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Moreno Aguiari on Preserving History and Fulfilling a Passion

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Moreno Aguiari

Moreno Aguiari is looking to preserve some history and along the way maybe establish the Atlanta Air & Space Museum.

On this episode of Peachtree Corners Life podcast, Rico Figliolini talks with Moreno Aguiari, founder of the Inspire Aviation Foundation. Listen as Moreno shares the upcoming plans to build an immersive and educational Air and Space Museum in the Peachtree-DeKalb airport, along with his wonderful stories of the history of Georgian aviation.

Related Links:

Website: ​https://atlantaairandspacemuseum.org
Inspire Aviation Foundation: https://www.facebook.com/InspireAviationFoundation/
Warbird Digest: ​https://warbirddigest.com/

Recorded socially safe online and in the City of Peachtree Corners, Georgia

Timestamp:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:01:24] – About Moreno and the Foundation
[00:08:00] – Putting the Museum in PDK
[00:10:54] – Inspiring the Next Generation
[00:19:50] – Digitizing Historic Pictures
[00:27:09] – Warbird Digest
[00:32:03] – Closing

“The goal is very simple… We would like to get a little Johnny [and Jane] who, you know, loves airplanes or he doesn’t know anything about airplanes and he comes to our doors, gets inspired and then, you know, he becomes the next Mars explorer.”

Moreno Aguiari

Podcast Transcript:

Rico: [00:00:30] Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini host of Peachtree Corners Life. I apologize for the interruption of the broadcast that we just, had. I don’t know if that has to do with the local thunderstorm that’s going on in the connections that we have today, through Comcast, believe it or not. So we won’t get there, but, but let’s, let’s start. Well, we’re not going to start over again. The, the feed is there. So we’re just going to pick up from where we were actually, with our introductions of, let me just give an introduction again to Moreno Aguiari, who is, founder of foundation, Inspired Aviation Foundation. He’s moved here 20 years ago from Milan Italy and has found a passion in flying certainly in the World War II veterans, even, area. So, why don’t you let’s start with you telling us a little bit more again about yourself, not to repeat things, but give us a little bit more explanation.

Moreno: [00:01:24] As Rico was mentioning I came to the US to become a pilot. And then the goal was to go back in Italy and things didn’t go as planned. I’ve been here for 20 years now and, as far as my passion for aviation, it comes from both my uncle and my dad who were in the Air Force. And my passion for World War II came from, you know, talking to my both of my grandfathers, who both fought in World War II and always been a history buff in general. And obviously combining World War II aviation and my passion for history, naturally I fell into following a research in World War II aviation. Although I really like any, any, any era of aviation, but World War II, it’s very, very fascinating as a lot of great stories and we are still able to meet veterans for World War II. So, you were asking me about the NAS Atlanta archives, but the NAS Atlanta archives are a project of Inspire Aviation Foundation. So you don’t mind allow me to explain what Inspired Aviation Foundation is? Essentially, we are a five, 501c3 nonprofit, dedicated to the goal of bringing up a world-class air and space museum and educational campus at the Peachtree-DeKalb airport or as we call it PDK, you know, not that far from here. So we set up this foundation to, you know, to essentially build an aerospace museum and an educational camp at PDK. Because of COVID-19 things obviously slowed down a little bit, so we, we wanted to act quick in order to not, avoid to go unnoticed and to keep the momentum going. So, I had a previous relationship with this group called NAS Atlanta Union, which is a group of, veterans who served at NAS Atlanta. NAS Atlanta for some of your listeners, might know or might not know. We know the last base being in Marietta at Dobbins air force base that’s the last location. NAS Atlanta, which I believe was closed down in 2009, but NAS Atlanta started here at PDK Peachtree-Dekalb airport, 1941. Essentially, NAS of PDK was a NAS Atlanta Naval air station training pilots, essentially to go to combat. And, this group has been meeting, essentially this veteran group has been meeting since 1960 and has been collecting artifacts, photos, log books, newspapers, all kinds of material from 1960, you know, until recent years. And, it was about five years ago that I met, I met a gentleman named Will Tate. I organized an event called The Atlanta Warbird Weekend at PDK, it was held in September. We brought in a bunch of World War II airplanes for rides to the public and we had an educational programs, educational displays. And these gentlemen came up to me and, and we had an airplane called Corsair, with the bent wings and there was a famous TV show called Baa Baa Black Sheep back in the days.

Rico: [00:04:39] Right.

Moreno: [00:04:41] And he goes, you know, this airplane was based here at, in Chamblee, 1960. I said really Sir, how did you know? And he goes, well, you know, I grew up here in Chamblee. I was a kid, that was jumping the fence and was going to play with the airplane. So when I was a little younger than, my son was next to me, little younger than your son. So we started talking, we went back and forth and found out, he was the president of th NAS Altanta the union group. We became good friends. And he lives in Pensacola we went back and forth until essentially he knew, I told him about the museum, the goal of the museum. And, until, you know, these guys are getting very old. They don’t have the energy really to do those reunions again. So I help them out put up a reunion, three years ago. And I’m actually going to help them again this year. And in return they asked, essentially asked me, look, we are getting old, we’re getting tired. We need, we want this history of NAS Atlanta to continue. Would you guys be interested in taking over the archives? And for me it was like, absolutely. I mean, this is great. So essentially, they donated the archives to the foundation. And as obviously as part of the museum, our job is to preserve history in the best ways as possible. All these pictures were essentially, they are 70, 75 years old. Things like the original drawings, of the blueprint of the base. It’s paper and obviously very fragile. So what we did in order to start moving the first steps towards our educational mission with the foundation and the museum, we decided to start a small fund raising campaign to preserve the archives. And we do that, because all of these photos are paper, paper and printed material and they’re a very large format. We decided to essentially hire a photographer with a high resolution camera and he essentially photographed all the archives with a vertical, he’s got a beautiful vertical rig. That camera is mounted vertically. And shots picture at, 74, 80, megabyte, or, or gigabyte resolution. I mean, huge files. So the goal is to preserve the archives digitally, but then the digital material will be turned into an exhibit. Once we have the museum built. And, we stopped about a month ago and I was very surprised with the positive feedback. We were able to reach our fundraising goal. And, in fact, the photos now are digitized and next week I’m going to pick them up and organize them again. So the next step would be, possibly creating a book, with, with this, this material. A book about NAS Atlanta. And the other interesting fact of Peachtree-Dekalb airport before World War II, it used to be, World War I it used to be called Camp Corbyn. So, soldiers who fought in World War I trained in PDK. So there is a lot of history in Chamblee and PDK in particular. So, yes.

Rico: [00:08:00] So that sounds like that’d be a great place for the museum actually.

Moreno: [00:08:04] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the museum is set to be on a runway 27, which is now not open, it’s been closed for about 10 years. And so we already have the land. We already have, you know, we know where it’s going to be, which is, that was the most important thing. Making sure to have a land to build a museum because you can have the best project, a great, best ideas, but if you don’t have a place to put it, it’s never going to happen. The good thing is that the airport director Mario Evans. He’s a, one of our board of directors. He loves the idea. He has a vision for PDK to be more than just an airport, more than just a place for people to really land and take off with airplanes, and the museum fits in his master plan, really creating a place for economic development and for the community. So the museum fits perfectly.

