By Lauren McDonald
A young farmer discovered last month at the Georgia Organics Conference that his farm has formed a reputation among Georgia farmers.
“They would ask me, ‘What does your farm do?’” said Nathan Brett, owner of DaySpring Farms. “I’d tell them ‘We produce stone mill flour.’”
“Oh, you guys are the stone mill flour guys.”
Brett laughed and replied, “Yeah, that’s us.”
Customers will return to the Athens Farmers Market on April 4 at Bishop Park, and Brett is one of several young farmers who have emerged as local market celebrities.
“We heard that soon enough, instead of having celebrity chefs we would have celebrity farmers,” said Jan Kozak, manager of the Athens Farmers Market. “And lo and behold, we’ve got some farmers in our local market that are not necessarily celebrities but have done a good job of marketing themselves to where they’re really recognizable.”
DaySpring Farms is one of the nearly 100 small farms in and around Athens-Clarke County, all of which contribute to what Kozak calls a “burgeoning” local food scene.
“In the case of Athens, we have a fairly young farmer scene, and all that really contributes to the really great, vibrant local food scene that we have,” Kozak said.
Brett and his father Murray opened DaySpring Farms in 2011 in Danielsville, about 20 miles outside of Athens.
DaySpring Farms produces organically certified wheat, corn and produce. The 90-acre farm’s most well-known feature is its stone mill, which grounds wheat into flour.
“There may be a handful of other farms in Georgia that are growing organic wheat,” Brett said.
DaySpring Farms has expanded rapidly since it began four years ago.
The farm produced 30,000 pounds of organic wheat in 2014. Brett said they hope to sell 60,000 pounds this year.
But before 2011, Brett had very little interest in running his own farm.
Brett studied music business at the University of Georgia until 2008. He then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a career as a musician.
He dreamed of seeing his name up in lights.
“For the better part of my college career and afterwards, I was very intent on making a name for myself as a singer, songwriter or performer,” Brett said. “I wanted to the next Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan.”
His father convinced him to make a career in farming instead.
“He grew up on a farm in South Georgia,” Brett said. “He moved away from the farm to go to school. He says that he wishes he had never left. In about 2009, he got in my ear and talked me into moving back to the farm.”
So the Brett family bought a piece of foreclosed property in Danielsville.
DaySpring Farms sprung up on the local Athens food scene by taking part in the Farmers Market and building a client base. The farm began with just three acres of wheat.
Their biggest buyers have been Heirloom Café and the Independent Bakery, Brett said. Last month, he also began selling to The National and Five & Ten in Athens.
Chef Hugh Acheson, owner of The National and Five & Ten, buys 70 percent of food for both restaurants locally.
He said several new young farmers like Brett have sprung up on the local food scene in Athens lately, many of whom are finding ways to distinguish themselves, just like Brett has done by grinding his own flour.
“There’s a lot of new people doing some really cool stuff,” Acheson said. “As much as there’s new stuff on the rise, though, there’s also a lot of old timers that I still want to support.”
Brett said the Athens community recognizes the stone flour mill as his farm’s trademark, which he said improves his sales, as well as his notoriety.
DaySpring Farms has more control over where it sells crops, Brett said, because it owns its own stone mill. The farm can grind and store the flour because the mill is on-site, rather than outsourcing to a separate mill.
Brett keeps his business viable by storing and then selling the wheat throughout the year.
Brett did not expect to develop a passion for organic, sustainable farming.
In the past four years, though, he said his goal has become to share this philosophy with the Athens community, and he hopes to use his new-found fame to do so.
“Not only is there a need for farmers to produce real food, but it’s also extremely important to be a productive contributing member to society,” Brett said. “Farmers have an extremely unique responsibility in that. They provide one of the most essential things to the local community, and that’s food. Responsible farmers lead to more responsible communities.”
Brett no longer aspires to be a celebrity. Today, he only hopes to sustain his business, educate the community on organic farming and spend time with his wife and 3-month-old son.
“Living with that kind of mentality where you want to see your name in lights can be pretty damaging,” he said. “I’m grateful to have moved away from that, and I don’t really care if people know who I am. If I can provide a good living for my family, then I’m happy for that.”
