-founder

of Emergent Savannah

people to be independent or

should we help them envision

ways to create patterns of respectful


If we were going to focus on

how to create patterns of respectful

interdependence across

Savannah, what might those

conversations sound like and

who should be having them?

My friend Patricia Puckett

once heard Papa Snell, the

man for whom the community

of Snellville east of Atlanta is

named, say, “Snellville is nobody’s

hometown anymore. It’s not the

newcomers’ hometown, because

they just moved here; and, it’s

changing so fast that people who

grew up here don’t feel like it’s

their hometown anymore.”

Is Savannah headed toward

becoming no one’s hometown?

Whose voices promote corporate

commercialism over local culture

and community? Do we want to

be seen as the “Hostess City” or

the “Beloved Community?” If we

choose to be the Hostess City,

what do we, as a community,

receive in return? If we envision

the Beloved Community, what

would our growth, wages, and

city budget look like?

Many years ago, a friend of

mine said something that has become

truer the older I get: “The

fish aren’t swimming around

thinking about the water.”

His point is, we are all—personally,

culturally, and communally—swimming

around in our

own water and not thinking too

much about it. What if we held

some tough conversations that

would help us “think about the

water” here in Savannah?

Could we transform a city that

prides itself on charm and civility

and create space for those who

live on “thin” as well as “thick”

ice?” Could our civic meetings,

enlivened by different voices,

become vibrant and vital places

of public discourse? How could

we bring humility, curiosity and

deep listening into these rooms?

How might we explore privilege,

power, prejudice, assumption,

inequity? What attitudes and

actions would we need to revisit,

challenge, and change to move

toward respectful interdependence,

and rise above fear? Are

we willing to make an honest assessment

of patterns of diminishment

and oppression that stand

in the way of creating respectful


Imagine a city where people

from all of walks and wheels of

life ask, “What can people come

to mean to one another? What

can people come to mean to the

common good?”

Just imagine: a more beloved






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in Action

You want better leaders? Start by looking in the mirror


In Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare wrote, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are

born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Who among you, then, is unafraid of greatness?

Throughout this issue, we have sought neither to demonize those who have had the

courage to run for office nor king-make. We have tried, however, to illustrate how each

one of us has the opportunity and the honor to take responsibility for the future of our

community. Here, we offer a recap of what we can do collectively and as individuals to

assemble “a deeper bench.”

SEDA’s Propel Savannah: Strategic Economic Development Action Plan, released this past

spring, recognizes the importance of growing a new crop of leaders at all levels of the

community to break down silos, overcome status quo bias, and encourage people to take

on leadership responsibilities. To that end, we must:


Establish a Leadership Institute:

We have the universities.

We have a wealth of corporate,

military, political, financial, and

activist veterans silly with practical

and strategic knowledge.

What we don’t have is a training

ground, such as The Leadership

Institute at Columbus State

University. It holds the annual

Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum

that offers time and insight

from some of the world’s foremost


Require Tangible Community

Involvement: Somewhere along

the way, our professional leadership

programs have become more

about showcasing and networking,

and less about enacting tangible

change in our community.

Let’s bring back the requirement

for a community project, as well

as create a launch pad for greater


civic involvement, such

as board participation.

Revamp Public Participation


Our town halls, public

meetings, community

planning processes need

a makeover. The county

and municipalities need

to go above and beyond

the minimum legal requirements

to create a

more welcoming atmosphere

for community

engagement, including

offering child care,

getting out into the

neighborhoods, and

allowing for extended



Reconsider the

Form and the Function:

There is a prevailing

attitude among

some in current leadership

that their responsibilities

end at their

jurisdictional borders,

and that creating more

jurisdictions within

Chatham County will

serve us better. That

route, we believe, is

the wrong direction,

because the chief complaint

from all corners

of the community is

that we have too many

silos. Ask the tough

questions: Should we

reconsider whether or

not the council-manager

form of government

best serves the interests

of our largest city? Is it

time for voters to contemplate

a strong mayor-council,

or a hybrid,

whereby a professional

administrator reports

directly to a single boss,

the mayor, instead of

trying to serve eight

or nine bosses? What

functions are ripe for

consolidation, e.g.

roads and bridges, water

and sewer, climate

resiliency, parks and

recreation, greenways

and trails, public safety?


