South Georgia Diversity Committee – Identifying Issues & Opportunities

The Greater Valdosta United Way is committed to deepening its focus of advocating for every person’s health, education, and financial stability within the communities it serves.

In 2021, the GVUW implemented the South Georgia Diversity Committee, which is focused on having honest and probing conversations that identify issues and opportunities, seek out solutions, and engage community members to gain economic stability and social mobility for all.

The diversity committee works with government agencies, businesses, faith groups, and individuals to unite the community.

As its first project, the diversity committee is working to revitalize the Southside Recreation Center, one of the oldest nonprofit facilities in Lowndes County. Constructed in 1964, the Southside Recreation Center was created for Black children to have supervised play during an era when other recreational facilities were closed to non-Whites.

With a $35,350 grant from the Georgia Power Foundation and $10,000 from the GVUW, initial renovations have begun.

“The committee listened, and then we went after what was needed,” said Joe Brownlee, Southwest Regional Director for Georgia Power and a member of the South Georgia Diversity Committee. “Georgia Power’s mission is to improve our communities, especially those that are struggling and have historically been impoverished.”

A.C. Braswell, chairman of the South Georgia Diversity Committee, said, “We are honored to support companies such as Georgia Power to partner with us in providing grant funding. It is our mission and our goal to help provide resources to our South Georgia region and local communities.”

Southside Recreation Center was awarded $50,000 in funding for a Building Opportunities in Out-of-School Time (BOOST) grant. Administered by the Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network and the Georgia Department of Education, the grant provides evidence-based afterschool and summer enrichment programming.

“The BOOST grant supports students with learning skills and concepts, as a way to remove non-academic barriers to learning for students most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.,” said Michael Smith, executive director of the Greater Valdosta United Way. “It will support students’ learning, connectedness, and well-being.”

Along with the revitalization of the recreation center, there is a local movement to restore parts of the Southside district, which was once a hub for commerce and minority-owned businesses.

Angela Ward and Steve Heddon, South Georgia Diversity Committee members, co-produced “The Southside Project,” a documentary highlighting the historic district.

“Once the vibrant center of commerce in the black business community,” Ward said. “Its decline is attributed by many to a lack of community investment, lack of access to capital and economic development, and no benefit from economic gains. The Southside has become the hallmark of an underserved community. “

The United Way and diversity committee have also supported other projects, including distributing small grants to Beautiful Creations by Chanel Inc., KINGS United Inc., Valdosta Latino Association, and South Street Community Center.

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