Rico: [00:08:54] Yeah. I personally liked the idea of having a, air and space museum. I mean, because it’s not just airplanes then, right? I mean, is the mission to also handle anything that flies?

Moreno: [00:09:05] Absolutely. Absolutely. We want to tell the story of, you know flying, flight from you know, the Wright Brothers. It happens that at PDK, we have a company, the company I worked for actually, and Ben T Epps was the first man who flew in, in Georgia. So, and there is actually a replica of his plane in the hangar where I, where we work. So it happens that Mr. Epps, his son is still alive and big supporter of, of the museum, he’s 86 years old. And his father was the first man who flew in Georgia. So there is a lot of history, definitely at PDK. So it’s, and it’s centrally located. you know, the, the goal is really to build an experience with visitors, that is as dynamic and inspirational in the fields of aviation and space travel. So, we are not envisioning, I guess your old school aviation museum, where you have your airplane and a sign. Read the sign. This is an F16 or whatever. That’s, that’s not, that’s not, making that sound inspirational. So we’re really, we’re really thinking outside the box here. We are talking to Disney Imagineers. Disney imagineers are actually, those guys who build the theme parks for Disney. So we really want to provide an experience that, that goes beyond your box full of airplanes and yes.

Rico: [00:10:30] Yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m personally excited by it. I’m a, I’m a SpaceX Elon Musk fan. Most people don’t even know that in the state of Georgia, we have a spaceport in Camden County, on the coast. And they’re trying to be, and I don’t know if, if it was Bizos or one of these private companies actually, has leased out that spaceport, I think for part of it.

Moreno: [00:10:54] Well, you know, one thing that people don’t know that Georgia is number one state in business for, has been the number one state in business for the past five years, but it’s number three in aerospace. So people think of, we have Delta, we have UPS. Absolutely. But Georgia is a big player in the aerospace industry, which includes general aviation space and everything else. So our state is definitely a big player in, in aerospace. So that’s, that’s why, you know, we think that what we are going to do, will make, will make a difference and an impact too. The goal, is very simple Rico. We, we would like to get a little Johnny who’s, you know, loves airplanes or, or he doesn’t know anything about airplanes and he comes to our doors, gets inspired and then, you know, he becomes the next Mars explorer. And that’s why we are, you know, the project title, it’s Atlanta Air and Space museum, which might change to Georgia Air and Space museum, but there is another important component attached to it, which is the educational campus. In fact when we mean educational, we are not just meaning, come to the museum we’ll tell you a story about an airplane. Absolutely. They’re really talking about tangible education. In fact, the, DeKalb County school district is our partner and we are developing a master plan of classrooms within the museum premises. So students can come in and learn the STEM subjects related to aviation. And we are starting, going back to what I was saying earlier that we don’t want to really lose the momentum because of COVID, that we want to be acting now, well we have developing with DeKalb County, a syllabus for K-12 grades, based on STEM
aviation. And hopefully everything goes well, we’re going to deploy it with the next school year, whatever happens to it, obviously it’s going to be all digital. So we, we didn’t plan for that. So we are actually now kind of adjusting as well, but the point is that, yes, it’s an aerospace museum, but we really want to focus on the educational side of things. And not just saying education because it sounds good. But because we want to really bring these little Johnny to the museum as a little child and, you know, with the partnership with DeKalb County school district and hopefully Georgia Tech. We’re going to accompany this little Johnny museum, high school, college. And we’re already talking to companies that are interested in having an RD facility, research and development facility within our campus. So all of a sudden than you have, you know, a path. You know, you go from the museum all the way to hopefully get into the job market because of our work and our influence of being around our facility.

Rico: [00:13:44] And I know that you’re not doing it on purpose, but we want to make sure that people understand. It’s obviously not only John, but Jane.

Moreno: [00:13:54] Oh absolutely, yeah.

Rico: [00:13:55] We’re talking about women in coding, we’re talking about, the history that, the history of women in NASA that have done terrific work. So being able to, to put that enthusiasm out there, especially in a time like now, when people can learn online. Where there are apps, where there’s virtual reality, VR systems that can be used to a degree right? My kids fly, you know, they’re playing games like War Thunder on Steam or on a PC. And it’s literally what you will see on a dashboard of a plane and you’re literally doing the same thing. So…

Moreno: [00:14:31] No you’re right, it’s Jim and Jane, absolutely no question about it. And, in fact, one of our board members, she’s, you know, I’m a fan of, of this woman because she’s super, really. She’s a pilot. Used to be a transport plane. She flies, at Dobbins. She used to be a, 130 mechanic then started working for Vail as a mechanic, decided to become a pilot. And now she’s flying C130s. She’s a math teacher and she has a degree in aerospace and she just applied for the NASA astronaut program. And she’s, I think she’s a 37, Latesa and she, so absolutely it’s not only James, it’s Jane as well. And I have two daughters, so I hope that what I’m doing will in a way, influence them as well.

Rico: [00:15:25] Sure. How old are your kids?

Moreno: [00:15:27] I have a 11, Rebecca is 11 will be 12 in November. Jada is eight will be nine in September. Our little guy. Morgan will be six tomorrow, in fact.

Rico: [00:15:41] Wow. Alright, cool. Three kids. That’s right. I have three kids also. They’re all 16 and above actually. So, but a great, great age, great time to be inspired to get inspiration, right? Because they’re all learning what they want to become at some point. It’s still young, right. But it’s good to be inspired by the right people. And sometimes it’s a matter of showing and experiencing rather than telling.

Moreno: [00:16:06] Yes, there’s no question about it that, you know, by, by living an experience, you learn more. And this idea comes from an experience I had about eight, nine years ago. I went to, I was in California and I was visiting the mecca of World War II aviation called Planes of Fame in Chino, California. And I met a friend of mine with kids, I guess like your age kids, 14, 15, two boys. And we walk inside the museum and I was in awe. I mean, World War II planes, I always wanted to see. They actually are flying, so it’s even better. And after 10 minutes I heard these two kids telling their dad, this is boring, nothing moves. You know, they’re only, there are just signs, there’s nothing interactive. I said, what are you talking about kids, this is awesome. And then of course, it’s different generations. Now you’ve got to immerse them. But even for us adults, if you think about it, cognitive process works the same at different speeds, depending on the age. But the process is the same. So if we are immersed into an experience, you really learn it at a different, different level. So that’s really what we’re trying to do. And that’s why I mentioned the Disney Imagineers, because when you go to Disney, you have an experience. So the way we envision the museum is yes, we want to have airplanes, but we are not going to focus necessarily or we need that specific airplane because it broke the war break or blah, blah, blah. We want to be able to use that airplane to tell a story and to bring an experience, an immersive experience. So, I mean, they’re not going to be the old school box of airplanes.

Rico: [00:17:47] Well, this is, like I said, it’s an exciting time because you have the ability to do that in a very interactive way. I mean, virtual reality allows for that, where you can actually, instead of you know, building something that has to stay that way for 10 years before you do another buildout or something, you actually can adjust and do things on a quicker basis right. And give an experience a little different. You know, exhibition museum stuff, you know, it’s, it’s an interesting, proposition because you know, kids, kids are interested at a different level like you said. They want that interactiveness. Whereas adults like you and me maybe, we’re cool with seeing the airplanes hanging or maybe flying or, you know, whatever, it might be a little different. Although I got to tell you, watching my son play War Thunder on the PC big screen in front of me. And I’m like, man, can I sit down and do that too? He’s like, no, no, get away from me. But you know.

