Roswell Gets It Right

By Tai Anderson, November 30, 2016

On Monday, I attended Roswell’s City Council meeting to lend my support to my friend Pastor Lee Jenkins. Pastor Jenkins has been leading a small group with some other faith leaders in our city to talk about the tough issues surrounding race in our nation and community. It’s a difficult, challenging conversation. However, all of us are growing in our understanding, empathy, and friendship for walking on the journey together. The meeting is the highlight of my week.

 Our small group tackling the difficult topics surrounding race in America.

Our small group tackling the difficult topics surrounding race in America.

 Pastor Lee Jenkins and Eagle's Nest elders praying for Police Chief Grant during the height of racial tensions this summer.

Pastor Lee Jenkins and Eagle's Nest elders praying for Police Chief Grant during the height of racial tensions this summer.

Recently, there was an incident involving the arrest of an African-American woman in Roswell that resulted in the woman sustaining a serious injury. Police Chief Grant and Pastor Jenkins have been working together to address the concerns of the woman arrested and her family. Chief Grant has been open and transparent and is committed to holding the Roswell Police to the highest standard of professionalism. I had the privilege of leading a prayer for them both a few weeks ago. They both have a genuine love and respect for one another, and they both want the best for the City of Roswell and ALL our citizens. They are both Leaders Worth Following! Pastor Jenkins invited the family to his church last week and has functioned as a voice of peace and a broker of unity.

On Monday night, there was rumor of a protest by a man coming to Roswell from Atlanta to vent his frustration around the incident at our City Council meeting. I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the protestor as I feel like his purpose for attending was more motivated by self-interest and the desire to get attention than any desire to see racial unity or greater professionalism in our city. In fact, the woman involved in the incident has denounced his efforts. However, knowing he was coming, I wanted to make sure and attend the council meeting to lend my support for both Pastor Jenkins and Police Chief Grant.

When I walked into the council meeting, the gallery felt divided. There were about 50 African-American residents sitting on the right side of the room, about 50 of our white residents seated on the left side of the room, and the handful of non-Roswell residents, the protesters, were seated in the middle. I intentionally sat on the right, next to my friend, Pastor Jenkins. However, I started to second guess where I was sitting. You see, I jumped to a conclusion, assuming that the African-American attendees were also there to protest our police, and I was sitting with them. I wanted to support my friend, but I wasn't there to protest the police. In that moment, I made an assumption about my neighbors based on the color of their skin. If we're honest, we'll acknowledge that all of us can make those kind of pre-judgements every day. 

As the Council meeting progressed, I realized that the African Americans in my section were not there to protest, but rather in support of a measure to rename the Waller Park Extension to the Groveway Community Park. If you’re familiar with Waller Park and what has been known as Waller Park extension, you know that it is confusing, and it causes real problems. They are two separate parks, with two separate entrances, off two separate roads. There have been times when my wife has dropped off a kid at one park, and I’ve gone to the wrong park to pick up that child. It becomes a real issue when there is a medical emergency.

 Part of the soon to be renamed Waller Park Extension. It's just one of the amazing parks in Roswell, Ga.

Part of the soon to be renamed Waller Park Extension. It's just one of the amazing parks in Roswell, Ga.

Our Recreation Commission decided to address the name confusion and unanimously brought a measure to change the name of the Waller Park extension to the Groveway Community Park. The name honors the incredible work of the Groveway Community Group that has been serving our community since 1943. It’s a non-profit that represents the best of our African-American community in Roswell. Even after their headquarters were torched twice by the KKK in 1961, they rebuilt and have been undeterred in their efforts to serve the residents of the Groveway community, Roswell’s most historic African-American Community.

In a world where so much energy is spent pointing out the faults and failings of others, I want to acknowledge the leadership of the Recreation Commission for choosing this opportunity to honor the Groveway Community Group. It's a well-deserved honor.

As the council meeting proceeded, it was humbling and inspiring to see just how much the renaming of the park meant to the Groveway Community Group and our neighbors they serve. The out-of-town instigator used the public discussion time to try and disparage our police force. However, the people with whom I was sitting were just shaking their heads. He wasn’t speaking for them. When Gail Bohannon got up to speak and expressed her gratitude to the Rec commission and the City Council for honoring the work of the Groveway Community Group, the gallery resonated with applause, and I was moved to tears. The measure was brought to a vote and passed decisively.

(I wish I could say that it passed unanimously, but two of our elected leaders chose the less than courageous path of abstention. Last I checked, our City Council members were elected to lead, not abstain.) 

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog that spoke about how Roswell was in the news for all the wrong reasons. The renaming of the park is not something that makes the news. The TV crews would rather point their cameras at one lone protestor not from or speaking for our community, trying to cause division than digging deeper to find the real story of race in Roswell. This is my take: When you look at our past, there is real division to overcome, evidenced by the KKK reference above. We’re a city that has real work to do to bring our community together. But, we’re also a city that is willing to do the work, thanks to the leadership of Police Chief Grant, Pastor Lee Jenkins, organizations like the Groveway Community Group, and the volunteers on our Recreation Commission. I want to be a voice that helps bring our community together, recognizing that we might have different pigment in our skin, but we’re all one human race.

Roswell will grow and change from the inside-out, not the outside-in.

Though the renaming of a small park might seem like an insignificant gesture, it’s actually a profound step toward bringing our community together, and encouraging us to truly live as ONE ROSWELL!

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