Over 50 residents, who either live in or have ties to Lakewood Heights, told Canopy Atlanta’s Community Engagement team what journalism would best serve their community for our sixth Community Issue. The resulting feedback came from community conversations and short online surveys.
How we did it
Community listening typically starts at community meetings and neighborhood planning unit (NPU) meetings. For the Lakewood Heights issue, we expanded our approach to include community gathering spots and parks.
This led us to Black Coffee, located in Ali at Lakewood. The coffee shop is an epicenter for conversations and meeting people with strong ties to Lakewood Heights. There was a strong sense of connection and pride for the community. The people and staff are warm and welcoming. After the third visit, I was greeted by my first name as if I was an old friend.
Community Grounds also proved to be an integral part of the community. There I met Jim Alexander, who is a longtime resident and noted civil rights photographer. He often engages in conversation about the history of Lakewood Heights and Atlanta in general. Residents reported that they stop by Community Grounds to learn from him.
I met people who told me they love Lakewood Heights’ proximity to the airport and other parts of the city. They valued the historic aspects of the area, such as Brownsville. Lakewood Heights is also the birthplace of what became Gammon Theological Seminary. Clark College moved to the area in 1869.
Canopy Atlanta then formed a Lakewood Heights Community Editorial Board to further refine story topics. The CEB has asked us to focus on the history and the upcoming developments in the area. They want to find solutions for blight and unhoused people. The board also wants to hear more about affordable housing and public safety.
We look forward to gathering information and reporting on these aspects through the lens of Lakewood Heights residents.
—Genia Billingsley, Community Engagement Co-Leader
Who we heard from
- 20 percent of respondents were between ages 25 and 34
- 31 percent of respondents were between ages 35 and 44
- 24 percent of respondents were between ages 45 and 54
- 18 percent of respondents were above age 65
- 51 percent of respondents identified as male
- 47 percent of respondents identified as female
- 2 percent of respondents chose not to answer
- 90 percent of respondents identified as Black or African American
- 8 percent of respondents identified as non-Hispanic white
- 2 percent of respondents identified as biracial
What we heard
What brings people to Lakewood Heights?
Notably, only 56 percent of respondents actually live in Lakewood Heights.
- 64 percent of those respondents have lived in Lakewood Heights for five years or less
- 25 percent have called the neighborhood home for more than 10 years
- 9 percent said they were former residents of Lakewood Heights
Residents are drawn to its:
- People: “This is a community that helps each other.”
- Location: “It’s 10 minutes away from everything but doesn’t feel like you’re in the city.”
- Small business community:
- “I like the growth that I see. I like the close access to Black-owned businesses.”
- “Ali at Lakewood is a great launching space for small businesses.”
- “New people are here who want to build on what we already have, and that’s exciting.”
- “It reminds me of my childhood home in Memphis, Orange Mound. The community is ‘dug-in.’”
- “It’s in a great position for growth. It has so much to offer and some people don’t realize it yet, but developers are starting to come in.”
The rest of the respondents come to the neighborhood either for work or the area’s amenities.
- 29 percent of respondents work in, but don’t live in Lakewood Heights
- 15 percent of respondents own businesses in, but don’t live in Lakewood Heights
- 10 percent of respondents come to Lakewood Heights to dine and shop in the area
Visitors are drawn to its:
- People: “This is a genuine and authentic community.”
- Location: “It is close to a lot of things. Feels like I don’t have to go out of the way to travel to key destinations.”
- Amenities, like the Louise Watley Library of South Atlanta: “Carver High School and the [Villages at Carver Family] YMCA are great. We have a real sense of community.”
- Small business community: “There are a lot of Black-owned businesses being bought out here without pushing out people who already live here because they can’t afford it. [Lakewood Heights] still has a community base, unlike East Point and Atlanta.“
- Landmarks: “I love the history, particularly, the graveyard [South-View Cemetery]. It was established for black people by former slaves. A lot of history there.”
- “This is my first time here, and I like all the art I see on the street. It has an eclectic and cooperative vibe, and I like that the neighborhood is being restored. I’m looking for a home eventually, so it’s interesting.”