Moreno: [00:18:43] I think also for us adults Rico, you never know when you’re going to fall in love with a new passion, you know. So we definitely, definitely, we want the kids, we are, are building this for the younger generation of the kids, but we also want the adults that, you know, had a dream of flying or had a dream of being around airplanes. But because of life, work, whatever happened was never able to get around it. So, you know that’s the beauty of flying. It’s really, a really passionate thing. And some people have it since the beginnings since young children, or young child like me and people, other people discover it later in life. So that’s why we think that really what we are trying to build here that really will allow to, attract and inspire different generations.

Rico: [00:19:36] I think that’s exciting, but obviously the first step, so the baby steps, right? So the first step is to take care of the NSA archives that you have. And you need some money to be able to preserve that and take care of that.

Moreno: [00:19:50] We did. We did. And, again, that’s something that we had, we had there, but because of COVID we had to, we were really preparing to, put together a, feasibility fundraising campaign starting really to get out in the public. But obviously this climate right now, it’s not ideal. So we said, look, we have the archives. What if we do something with it. And we all, I always deep inside, I always knew that I wanted to digitize them and I called to the board, and I, you know, convinced them to, let me try this campaign and sure enough, it was well received. We had a couple of articles in the media and the donations came in and everyone told me, Oh, nobody is going to give you money. It’s tough times. Actually, we reached more than, we raised more than what we expected because I think people understand what we’re trying to do. So people might not have, you know, money for, for, you know, silly things. But I think they still have money to donate for important things. And then these archives are really, really awesome. And you really the, I know you have some pictures, so if you want, we can.

Rico: [00:20:58] As we were talking before, it was a expanding some pictures, yeah.

Moreno: [00:21:05] Yeah. This is, this is a 1945. This is again, Peachtree-Dekalb airport as it looked like, looked like in 1945. Believe it or not without believe it or not, what’s interesting, there are still buildings that I can see. It’s hard, it’s really hard for me to describe in these pictures, but there are new buildings that are still existing, right now, and that are still being used as hangers. And it’s really fascinating because the history buff that I am, I walk around the airport and I always find things that I recognize that are still existing since World War II. So that’s how the airport looked like in, in 1945, on the lower part of the picture. Okay this is no, this is good. It’s good. This is actually for those who are listening, who go to PDK, there is a great kid’s park, with the Magnolia tree and more control tower. And next to it, there is a restaurant called the Downwind restaurant of the building, building right behind those Corsairs, that’s where the Downwind restaurant is. On the upper level, upper level right now you have the administration offices of the airport. Right below there are flight schools and those white doors are still there, although they’re not white anymore. They’re obviously aluminum and glass, the control tower is still there, although there not shaped as, as it looks like in this photo. This photo is posed for about 1950. On the far right, you see the doors of the main hanger and that hanger right now it’s aviation. That, those doors are still there, still move by hand or with a tug actually, like back in the days. Those two, those airplanes, are FG1D Corsairs. FG means that they were built by Good Year. During the war chance bought, produced the Corsair but because of the demand, they outsourced the production. So Good Year actually manufacturing in Akron, Ohio, those, those aircraft. And, this is when the base was a reserve base was after the war. So there is service used to, you know, service, I don’t know, a week in a month, do weeks in a month. So those planes, are, you know, very iconic. They serve in the war and they flew all the way to the late fifties in South American countries. There is, down in Peachtree city. One of the museums I belong to called Commemorative Air Force has a Corsair then was actually based at NSF
Atlanta in 1950. In 1950, 1952. So it might be very likely one of the airplanes in that picture. It’s very cool.

Rico: [00:23:57] What about this one? This was another one.

Moreno: [00:24:01] Yeah, that’s a 1942. I remember the date because it’s actually printed on the bottom, corner, right corner of the original photo. That’s just, just essentially all the officers and enlisted personnel of the base, on the far right side, you see, the doors of the, essentially this is the back of the previous picture. That’s the ramp behind the hanger shown in the previous picture. Everything you see in the background, it’s gone, no longer exists that are only hangers back there. But that the ramp where those folks are sitting on, it still exists to this day. And it’s still being used as an airplane ramp. Yeah.

Rico: [00:24:43] Yeah. We got also this, this one that.

Moreno: [00:24:45] Yeah, these were the first airplanes that were assigned to, they’re called end to ends, or yellow perils and, or as more popularly known Stearman biplane. And, they were all yellows and those were the first biplanes, assigned to the base in 1941. Those were trainers. Trainers for Naval aviators, and, well, On the, essentially in front of the, in front of the airplanes, that’s where the current hanger is. In fact, in the full picture, you can see it, you still see a piece of the hanger. What’s interesting that maybe the viewers cannot see it, but on the side of the airport and there is actually a Donald duck, running with a parachute and that, interestingly enough was the first time in the Walt Disney designed anything for the military. It was actually the mascot of NAS Atlanta Chamblee. It’s probably too old to see and some airplanes had it, some didn’t. But, that, that the interesting fact is that Walt Disney, first time to design anything for the military was for NAS Atlanta Chamblee, which I thought was pretty unique.

Rico: [00:26:02] Cool. Well, we, went through the picture archives that we had. I only had like four or five samples of those. So, but if, so when, you know, I mean, even if the, museum is not set up, I know there’s a website that you all have that you set up. It’s called the AtlantaAirandSpaceMuseum.org. These digitized versions appear somewhere on that website.

Moreno: [00:26:27] Yeah. Yeah. I think, originally I was not planning to put up a dedicated website, but the turnout of the job is so phenomenal that I’m thinking to, put up a website, just for the archives. In the meantime, very likely I will post some pictures on the website, which they’re already available on the Atlantic Air and Space museums that’s our website. But, I’m inclined towards building a dedicated website just for DNS Atlanta Archives. Because it’s really cool the stuff that, that, we have been digitizing. I’m not sure when, but yeah, definitely in the upcoming months, along with that book project that I was, I was mentioning to you.

Rico: [00:27:09] Excellent. You’re also a publisher of Warbird news, right?

Moreno: [00:27:14] Yeah. We, it’s a magazine called Warbird Digest. Warbirds news is, is our news outlet and, that’s something I started back in 2013, as a hobby. I came from a digital marketing background and I just wanted to have my own blog and from a blog, you know, it became more than a blog and from a blog became a magazine. So it’s a, it’s a labor of love and, frustration too, because you know, you’re a publisher, you know this. But it takes work. And sometimes the contributors, you know, are not running on time. They don’t deliver the material when they have to, right? And the photos are not really good. So…

Rico: [00:27:57] There’s always a problem. It’s not going to print right.

