The "Beloved Community." The term, and the vision it represents, was made popular by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the height of the civil rights movement. In many of his speeches, Dr. King spoke about its meaning - a world where poverty, hunger and homelessness would not exist and racism, bigotry, prejudice and discrimination would be replaced by love and brotherhood.
The Beloved Benefit, held on March 21, was inspired by the Beloved Community and its possibility for Atlanta. Hosted by the Chick-fil-A Foundation and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it was created to unite Atlanta to support a historic but struggling part of Chick-fil-A's hometown - the Westside.
Once a thriving part of the city, an important meeting place for the civil rights movement, and home to many of its leaders, the Westside community has suffered from disinterest and disinvestment for many years. But, change is happening.
One evening, lasting impact
Led by business and community leaders including Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, Ambassador Andrew Young and Arthur Blank, the goal was to celebrate the transformational work being done to revitalize the Westside, raise funds for nonprofit organizations on the ground in the community, and unite Atlanta around the Westside's continued progress.
Nearly 2,000 Atlantans gathered for the inaugural Beloved Benefit. Rev. Bernice King kicked off the evening, sharing how her father's vision for the Beloved Community is possible for the Westside. Other presenters throughout the night included Congressman John Lewis, T.I., CeeLo Green, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Special performances included a presentation by children from the Westside and featured entertainment by musical guests Emeli SandÃ© and Bruno Mars.
Even among the evening's electric performances and compelling speeches, the most extraordinary part was its impact. With all event costs underwritten by the Chick-fil-A Foundation and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, more than $5 million was raised to benefit local nonprofits serving the Westside community.
"The Beloved Benefit was born out of the mission to fulfill the vision of the Beloved Community, celebrate the life-changing work already underway and raise awareness of the work still left to be done," said Rodney Bullard, vice president of corporate social responsibility for Chick-fil-A, Inc. and executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation. "What affects one of us impacts all of us."
Supporting those hard at work
Along with the five Beneficiaries, ten additional organizations were recognized as Community Beacons and received $25,000 courtesy of the SunTrust Foundation. These organizations are smaller nonprofit organizations that are also working to create opportunities across Atlanta's Westside.
The Atlanta Music Project, which provides intensive, free music education to underserved youth, was named one of this year's Community Beacons. The results of the program's work in the community were evident as 50 students took the stage for an awe-inspiring performance at the event. The organization empowers underserved youth to realize their possibilities through music by providing intensive, tuition-free music education in their own neighborhood.
"Being a Community Beacon was one of the highlights of our existence as an organization," said Dantes Rameau, co-founder and executive director of the Atlanta Music Project. "Our students understood that they not only were performing on this stage, but also were part of a show that would help to raise money for their own community."
Another Beacon, the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, was celebrated for its work in creating safe and stable homes and families by providing equal access to attorneys committed to fighting for justice.
"Beyond the needed funding, getting to be a part of the Beloved Benefit was an incredible opportunity to learn about and meet other partners committed to making a difference on the Westside," said Michael Lucas, deputy director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation. "Impact comes from meaningful partnerships, so we really appreciate what an important opportunity this event represents."
The full list of this year's Community Beacons includes:
- The Atlanta Music Project
- Antioch Urban Ministries, Inc.
- Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation
- Beloved Atlanta
- Good Samaritan Health Center
- LEAD Atlanta
- Quest Community Housing
- Raising Expectations
- Veterans Empowerment Organization
- West Atlanta Watershed Alliance
The Beloved Benefit is set to take place for the next two years as an annual gathering of Atlantans to catalyze continued support of the Westside community. To learn more about the Beloved Benefit, visit belovedbenefit.org.