For activist Gretchen Smith, the environment is something worth fighting for. At a young age, she began to make changes in her life to lessen her own footprint in the environment.
“I have never owned a car,” Smith said. “I have always ridden my bike wherever I need to go. I am building a home in Athens that will run off of Solar Energy and recycle my water whenever possible. I am unplugged to the technological advances that have caused the environmental damages around us.”
The Keystone Pipeline Debate in Washington D.C. has sparked a debate across the country for people like Smith. For activists, the pipeline represents more than an oil line coming through the northern parts of the United States.
It means opening up more chances for oil and natural gas companies to bring pipelines all over the country and eventually cause harmful environmental changes to the Earth as we know it.
“Pipelines bring the access debris from the burning of oil to the water sources in order to dump it,” Smith explained. “By doing this, the pipeline threatens water supplies all around the country.”
Smith is an advocate with the Georgia Climate Change Coalition (GCCC) which has been organizing protests all over Athens and has staged protests at the University of Georgia Arch. The GCCC is responsible for shedding light to Georgians about the recent statistics involving the changes in the environment because of oil and natural gas practices such as the pipelines.
“If the Keystone bill is passed in congress, more pipelines will stretch through the States. A new pipeline is being debated to come from Texas into the southern states to ruin our waters,” Smith explains. “Texas will profit from destroying our waters with their oil.”
University of Georgia (UGA) Professor in Multi Cultural Literature, LeAnne Howe, knows the effects of laws impacting Native American Tribes. At UGA, she teaches her students about the Native American prespective of being overrun by government for the past hundreds of years through literature. As a member of the Choctow tribe in Ada, Oklahoma, her people’s homelands, natural resources, and waters await the decision in Washington.
Howe was not willing to comment on the impact of the Keystone Pipeline as a whole on the Native American people due to tribal sovereignty, but she was willing to offer her own general prespective.
“The pipeline will affect the wildlife in the areas without creating jobs per se,” Howe said.
Tara Houska is a tribal rights attorney in Washington D.C. In an article on Indian Country Media Network’s, she stated: “The bill will approve a pipeline that will send tar sands oil through traditional tribal lands and the Mni Wiconi Rural Water Project, which provides the drinking water of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.”
GCCC Dan Everett states the overall climate change is something to be aware of as well.
“Climate changes everything. Every person on earth, every non-human species, and everything you care about will be damaged by this unfolding catastrophe,” Everett said. “We need to pay attention to the sheer magnitude of the impacts.”
According to Everett, The projected level of global warming — 4 to 6 degrees Celsius or more will make it difficult to maintain a “functioning and compassionate” human civilization as well.
The Keystone Pipeline and other pipelines like it impact moves to discover a gas better for the atmosphere to try to prevent more lasting damage.
“Oil from these pipelines burns dirty,” Smith explains. “It causes unsafe levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This would mean continuing impacts around the world.”
University of Georgia students have protested with members of the GCCC to raise awareness about the impacts of the pipelines on the environment in Clarke County.
A bike ride was planned by the organization to deliver a petition to Governor Deal to persuade Georgia politicians in Washington D.C. to vote against Keystone.
“By riding our bikes,” Smith said. “We also showed how we were making changes in our routine to save our environment in Athens.”
On Feb. 24, President Obama vetoed the bill to expedite the Keystone Pipeline; however a vote in the senate scheduled on Thursday is expected to override President Obama’s veto.
If you blink, you’ll miss 230 Boulevard. You’ll miss the bags of soil and the saplings waiting in blue recycling bins. The mayor and commission approved plans in February to turn the tiny lot into Boulevard Woods, a community park.
Land is very expensive in the historic neighborhood, but owner Gary Bayard chose not to clear it and sell to a developer; instead he placed it in a conservation easement, a privately owned property that can’t be mined, timber farmed, or developed, per the owner’s request.
Boulevard is only one lot out of more than 800 acres in Athens-Clarke County designated as conservation easements.
But to the average Athens-Clarke County resident, what difference does a conservation area make? Most of the county’s 120,000 residents rent, not own, property.
The answer: land conservation protects biodiversity and ecosystem services such as clean air and water. Athens area conservation protects the water supply in particular.
