Building unified communities: Gwinnett and DeKalb

Moderated by Rick Badie

They covet the same thing — more peace, understanding, civic engagement and equal footing for all residents in their respective communities. One is a nonprofit that serves the immigrant and refugee population; the other, a newly formed alliance of Gwinnett County residents whose name says it all. The writer of the first essay invites us to participate in Saturday’s 11th annual TEA (Together Empowering All) Walk along Buford Highway. The other column explains the formation and mission of Unify Gwinnett.

Join the TEA Walk

By Karuna Ramachandran

Atlanta is home to so many festivals, concerts, arts and cultural events, it is almost hard to keep track. Regardless, if you have never been to TEA Walk, it is safe to say you are missing out.

TEA Walk has been hosted by CPACS, the Center for Pan Asian Community Services Inc., for 10 years and is still the largest empowerment walk of its kind in the South. The event draws thousands of Georgians to celebrate the rich diversity of our state and to walk in unity to celebrate that diversity. It is a two-mile empowerment walk along Buford Highway, home to Atlanta’s most diverse businesses and restaurants. It is a fun, free family event with entertainment, international food, a community fair and event T-shirts.

The walk provides a critical voice to the immigrant and refugee communities of Georgia and encourages us to be educated about issues that affect us — to be empowered to shape our communitiesand to mobilize for positive change. The theme of this year’s walk is “Count Me In,” because Atlanta’s diverse communities count. Our vote counts, our contributions count, and we all play a role making Atlanta the wonderful city it is.

This is an historic year for TEA Walk and CPACS because we have changed the name from “Together Empowering Asian Americans” to “Together Empowering All.” This is inspired in part by the growth of Pan Asian Community Services. The agency was founded 35 years ago to provide services and support to empower individuals and families toward self-sufficiency. It serves clients in more than 17 languages including Spanish, French, Korean, Chinese Mandarin, Chinese Cantonese, Vietnamese, Hindi, Nepali, Burmese, Karen, Chinand Karenni.

These services include the CPACS Cosmo Health Center, a federally qualified facility in Norcross. It offers in-person benefits assistance; assistance with health insurance marketplace enrollment; youth programs; community-based health promotion and disease prevention; adult education; transportation assistance, and comprehensive health and social services.

The CPACS mission is to provide and advocate for culturally and linguistically appropriate services. It creates access for individuals, families and communities that most likely would not have it otherwise.

TEA Walk is core to this mission. It allows families to walk with pride and represent their cultural identities. It brings visibility to the invisible. It affirms that we all have a part to play in shaping our communities.

The 11th annual TEA Walk is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, beginning at CPACS’ main building, 3510 Shallowford Rd. NE, Atlanta.

Can we count you in?

Karuna Ramachandran is health programs director at the Center for Pan Asian Community Services Inc.

Unify for a safer Gwinnett

By Ebony Starks

Unify Gwinnett was created by engaged civic leaders to address the needs and concerns of the community and share a passion for racial justice and reconciliation. We are a coalition of citizens striving to ensure inclusiveness while building a stronger and more successful Gwinnett County.

The group was formed in response to Gwinnett Sheriff Butch Conway’s inflammatory essay entitled, “All Lives Matter.” The essay referred to a “culture of police hatred” and likened organized protest organizations to “domestic terrorists with an agenda.”

Contrary to Sheriff Conway’s statements, statistics compiled by the Officer Down Memorial Page show that, locally, only 7 percent of Gwinnett police officers have been killed in the line of duty, with the last officer death more than 47 years ago.

In fact, Gwinnett has an extremely low rate of officers killed compared to populations with a similar community demographic profile. Nationally, 27 officers have been killed in the line of duty as a result of intentional gunfire, a number that is down 23 percent from the previous year.

As illustrated in Sheriff Conway’s article, exaggerated statements about “police hatred” and an elusive “war on cops” are often responses to situations demonstrating excessive police brutality, or as justification for the increased militarization of the police. Often, these statements are racially biased and completely unfounded.

While it’s important to share the facts to respond to this misinformation, ultimately, it is our goal to open lines of communication between citizens, county leadership and local law enforcement. We know Sheriff Conway’s remarks do not represent all our public servants, and we look forward to working with everyone to take the necessary steps forward.

We are not directly affiliated with Black Lives Matter or any other organization. However, we do support those who work toward racial justice and look to those who have outlined ways forward for local communities.

Understanding that Sheriff Conway has come under national scrutiny for his comments, we requested the opportunity to sit down with him in a public forum for what we hoped would lead to a series of constructive and transparent discussions. Unfortunately, the sheriff and his representatives have indicated his schedule is too busy for him to participate, but that there might be an opportunity for a more private discussion.

Unify Gwinnett believes such a public statement deserves a public response. Though Sheriff Conway has declined our invitation to participate in a public meeting, we are taking this opportunity to create platforms for voices to be heard and understood.

We seek support from individuals and organizations interested in taking part in constructive dialogue. We urge you to call, email or leave a comment on Facebook for the Gwinnett County’s Sheriff’s office to urge Sheriff Conway to reconsider our invitation. Please reach out to us on our website,, or “like” our Facebook page, Unify Gwinnett, to sign our petition and engage in constructive change. It is our hope these collective efforts will lead us toward a safer, healthier and more inclusive community.

Ebony Starks is a founding member of Unify Gwinnett.

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