History of CWK and the WCA

Officially, Communities Who Know, Inc.™ (CWK) became a non-profit organization on December 6, 2017.  This organization, however, was not a new one. It evolved from the Westside Communities Alliance (2011 -2017), a root system that we proudly proclaim as we continue the vibrancy and dynamism of the CWK framework for enabling robust collaborative community development, progress, and sustainable change.

WCA Root Systems

 Photo courtesy of Westside Communities Alliance.

As Dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Jacqueline Jones Royster formed a campus partnership in the fall of 2010 with Alan Balfour, then Dean of the College of Architecture (now the College of Design), and Christopher Burke, Director of the Office of Community Relations, to collaborate with Westside Atlanta neighbors in the English Avenue and Vine City neighborhoods on initiatives of mutual interest.  Royster convened meetings of the various stakeholders on campus and in the community under the umbrella of the Georgia Tech Westside Task Force (faculty, staff, students, and community members) to determine a plan of collaborative action. 

On Wednesday, April 27, 2011, Royster convened the first meeting of the task force group at a community site, rather than on the Georgia Tech campus.  It was hosted by the English Avenue Neighborhood Association (EANA), with the support of then president Demarcus Peters.  The EANA offices at that time were at 781 Wheeler Street, NW, Studio 11, Atlanta, Georgia 30318.  By the end of the meeting, the group had organized the Westside Communities Alliance (WCA), with Royster continuing to serve as the executive director and manager; with the Ivan Allen College as the site of operations; and with the community organizations in attendance agreeing to work together around three clusters of issues:  education, communication, and public safety.     

As the WCA gained focus, strength, and momentum over the next six years, it:

  • Served as a flashpoint on the campus and in the community for a broad range of actions and activities of mutual and complementary interests.
  • For Georgia Tech, the WCA served as a dynamic mechanism for strengthening and sustaining campus-community relationships and for enabling coherence and continuity with regard to: research opportunities; service learning opportunities for college students; special learning engagement opportunities for middle and high school students; and various campus-community collaborations. 
  • For community partners, WCA became an easily accessible mechanism for creating synergies to increase the capacity of communities to figure out how to work together with campuses to meet community goals and interests. Essentially, communities that had experienced significant disinvestment for several decades, who had been greatly “studied” but not seriously engaged, and generally who were just deeply challenged had a systematic mechanism for functioning as agents of change in forging their own pathways to community success and sustainability—in partnership with others.
  • Served as leverage for:
    • building community knowledge and engaging in collaborations across many sectors:
      • education
      • housing
      • water and transportation
      • business and development
      • food and health
      • arts and culture
    • building capacity to lead and support the progress and prosperity of the communities. In this regard, WCA
      • organized various communications tools (a website, newsletter, social media) to communicate across neighborhoods and to share information;
      • convened, facilitated, and served as a resource for various types of meetings to engage in vital discussions of issues and concerns, and to develop strategies for positive action;
      • organized and facilitated conferences, symposia, forums, workshops, and events related to issues, challenges, and opportunities of mutual interests in building knowledge and enhancing capacity for meaningful action;
      • developed a data dashboard to support evidence-based decision making;
      • encouraged projects designed to document and celebrate history, arts, and culture in the communities.      

 Photo courtesy of Westside Communities Alliance.

After six years of intense work, the Westside Communities Alliance was a model for collective community action in urban development and sustainability.  The focus was on critically engaging multiple stakeholders with their various sets of expertise in the common challenge of addressing community needs and aspirations and developing strategic actions for sustaining vibrant, diverse, prosperous, and peaceful urban communities.  By 2016, the WCA was composed of:

  • an executive director: Jacqueline J. Royster
  • a core staff: Sheri Davis Faulkner (Director), Mackenzie Madden (Associate Director), and Katie O’Connell (Data and Information Management).
  • graduate student research assistants from the Ivan Allen College and the College of Design.
  • an advisory board composed of 17 members – drawn from partners on the Georgia Tech campus, two partner higher education institutions (Georgia State University and Spelman College), and from an active list of Westside community leaders and community organizations.

We all worked together to make a meaningful difference.  For this work, WCA was presented with several awards for excellence, including:

  • Outstanding Leadership Award – 2013 (The Conservancy at Historic Washington Park)
  • Champion of Youth Award – 2013 (Bellwood Boys and Girls Club)
  • University System of Georgia Chancellor’s Service Award – 2014
  • Atlanta City Council Proclamatione Westside READY Initiative (a collaboration focused on education/Westside schools and the needs of the Washington High School Cluster – 2015

On June 30, 2017, without adequate funding, the WCA ceased operations, but the work now continues through Communities Who Know, Inc.

 Photo courtesy of Westside Communities Alliance.

 Photo courtesy of Westside Communities Alliance.

 Photo courtesy of Westside Communities Alliance.

 Photo courtesy of Communities Who Know, Inc.

 Photo courtesy of Communities Who Know, Inc.

 

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