Many easements border the middle Oconee River or its tributaries. Athens Land Trust protects more than 600 acres along the Oconee in multiple counties.
People care about water, said Dr. Liz Kramer of the Natural Resources Spatial Analysis Lab. “When we start seeing a stress on a resource, it’s going to impact us.”
Georgia’s land and water are stressed more than ever, Kramer said. “Georgia changes a lot because we have a lot of development,” she said.
Permanent easements insure some of Georgia’s resources are maintained.
Because more than 95-percent of Georgia land is privately owned, these easements are the most effective tool for conservation, according Clint McNeal, Georgia Land Conservancy conservation specialist. Landowners retain the rights to sell and bequeath the land, local governments receive property taxes, and registered conservation trusts care for the land and its resources in perpetuity.
The State Assembly introduced the tax incentive program in 1993 to encourage more land owners to protect forests, wetlands, and greenspaces from destruction.
The state offers transferable tax credits for 25-percent of the land’s resale value minus the development or timber value prohibited by the easement, up to $250,000.
The credit especially helps “land-rich, cash-poor” individuals who can sell the credit for about 80 cents on the dollar, said McNeal, although as few as eight easements in the state qualified for credits last year.
Limited liability corporations also contributed to the increase in number of easements in the last two to three years, said Athens Land Trust Conservation Director Kyle Williams.
Although people tend to think of conservation areas as large tracks of land like Bear Creek Reservoir, the average size of an easement in Athens-Clarke County is 67 acres, that’s about two city blocks.
In the Boulevard neighborhood, less than half an acre makes a difference. Boulevard Woods will provide a greenspace in Athens’ urban center, a unique role in the growing city.
Boulevard is an affluent pocket in a mixed student, townie, and low-income area. Williams says the conservation easement is a really a community easement.
“Recognizing a tree is valuable, or a flower, gives them a greater sense of stewardship of resources.”
By: Aaron Conley
The information desk at a local bookstore is not the first place that anyone would expect to find one of the most polarizing political figures in a community, but that is exactly where you will find Tim Denson, and that is exactly how he likes it.
Standing behind the information desk at the Barnes and Noble, his signature beard makes him instantly recognizable, more so than by the simple “Tim” emblazoned on his nametag. His job further exemplifies his status as a political outsider, a central role in his 2014 mayoral campaign.
That campaign failed, and left Tim Denson with a lot of ideas, and a lot of questions, but no answers. Those answers are exactly what Tim is still trying to provide to his supporters today, nine months after the election. Read the rest of this entry »
By Clay Reynolds
Jill Helme brings a unique mix of skills to her new position as director of the downtown Athens based nonprofit AthFest Educates.
A former English teacher and school administrator, she left her job working with a school system in Orlando Florida to pursue a masters degree in nonprofit leadership – a step she took with an ultimate objective of becoming the executive director of a nonprofit organization centered around education or youth.
A nonprofit like this one was exactly what she had in mind.
“My entire path has been leading me to this,” Helme said.
Helme, named director of the organization this past week, replaces previous director and founder Jared Bailey, who stepped down earlier this year. She takes over the position April 15.
She comes into the job hoping to help the organization set a more of a future vision in its efforts at sponsoring music and arts education programs for kids in local schools.
AthFest Educates supports grants to local educators through its two well-known fundraisers: the AthFest Music and Arts Festival each summer and the AthHalf half marathon every fall.
Highly successful with those events, the organization’s board wanted to bring in someone who could help better translate those dollars into the community impact they want to make.
Helme fit into their plan perfectly.
“Their mission is so clear. They just want to make sure they can achieve that mission,” she said. “I felt like I was a big piece of that puzzle.”
Helme moved to Athens last year when her husband took a job with the University of Georgia’s Dept. of Student Affairs.
She joined in on his trip to interview for the position, and made sure to bring along their 2-year-old son so they both could scout out Athens as a place to live, work and go to school.
It made the cut.
“It was really important to me to feel like we could live and work in a college town even though we were not directly connected to the school,” Helme said.
She graduated with a bachelors degree from the University of Florida – a college town atmosphere she said is totally different from Athens.
“Living in a place like Gainesville, truly the whole culture was the college,” she said. “Athens has a complete separate identity. People who aren’t connected to the university still have a whole separate culture.”