Moreno: [00:28:01] But in a way we published this magazine for the same reason. We are all of us in this vintage aviation community, ready to preserve the history of aviation to tell stories of veterans and to honor for their service and the magazine. And warbirds news is that, does essentially that. I, you know, again, I, I was born in Italy obviously, but I’ve always been grateful for, well, one, I going to mention these real quick. I know you probably are running out of time, but, I always, everyone asks me, why do you do that? You know, you grew up in Italy and blah blah. I said, well, I grew up in Italy but you know my, what my grandparents always told me, if it weren’t for the American soldiers that came over and liberated Europe. We probably would be speaking German. And I have very sad stories of my grandparents, you know, being in prison camps. And, one of my grandfather was, my grandfather was what’s called a partisan or under war underground warrior that actually fought against the Nazi and risked his life because he never really approved of the facist regime. So when I came in the US I really, I was looking for a way to kind of pay my, you know, my tribute and do my part to honor this is young Americans that came over and liberated us. And last year I was fortunate to be a part of the D-day 75th anniversary. And that was, that was the experience really of my life. I was actually hired, two years prior to that, by a foundation called twenties on foundation to put together this mission. And at the end of the day, we left on May 18 from Oxford, Connecticut, and we flew with 15, C47 World War II cargo transport from Connecticut all the way to Normandy, including Greenland, including Iceland. We essentially did the same route that the C47s did 75 years ago. And then in June, it was phenomenal on June the sixth we flew, Omar beach over the cemetery, in front of president Trump, president Macron and the presidents, all of the other allied nations it was phenomenal. That was kind of like the apex of my, you know, volunteer career. It’s really rewarding when, you know, you get to meet some of these guys and I still do know, World War II veterans are still with us and a couple I’m very close with. I call them every week and we have great chats. And so it’s really, really, really rewarding.

Rico: [00:30:44] It’s, so anyone listening to this, you were, I’m going to in the show notes on the website, you will find a link to the Vimeo video, which is a promo of the documentary. If I understand correctly of the Normandy flights of those, that flight. To find out more about the foundation or the museum itself, how can people get involved if they want to reach you, to be able to either help in whatever the way they want.

Moreno: [00:31:12] Yeah, absolutely, you know, AtlantaAirandSpaceMuseum.org there’s a contact, a contact us page so they can send it there. Or we just yesterday, actually, we finally opened up all our social media channels on the Inspire Aviation foundation. So Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, well, I don’t have YouTube because I don’t have any, maybe this video will be our first YouTube Videos. But find the Inspired Aviation foundation on social media and on the web or at AtlantaAirandSpaceMuseum.org. I’m the one managing all that. So I’ll be getting all the messages.

Rico: [00:31:52] Excellent. So for those people that want to get involved, certainly reach out, to Mareno. And, do you want to say anything else before we end the show?

Moreno: [00:32:03] No, I want to really thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about this project. It’s very, it’s a passion of mine and, and that’s what I want to do when I grow up. I just, be around the museum or, or work at the museum and, They’re doing a phenomenal, phenomenal work. We’re still not there, but, if anyone wants to get involved, this is very much a grassroots effort. A lot of people get together business professionals of different backgrounds and really trying to build something, something unique for the city of Atlanta. But we think for the state of Georgia and the Southeast. So anyone who wants to help you’re more than welcome.

Rico: [00:32:39] Excellent where, if you want to find out more information, once this is posted on our website, it’ll be LivinginPeachtreeCorners.com that you can visit. Be aware of the next issue coming up, the issue after this one, let’s pick that up. So this is our last issue that we have, but we’re working on, the latest issue. That’ll be August, September, and the article one of the articles in there is about Mareno, about the foundation, about what’s going on there as well as SOAR, which is an organization, a rocketry organization. That meets once a month to shoot rockets. I mean, everything from one footers to five footers. So it’s, it’s a cool thing. So we’re going to be covering them as well because the second week of August is the national aviation week. And so we thought this would be a great time to be able to share some of these stories. So, Marino Aguiari, I appreciate you coming out on this interview. Hang in there with me as we sign off. Everyone if you’ve been listening to the live stream originally, there was some interruption of it. I’m going to be uploading this as the full video on Facebook shortly after the show ends. But thank you for being with us and look forward to the next podcast. Thanks.

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The Colorful Woven Threads that Make Up the Fabric of Our City: Part 1, Jay Patton

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Gwinnett County is getting more and more culturally and racially diverse. Remember the old adage ‘Variety is the spice of life’? In today’s climate of social unrest and world-wide protests for racial justice, we should move towards healing by getting to know our neighbors and broaching some delicate conversations. It can be scary and cathartic — and it can be a little heartbreaking, too.

The heartbeat of Peachtree Corners is strong because of the amazing people who live and work here. I reached out to some from a variety of backgrounds. Each of their accounts will have you shouting, Vive la différence!

Jay Patton

Traditional Master Barber Jay Patton moved to Peachtree Corners two years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He noted that his hometown is less diverse, primarily Caucasian, and he’s been enjoying the “good mix” of people here.

“In Minnesota, growing up, there was more racial tension,” Patton said. He felt a larger divide between the privileged and the underprivileged. “There’s less opportunity for certain people in certain states. You come down here and if you have a good credit score, you blend in as long as you’re putting out good vibrations,” he explained.

At your service

After working near Perimeter Mall for five years at Gino’s Classic Barbershop, he decided to venture out on his own. “One of my customers told me about Blaxican,” Patton said. The fusion restaurant serves food inspired by Southern soul cooking and Mexican classics. “Being biracial, I thought that concept was catchy. I came here, drove around a bit and I felt good energy,” he recounted.

Patton opened Traditional Shave Masters Barbershop at 5260 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. “This area is blowing up. I think it’s going to be bigger than Sandy Springs,” he said. He likes the plans for the area.

The barbershop offers “male services — straight edge razor work, blades, steam towels, shaving beard work. With different packages to choose from — like The Distinguished Man, The Exquisite Man, The Classic Man — there’s something for everyone. Female clients with short hairstyles are welcome too,” Patton said. “We have competitive prices and talented, diverse barbers.”

 Things had started picking up well, “and now we’re going through this Corona stuff. It’s pretty challenging,” he shared.

Cutting through racial lines

Patton prides himself on being able to serve the whole community, no matter what race, background or ethnicity. “Most shops are racially separated. People are more comfortable coming in when they see people who look like them,” he said. “I want everyone to look in the window and feel like they can come in. I play jazz music. Everyone likes the smooth, mellow stuff.”

Men have different ways to describe how they want their hair and beards trimmed, depending on their ethnicity, where they’re from, race and even social status, according to Patton. “It’s up to the barber to ask the right questions to really understand what the client wants so you can hook him up,” he said.

He noted that since the rock and roll era, when men grew their hair out, the white barber shop kind of died off as they gravitated to salons. “But now the traditional barber is back. It’s becoming more appealing to all men, of all races,” Patton explained. “Around Atlanta, men want to look good. That’s a good thing!”

No barber school teaches how to cut across racial lines, he said. “My instructor was an old school Irish dude. It’s all hair, but the way you approach it is different. One might use different tools.”

Wherever he worked, he sought to cut hair he was unfamiliar with and learn to cut all types of hair. “I’ve been to a Russian shop, a Puerto Rican shop, a black shop. I made sure to get out of my comfort zone,” Patton said.

Patton could pass for either white or black. “The way I look, people don’t know. I’m chameleon-like. My father is Creole and my mother is Puerto Rican. That’s a loaded soup bowl,” he chuckled. “I had a mother who respected me and explained everything. She watered my seed and I had self-esteem. I love all people. We’re all connected. We’re all on this Earth together.”

He thinks a lot of people would be surprised if they did their 23andMe genetic reports. “I did it and I was mind-blown,” he reported. “I grew up Puerto Rican, but in actuality, I started off Indonesian! I have some Egyptian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Irish, German, Apache Indian, Sanda Gambian — things I had to look up! It was surprising to me. It opened up my eyes.”

