By S.B. Williams
The old adage “a friend in need is a friend indeed” definitely applies to Friends of English Avenue – a nonprofit organization founded in response to the tragic death of a beloved 92-year-old resident Kathryn Johnson in 2006.
Just before the holiday season, Friends of English Avenue and guests gathered at Lindsey Street Baptist Church to celebrate the remarkable changes made by their efforts in the community over the past seven years.
Since Kathryn Johnston was shot in her home during a botched drug raid by Atlanta police using a fraudulent warrant, dynamic initiatives have been taken to save the neighborhood including the development of urban vegetable gardens, green spaces, beautification projects and a 45 percent reduction in crimes.
A significant step was taken when Friends of English Avenue spent $35,000 to renovate a dilapidated house and offered it to Atlanta police officer Jaime Wallace rent-free in exchange for performing public safety duties and engaging with residents in the community. Wallace mentors young people through the Police Athletic League (PAL), and teaches Gang Resistance Education to teenagers. Fifty teens graduated in 2013.
The shooting of Kathryn Johnston illuminated the dire issues of poverty and crime in the historic English Avenue neighborhood that exists only a few steps away from Atlanta’s proudest institutions – Georgia Tech, Coca Cola and the Georgia Dome. English Avenue was named for James English, banker, brick maker, and mayor of Atlanta from 1881 to 1883. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, also raised four children in the neighborhood.
But it was the desire and vision of Atlanta businessman John Gordon who acted to give Kathryn Johnston’s life a lasting and transforming meaning.
Providentially, it seems now, the tragedy brought Gordon together with Rev. Anthony Motley, a minster for 30 years in the English Avenue community, who became a kindred spirit and teammate in saving the historic neighborhood. Together they forged friendships with leaders, residents and beyond – resources that changed the blighted, depressed neighborhood to one of hope and action.
Much has been accomplished and there are many hopes for the future. Under the direction of a resident farmer named Jamaica, an ugly, illegal, dumping ground area was transformed into an urban farm, which produced 1,600 pounds of vegetables for the English Avenue residents in 2013.
The community also hopes to benefit from $30 million in community development funding promised to neighborhoods around the new Falcons stadium.