Quite a bit of that culture will reside just outside the door of her new downtown office, housed in the AthFest headquarters on Clayton Street. She’s only been there a few times, but is still new enough to not have memorized the address.
Helme expects the change in leadership to be largely transparent, especially since she’ll leave much of the organizing work behind this year’s already-scheduled music festival and race to those who have done it in years previous.
She will mostly throw her efforts behind evaluating the programs AthFest helps fund for effectiveness and purpose, and look to develop long-term plans for improving them.
“They’re clear on who they want to serve and the kind of impact they want to have,” Helme said of the AthFest board’s objectives. “What’s not perfectly clear is where they want to be in three years. They want somebody to help pull all those ideas together and to get it into some kind of vision.”
She describes her passion as working with youth, ages 13-20. She realized that in five years spent teaching English and language arts, four of them in Orlando and a fifth in Valencia, Venezuela.
Helme eventually moved out of education to do more work dealing with youth development and after-school programming. Her family spent time living in Orlando, Philadelphia and Chicago before making their most recent move to Athens.
They felt attracted to the Classic City for a number of reasons, especially the low cost of living, which has enabled them to spend more time together. But she was most intrigued by the sense of community she noticed in all spheres of Athens life.
“It’s definitely a community effort,” Helme said. “Everybody is focused on doing what’s going to build and better their community.”
Athens is different from places she’s previously lived, but is great in its own way.
“There are a lot of things I miss,” she said. “But a lot of great things about living in a smaller town that you couldn’t replicate anywhere else.”
Athens residents, among the poorest in Georgia, are healthier than anyone would expect.
The poverty is well known. Clarke County has the seventh highest poverty rate in the state out of 159 counties. Nationally, Athens contains the fifth highest poverty rate among counties with populations higher than 100,000 people, according to recent census data.
And, experts say, that with this level of poverty comes poor health. This is the outcome for most counties in Georgia. Nearly 80 percent of Georgia’s counties with high poverty rates contain health statistics that match up just as poor.
But, a new study shows just the contrary for Athens. Clarke County ranks 14th for the best health rates in the state. They sit just above Henry County who oppose Clarke with the eighth lowest poverty rates.
An assembly of experts offered a range of explanations as to why these statistics contest one another. They include: a UGA Public Health professor, the state’s most well-known demographer, a volunteer physician, and an office manager at a health clinic for the underprivileged.
Three primary explanations from experts:
- Athens is a young town with a small percentage of the population 65 years or older, which lowers the mortality and morbidity rate.
- Athens has a large number of highly educated people who make smart health decisions.
- Athens is a social and economic hub with two regional health centers that attract commuters. There are also free health clinics that help the uninsured.
Athens is a young town.
Multiple news sources, from CNN to Kiplinger, have ranked Athens, Ga. as one of the top places in the country to retire, yet only 8 percent of the population is 65 years and above. That is lower than the rest of Georgia where an average of 11 percent are in their retirement years. In Clarke County, 74 percent of the residents are between the ages of 19 and 64 years old.
“If you have a population that is on the younger end of things,” said Dr. Monica Gaughan, UGA assistant professor in the College of Public Health, “than you are going to have lower mortality rates because older people are the ones who tend to be sicker.”
The University of Georgia plays a slight role in this statistic; however, only a small percentage of students declare Clarke County as their permanent residence so they do not effect the census results.
Almost two-thirds of UGA students come from about ten counties in the metro-Atlanta area, said Dr. Doug Bachtel, UGA professor of demographics. A significant number of these students drive back and forth from school each day or live in university dormitories.
The facts are simple. Younger people tend to be healthier people. Athens has a significant number of young to middle aged citizens who push the mortality and morbidity rate down; therefore, the overall health rate of the county is elevated.
Athens entices the highly educated.
“Better educated populations are going to live longer and they are going to be healthier while they are living,” Gaughan said. “One of the weird things about Athens-Clarke County is that we have extremely low income levels and extremely high education levels.”