He added that people mistake him for Egyptian all the time, “so it was interesting to find out I have some Egyptian in me. I love telling the dudes in Duluth, I started out Asian!”

Still, Patton said, at the end of the day, it’s all the indoctrination and cultural stuff that gets in the way. “We’re all the same color on the inside,” he said. “When we’re little, we play and hang out together. Somewhere in the mix, we get taught all these differences.”

All connected

“As soon as we figure it out and start loving each other again, it’s going to be alright,” he continued. “The message has to be delivered differently to the different communities, but it’s the same. I have to empathize with their situation first, then I can flip it around to some other perspectives.”

Patton believes that having exposure to different kinds of people is good and makes things easier. “Because of where I’ve come from, I’m able to communicate with different races,” he said. “My struggles have shaped and humbled me. I’m able to be around a lot of diverse cultures, probably more so than most people. That’s always helped me; I can mingle through racial lines.”

“Asian, Mexican, white, black — I see more people living harmoniously here. Maybe it’s southern hospitality, but people tend to be more polite here. They smile and try to be nice to each other, and that means everything. Being courteous is an initial connection with people.”

“I feel like I have a broader truth, a natural perspective in the spiritual world,” Patton continued. “We are all connected, but some people like the divisions. They’re capitalizing off of us: the red, the blue, the white, the black, and all that junk. As soon as we figure it out and start loving each other again, it’s going to be alright.”

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The Colorful Woven Threads that Make Up the Fabric of Our City

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Jay Patton, Traditional Master Barber

Gwinnett County is getting more and more culturally and racially diverse. Remember the old adage ‘Variety is the spice of life’? In today’s climate of social unrest and world-wide protests for racial justice, we should move towards healing by getting to know our neighbors and broaching some delicate conversations. It can be scary and cathartic — and it can be a little heartbreaking, too.

The heartbeat of Peachtree Corners is strong because of the amazing people who live and work here. I reached out to some from a variety of backgrounds. Each of their accounts will have you shouting, Vive la différence!

Jay Patton

Jay Patton

Traditional Master Barber Jay Patton moved to Peachtree Corners two years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He noted that his hometown is less diverse, primarily Caucasian, and he’s been enjoying the “good mix” of people here.

“In Minnesota, growing up, there was more racial tension,” Patton said. He felt a larger divide between the privileged and the underprivileged. “There’s less opportunity for certain people in certain states. You come down here and if you have a good credit score, you blend in as long as you’re putting out good vibrations,” he explained.

At your service

After working near Perimeter Mall for five years at Gino’s Classic Barbershop, he decided to venture out on his own. “One of my customers told me about Blaxican,” Patton said. The fusion restaurant serves food inspired by Southern soul cooking and Mexican classics. “Being biracial, I thought that concept was catchy. I came here, drove around a bit and I felt good energy,” he recounted.

Patton opened Traditional Shave Masters Barbershop at 5260 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. “This area is blowing up. I think it’s going to be bigger than Sandy Springs,” he said. He likes the plans for the area.

The barbershop offers “male services — straight edge razor work, blades, steam towels, shaving beard work. With different packages to choose from — like The Distinguished Man, The Exquisite Man, The Classic Man — there’s something for everyone. Female clients with short hairstyles are welcome too,” Patton said. “We have competitive prices and talented, diverse barbers.”

 Things had started picking up well, “and now we’re going through this Corona stuff. It’s pretty challenging,” he shared.

Cutting through racial lines

Patton prides himself on being able to serve the whole community, no matter what race, background or ethnicity. “Most shops are racially separated. People are more comfortable coming in when they see people who look like them,” he said. “I want everyone to look in the window and feel like they can come in. I play jazz music. Everyone likes the smooth, mellow stuff.”

Men have different ways to describe how they want their hair and beards trimmed, depending on their ethnicity, where they’re from, race and even social status, according to Patton. “It’s up to the barber to ask the right questions to really understand what the client wants so you can hook him up,” he said.

He noted that since the rock and roll era, when men grew their hair out, the white barber shop kind of died off as they gravitated to salons. “But now the traditional barber is back. It’s becoming more appealing to all men, of all races,” Patton explained. “Around Atlanta, men want to look good. That’s a good thing!”

No barber school teaches how to cut across racial lines, he said. “My instructor was an old school Irish dude. It’s all hair, but the way you approach it is different. One might use different tools.”

Wherever he worked, he sought to cut hair he was unfamiliar with and learn to cut all types of hair. “I’ve been to a Russian shop, a Puerto Rican shop, a black shop. I made sure to get out of my comfort zone,” Patton said.

Patton could pass for either white or black. “The way I look, people don’t know. I’m chameleon-like. My father is Creole and my mother is Puerto Rican. That’s a loaded soup bowl,” he chuckled. “I had a mother who respected me and explained everything. She watered my seed and I had self-esteem. I love all people. We’re all connected. We’re all on this Earth together.”

He thinks a lot of people would be surprised if they did their 23andMe genetic reports. “I did it and I was mind-blown,” he reported. “I grew up Puerto Rican, but in actuality, I started off Indonesian! I have some Egyptian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Irish, German, Apache Indian, Sanda Gambian — things I had to look up! It was surprising to me. It opened up my eyes.”

He added that people mistake him for Egyptian all the time, “so it was interesting to find out I have some Egyptian in me. I love telling the dudes in Duluth, I started out Asian!”

Still, Patton said, at the end of the day, it’s all the indoctrination and cultural stuff that gets in the way. “We’re all the same color on the inside,” he said. “When we’re little, we play and hang out together. Somewhere in the mix, we get taught all these differences.”

All connected

“As soon as we figure it out and start loving each other again, it’s going to be alright,” he continued. “The message has to be delivered differently to the different communities, but it’s the same. I have to empathize with their situation first, then I can flip it around to some other perspectives.”

Patton believes that having exposure to different kinds of people is good and makes things easier. “Because of where I’ve come from, I’m able to communicate with different races,” he said. “My struggles have shaped and humbled me. I’m able to be around a lot of diverse cultures, probably more so than most people. That’s always helped me; I can mingle through racial lines.”

“Asian, Mexican, white, black — I see more people living harmoniously here. Maybe it’s southern hospitality, but people tend to be more polite here. They smile and try to be nice to each other, and that means everything. Being courteous is an initial connection with people.”

“I feel like I have a broader truth, a natural perspective in the spiritual world,” Patton continued. “We are all connected, but some people like the divisions. They’re capitalizing off of us: the red, the blue, the white, the black, and all that junk. As soon as we figure it out and start loving each other again, it’s going to be alright.”

Dr. April Hang, PharmD

Dr. April Hang, PharmD

Dr. April Hang, PharmD, hails from Petersburg, Virginia and is of Filipino heritage. Her dad was in the Army, so her family traveled a lot. She spent a long time in Germany, where she learned to speak a little of the language, and she studied at Virginia Commonwealth University – Medical College of Virginia School of Pharmacy.

Dr. Hang is Catholic and attends St. Monica Church. Her husband is Buddhist and their three children have been baptized in the Catholic faith.

