The first time I met Bill Bolling was six years ago. I was a teenager and I’d recently participated in the Food Bank’s first annual Youth Summit – a unique program that empowers local high schoolers to get involved in the fight against hunger. Each day during the Summit, my peers and I were challenged to consider the intersecting topics of hunger and poverty. We grappled with the how’s and why’s of these issues: What, we wondered, could possibly justify the inequalities we were witnessing? And why wasn’t more being done about it?
Motivated by this experience, I decided to organize an Empty Bowls project – a national grassroots effort to involve the arts in hunger advocacy – for my Girl Scout Gold Award. During my junior year of high school, I organized dozens of ceramics workshops where community groups learned about local hunger issues and created “empty” bowls, signifying the millions of people who go hungry every day.
During the culminating event, community members gathered to donate canned goods, share in a simple meal of soup from the handcrafted bowls, and learn from local organizations about ways to get involved. Overwhelmed by the turnout, I introduced the crowd to the keynote speaker of the night: Bill Bolling. Mr. Bolling spoke to the needs of our community and the opportunities for engagement. He drove home the point that hunger and poverty are deeply enmeshed issues requiring collaboration, focused resources, and systems change.
Today I am more convinced than ever of his message. After four years of undergraduate study at UNC-Chapel Hill, I’ve returned home and am once again grappling with the challenges facing this city and the people who live here. In my new role at the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (ANDP) – a local affordable housing nonprofit – I am confronted every day with overwhelming stats: that Atlanta has the highest rate of underwater mortgage-holders nationwide; we are the third-worst urban food desert in the nation; and we have the worst income inequality among all major American cities.
I recently attended a Regional Housing Forum that touched on the intersecting issues of poverty, hunger, transportation, housing, and health in metro Atlanta. The forum was moderated by none other than Bill Bolling. His presence there only confirmed what he’d said six years ago: that the challenges facing our communities are complexly intertwined, necessitating comprehensive solutions – which is why it makes sense to see the Food Bank’s Executive Director moderate a housing forum, or to witness my nonprofit consider building a community garden at one of our affordable housing properties.
Local neighborhoods have been impacted by the recent economic downturn in broad, disproportionate, and as of yet still unrealized ways. What gives me hope, though, is our continued effort to bring together different perspectives on these issues. Through collaboration – and only through collaboration – can we truly confront the myriad challenges facing our region.