The high school graduation rates of Clarke County are at 66 percent, which is only one point lower than the rest of Georgia; however, there is an overwhelming number of of the population with a bachelors degree or higher. The University of Georgia, located in the center of Athens, obviously plays a part in this statistic. A large portion of the population consists of highly educated professors and professionals, all who contain premiere health insurance and can afford to live healthy lifestyles.
Athens has a bimodal distribution of education and poverty levels, meaning there are large populations of people resting on two extremes of the spectrum. Forty percent of the Clarke citizens have a bachelors degree or above, which is twice the percentage of rest of the state.
“If you aren’t poor in Athens you are actually very well-off,” Gaughan said. “These are the people who are going to have access to good health care. They have money to buy healthy food. Yes, poor people are going to be unhealthy people and they are going to be more likely to die, but if half of the population is extremely wealthy, which is what happens in Clarke County, than they can pull that statistic up.”
Those classified within the 34 percent who live under the poverty line are not all uneducated. Gaughan stressed the necessity to remember the people who contain a college degree, but are voluntarily poor.
“Think about all of the musicians, and the artists and the hanger-oners that are part of Athens,” Gaughan described. “You have the education which will reduce your mortality and reduce your morbidity, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that education is translating into higher income.”
Athens is a medical hub.
Athens is a lively town with shops and shows that people from all parts of the state travel to be a part of. They also commute in for medical care because of the two regional hospitals: Athens Regional Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital.
“It’s all about the location,” Bachtel said. “There is a large number of state and federal agencies that are headquartered here. You’ve got a large number of people with Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance. Plus Clarke County and Athens tends to be a social, retail, service and educational hub in northeast Georgia. That’s why a lot of things cook here.”
About 20 percent of Athens’ residents contain Medicaid. Another 23 percent contain jobs but are still uninsured because they are ineligible for Medicaid and make too little to afford insurance. Most of the private physicians in town refuse to see either type of person, choosing to only care for those on the upper half of the bimodal distribution.
Those struggling in the lower half are not left completely uncared for. A multitude of free clinics are offered through Athens Health Network, an organization committed to filling in the holes of medical care within the health system of Athens. The program started from an umbrella organization through UGA called OneAthens, and then broke off in 2010 to be more focused on underprivileged healthcare.
“Its confusing because most populations have a much more normal distribution than our population,” Gaughan said. “Athens-Clarke County is comprised of extremely affluent, white retirees and professors and professionals, and extremely poor African American people who clean our toilets, and that is the ugly little secret of Athens. These clinics constitute the health safety net in town so poor people, who don’t have insurance, can use these practices to get access to the system.”
The two most popular clinics are Mercy Health Center and Athens Nurses Clinic. Both care for those who are completely uninsured, with no way of paying for health services.
One their main goals, said Dr. Paul Buczynsky of Mercy in a World Magazine article, is to get their patients involved in their own health by educating them on their illnesses. When a patient is treated for diabetes, one of the most perpetual chronic diseases seen at the clinics, he or she is required to take a six-week course that teaches the patient about the illness in order to get a prescription refill. The volunteer physicians highly enforce lifestyle changes over quick treatment so that more patients can be seen over time.
Not a perfect system.
Despite the glowing census numbers, not all experts agree on the accomplishments of Athens’ healthcare system.
Dr. Bachtel feels confident in the success of the services provided by the faith community and free clinics; however, Dr. Gaughan and those at Athens Health Network know the harsh reality.
“We do not have enough resources for the poor,” Gaughan stated. “I think it is a convenient little fiction that we tell each other when we say, ‘There’s so much charity care. Athens is just too busy to hate.’ That’s crap.”
Demand for free healthcare in Athens is rising, according to an AthensPatch article. The clinics are first-come, first-serve, and only have the resources to see a limited number of patients per day, said Mary Baxter, office manager of Mercy.
When the clinics are closed, 75 percent of the patients go to the Athens Regional ER, even though most of their health issues are not emergencies. This increases their wait time and many leave without being treated.
“The poor have pretty hard lives and don’t have a lot of access to care,” Gaughan said. “They go to the emergency rooms which is not necessarily the highest quality of care. If you have diabetes and you are having a diabetic episode than you don’t need to be in the emergency room, you need to be with a physician that has been managing your care. Very few physicians take people who don’t have health insurance, or even take people with medicaid.”
