Decatur Next

Decatur Diary | April 10, 2015

Better Together: Meet the Leadership Circle

Better TogetherBecause it’s something fundamentally rooted in our relationships with each other, and explores the necessary means by which we can transcend the barriers that divide us as neighbors, the Better Together process is being orchestrated as a volunteer, citizen-led endeavor, with the participation and support of the city. A collection of unpaid Decatur residents representing a diverse cross-section of the community, together with our police chief and a handful of city employees, are serving as the organizing committee. We’re calling them the Leadership Circle.

If you’re just getting up to speed, you can explore all the Better Together basics in our FAQ. But for now, take a moment to meet these neighbors currently working to make a difference. Then, stay tuned until this summer when they’ll provide further details on their proposed process and the community-wide event that kicks everything off.

Jamilah Rashid

JamilahJamilah received a Bachelor’s degree in History and Secondary Education from Howard University, followed by a Master’s in Youth Development Leadership from Clemson University. She currently directs the My World Program, a travel and leadership initiative, where she facilitates the acquisition of knowledge and experience that youth require for success and excellence in today’s global society while creating a safe and nurturing space for their engagement. She is the proud mom of four and wife of Kofi Rashid.

“Citizenship starts in your own backyard. It’s important to share perspectives and understanding so that our communities can thrive and be welcoming to all.”

Don Denard

DonDon Denard is a 34-year resident of Decatur who is originally from Hattiesburg, MS, where he was active in the Civil Rights Movement as a teenager. A graduate of Jackson State University and Indiana University with B.S and M.B.A. degrees in Accounting and Finance, his career has included public accounting and banking, and he has spent the past 24 years in non-profit financial management currently serving as Associate Director, Finance, with The Carter Center’s global health programs.

His community service background includes significant volunteer work and membership on a number of non-profit boards in metro Atlanta, including 9 years of service as an appointed and elected school board member for the City Schools of Decatur. Currently, he is a member of the Decatur Community Coalition focused on preventing police racial profiling.

Mike Booker

MikeMike is the police chief for the City of Decatur Police Department. Starting here with the city in 1990 as a patrol officer, he was (in his words, “fortunate enough to have been”) appointed to police chief in June of 2006. He’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he obtained a B.S. in Criminal Justice. He’s been married for 25 years and has two sons in college. He enjoys watching all types of sports and enjoys photography as a hobby.

”The more people come together and collectively discuss current topics, the more likely it will be for brighter outcomes. I believe that by putting ourselves in others’ shoes we will come to have a better understanding of what we are all feeling. Speaking as the Decatur Police Chief, we are committed to this process by means of Community Policing. This means continuing to be accessible, transparent, and service oriented. We model ourselves through Servant Leadership and with empathy as a department. This goes hand in hand with the Better Together process.”

Yvonne Druyeh Dodd

Evi DYvonne, working as Evi D. Consulting, is a business coach and consultant with over 10 years of experience in marketing/communications, fundraising, community engagement, and developing brands. She was recently recognized as a nominee for the “Under 30 for the Vision” Award, and serves on the boards of Wholesome Wave Georgia and NEX Labs. Having lived here for close to ten years, Yvonne’s favorite thing about Decatur is having easy access to amazing restaurants.

“I’m passionate about eliminating economic, educational, and social barriers that block access to and prevent people from living full lives. It’s not enough to simply want change, we as individuals and as a community also have to be the change we seek.”

Haqiqa Bolling

HaqiqaHaqiqa has worked for City Schools of Decatur at Renfroe Middle School as a school counselor for the last 20 years. She is also a national facilitator with the Center for Courage and Renewal, an organization dedicated to providing opportunities for personal and professional renewal. Over the years she has facilitated workshops on parenting, conflict resolution, and appreciating diversity. She, along with her husband Bill, have lived in Decatur for 30 years and have raised two children, now wonderful adults, who attended City Schools of Decatur.

“I fully support the commitment our city has made to encourage a diverse community. It’s one thing to value diversity, it’s another to actually live into this ideal. I embrace the challenge of ensuring we are walking our talk. It’s important to me to not just have high ideals but to live them. I’m excited to help make Decatur truly a community that values all of our neighbors, through a variety of ways of demonstrating acceptance and welcome.”

