Neighborhoods - ATL Neighborhood MVPs

11 of Atlanta's best neighbors according to you

Photo by Eric Cash
Photo credit: Eric Cash
Cicely Garrett - One of Atlanta's Neighborhood MVPs

We know Atlantans take a lot of pride in the neighborhoods where they live, and this year we learned they also love to brag about who else lives there. For the 2015 Neighborhood Issue, we asked you to nominate the most awesome, handy, fun, artistic, and generally badass people in your community. You all jumped at the opportunity to prove that your neighbors are the best in the city.

You told us about all the big and small things your neighbors do to make your area feel like home, from the friendly woman next door who simply gives great advice to the guy who collects funds to help families with medical bills to the civic leaders who take care of business. Several individuals received multiple nominations—up to 28 for a single person! It was a total lovefest.

We got to know 11 of these people a little better, and they shared their favorite things about Atlanta and what motivates them to go the extra mile for their neighborhoods.

— Meagan Mastriani

Cicely Garrett | Washington Park

Cicely Garrett helps her community gardener pick tomatoes in Washington Park, advocates for the Westside at community meetings, finds ways to get affordable, healthy produce to food deserts through Georgia Food Oasis and working at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Her ability to connect ZIP code 30314's young and old, haves and the have-nots, farmers and food-stamp recipients, is what has earned her respect from her neighbors.

I don't think I'm being the best neighbor if I only think about things in terms of me. The neighborhood is bigger than me. It's bigger than my immediate street. It's bigger than Washington Park. We don't live in a gated community. Vine City is across the street. English Avenue is up the street. So we should all have a vested interest in making sure things are better for all of our bordering neighbors. We all succeed from that.

— As told to Max Blau

Earl Williamson | Kirkwood

Earl Williamson wanted his first house to be located intown, to boast a neighborly vibe with old-growth trees and 1950s bungalows reminiscent of his Iowa childhood, and to be somewhere with an active neighborhood organization. He found all three in Kirkwood roughly 25 years ago. Today the 62-year-old registered nurse is a staple at neighborhood meetings, community events, and cleanups at Clay Cemetery, a Civil War resting place that has become a personal project.

If you're going to be up and breathing you need to be participating. And for me participation involves some kind of collective effort of working with others. There are neighborhoods that are effective and neighborhoods that aren't and that speaks back to people participating. Part of the reason I've stayed involved is in a lot of ways it's fun. It can be a pain. There are obvious conflicts, so to speak. But it's really fun to be engaged and active in a neighborhood. You meet interesting people. You do interesting things. Rather than being at the tail end of things you're at the front end. You can see them evolve. And you can actually see the end result of what you're doing.

— As told to Thomas Wheatley

Brett Davidson | Whittier Mill

As president of the Atlanta Chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA), Brett Davidson devotes much of his time to promoting cycling tourism, advocating for new trail construction, and leading field trips to "epic" paths all over the state. His neighbors say his passion is infectious, and talking with him, it's easy to see why they're excited about the grand plans he has for outdoor recreation in the city.

Most of our mountain biking trails are ex-urban. The City of Atlanta offered SORBA a piece of land called Southside Park. It's about 200 acres on Jonesboro Road, just inside of 285. We partnered with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and hired a trail design and construction firm to do a proposal for an eight-mile trail system there. Our goal right now is to get that started. The other thing we've been talking about doing with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is building off-road biking infrastructure along the Atlanta Beltline. Our vision is to build a signature bike park that is accessible from the Beltline. That's the even grander vision. Ideally, what we would like to have is some sort of bikeable, off-road infrastructure in each region of the city.

— As told to Meagan Mastriani

Neda Abghari | Capitol View Manor

Photographer, educator, and founder of arts organization the Creatives Project Neda Abghari grew up in Tucker, but she's lived in her current corner of town since 2000. When she saw how her younger neighbors were growing up, she took notice of what was missing, and took action to fill the gaping holes she saw.

People are really enthusiastic about keeping the neighborhood diverse. We all try to stick together because we’re used to being ignored. I watched the youth grow up and not have many outlets and thought, “Why not establish a housing residency for artists in southwest Atlanta?” Through the Creatives Project Masud Olufani, along with a few others, were named housing recipients. We began to do outreach with Perkerson Elementary school.

— As told to Ed Hall

John Wolfinger | Virginia-Highland

A native of Mount Gilead, Ohio, John Wolfinger moved to Atlanta in 1965. One of his neighbors, in nominating the sort-of devoted gardener, writes that Wolfinger "cares about all aspects of the neighborhood. From keeping it safe to organizing toy drives to beautification projects."

I had a meeting at Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, where 20-some people showed up. One in particular, Eleanor Barrineau, has been by my side for 10 years. We accumulated street captains for the neighborhood watch and now have way over a hundred of them. I figure now, every time I send out a public safety report, it has a good chance of being read by 4,000 people. I have been told by various Atlanta Police Department people that we have the largest, most active neighborhood watch in the city. I had a Karmann Ghia convertible once. Somebody took a knife and ripped open the top. I still don't know what all they took. That was a lesson to me to keep one's car clean of belongings.