Athens-Clarke County is one of the few places in Georgia who has defied the standard of poor people with poor health rates. However, as seen nationally and locally, there is always room for improvement in the public healthcare system.
Silence covers a brick house that was once filled with Athens’ activist. An intern taps computer keys as time winds down on her final day at work. The executive director comes in with final words of thanks and encouragement before sending the intern off to contribute to the economic justice of the community. This is part of a typical day in the life of Linda Lloyd.
Lloyd serves as the executive director of the Economic Justice Coalition in Athens. She dedicated almost 10 years of her life to the enhancement of others lives and their rights and does not plan to stop in the near future. Her passion to serve others stems from her humbled upbringing and personal experience with economic injustice. Her influence impacts cities around Georgia but centers in Athens, Georgia.
Lloyd had her final meeting with Strozier Monday morning to discuss her learning plan to complete for the internship requirement. The interaction was brief but substantial to the interns start in the real world of social work.
“I’ve really enjoyed her she’s very caring and nice and so involved in so many different things. She’s really a hard worker she’s also my teacher at Athens Tech,” said Daniela Strozier.
Lloyd recruits social work interns for the Economic Justice Coalition from her classrooms at Athens Technical College. Strozier was Lloyd’s most recent catch whose term as an intern came to an end on Monday. Students complete the internships for an out of classroom experience as well as for course credit. Lloyd enforces “Good News Day” every Tuesday in class. Students share news about something good has happened to them within the week or share something they’ve done good for someone. She believes that when people acknowledge good things they come back to us.
“I enjoy teaching social work because I love my profession,” Lloyd said. “I’m just as excited now as I was 30 years ago about social work to be able to instill this passion I have in others to become foot soldiers and carry on task that need to be done.”
Lloyd described experience as the best teacher, which led to her implementation of the interns for the Economic Justice Coalition. Lloyd’s past experiences inspired her to expose her students to first hand experience and motivated her to work harder for economic justice for all. She also serves as a field instructor of the master’s of social work program at the University of Georgia.
Lloyd swayed in her desk chair as she reminisced about her personal experiences with economic injustice. She experienced two incidents where she knew that something had to be done to stop the unfair pay and treatment of workers.
With closed eyes, Lloyd recalled a termination from a previous job that she challenged in various levels of court.
“In the middle of my career I was terminated without due process after working for this company for 18 years,” Lloyd said. “ I fought that case for 10 years and eventually got my name cleared but now I’m so avid of workers rights because my rights were violated. I try to teach my students that you have to advocate for another person’s rights like they were your own.”
Lloyd served as the first African American female county manager of Green County, Georgia in 2001. Lloyd was responsible for the management of over $14 million and 150 employees. When she suggested allocating a larger portion of the budget toward raising wages for workers in the county she was confronted by a commissioner. The commissioner scolded her for the request and cursed so loud that others in the building noticed. Lloyd checked nearby offices to ask others if they heard what happened. They did, but reassured her that her decision came from the heart and referred to her as a breath of fresh air in the department.
“People go bizerk when you talk about increasing people’s wages at the bottom,” Lloyd said. “But I enjoy fighting, I don’t know what else to do when your rights and mine are violated, you can’t just do nothing,” Lloyd said.
Her firm belief in fighting for others translated back to Athens in the past 10 years through her work with the Economic Justice Coalition and other organizations.
Lloyd met with a representative from the Peachy Green co-op program to discuss the next step to get the program on its feet in the near future. Lloyd listened with pursed lips and concerned eyes as updates were shared. Excitement took over once she discovered that the program was well on its way to a good start. The meeting was brief but progress was made.
The Peachy Green co-op is similar to how a food co-op is set up but focuses on providing work for day laborers in Athens. The program started around three years ago when the Economic Justice Coalition created Unity Cooperative Labor partners as a social enterprise. They recruited handymen, lower maintenance workers and cleaning staff. After receiving a planning grant from the Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago Lloyd along with 15 other businesses built upon the idea of the co-op to make it a reality.
“We will be Athens’ first worker cleaning co-op and in the south people are familiar with cooperative but they are usually doing food cooperatives,” Lloyd said. “But now in terms of an industry like we’re doing you got other folks that are used to other cleaning co-ops like in the West.”