She opened Peachtree Pharmacy at 5270 Peachtree Parkway in 2012. It’s a compounding pharmacy were medications are customized.“Our clientele is diverse. We serve Hispanics, African Americans, white Americans, Asians. We have seniors all the way down to babies and pets that we take care of, ”Dr.Hang said.“We offer compliance packaging for convenience. It’s helpful for seniors. We put medications in labeled blister packs. They can be organized by day or sorted by morning, afternoon, and evening if necessary.”

And, she said, Peachtree Pharmacy delivers, which is especially important for high-risk patients.

“Compounding is an out-of-the box option for patients who have exhausted all their options and want to try something else. We do carry some traditional medications as well,” she explained. “It takes time to make everything. You have to make sure all the ingredients are included. You’re not just pouring pills out and counting them. You actually have to melt something down, make lollipops, gummies, lozenges or capsules. We have to do our math calculations carefully to make it the exact strength the physician wrote it for.”

Mom-preneur

“I’m first generation American, as well as the first person to start my own business in my family,” Dr. Hang said. She attributes her drive to her dad, who always endeavors to find a solution.

She said that she feels welcome here. “It’s like a small town. That’s why I love Peachtree Corners,” she said. “A lot of our patients are like family to us. This is a great city, a great place to have a small business, especially with Peachtree Corners expanding.”

THC and CBD advocate

One of the things Dr. Hang has gotten involved with is the effort in Georgia to make low THC oil (less than 5%) available to patients suffering from chronic pain, cancer, PTSD, HIV, autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s and other conditions. “I feel like [CBD/THC] oil can help several patients,” she said. “It’s yet another alternative for people.”

She said that doctors can help a patient get a medical card for it. “Everything has been passed in Georgia, and there is a THC oil registry here now, but there’s no access. I think there are over 14,000 patients registered. They have the card, but there is no place where they can go buy it yet,” Dr. Hang said. “We’re just waiting for the infrastructure so people can start applying for manufacture and distribution.”

Unfortunately, the process to get access has been delayed due to COVID-19. It’s likely to be another year or two before access is available for patients.

Diversity at the pharmacy

Dr. Hang welcomes students of diverse backgrounds, some from out of state, who do rotations at her pharmacy. “Most of the time, I say ‘yes,’ because the students are up-to-date on the new things. They keep you updated,” she said. “I try to make it practical for them. They work in the store. I take them to a marketing event. I like to do a couple of little health fairs. I mix it up for them so that they see what we actually do. I didn’t get that when I was in pharmacy school.”

There have been times when a staff member has had an unpleasant interaction and they feel that some racism was directed towards them. “I have one full-time pharmacist, three part-time pharmacists and three full-time pharmacy technicians. One is Asian and the others are African American,” she said.

“When COVID-19 had just started [appearing here], there was a client looking for N95 masks; she wasn’t a regular. She was upset we didn’t have any N95 masks. She told my pharmacist, who is black, “I don’t know what you have to say that is going to carry any value.”

  As Dr. Hang was cleaning the store one day, an older lady came in, looked around and asked, “Why is everybody black in here?” She said, “I don’t see anything wrong with that. There are standards and testing that you have to pass in order to be in this position. Everyone here is qualified.” Dr. Hang added that she has never had issues with racial tensions personally. “It’s a little disheartening that it still occurs,” she said.

She suggested a city-wide cultural festival to help improve racial tensions. “If we can learn more about our neighbors, we’ll be able to understand them better. There are a variety of cultural backgrounds in Peachtree Corners, so let’s celebrate them!”

“When I’m at Peachtree Pharmacy, I post on Facebook, “Come by and see me. Come give me a hug!” Customers come in and tell me, “I miss you so much.” It’s nice to catch up with a lot of the regulars,” she said. “I always post: Free Hugs not Drugs!”

Maurie Ladson

Maurie and Ron Ladson

Maurie Ladson is a Program Director at Corners Outreach, an organization providing a multigenerational approach to helping underserved children with specialized tutoring. Parents are given assistance with career paths, workshops, unemployment and anything they may need to navigate in the education system. Their goal is to achieve a 100% high school graduation rate among the students they serve.

Ladson clarified underserved as “communities or people living amongst us who don’t have all the necessary resources.” She explained, “They may not be earning a living wage. A lot of them are immigrant families. There’s a challenge with education and the language.”

Elementary, my dear

By focusing on elementary school students, the intention is to prepare them for success in middle school and high school. “Then hopefully, to higher learning, either a four-year education or, sometimes, they prefer to do some kind of trade,” Ladson said.

“We’re not focused on one demographic,” she continued. “We welcome all the children who need assistance. The mix varies. In Norcross and on our DeKalb side, we have a high percentage of Latino children. At our Meadow Creek location, there’s a mix of children — Indian, American, Hispanic.”

The Corners Outreach offices are located in Peachtree Corners. Ladson said that Executive Director Larry Campbell liked the name, “as the goal is to touch “every corner” of the community.” The organization partners with Title 1 schools in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, including Peachtree Corners and the surrounding areas, and helps 450 families/children.

“We work with them during the normal school year; we provide after-school tutoringfor two and a half to three hours. We’re supplementing and enhancing what the school is teaching,” Ladson said. “There’s a big focus on reading comprehension and math. We then provide nine weeks of summer camp which focus on reading, math, games and a craft.”

School principals identify the children in most need. There is also input from counselors, teachers, teacher liaisons, center coordinators and ESOL [English to speakers of other languages] coordinators. “We also have volunteers that play a key role in our success. We’re so thankful,” she said. “Schools like Wesleyan, GAC, Perimeter Church and individuals in our wonderful Peachtree Corners community come out and volunteer their time.”

Masks with a purpose

Due to COVID-19, Corners Outreach was unable to tutor or assist families in person for some time. “We began communication via Zoom, WhatsApp, video chat, telephone calls. There was a big need to assist in setting up Internet. Many of the families didn’t have it,” she continued.

“Our organization was able to place Chromebooks in the community for children to be able to do their homework. It was still challenging because in a lot of cases they’re sharing either a phone or a hot spot. With two to four children in the family of various ages, needing to do homework with one device, that was difficult.”

To help underemployed parents, the organization developed Masks with a Purpose. After surveying the parents, they found they had 101 mothers with sewing skills that could be used to provide much-needed masks in the community.

“They sew masks and earn a living wage, $4 per mask,” Ladson said. “We launched the Corners Store on June 22 so people can go online and purchase a mask to support our cause.” To purchase a mask, visit cornersoutreach.org. If you don’t need a mask, you can help by giving a donation.

“We’re looking to donate 1,000 masks to farmworkers and 10,000 masks to children in poverty, who can’t afford to buy three or four masks or have the throwaways,” she said. It’s a great cause,” she said. You can donate masks to the effort through their website.

Beauty in all colors

“I’m Mexican American,” Ladson said. “I’ve been in Peachtree Corners for 20 years. My husband is black, dark-skinned African American. People might look at us a little differently. I’m different and I’m good with it.” She and her husband Ron recently celebrated 20 years of marriage.

Having frequented several places of worship over the years, they most recently identify as Protestant and have been attending North End Collective.

Ladson said she witnessed some social injustice in the workplace during her career in banking. A Peruvian teller was the number one salesperson in the bank, exceeding her numbers, yet it was an under-performing white American teller who inexplicably was moved to another location and offered a raise.