Shan Arora

ShanShan and his wife moved to Decatur in 2006 for the city’s transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. He works for Southface Energy Institute and focuses on clean energy policy. Since 2012, Shan and his wife have lived in a home off of West Ponce de Leon. Their household has grown with the addition of a baby girl and Shan’s mom. All four enjoy walks to the Toy Park and the Square.

“We have a fantastic community and I do not want us to get complacent. We have areas of improvement and I hope this process will truly make Decatur an even better place to live, work, and play!”

Rev. Nibs Stroupe

NibsNibs is a resident and homeowner in Decatur since 1989, and has been pastor at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur for 32 years. He grew up in the Mississippi River Delta in Arkansas and graduated from Rhodes College and Columbia Seminary. He has been married to Rev. Caroline Leach for 41 years, and has two grown children, David and Susan, who were nurtured in the Decatur School System. Oakhurst Presbyterian is a nationally recognized leader in multicultural ministries, having been featured in Time Magazine, NPR News, NBC News, CBS Radio, the AJC, the Christian Science Monitor, and many others.

Nibs is the author of 4 books and numerous magazine articles, and has led workshops on race for more than 50 groups around the country. He chaired the Oakhurst Community Health Center Board during the time when Mayor Emerita Elizabeth Wilson was the director of the Center. He is a member of the Decatur Community Coalition which is focused on helping the Decatur police and the city of Decatur reduce racial profiling.

Jessy Molina

JessyJesse graduated from Harvard College in 1999 and Yale Law School in 2002. Upon graduating from law school, she received a Soros Postgraduate Justice fellowship to work at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in San Francisco. After her fellowship, she worked for the John Gardner Center for Youth and their Communities at Stanford, directing a service learning program at McClymonds High School in West Oakland. Jessy then served as the national director of Quality Education as a Constitutional Right, a national initiative working to pass a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing all children the right to a high quality public education.

In 2011, Jessy became the director of education and training at Welcoming America, a national organization working to make the country more welcoming to immigrants. At Welcoming America, she’s developed and piloted a dialogue initiative designed to help people build connection and understanding across barriers of race, class, culture, national origin and more.  Jessy continues to design, develop, and facilitate all training and education programming for Welcoming America’s national network of over 100 cities, counties, and community organizations.

(UPDATE: Jessy will be leaving Welcoming America this summer to pursue a new opportunity out of state, bringing her work with the Leadership Circle to a close. We’re very thankful for her contributions to date and wish her the best moving forward.)

“Better Together aligns with my personal mission to build understanding and connection between people through meaningful dialogue. I am honored to help Decatur create spaces for the conversations we need to have about diversity, equity, and justice.”

Jon Abercrombie

AbieJon is a long-time Decatur resident and serves as the director of Common Focus, which designs and leads organizational and community planning, visioning, and dialogues. In conjunction with Everyday Democracy, those dialogues address racial equity in communities around the country.

Jon’s experience in community building and facilitation includes planning and visioning retreats for nonprofit and for-profit organizations and for local governments. For the second time, Jon worked with the City of Decatur on visioning as part of 2010’s ten-year planning process.

“We have the ability to live in a city where race, a defining issue in America, does not determine fair treatment. Where Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for a beloved community can be our standard of government. Where blame is replaced by grace.”

Kijua Sanders-McMurtry

KijuaKijua is the associate dean of students and special assistant to the president on diversity at Agnes Scott College, a role in which she’s created inclusive practices and policies as the college’s chief diversity officer. She completed her A.A. degree in Social Sciences at Pasadena City College, her B.A. and M.A. in Sociology, a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies and her Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies with a concentration in Higher Education at Georgia State University. She is married to Kevin Sanders-McMurtry. Deeply committed to community engagement, she is a member of several organizations focused on leadership development and advocacy for women and girls.

Julie Pennington-Russell

JulieJulie became the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Decatur in August, 2007. Before coming to Georgia, she led two churches in Waco, TX, and San Francisco, CA. She earned her B.A. from the University of Central Florida and her M.Div. from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, CA. She and her husband, Tim, have two young adult children. Julie is crazy about Decatur. A guilty pleasure: poking around in Wild Oats & Billy Goats.