The program is still in the beginning stages but affiliates see a promising future for the success of the program. Lloyd understands that in order for the program to flourish she has to be active in the community and with other businesses
“We have to spend time with people,” Lloyd said. “When you establish a relationship and show people your passion for a cause, they believe you and are willing to help.”
Lloyd twiddled her thumbs as she talked about the wage system at the University of Georgia. She refers to them as slave wages. Lloyd has worked to raise these wages to living wages for employees in Athens and on the University of Georgia’s campus.
“It’s sad to see these workers come in frustrated with the amount of money they make and still see no progress on the issue when new buildings are always being built on campus,” Lloyd said. “The money is there but the activism is missing.”
Lloyd explained that workers are held back from receiving their full wages because the university found ways to get around their own policies. The university is required to pay workers full-time after six months of consecutive work.
The university has around 2,500 employees that are considered part time part-time temporary workers when they are working full- time permanent hours. To get around that workers are paid part time for six months, terminated and then rehired according to various employees of the university. The Economic Justice Coalition views this treatment as unjust.
To fight against it, they work with lawyers who analyze the employee’s cases on an ad hoc basis then provide legal services if need be for the employees. Lloyd believes the Living Wages movement is on a good start to helping these workers move away from slave wages.
When Lloyd finds time to wind down she enjoys staying home.
She kicks off her shoes after work but carries her concerns in her mind one she arrives home. Her husband is the only person in the house now that her daughter ahs moved off to Nashville, Tennessee to teach. Lloyd admits to a new interest in watching soap operas for entertainment and speaking with family on the phone when she can.
“I do too much, I know I do,” Lloyd said. “But people realize that I have passion and a purpose even when I go to Dooly county I’m doing work there.”
Her ultimate getaway is back home to Dooly County but the work doe snot stop there. During her last spring break period, Lloyd traveled home to visit her mother for her birthday but her break was far from a vacation.
Lloyd opened a summer enrichment program and after school program in her hometown of Dooly County in 2004. Both initiatives grew from the basement of her home church building and have had a large impact on her community’s high school graduation rates.
At the programs inception Dooly County only had 30 graduates from public high schools that most of the black community attended. Yet students from private schools in the county graduated in normal ranks. Lloyd determined that something had to be done. She applied for a grant to start both programs and results were quick to follow.
“You know I’m a grant writer, and I encourage others to work on a volunteer basis, “Lloyd said. “ Over those years we got over $250,000 and doubled the high school graduation rates in Dooly.”
Lloyd also created the Families First Empowerment Center to help local families understand their rights as workers and how our economy works.
When asked why she continues to work for the benefit of other her answer was simple.
“I was driving down 316 the other day and saw a billboard that said ‘ Happiness is Helping Others’ I think that pretty much sums up why I’ll always fight for the rights of others, “ Lloyd said.
To learn more about the Economic Justice Coalition, make a donation or contact Linda Lloyd follow this link.
Protestors chanted “Undocumented! Unafraid!” on March 6 against the Board of Regents’ 2010 decision to ban undocumented students from enrolling in the top five research institutions in Georgia.
The Economic Justice Coalition and Freedom University both housed in Athens joined forces after the rally for the Lift the Ban movement addressing undocumented students banned from applying to the top five higher education institutions in Georgia.
The Economic Justice Coalition met to discuss joining forces with Freedom University on the Lift the Ban and Raise the Wages movements in Athens on March 21. Both groups anticipate that joining forces will create a bigger buzz on the two issues affecting Athens. The Executive Director of the Economic Justice Coalition Linda Lloyd plans to use grant money to fund both of the projects.
Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama ban students who cannot prove lawful United States citizenship from enrolling into certain universities within the states. Georgia’s ban prevents undocumented students from enrolling in the state’s top five research colleges that are the University of Georgia, Georgia College and State University, Georgia Institution of Technology, Georgia State University and Georgia Regents University.
Athens Technical College allows undocumented students to enroll. But state laws require undocumented students to pay international tuition fees according to the Vice President of Student Affairs at Athens Technical College, Andrea Daniel.
“If an international student does not provide proof of residency and lawful presence then they must pay four times the tuition rate,” Daniel said.
