Russell Edwards active in local community, continues to fight proposed Wal-MartPosted: April 10, 2012
By POLINA MARINOVA
Russell Edwards was a clown in high school.
“I spent much of my high school years as a paid clown,” Edwards wrote in an email interview. “Great training for politics!”
Edwards, a University of Georgia graduate and local attorney, has explored all sorts of jobs — bicycle mechanic, paid clown, a Spanish teacher and an attorney.
Teaching eighth grade Spanish in Washington was one of Edwards’ defining moments.
“Every day was tough, but I went home knowing I made a difference in some small part,” he said. “Therefore, I hold public school teachers in high regard and feel the State of Georgia would do better to give them the support they deserve every day.”
Every day was tough, Edwards said, because the kids were “merciless in their scrutiny” of his actions.
But the job went beyond merciless scrutiny.
“We had some good laughs too,” he said. “I battle rapped the class clown on a field trip to the ballet — so much commotion and laughing that the bus driver pulled over on Massachusetts Avenue and threatened to kick us off.”
Edwards’ ultimate goal was to make a difference in the community he served.
“Overall, I was blown away by the devotion of my colleagues who came to work each day and made the world a better place,” he said. “I was fortunate to teach at a public school that was well supported by the community around it.”
Edwards didn’t stop there. He even tried his hand at politics when he ran against U.S. Rep. Paul Broun in 2010.
“I learned that running for federal office is an incredible sacrifice,” he said. “Candidates are not supposed to get paid to run, so I basically volunteered all of my time towards winning my race.”
Edwards said the pressure to raise money was immense. He spent hours tracking down old friends and family to “practically beg them for help.”
And it worked. He was able to raise almost a quarter of a million dollars in the span of only five months.
As a University law graduate, the natural progression for Edwards was politics. He said he attended law school to gain tools necessary to help him positively contribute to the community.
“When I graduated, I could not imagine a better contribution to the Athens’ community than replacing Paul Broun Jr. in the U.S. Congress with someone who understood the benefits of directing federal research dollars to UGA,” he said.
Though Edwards did not win the race against Broun, he learned a lot of lessons in his time as a Congressional candidate.
“I’ll never forget hiring a campaign manager sight unseen who ended up being a 50-year-old hippy with hair down to his back-side,” Edwards said. “I will never underestimate the importance of face-to-face interviews again. I ended up conditioning his continued employment on a haircut and then sent him down to City Salon.”
But Edwards doesn’t have to worry about unkempt campaign managers anymore — at least not for now.
“I just got married, started a law practice and am building a house,” he said. “Running for office is the last thing on my mind.”
Higher on his priority list is community activism.
For one, Edwards has been fighting against the proposed Wal-Mart complex in downtown Athens.
“Atlanta-based Selig Enterprises has come up with the absolute worst possible proposal for downtown Athens: a Wal-Mart the size of two football fields,” he said. “People for a Better Athens sprung to action as soon as we found out to help Athenians force Selig into building a development that will better serve our community.”
Edwards leads the group “People for a Better Athens,” which opposes the proposed retail development.
Currently, Edwards and the group are planning a 5K road race that will take participants around the area where Selig wants to build the complex.
But that’s not all Edwards is doing these days.
He serves on the board of the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services and acts as treasurer of the Democratic Party of Georgia.
“Through these two activities, I vocally support Georgia’s Latino community,” he said. “Moving towards the election in November, I hope to contribute towards the registration of 100,000 new Latino voters in [Georgia].”
Edwards said Georgia’s Latino community is under attack by what he thinks are people who fail to understand the “American Dream.”
“Leaders in our state have punished innocent children by banning them from public universities,” he said. “The plight of these undocumented children is the most important civil rights issue today.”
Growing up in the suburbs of Georgia, Edwards said he is thankful for the Mexican culture that immigrants brought there.
“The culture of America is a beautiful tapestry woven and made strong by diverse threads,” he said. “My wife is an immigrant too — born in South Korea.”
His wife, Airee Hong Edwards, owns an Athens-based business named “Agora.”
Agora is a boutique that sells antiques, art and vintage items in downtown Athens.
“Airee and I share a deep devotion to the betterment or our community, and we find our demanding schedules dovetail more often than not,” he said. “She gives a hand with my community events, and I give a hand with hers.”
The newlyweds enjoy traveling and finding vintage “treasures” to bring back to Athens. And what else does Edwards do in his down time?
“Fighting Selig’s Wal-Mart takes up most of my free time these days,” he said. “I’m really not interested in taking anything else on for the time being.”