(UPDATE: Julie has stepped down from her position at First Baptist Church and, accordingly, will be ending her role with the Leadership Circle in May. We’re very thankful for her contributions to date and wish her the best moving forward.)

“I want the very best for the city I love. I believe we are at our best as a community when a spirit of collaboration, reconciliation, generosity and equity permeates all that we are about. As a pastor, I am eager to be part of a Decatur in which the deepest needs, dreams and aspirations of every man, woman and child in our city are fulfilled.”

Rozie Slaughter

RozieRozie was born in Selma, AL, in 1982. Being a military brat gave him the privilege of living in such countries as Japan, Spain, and Germany. Rozie joined the workforce world holding such positions as banker, server, and now restaurant manager of the popular Farm Burger. Rozie has strong ties to Decatur, holding many positions in both the downtown area and greater Atlanta. He is a son, a brother, friend, and strong advocate.

“I think Better Together is a key part of creating a more welcoming and inclusive Decatur. I’m committed to the process and hopeful of the change it can create.”

Christy Amador

ChristyChristy is a 25-year resident of Decatur and has 2 children that grew-up in the City Schools of Decatur. She has chaired school events from the Glennwood Fall Festival, to the Clairemont Talent Show and the Decatur High Spring Dance. Her “Day Job” is a senior communications manager with Coca-Cola, in Global Public Affairs.

Christy moved to the area at 13-years old from Detroit, and fell in love with Decatur immediately. She feels privileged to live here and to be part of this important work.

“I love the ‘promise’ of Decatur. We are a community that wants to be inclusive and fair — but have probably not always lived-up to this promise. But having a group like the one we’ve brought together gives me hope and confidence that we will become a truly welcoming city.”

Eli Dodson

EliEli is a long-time Oakhurst resident, a Citizens Police Academy and Decatur 101 graduate, and a regular volunteer as a part of the Citizens Assisting Public Safety (CAPS) program with the Decatur Police Department.

Utilizing a wheelchair to get around, he was recently featured in the Decatur Focus, leading a group of local elementary students around downtown to help them understand the challenges of living with a disability. Read all about it in this cover story.

Christian Perry

ChristianChristian currently works as a fellow in the City Manager’s office. He grew up on the south side of Decatur in Oakhurst and is an alumnus of Decatur High School. Christian has a background in research, statistics and data analysis, studies economic development policy at Georgia State University, and will graduate with a Master’s of Public Administration in May 2015. He is the second oldest of four.

“I want to ensure that future generations experience an even better Decatur than I have. Faced with a rapidly changing community, it is important to remind ourselves and our neighbors of the values that set Decatur apart.”

Peggy Merriss

PeggyCity manager since May, 1993, Peggy has worked for Decatur since August, 1983. Now a long-time resident, she has an MPA from the UNC-Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Politics from Converse College where she was recognized with the “Career Achievement Award” in April, 2012. The Georgia City/County Management Association awarded her with the Pillar of Professional Excellence Award in 2008 and in 2003 she was awarded the “Georgia Excellence in Public Service Award.”

“The future of thriving communities will depend on an appreciation of common values like educational opportunities, a sense of safety and a high quality of life.  Sharing in those values should not be dependent on race, gender, disability, family status or other factors that should enrich our experiences, not define them.”

Linda Harris

LindaLinda has worked for the City of Decatur since 1988 and serves as the city’s chief of civic engagement, education and communication. She’s a native of Decatur and was at Decatur High when they integrated the schools. She remembers riding her bike downtown to check out library books, learning ballroom dancing at the Recreation Center, and eating 35-cent banana splits at the drugstore. She has three children who also attended City of Decatur schools — one daughter now teaches at Renfroe — and have since graced her with 4 precious grandsons. She is married to John Randall, also a native of Decatur.

“I believe we care about being welcoming, diverse and inclusive and I am excited about the possibility of playing a part in creating and continuing Decatur’s community story.”

