Academy tackles tough issues with shared reading


Wesley International Academy’s Melanie Dillett-Dukes was looking for a way to start a meaningful conversation about events in the news. And she wanted to have that discussion with her colleagues first.

“After the trauma of black and brown people was broadcast to the world, I proposed to my executive director that we have a serious conversation,” she said. “We have a mixed staff, and we’re a predominantly black school with about 750 students in kindergarten through eighth, but we didn’t have strong, meaningful conversations on racism, inequities and oppression. We needed to start talking about racism and how it impacts students, teachers and parents.”

Dillett-Dukes suggested the staff read “Stamped,” a book by Jason Reynolds that was published last summer to tackle just such complex topics.

“We started off as a staff book club,” she said. “But we also saw how the next generation was ready for change. This was a book that both staff and middle schoolers could dive into.”

Last fall, the academy began hosting “equity journey gatherings” for the 80-plus teachers, staff and administrators.

“Initially we thought we’d have more pushback, but everyone was open and willing and ready to dig into these conversations,” said Dillett-Dukes. “Once a month we had activities to get people going deeper into identity and privilege, and how they intersect with relationships across races.”

By March, the teachers began sharing the book with middle-schoolers.

“A team planned a unit to flesh out what we wanted the book to be in the classroom,” said Dillett-Dukes. “They used poetry, creative design, whatever students wanted to connect to the book.”

Chloe Jones, 14, was an eighth grader when the book was introduced and was happy to read it.

“In light of all the protests that happened prior to the school year, I felt it needed to be discussed in our classroom, and I really wanted to see how my classmates felt about it,” she said. “I didn’t know exactly how the book was going to talk about things, but I was excited to learn more.”

Jones said she learned a good bit about how history and leaders relate to race issues. “It talked about things that aren’t often taught, but it’s important for my generation to be aware of these issues to hopefully change the future for the better.”

Ainsley Odle, 13, had read “Stamped” before it was introduced in class. “But this time it gave me a different take, and I was able to go more in depth about the topics with my friends,” she said. “We even talked about it outside of school. It really forced me to look at myself and my views.”

The students’ connections surprised even the teachers. A survey of the young readers revealed they had stronger feelings about treating others better and understanding where people come from. They also were keen on sharing the book with their parents who then engaged faculty and staff in conversations, too.

“Sometimes you don’t always get that ‘aha’ when you know they get it,” said Dillett-Dukes. “But that was my joy in leading this conversation.”

Information about Wesley International Academy is online at


Atlanta Bicycle Coalition fights to make Atlanta travel safer


“The pandemic exacerbated inequities of place and resource that many Atlantans already experienced before March 2020,” said Margaret Mullins, the admin and communications coordinator of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is a nonprofit that works for equitable and sustainable transportation in Atlanta through programs like Bike Family which provides bike safety education and resources to second graders and their families in school communities located along Atlanta’s high-injury network, the area of the city where planning and policy make it significantly more dangerous to travel.

“One’s ZIP code, race or income should not impact the likelihood of getting hurt or killed while trying to get somewhere. Atlanta’s high-injury network findings show that our least safe streets are not evenly distributed — around 88% of Atlanta’s traffic fatalities occur on less than 8% of Atlanta’s streets — disproportionately affecting neighborhoods with higher shares of Black residents, lower median incomes and more families without access to a car,” said Mullins.

By working to affect policy change like its Vision Zero plan — a safe systems approach that sets a goal of zero traffic deaths — and providing bikes, bike safety classes and bike safety equipment, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is working to close the safety gaps in the Atlanta community, which gape even wider in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We really miss connecting in-person with the community through classes and group rides, but we’re also grateful that virtual platforms made it possible for us to safely continue providing resources to help Atlantans move safely, easily and sustainably throughout the pandemic,” said Mullins. “It is important to us that all Atlantans have access to livable lifestyles that safe, sustainable transportation affords.”

Who’s helping?

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition

Services: The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition works to provide bikes and bike safety training and equipment to people along Atlanta’s high-injury network, the areas of the city where planning and policy make it more dangerous to travel.

Where to donate: Make a monetary donation at, or visit the Ways to Give page.

How to get help: Learn more and sign up at

This Father’s Day, Celebrating the Dads of Fathers Incorporated

Fathers Incorporated launched in 2004 to show how dads positively affect children’s personal development including educational outcomes. In 2016, the nonprofit group kicked off a new aspect of its programming, Real Dads Read, in a creative and effective setting: barbershops.

“Our program is a two-generation approach to engaging and improving outcomes for both men and children where they are bonding and spending time through literacy,” said Fathers Incorporated founder and CEO Kenneth Braswell.

The program enables fathers to share books in the barbershop that are intentionally chosen to be culturally relevant for African-American families. The children can also take the books home for free. 

“At the time, people were not ready to hear and talk about fathers in the endearing way that they talk about moms and children,” Braswell told the Atlanta Business Chronicle last year. “But that has changed in recent years, as has the perception of what it means to be a father today.”