“I think in Georgia, Atlanta and in Peachtree Corners, we still have room to grow,” she continued. “I’ve seen a different level of acceptance, if we’re going to call it improvement, absolutely.”

Miriam and Ed Carreras

Miriam and Eddie Carreras
Miriam and Eddie Carreras

By pure coincidence, Miriam and Ed Carreras shared a similar history predating their marriage of 48 years. They both left Cuba with their families at a young age, and within five to seven years, they became naturalized U.S. citizens.

After a 20-year career as a microbiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Miriam is now a Realtor with RE/MAX Prestige. “I guess, given my name and former clients, I get quite a few referrals from Spanish-speaking buyers. I would say most of my clients right now are Hispanic,” she said. Hispanics, who can identify as any race, make up 15.2% of the population in Peachtree Corners.

Miriam works in residential real estate, both on listings — people selling their homes — as well as helping buyers find their dream homes. Being bilingual, she is a huge asset to the community. She is able to help English and Spanish speakers navigate the sometimes-challenging waters of real estate.

A home is one of the biggest and most important investments a family will ever make, and Miriam is happy to provide her clients with excellent customer service, every step of the way.

Ed was an attorney with The Coca Cola Company for about 20 years. He retired from the company in 2003 and joined a law firm. He retired from the firm in February of this year. “We were supposed to travel, and now we’re homebound because of COVID-19,” he said.

As an attorney, much of his work was international. “I dealt with a number of countries, like Japan, countries in Europe, in Latin America, and so on,” Ed shared.

He served on the Board of Goodwill of North Georgia for a number of years and was Chair of the Board for two years. “Goodwill had a significant relationship with the Hispanic community. One of the things I got involved in was developing a robust system for their strategic plan,” Ed said.

In studying the projection of population changes, he and his fellow board members identified the important growth of the Hispanic community and the need for more Hispanic contacts and people with language skills in the organization.

A home in Peachtree Corners

The Carreras family built their home in Neely Farm in 1998. Both are happy with the amount of diversity in Peachtree Corners. “I think there is a good mix of people. You see a nice diversity of cultures represented here,” Ed said. “My experience is more in the restaurants since I like eating. We’ve gone to a lot of different types.”

“I think there’s pretty good diversity,” Miriam added. “Even in our subdivision, we’re diverse.”

They haven’t had any negative experiences because of their ethnicity in recent years. As a teenager, Ed recalled an incident at a restaurant in Miami. His family was speaking Spanish, and a man at a nearby table addressed them, saying, “Go back to Cuba!”

“My father was surprised. He turned around and in perfect English said, “I’m sorry, does it bother you if we speak Spanish?” The guy ended up apologizing,” Ed remembered. “I was 13 or 15 at the time. It stuck in my mind because my father handled it so perfectly. The guy said, “You speak English very well.” My father said, “Yes, I was educated in the United States. I went to an Ivy League school.” The guy just kept shrinking.”

Ed said that everyone carries prejudices based on faulty stereotypes. “From my own experience, the best way to eliminate prejudice is to be made aware that the stereotype supporting the prejudice is not correct,” he explained. “Anything that helps an individual realize that the stereotype is wrong should help in reducing prejudice.”

“Education highlighting non-stereotypical members of a group could help,” Ed suggested, “as well as the promotion of events that bring members of diverse groups together in a social setting.”

Joe Sawyer

Joe and Kimberly Sawyer

As the city is building a physical pedestrian bridge over Peachtree Parkway, resident of 25 years and equity warrior, President and Cofounder of Bridges Peachtree Corners Joe Sawyer has been launching intensive volunteer efforts to build metaphorical bridges between races and social classes in the city. “I guess you can say it’s about black and white; we’re trying to bring equality up to where it needs to be,” he shared.

Bridges is a non-profit funded by grants and generous donations from the community. The board is made up of a diverse group who share Sawyer’s mission to close the gap between the affluent and the less affluent parts of town. They’ve been working on racial diversity and economic disparity since 2013.

Through school counselors, they identify needs at Peachtree Elementary and other area schools, assisting in any way they can — from electric pencil sharpeners in the classroom to Christmas dinners for families. They’re currently partnering with xfinity to provide internet access so children can do their schoolwork at home during the pandemic.

Affectionately known as Preacher Man, Sawyer would love to help more areas of the city reach their potential. He espouses the Holcomb Bridge Corridor Project , the city’s plan to revamp the area, and hopes it will get underway soon. “We’ve done the easy part, the Forum and Town Center area. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and do the hard part,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer comes clean

This is a man who will “tell it like it is.” He is refreshingly unafraid to level with you. Sawyer attends Life Center Apostolic Church in Dunwoody. His faith shines through in everything he touches, including his company name of 20 years, Alpha Omega Carpet Cleaning, inspired by the book of Revelation.

Since many are home with more time than usual on their hands, the pandemic has Sawyer busier than ever. “I build relationships with my customers. By the time I leave their house, I’m their friend,” he said. He also prides himself on his effective carpet cleaning services, which avoid harsh chemicals, as he is a cancer survivor.

The United Nations

Together with his wife Kimberly of 31 years (who is white), Sawyer has raised his two daughters, now 29 and 23. “She’s my backbone. She keeps me grounded,” he said. His daughters are now raising his five grandkids in Peachtree Corners.

The Sawyers have two blond, blue-eyed grandchildren and three who are light skinned black. “I’ve got everybody in my family — we have the United Nations over here,” Sawyer laughed.

In 1992 things were more challenging for biracial couples. Sawyer’s in-laws didn’t allow him into their home until two years after the marriage; now they’re the best of friends, despite many earlier battles. “They had to make sure I was going to take care of their daughter. I think that was one of the biggest issues,” he said. “Mixed marriages are more common now, and more likely to be accepted by both families, but you still have issues with certain people. I just try to keep it real and be myself.”

Sawyer shared a story from his senior year in high school (1982), when he was given an ultimatum: stop dating his white girlfriend or quit the football team. The young lady’s mom called the school because they had published a picture of them in the school magazine.

The girl’s mom had known about their relationship. In fact, they were among the few biracial couples at the time who did not hide it. But when other parents saw the photo, it became a problem. Sawyer elected to pass on what may have been a lucrative career and quit the team.

Sawyer noted that things have changed for the better. “It’s a new generation, we’re improving a whole lot,” he said. He’s unaware of any negative issues experienced by his daughters about being biracial.

While Peachtree Corners is very diverse, Sawyer said he still experiences some people who are prejudiced. During a recent job, a client had left the door open for him. It saddened him to learn that his client’s neighbor reached out to inform her, saying, “There’s a black man in your house.”

“[Racism] is still there, but overall, I think Peachtree Corners is a welcoming community. You might have some people stuck in their ways, but you just have to learn to overlook them. We stopped and we said a prayer for the lady,” Sawyer said.

He believes the cause of divisiveness is that some people don’t want to lose control of what they’ve got. “As long as we feel that one race is better than the other, we’re always going to have a problem. Both communities have work to do. Now is the perfect time for us to work on race relations in America,” Sawyer affirmed.

Preacher Man

When he was little, Sawyer told his dad, “I want to be like you when I grow up.” His father replied, “You don’t want to be like me, son, you want to be like Jesus.”