— As told to Ed Hall

Nathan Strange | East Point

Nathan Strange has interests ranging from agriculture, sewing, and chicken raising to falconry, medical aid, and activism. She's known for sharing her skills with neighbors — whether it's starting a sewing class, helping fellow homesteaders with their fowl, or founding a nonprofit to build community gardens.

I was born in Hawaii, and I've lived all over the country. This is the first place I have lived where it's a real, honest-to-goodness neighborhood. East Point is incredibly diverse — culturally, racially, and in every other way — and accepting. People look out for each other. If you need a ride to the airport, someone's there for you. If you're sick, you'll have five people knocking on your door offering you lasagna and asking how they can make you feel better. I got involved because there's so much need in the community, and I was hearing so much of, "Why isn't anyone doing this?' Someone should do that." I got tired of hearing it, so I said, "I can help with this. Let's do this!"

— As told to Meagan Mastriani

Pat Perdew | Westview

When Pat Perdew and her late husband John moved into Westview five years ago from Griffin, Ga., the former Civil Rights Movement activists got an unexpected welcome. Their home was burglarized twice before they could get settled. But "instead of living in fear or moving away," says Perdew's nominator, "they decided to open up their home to neighborhood youth" by organizing field trips and summer daycare programs that "led the community to change it's perspective on the youth."

We became the surrogate grandparents in the neighborhood for the children. Even when they were in trouble and things were happening in their home and they just wanted to spend the night, we understood that. We need to create a village again for our children. We blame our children but I tell them all the time, I apologize to you all for us not really being there for you. Because a lot of these kids are raising themselves.

We've got good kids. They're just in bad situations a lot of times. The media portrays black men as violent, and most of them are not. There are some that just become hard after awhile. Society has beat them up so that they don't trust anyone. They're like, 'If I've gotta get it, I've gotta get it for myself, by any means necessary.' It's unfortunate that they reach that point. But there are a lot of good things happening in this community.

— As told to Rodney Carmichael

Grace Hamlin | Peoplestown

Grace Hamlin plays a hands-on role in raising the quality of life in Peoplestown by instilling compassion and ethics in at-risk children through her W-Underdogs animal rescue and youth program.

One day I saw a kid outside crying — a gang was at the park making kids fight each other. I told him to go home, but he was locked out. I looked into it. There wasn't anywhere for kids to go, so I started letting some of the kids who were good with animals come into my house. That's when I saw the potential for therapy. Doing animal rescue gets frustrating. I've been doing it for 20 years, and the system hasn't changed. But if I can change these kids' minds, I can open up so many possibilities. Now, I hear it form their teachers: The kids' self-esteems are way up, their grades are getting better, and their whole attitudes have changed.

— As told to Chad Radford

Rashid Z. Muhammad | Downtown

Since 1998 Rashid Z. Muhammad has called Downtown home. Though being an IT supervisor pays the bills, Muhammad's passion also revolves around the love for his neighborhood. As his nominator says, "He doesn't wait for the community to be perfect to do what he wants, rather he does what he wants and in so doing makes the community better." Muhammad has served as vice president of the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association and as public safety committee chair for the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board.

I just really got tired of seeing a lot of negative things being printed about Downtown. I knew that it wasn't necessarily the case, that it wasn't as bad as it seems. Certainly, there's need for improvement, but I wanted to be involved as a kind of booster and advocate for Downtown. When new residential developments start coming up, more people are going to be living down here and staying down here, and just appreciating the transit access, appreciating the diversity of the people and the diversity of experiences. There are so many different crowds, and there are so many different experiences that in the grand scheme of things, I think Downtown can win.

— As told to Gavin Godfrey

Carrie Burns | Castleberry Hill

Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association President Carrie Burns says she doesn't think she could live anywhere else in the city. The 14-year Castleberry resident runs Atlanta Movie Tours, a guided bus tour company that showcases former movie locations around the city. Fellow residents say Burns has been at the forefront of ensuring that Castleberry is not run over by the new [Atlanta Falcons football] stadium construction and that she is a "terrific conduit between City government and our neighbors."

I think what I love about [Castleberry Hill] more than anything, is that everybody is really, really friendly. It is actually a safe place. ... We are close knit, and very, very diverse when it comes to age and demographic. You can't even quantify what we are. Last year, I took [on the role of president] because I'd actually like to try and change things. I feel like there's so much the city should be doing for the residents and the businesses that they're really not. I would say my main objective is to get stuff done.

— As told to Stephanie Dazey

Kebbi Williams | Historic West End

For 11 years, Grammy-winning saxophonist Kebbi Williams has called the Historic West End home. According to one neighbor who nominated Williams, "He walks among us common folk, but his stride is super cool." During warmer months Williams' band the Wolf Pack practices near the intersection of Hopkins and Lucile, preparing for the next Music in the Park series, through which he plants professional musicians in real-world settings.

When I moved to the West End I was a little scared. I noticed a lot of crime on the street. These days I see gardens and communities springing up. Music in the Park started because I did Sunday Jazz in my back yard. Around 2010 I received a grant from the city for the Kebbi Williams Band, so I decided to do a big show at Howell Park. It was going to be a one-off, but it was such a hit the neighborhood won't let me stop.

— As told to Chad Radford