Listen More, Talk

Less: We need to have

some tough conversations

in this community,

which means we

need to improve our

communication skills.

To do so requires that

we become much more

intentional listeners.

Improve Your News

Literacy: Question

everything, including

your own biases. Seek

out reputable sources

that challenge your

world view.

Build Bridges: Take a

cue from Diane Jackson

(p. 28) or Stacey Fuller

and Jenna Bower (p. 80).

If you see a need — say,

children hungry for

guidance or trash on the

street — don’t wait for

someone else to own it.

As leadership expert Brian

Tracy says, “Become

the kind of leader that

people would follow

voluntarily, even if you

had no title or position.”

Step Up: Don’t just

comment on a thread

or like a post and think

you’ve done the hard

work. That’s like yelling

at the batter from

the cheap seats. Volunteer

for a board seat,

apply for a city commission,

run for office.

Vote: Lionize the

qualities of truly great

leaders — humility, vision,

intention, commitment,


balanced, inclusive, honest,

courageous, open —

and show up at the polls

to elect them to office.

September 2019 BEACON 89


Growth Only

Comes Through

Vision, Leadership

Think of the Savannahians

you respect the most, the men

and women who, whether you

know them personally or not,

you can’t say “no” to were they

ask you a favor.

Most of us can come up with

a handful quite easily. We know

who the real leaders are in this

community. They head private

companies or manage community

groups. They drive our

economy and enrich our quality

of life.

Imagine for a moment lining

them all up, shoulder to shoulder,

in military formation. Then

visualize the authority figure at

the end of the line asking for

volunteers to assume a more

prominent and comprehensive

role in leading our city and area.

Can you hear the command,

“please step forward”?

For many of us, how the

scene plays out in the mind’s

eye is disappointing: Many take

a step back.

Savannahians like to brag on

Savannah. We think of ourselves

as the cream that has no

need to rise; we’ve always been

the best. We look down our

noses at Charleston, at Columbus,

at Augusta, at Macon.

But we bemoan our infrastructure

issues and our poverty

rate and throw half-hearted,

feel-good solutions at the problems.

We hail the growth of employment

and opportunities

in our economy but neglect to

talk about the limited uptick in

high-wage jobs.

We routinely shuffle our best

and brightest through leadership

training programs only to

see most of them use the experience

as résumé-padding.

The recalcitrance is understandable.

To do more means

getting entangled in politics.

Agendas rule the day, and as

short as most of our memories

are, few of us forget or forgive a


Yet, there are those whose

influence and stature lifts them

above the pettiness. Columbus’

revival is largely credited to the

so-called “phone booth committee,”

composed of community

pillars like banking executive

James Blanchard and Aflac

CEO Dan Amos. The nickname

is a reference to the fact that

these difference makers were

so few in number they could all

meet in a phone booth.

Chattanooga had a similar

group of bellwethers. In

Charleston, longtime mayor Joe

Riley kept a kitchen cabinet of


These groups shared a common

agenda: To chart a longrange

course for community

success without consideration

for special interests. Improvements

involved pain, and these

individuals were willing, even

eager, to suffer the inevitable

resentment and other drawbacks.

But they were able to

convey the vision to the broader

populace and parlay trust and

passion into success.

Most members could afford

to be so altruistic, of course.

They were independently

wealthy or led large businesses

and organizations that were

invaluable to their communities.

They had great margins for

error, or ire.

Savannah is home to those

of similar profiles. Unfortunately,

we’re not an epicenter

of corporate headquarters, so

we’re limited in our ability to

tap those potential talent pools.

But expertise attracts expertise,

and the fledgling Savannah

Logistics Technology Corridor

holds potential.

The sooner we can establish

that core of influential leaders

the better. Leadership is

an ecosystem: We need those

power brokers in place not just

to propel the city forward but

to identify and groom the next


Millennials and members of

Generation Z have grown up

with community service mandates.

They are predisposed to

step forward when challenged.

We just need the right leaders

to issue the challenge.

Savannah is Georgia’s next

bright spot in economic terms.

Who will guide us toward that


The Our View column reflects

the perspectives of Beacon’s editorial

management and staff.


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