Lyn Menne

LynLyn has worked for the City of Decatur since May 1983 and now serves as the assistant city manager for community and economic development. She and her husband, Doug, have lived in Decatur since 1989 and raised two daughters here. They’ve recently downsized into a small home within walking distance of downtown Decatur with just enough space to age in place and still have room to garden.

“I have to believe that if any community is capable of having difficult conversations about race, inclusion, trust and respect, it can happen here in the City of Decatur.”

Casie Yoder

CasieCasie is the City of Decatur’s public information officer. In this role, she manages the Decatur Minute blog, edits the Decatur Focus and serves as the first point of contact for reporters. Casie grew up just a few miles away in the City of Atlanta and has many fond childhood memories of eating Oreo blizzards at the Decatur Dairy Queen.

“I want to be part of defining Decatur’s future as a welcoming community for all.”

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  1. Chris Billingsley says

    I’ve look forward to participating in this discussion ever since Bill Banks reported that a secret meeting had been held last year to agree upon the final results. Can you post exactly when these secret meetings take place so that those if us who are concerned about liberty in Decatur can attend?

    • Thanks for you interest, Chris. And you’re right: December did indeed mark the convening of the Better Together volunteer organizing committee (shown above), who are working together on ideas for how to launch this broad community conversation on neighborliness (All the details behind that can be found in our FAQ). But you’ll be pleased to hear that not only do we not have any final results, we don’t even have preliminary results (!) because the process itself is not expected to kick-off until late summer or early fall.

      The details of how the process will unfold are, of course, subject to the availability and bandwidth of the volunteer organizers. But as they come together, the schedule of any gatherings, presentations and activities will all be available right here on Decatur Next. So stay tuned!

      • Chris Billingsley says

        Thank you DecaturNext. I maintain that the meetings of the leadership circle are either illegal or a repeat of the same group think that led to the disasterous tree ordinance (or both). Here is the request I made to the commission on May 4. Please note that it is the secrecy of the leadership circle that bothers me the most.

        May 4, 2015
        City of Decatur Commissioners

        My name is Chris Billingsley, .

        I want to thank you for the Decatur Focus. I’ve always enjoyed this magazine. The most recent issue arrived in the mail last Saturday and after a long day working in the yard, I looked forward to reading the publication and discussing with my wife the future events and activities that look appealing and what we missed. Even though I know more about our municipal government, city schools, and local news than the average citizen, I still learn something new every time I read the Decatur Focus. It is a fine publication.

        What brings me to tonight’s meeting however is the article on page four, “Leadership Circle Works Towards Launch. The article vaguely describes the work so far of a group of selected volunteers whose recommendations to the commission later this year could change our town as much as the Strategic Plan has over the past fifteen years. I went to the link at for more information on the group. For a city so concerned about diversity, I find it troubling that the majority of the members appear to be either city employees or paid consultants. It appears to me that representation in small but influential religious and ethnic groups was an important consideration for membership in the leadership circle. Even though I appreciate that our police chief is part of the group, he works for the city. How hard can he fight the effort to weaken the authority of the police as a paid employee? I am concerned that our faith institutions, especially those that represent long held traditional beliefs, do not have a representative that will fight for separation of church and state. But more than anything else, I am concerned about open government. As far as I am aware of, this group meets in secret. I have never seen a public announcement that states when and where the group meets or a summary of what was discussed. I don’t know if this is illegal but it is, in my opinion, a poor way to start such an important process. Busy citizens may not be able to attend many meetings but it is our right to attend government functions and these rights must be defended.

        Normally I would expect the fine reporters from the AJC and Decaturish to challenge this lack of transparency but so far, I’ve been disappointed. Therefore I am requesting that the commission direct the city manager to require that all future meetings of the leadership circle be announced in advance, be held at a public location and open to all who wish to attend. I also request that the leaders of this group provide a detailed written account of the discussions so far. Finally I ask the commission to have a real discussion about diversity, not just racial or gender diversity or sexual orientation but diversity of thought and keep this in mind as we move forward in the Better Together process.

        I ask that my request be included in the minutes of tonight’s meeting. May God continue to bless you for your service to Decatur, the State of Georgia, and the United States of America.
        Thank you.