Fathers Incorporated’s core values emphasize the role of father figures in supporting their children holistically through the promotion of Responsible Fatherhood.

“Masculinity is not what it was 30 years ago. Now, not only can fathers be protectors and providers,” Braswell told the Chronicle, “but we can also be nurturers, and being nurturers is just as important to us as the other things are.”

Building on its early success, Real Dads Read grew from 20 barber shops to nearly 100 barbershops and Atlanta Public Schools throughout Metro Atlanta and Columbus Georgia. 

Then COVID hit. People were not coming to barbershops anymore, and Fathers Incorporated had to figure out how to reach families. With the support of a grant from the redefinED atlanta Innovation Fund, Fathers Incorporated was able to adapt by offering an adaptation of our Real Dads Read Curriculum guided from a parent’s position.

Teaming up with the Atlanta Public Schools Police Department and the creation of the Real Dads Read Mobile Units, officers helped deliver more than 1,400 books to families in underserved neighborhoods. The mobile units focus on reaching African-American children during the summer months when schools are not open. They’ll head back out later this month. 

The mobile units expanded the reach of Real Dads Read while tapping into and strengthening the relationships APS police officers have built within communities.

“Our community deeply values the role dads play in our children’s lives. Black fathers in Atlanta and Columbus are breaking stereotypes and redefining their roles as parent figures, which is inspiring and empowering,” said Braswell. “There’s nothing they can’t do, and the success and wellbeing of their children proves it. I’m proud that Fathers Incorporated has been able to support them.” 

Learn more about Fathers Incorporated and Real Dads Read at

Photos courtesy of Fathers Incorporated.





3D Girls, Inc. pivots to provide pandemic care

In the summer of 2012 Raioni Madison-Jones founded 3D Girls, Inc. with the mission of educating and empowering young women and their families. Over the past nine years the nonprofit has developed a caseload of 325 families in the metro Atlanta area, and when the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, 3D Girls, Inc. had to alter its work and intensify outreach efforts to yield more sustainable solutions for families in need.

“Our work is grounded in addressing the critical disparities that limit young women: the access to educational tools, financial empowerment and health resources that are needed to thrive,” said Madison-Jones. “We envision a future where the next generation of young women are self-sufficient leaders.”

The nonprofit has worked during the pandemic to provide more than 400 mothers and fathers in need with care packages on a weekly basis. It has also delivered tens of thousands of diapers, wipes and feminine care products, and during the holidays, 3D Girls, Inc. provided holiday gifts to 100 single parents experiencing hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The work that we are doing is helping people sustain. The stories of hardship go deep, from the moms who gave birth at the peak of quarantine who are suffering to cope with not being able to work. To the veteran moms who have to decide to buy food or buy diapers,” said Madison-Jones. “Our team is working consistently to improve our systems and resources to effectively support families who are struggling to make ends meet during these difficult times.”

So far this year 3D Girls, Inc. has been working to address feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation among women and girls. On May 1 the group launched an emergency assistance program to help families with utilities, housing payments and other essential services to support families’ most immediate needs.

Who’s helping?

3D Girls, Inc.

Services: 3D Girls, Inc. works to educate and empower young women to be advocates for themselves and their families through mentoring, prenatal and parent education and social/emotional wellness.

Where to donate: To donate, visit or send donations via mail to 933 Lee St. SW, Suite B-1, Atlanta, GA 30310

How to get help: Visit or email [email protected]

SKIP Georgia Supports Students to and through Graduation

SKIP Georgia scholars after a day participating in an Environmental Ecosystem program.

Students’ first year of high school is critically important. How often 9th-grade students attend school and how well they do in school has an outsize impact on whether they will eventually graduate. 

So it did not bode well when Malik Gore started skipping class as a freshman at a high school in South Atlanta. 

“I got caught up in the drama, and it really took a toll on me,” he said. 

Malik ended up at Phoenix Academy, a second-chance school on the Crim open campus in East Atlanta. That’s where he encountered a system of support that has helped put him on the verge of graduating from high school this spring. 

Key to Malik’s success has been the Phoenix Academy staff and the programming of, the local chapter of the Save Kids of Incarcerated Parents program. During the 2020-21 school year, SKIP Georgia received a grant from the redefinED atlanta Innovation Fund to support counseling sessions it offers students at five Atlanta schools, including Phoenix Academy. The sessions run from 5:00-7:00 p.m. and offer students an opportunity to decompress, participate in trauma-informed care, and connect with peers. 

Most of the participating students are high school seniors, and much of the recent discussion in the counseling sessions has been about navigating this momentous time educationally, in the midst of a pandemic. SKIP Georgia has provided additional support to the students through grants from the United Way of Greater Atlanta* and Dollar General Literacy Foundation as well as additional programming like a Sunday Brunch & Munch where older students mentor younger students. 

The system is working. 

