Kwanza Hall Believes in the Diverse Identity of Atlanta
By Mik Hyldebrandt
Photos: McCall Studios
With 15 years of experience as an elected official to the city of Atlanta, mayoral candidate, Kwanza Hall, is known as a man who likes to get things done, and always has a comprehensive plan of action when proposing legislation to the city.
His latest victory is the newly signed marijuana legislation in Georgia, which will help balance many racial disparities that have existed for years and have law enforcement focus on other types of crime instead of making arrests for minor possession. He has also proposed and passed legislation for a major criminal justice reform package, which among other things includes the Pre-Arrest Diversion program which redirects many offenders into social services instead of into jail. The latter also means added protections for transgender people who often experience an unnecessary level of harassment when they’re arrested for petty crimes. And, of course, he was a leading player in getting the rainbow crosswalks installed permanently at the 10th and Piedmont intersection just in time for Pride last year.
He has always participated in conversations around LGBTQ issues. In fact, he is convinced that his parents taught him not only to be a passionate civil servant but also to be on the right side of history when it comes to civil and human rights. “My leadership style is one of inclusion and seeking equity,” he explains, “and I think I inherited that from my parents who were both civil rights activists. My dad was the youngest member of Dr. King’s staff from 1963-1968.” So, to say that politics runs in his veins is an understatement, and as the only one elected to office with an openly gay chief of staff, he is also extremely well-versed when it comes to LGBTQ issues.
The Business Side of Things
Kwanza Hall is thoroughly convinced that Atlanta’s thriving LGBTQ community is a tremendous asset to the city and its people. He attributes neighborhood developments, leaps in school reform, and a flourishing business community in part to the city’s LGBTQ citizens – and furthermore, he thinks that the message of inclusion and diversity on all levels should be part of the city’s legacy.
So, at a mayoral forum sponsored by the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (AGLCC), he hinted that he was going to do something “big for the LGBTQ business community related to the airport that would propel the city’s image to new heights.” He believes it’s a moment to revisit diversity and inclusion in the airport. In light of the recent corruption scandals, why not have that conversation as well. Kwanza Hall thought it prudent to roll out legislation that will be better at offering the contracting and bidding process to LGBTQ businesses. As Kwanza Hall observes, “opening up the bidding process to allow LGBTQ businesses to participate specifically makes so much sense to me. There is already a program for minority participation, but there’s no special callout for the LGBTQ community – so this is an opportune time to call for more diversity at the airport but also in the broader city”.
To back this particular piece of legislation, and to demonstrate that as mayor he will ‘put the money where his mouth is,’ he is proposing a space at the airport dedicated to LGBTQ businesses. As a man who likes to get things done, he already has complete renderings of the proposed area (see the full renderings at peachatl.com), a prospective business plan, a list of potential businesses, and, of course, a pretty solid concept of what such a space could entail: “This could be a Human Rights café that celebrates the diversity of the city, and a wonderful testament to the legacy this city holds. It is also us not just talking about it, but showing it – you actually see us being inclusive!”
Architecturally he is open to letting it be anything potential LGBTQ vendors or contractors would like it to be. Whether it’s going to be a café, restaurant, gallery, retail space, or all of the above with Atlanta-specific products is entirely open to interpretation, as long as it would have a component of storytelling that would show and tell the city’s diversity and inclusion.
The proposed space at the airport also holds a great deal of symbolic value to reflect Atlanta as the hub of the state’s LGBTQ community in the middle of the world’s busiest airport and most important travel hub in the American Southeast.
Next Big Steps for the ATL
Kwanza Hall is convinced that the concept of making the bidding process more accessible for LGBTQ businesses and the airport retail space will go far because of the way it could help shape the future of Atlanta. He firmly believes in opening from an inclusive position, and as he says, “Even though we haven’t figured out all perspectives, it’s about starting from a positive place and stay in that place.” The same attitude applies to the vision he has for future Atlanta should he be the one taking the mayor’s seat. “Obviously, I love the city. Who knows what we might be able to do? We’re not huge like Chicago and NYC, but we have all the same attributes and success platforms that they have,” he explains, “but we do struggle somewhat with our identity. We keep saying ‘we should be it’; but we just don’t know what that ‘it’ is yet!” He sees the next 4-8 years as genuinely formative – especially if Kwanza himself should be at the helm of the city – where Atlanta could indeed build a new perspective and identity for itself.
Much like a tween going through all the phases towards adulthood, Atlanta is not quite there, and just like a closeted gay person, Kwanza believes Atlanta should come out on its own! “As mayor, it’s going to be wonderful to help people, because people matter most and I believe in people-focused, people-centered leadership because it will do the soul of Atlanta good,” he explains. The grand vision is to develop a city that can take care of all of its people and be better about loving its people, “It’s not about giveaways but about empowering everyone to participate and to benefit and grow together. That’s what this city needs to be about.”
How will he build this vision of Atlanta? Well, apart from proposing comprehensive and well-researched legislation and getting things done instead of just talking about them, Kwanza returns to his roots to talk about doing well and simply having the need to help people: “I really did learn to become an honest public servant. My parents put that in me. I didn’t know growing up that that was what they were doing, but my dad always took us places to help people – and it’s hard to stray away from what has been given to you!”
The non-partisan mayoral election for the city of Atlanta will take place on Tuesday, November 7, 2017. Incumbent Mayor Kasim Reed is ineligible to run for re-election as he will have served two terms. If no candidate receives an absolute majority, a runoff will be held between the top two finishers on Tuesday, December 5, 2017. No matter who will claim the title as mayor of the city of Atlanta, Kwanza Hall describes best what the city needs: “Atlanta doesn’t need a white, black, gay, or straight mayor – Atlanta needs a great mayor.”
Disclaimer of Endorsement: The views and opinions stated in this interview are solely for the reader’s convenience. PeachATL Media does not endorse a single candidate in the mayoral campaign or election.
These are conceptional drawings provided to Peach Atlanta exclusively.