- “It used to be a middle-income Black community, and now after many years of decline it is being reinvigorated. There are many opportunities that are here.”
How do you find out information about your community, and where do you meet community members?
What residents said:
- “The homeless and I meet with a group for coffee at Community Grounds every morning, 9 to 10:30 a.m.”
- “I used to talk with other members in the senior home about the neighborhood and community. But since COVID, the senior community I live in has become more isolated, with less people using common spaces. Therefore less information is being spread and issues are being discussed. I still frequent the coffee shop and discuss the community there.”
- “I live it. I am in the community, talking to people.”
- “Long-term residents who are in the know.”
- “Word of mouth, even more so than social media, especially for wellness-related stuff.”
Other information sources:
- Coffee shops like Black Coffee and Community Grounds
- City officials and politicians
- Georgia Votes
- Instagram, Nextdoor and other social media sites
- Ken Akbar, of Joyland Civic League
- NPU-Y meetings
- South Fulton Chamber of Commerce
What issues do community members want to learn more about?
Residents and visitors of Lakewood Heights are in agreement: Their top concern for the neighborhood is public safety, followed by food insecurity, blight, homelessness, and affordable housing.
- “Police only come when someone white in the area calls them on Black person. Whites get a better response.”
- “We need a full service grocery store instead of these convenience stores and gas station stores.”
- “Blight and dumping, especially around the blight on Browns Mill Road.”
- “The unhoused/homeless, and what resources the elected officials and government are using to address their needs and help mitigate the rise in numbers.”
- “Housing should stay affordable. I’ve seen what happens to Grant Park.”
- “The neighborhood has lost its sense of community. It’s changing, and I don’t want the area to only be remembered for the Rayshard Brooks case and the burning of the Wendy’s location.”
What resources do community members either want to see or learn more about?
What residents said:
- “I haven’t received any stimulus funding or income tax money. Also need healthcare and access to appointments”
- “More housing information. I’m moving soon, and I see building projects, but I don’t know where to look.”
- “I’ve been more anxious since the pandemic. I do pretty good taking care of my mental health, but [I want to make] sure there are mental health resources in the community.”
- “Opportunities for opening a brick-and-mortar store. In owning a business, there are a lot of obstacles, and we really have to do it ourselves without a lot of assistance.”
- “I think it would be good to have more resources for the disabled community, and the resources that are available could be more visible—not just housing-related, but also related to wellness. There are resources, but they are not visible and not freely accessible, especially to communities of color.”
- “The kids I work with are looking for employment. Would like to partner with [Lakewood] Amphitheatre for summer jobs for teens.”
Other info wanted:
- Access to fresh food, job training, recreation activities
- Financial literacy courses
- Business development resources
- Food and healthcare
- Childcare resources, early learning programs
What should be done with the Lakewood Elementary property?
Atlanta Public Schools previously considered tearing down the shuttered school property and community landmark before city planning staff pushed back. What do residents think should be done with the property instead?
What residents said:
- “It should not remain as a blighted, abandoned building. It needs to be developed.”
- “I belong to Southeast Community Cultural Center, and it is located in an abandoned elementary school. So I think they should use the school for the community as an arts center or a cultural center.”
- “I would like to see it developed like Krog [Street] Market, but keep the rent regulated so small businesses are not pushed out.”
- “It is currently a neighborhood eyesore and needs to be put to use. I would like to see local businesses, possibly a grocery, health and wellness center, early childhood care, and/or a mixed-use space with some housing.”
- “It should definitely be a community center, especially for adolescents like 12 to 16-year- olds, especially for kids who are too old for after school programs or camps but too young to work—something safer than being waterboys.”
- “I’m OK with anything that supports the entire community, where everyone can benefit.”
Canopy Atlanta is currently paying and training Lakewood Heights Fellows to report alongside experienced journalists, based on this feedback from community listening.
Canopy Atlanta’s fifth Community Issue on Lakewood Heights is due later in 2023.
Ways to Participate
Explore more ways to get involved.
Submit a Listening Response
Residents or people with ties to this community can complete this short 3-minute survey to tell us what matters to them to inform our reporting and the stories that are selected.
Editor: Christina Lee
Canopy Atlanta Reader: Mariann Martin
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