Representatives from Freedom University and the Economic Justice Coalition hope that the conjunction will create a large enough out cry to persuade the Board of Regents to lift the ban against undocumented students.
The issue of undocumented students ignited with the Jessica Colotl case. Colotl enrolled at Kennesaw State University in 2010 but sparked controversy after a traffic violation arrest. She was arrested for traffic violations and later for making false statements regarding her citizenship status and denied from attending classes during the case. The Economic Justice Coalition worked since 2006 to address local issues of immigrant rights.
The Economic Justice Coalition appointed a Latino Outreach coordinator. They organized an Immigration Rights march with 1,500 people in Athens, Georgia in the spring of 2006 and have worked with the local Latino community ever since.
The coalition organized English as Second Language training classes for day laborers in 2008. The classes helped Latino workers communicate with employers and opened up new job opportunities. The coalition developed a nonprofit business to give African-American and Latino day laborers employment.
Colotl’s case initiated the Georgia legislature to draft House Bill 59 and Senate Bill 458. The bills banned undocumented students from receiving post secondary institutions in the state of Georgia in 2011. The bill required students to pay out-of-state or international tuition rates for schools in the state. The March 6 rally held around the arch fell on the 30th day of Georgia’s legislature session. However, the topic of undocumented students was not considered during this year’s session.
Local school efforts ease the burden some undocumented students face. Athens Technical College supports international students in other ways besides financial hardships attendees face.
“International students have access to a host of support programs that all students use,” Daniel said. “ATC [Athens Technical College] offers free tutoring services, a host of student organizations are available for students to become involved with and Career Services are also available. There is an International Club on campus and this organization often works with Rotaract here at the College on International projects.”
However, the largest problem that enrolled undocumented students face is financial aid. The in-state full-time tuition rate at Athens Technical College is $1,455 compared to the international full-time rate of $5,820. The college addresses issues outside of financial ones due to strict limitations of state laws and the demographics they tend to recruit.
“We really aren’t aware of any issues on campus other than when students state they can’t qualify for financial aid,” Daniel said. “Athens Technical College exists primarily to serve Georgia citizens; therefore, non-resident students may enroll in classes on a space-available basis. They shall not displace students desiring to enroll who are legal, permanent residents of the state.”
The demographics of the college’s students are around three percent Asian and four percent Hispanic-Latino. However, Freedom University’s demographics are 100-percent undocumented students with most students coming from Latina and Hispanic backgrounds.
Freedom University began in 2011 to provide college-leveled classes to students regardless of citizenship status. Some UGA faculty agreed to volunteer teaching classes in undisclosed basements around Athens. Pam Voekel is one faculty volunteer. She spoke with an Athens-Banner Herald reporter about why she wanted to join the cause.
“We asked them as professors what we could do to help as part of that fight and they said well what you can do is teach a class,” Voekel said. “So what we decided to do is open something called Freedom University here in Athens and Freedom University is open to all students regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay.”
Freedom University provides more than education opportunities for the students that face issues outside of the classroom.
Freedom University officials assist students with filling out deferral forms allowed under the Obama administration in 2012. These deferrals allow students to attend schools under a two-year work visa at affordable cost. States like Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina are still hesitant to approve of these deferrals.
Linda Lloyd jumpstarted a partnership with Freedom University on March 21. Lloyd witnessed a movement to fight for undocumented students higher education access rights. She was inspired to help.
“I was so excited about Freedom University and that rally,” Lloyd said. “At least 200 students, they came and I was just impressed with the level of community organizing.”
The partnership between The Economic Justice Coalition and Freedom University centers around a grant the Economic Justice Coalition receives to fund movements like Lift the Ban.
“Right now we are working on the Resist Grant and Resist is a grant we have received since 2003 it was $3,000 but now it’s moving to $4,000 a year and we want to go ahead and do that grant around the UGA Living Wage and Lift the Ban,” Lloyd said.
Undocumented students attend classes today in the basements of Athens, Georgia. The Economic Justice Coalition, Freedom University and other activist groups are determined to see these students attend classes in the classrooms of schools like UGA one day.
Footage of some of the Economic Justice Coalition’s community board meeting on March 21 can be viewed on the video link below.