        Chris Billingsley

        • Christy Amador says

          Hi Chris, I’m not trying to argue with you in any way, but I did want you to know that I am one of the members of the leadership committee, and I have never been involved in any city/civic projects until now (outside of my involvement in the PTA for my kids). I am neither a socialist, or what I would consider a “left winger” just a concerned citizen who would love to be part of solutions to ensure that Decatur is a welcoming an inclusive City. That’s it – full stop. There is no hidden agenda – and I HIGHLY recommend that you make your voice heard, via our online survey, our August 29 event, or any other community or neighborhood event that is created to gather people’s opinions and input. I look forward to your input – and everyone else’s in the city. Thanks for you concern!

  2. Chris Billingsley says

    Hmmm. Reading the bios makes me think that most of the group (all except one) are committed to a cause that might be described as left wing socialism. Exactly what kind of diversity are you trying to achieve?

  3. Chris Billingsley says

    Thanks DN.
    “Meet the Leadership Circle”. I assumed that after reading the sixteen bios that there were indeed sixteen members of the leadership circle but there seems to be a little hocus pocus going on here. A neighbor told me over the weekend that there is at least one person not listed. And, Lo and Behold (I love that phrase), when you count up the pictures of the participants, you find seventeen members! So my question for you is, did you intentionally mislead the citizens of Decatur by leaving off the bio of the last participant or was this a careless mistake caused by a young intern in charge of the site? And are there any other participants that we should know about?

    • Good eye! Yes, as someone not big on using computers, Mr. Eli (Eli Dodson, third from right on the bottom row of our article header) tends to operate outside the hectic realm of emails and internet posts. Thankfully, we were still able to grab a nice photo of him from his profile in the January/February issue of the Focus, in which he led a group of local elementary students around downtown to help them understand the challenges of living with a disability. For anyone interested in learning more about Mr. Eli, a download of the issue is available here:

      In the meantime, we’ve added what information we do have to the post to prevent any further confusion. Thanks for pointing it out!

  4. Chris Billingsley says

    It seems that I am the only person in Decatur that reads this blog. Oh well.
    Thanks DecaturNext for updating the participant profile. One of the additions was outed on Decaturish several months ago so I guess you were forced to add a bio. The other is also no surprise and a perfect fit for what you are trying to accomplish. But there are two more spaces in the leadership picture puzzle to be filled. Hummmm, let me guess, Maximilien Robespierre and Jean Paul Marat?

  5. Don Rubin says

    I am truly grateful to live in a community that espouses a “Better Together” ethos. I am happy to participate in this initiative however I might make a difference. For now, allow me to make a suggestion. Everyone knows that Decaturites love a festival. We even acknowledge that fact on a t-shirt. What about a major Annual Decatur Juneteenth Festival? Juneteenth in Decatur can be promoted as a REGIONAL celebration of cultural and individual diversity aligned with the heritage of African American emancipation in the US. To my knowledge, there is currently no such festival in metro Atlanta. Juneteenth in Decatur can solicit partners from major agencies and entities in the entire metro area that promote cultural diversity, pride, and equity. Although Juneteenth in Decatur would occur in proximity to our Memorial Day weekend Arts Festival, I do not believe that it would compete in any way. There should be plenty of enthusiasm and volunteering available for both events. I believe that Juneteenth in Decatur would serve the cause of “Better Together” in our community, and would also further boost Decatur’s regional and national profile as a great place to live, work, and visit.

  6. turbocharged says

    I really don’t understand the need for this decatur together initiative. I have lived in Decatur for over 25 years and not experienced or witnessed any incidents of unfairness or lack of inclusion in Decatur. The only event that comes to mind was a police incident in the Candler Rd. area related to a burglary and a citizen stopped and questioned and he complained. Let’s see…if I was that citizen and with those reported circumstances (burglaries in the area/ a back door of a residence found opened) was stopped and questioned by Decatur Police, I would THANK the police for doing their job–it made the community safer for everyone.
    A waste of taxpayer money ? likely. Even with the grant, it WAS someone’s tax paid money.
    Someone please tell me what is NOT inclusive about Decatur ?
    Is this a forum for some agenda ? Or to feed into perceived slights?

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