Nikaya Winfrey graduated high school with the support of the Phoenix Academy-SKIP Georgia partnership and is now a student at Atlanta Technical College, preparing to become a dental hygienist. 

“I have reached so many things I didn’t even think were possible,” she said. 

Both Nikaya and Malik credit Phoenix Academy staff members like Theresa Mullins, who is the school’s site coordinator for SKIP Georgia. 

“I’m responsible for their needs getting met, not just academics but wraparound services,” Mullins said. “We do the social and emotional, we do the mental health, we do food services, emergency funding, going to college, trying to place them in the best way possible.”

Because of the support that he received from Phoenix Academy and SKIP Georgia, Malik has fully recovered from his rocky start to high school. This summer, he is scheduled to take classes at Morehouse College.

Looking back, Malik says, “It was a minor setback for a major comeback.”

* redefinED atlanta is also a proud partner of the United Way of Greater Atlanta and receives support as a Child Well-Being Impact Fund “Strong Learners” grantee for their work advancing parent advocacy in public schools.



The Namaste Project works to bring yoga and mindfulness to Atlanta children

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on the mind, body and spirit of people all around the world,” said Dr. Kali Arnold, co-founder and director of content development for The Namaste Project, an Atlanta organization that partners with schools and youth organizations to bring meditation, mindfulness and yoga to students and staff.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year The Namaste Project was able to make all of its programs available digitally so that it could continue to provide emotional support to the children at its partner schools.

“A mindfulness practice has been shown to help regulate emotions, improve interpersonal relationships, alleviate stress and anxiety and increase focus,” said Danielle Brunson, the co-founder and director of operations at The Namaste Project. “We believe that by providing staff and students a safe space to meditate and/or practice yoga, the school climate will be positively impacted.”

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, The Namaste Project was working in schools to lower behavioral referrals, lower suspension and expulsion rates and increase test scores and student learning using yoga philosophy.

“The benefits gained from practicing mindfulness will have a lasting impact on our students both in and out of the classroom,” said Tiffany Franklin, assistant principal at Beecher Hills Elementary School. “The techniques learned will help them reduce the negative effects of pandemic stress and depression but also improve their ability to stay engaged, avoid behavior problems and increase their understanding of their feelings and emotions.”

Who’s helping?

The Namaste Project

Services: The Namaste Project is an organization that partners with schools and youth organizations to bring meditation, mindfulness and yoga to students and staff.

Where supplies have gone: The Namaste Project works to provide partner schools and organizations’ staff and students with yoga mats and does free community work, such as the training provided to the Latin American Association youth development staff and the free curriculum it provided for the Boy Scouts of America’s Atlanta Chapter.

Where to donate: Email [email protected] to learn how to sponsor a training for a specific youth program or to be connected with a partner program or school to support their needs directly.

How to get involved: Email [email protected] to set up a consultation for your school or organization or to inquire about opportunities to work or volunteer.


TheraPink works to improve middle schoolers’ mental health

Mental health has been a big topic this year, particularly with the increased stress from the coronavirus pandemic. TheraPink for Girls Inc., a mental health organization that started in January, is aiming its efforts specifically at helping middle school girls learn to cope with difficult situations, care for themselves and maintain their mental health.

“There are tons of challenges that middle school girls are experiencing such as maintaining friendships, bullying, unhealthy coping skills, and self-love,” said Jasmine Spratling, the CEO and founder of TheraPink for Girls Inc.

TheraPink is starting out with programs like “Candid Conversations,” which is a virtual safe-space chat, “Self-care Saturdays,” which are monthly events that provide info and activities for active self-care, and “TheraPink and Write,” a journaling initiative that encourages participants to write about their feelings and experiences.

“It’s important to provide an easily accessible and safe platform that educates youth on the importance of knowing about ways to actively engage in self-care that can eventually be modeled independently,” said Spratling.

One of the stressors on the middle school population that TheraPink targets is the anxiety and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. TheraPink works to help participants process those feelings while following COVID-safe protocols.

“All events have been virtual thus far. However, we are excited to begin having in-person events this summer and when school resumes in the fall,” said Spratling.

Who’s helping?

TheraPink for Girls Inc.

Services: TheraPink works to bring an increase of mental health and self-care awareness to middle school girls in efforts to decrease the mental health challenges and suicide rates among the population.

Where to donate:

How to get help: Individuals or organizations that wish to collaborate in any way can email [email protected]

If you are involved in or know of an organization working to bring relief to the Atlanta community during the coronavirus pandemic OR you are with an organization with supplies that you don’t know where to donate, please email us at [email protected].

Atlanta Public Schools Turns to Yoga to Calm the Classroom Amid the Pandemic

The pandemic has taken its toll on kids across the country, including in metro Atlanta, but one elementary school is working to help kids deal with it all, by rolling out the yoga mat.

“Kids were already dealing with stress anxiety, things like cyberbullying even before the pandemic hit,” Dr. Kali Arnold with the Namaste Project told 11Alive. “Then the pandemic gave them a whole another set of anxieties.”