“So that’s what I try to do. As soon as we realize that we’re all made in God’s image, we’re going to be OK,” he said. “I don’t hate anybody. I try to get along with everybody. Don’t let politicians divide us any more than we’re divided. That’s the biggest problem. We listen to what’s on TV. I don’t need anybody to tell me who I like and who I don’t like.”

 “We have to come together,” he continued. “I’m thankful for the friends the Lord has put in my life. We have to change our perception of our neighbors. Not all people of a different race are bad. Be there for your friends.”

Sawyer added that everyone needs to work on racism as a society. “Both the white and black communities have work to do. Now is the perfect time for us to work on race relations in America. The whole world sees what’s going on, politicians fighting over this and that. We don’t have any togetherness,” he said. “Let’s take a stand and let’s be one. We claim to be one nation under God but how can we be under God if we’re at each other’s throats?”

Father Darragh Griffith

Rev. Darragh Griffith

Rev. Darragh Griffith is originally from Dublin, Ireland and has been in the U.S. for 24 years. Following 10 years at Holy Family in Marietta, he’s been the pastor at Mary Our Queen (MOQ) — the only Catholic church in Peachtree Corners — for four years.

“We welcome the community to come see our new church. It’s a beautiful, traditional church based on Saint Gerard’s in Buffalo. If you’re exploring questions about the Catholic faith, we’re here,” Father Griffith offered.

Though the present church is just a year old, the parish has been here since 1998. The pews, stained-glass windows and altars were taken from the old church in Buffalo, New York.

Mass during the pandemic

“We’ve been live-streaming masses on YouTube and our website. But now we’re back,” Father Griffith said. The church has an outdoor mass on Sundays at 8:30 a.m. for people who feel more comfortable outside, and services in the church on Sundays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 5 p.m.

Masks and social distancing are expected at the indoor services. Seating is roped off to allow for every second pew to be occupied. “It’s working out for this time,” he said.

 The parish

The makeup of the MOQ parish is quite diverse. “We’ve got people from every continent. We have a lot of Asian people from Vietnam, for example. People from the African continent, Nigeria and other countries, Hispanic and white Anglo, as well,” shared Father Griffith.

MOQ provides spiritual and financial outreach to Peachtree Corners families through The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP). Volunteers make home visits with families and individuals who call the helpline seeking food or financial help.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, MOQ SVDP has assisted over 150 individuals. The help line number is 678-892-6163.

The domestic church

For Father Griffith, what happens at home is as important as what happens at church. “In these times, I believe the home is crucial. Parents have a great and joyful responsibility. The family has never been as important, from where we stand, as it is now,” he said. “That’s where you can lead by witness to your children. Not so much by words, but by example. The family is crucial.”

He said that the church has always taught that the home is the domestic church. “The home is where parents hand on the faith to their children. I think that’s crucial,” Father Griffith said. “My work, the church’s work is not going to bear fruit if it’s not happening at home.”

Spreading God’s love

“It’s sad to see some of the things that we see on TV, some of the violence. It is kind of sad and disturbing, what’s happening,” Father Griffith said. “The church believes in treating everyone with respect and love. We’re a universal church. We love and accept everyone. In the Catholic faith, we’ve got people of all sorts of cultures, backgrounds, traditions.”

For a solution to today’s troubled climate, Father Griffith leads with the suggestion that we respect one another. “We’re all made in the image of God. Everyone is precious in God’s eyes. Every person is created through God’s love,” he said.

Father Griffith said that he knows it’s been hard during the pandemic for people to meet up, interact and socialize. “If we can get together and have that as a base, we’ll not be afraid of each other,” he said. “And love, that’s what Jesus spoke about, loving all people. That’s what our Catholic faith teaches us.”

Faith is critical for Father Griffith. “If we’re living our faith, that informs our decisions and our behavior. As it says in Scripture, our lives should be based on faith and our relationship with God,” he said. “Hopefully people will be open to God and to His Spirit at this time.”

Karl Barham

Karl Barnham

Karl Barham, President of Transworld Business Advisors of Atlanta, Peachtree, started the business with his wife, Ann, two years ago. They own a local office of the franchise in Peachtree Corners. 

“We relocated from New York City, got married and started a family here,” he said. “We found Peachtree Corners to be a fabulous place to live, work and raise a family.” They’re a Christian family and attend Close Perimeter Church.

Barham explained business brokers specialize in buying and selling businesses. “We do small, neighborhood businesses — any size, up to maybe about $25 million. We arrange to find the buyers and we help them get the deal done.”

Growing up black

“I’m first generation in the U.S. My family is from Jamaica, the third poorest county in the Caribbean. They came here, raised their kids and we’ve done well,” Barham said. “But I do see, for a lot of people who are very specifically black, they’re not looking for handouts or anything, they just want the proverbial knee off the neck.”

“When you’re in a minority, you always think about race,” he continued. “Jamaica is a mostly black country. When I spend time there, everyone looks like me. In the U.S., it’s the reverse, and as you move up in corporate America, it’s even more of the reverse. It’s always there to think about.”

Barham’s dream and hope for the future is that his kids don’t have to deal with the kind of discrimination that he’s seen in his lifetime. “Changes need to happen in this generation. Will it change in my lifetime? I don’t know. I thought it would,” he said. “When I was a young kid, my dad was saying the same things. I said, “Oh, by the time I’m your age, that stuff will all be solved.” I was wrong. It isn’t.”

Starting a conversation

When Barham received inquiries on what people could do in their companies about racial justice, he thought it would be a good topic for the Capitalist Sage podcasts that he regularly hosts with Peachtree Corners Magazine publisher Rico Figliolini. So, they began a series of podcasts about diversity and race.

“It’s been a topic discussed nationally, and we said, ‘what about here? Is there anything going on locally?’” he said. They produced three episodes, with two to three guests on each. “We talked about racial and social justice in leadership and in the local community,” Barham said. “We had stay-at-home moms, elected officials, church leaders and faith leaders, just talking about what it means and how they’ve been reacting to what’s happening with Black Lives Matter. We asked: what can citizens can do individually? What can local leaders do? We just wanted to start a dialogue.”

Barham said that one of the things that’s interesting about the South is that racism is part of the history that people don’t talk about because they’re trying to be polite, yet “there’s this undercurrent of race in a lot of conversations.”

“It wasn’t too long ago in the South that some [schools] had a black prom and a white prom,” he said. “Friends are so segregated; they get together sometimes for sports, school and some social activities, but they go home to dinner and they go to church in very separate worlds. They don’t get a chance to really learn about each other, so misunderstandings can happen more easily.”

Barham shared a little game he plays. “Whenever anyone talks about race — black, white — it’s hard; it’s too charged. I change “black” to “short”. If I were to say: What if short people, anybody under 5’10”, are not able to get all of the same opportunities as everyone else? A lot of people would be REALLY upset.”

“If I was sitting at a party and people were talking about, “Oh, those short people…”, I might say, “Hey, time out! Half my friends are short.”

A note of hope

Barham said he sees a lot of people coming together to help advance social justice, including racial justice. “I think we should lift those people up. We should elect them to office,” he said.

And he sees a lot of things to be hopeful for. “When I look at the community here, I see more people of color starting businesses,” Barham reported. “In the last 10 deals that we’ve done, more than 50% of them had a person of color on one side of the deal or the other. Things are changing in society — and things can and will continue to get better.”

Diverse perspectives, the same conclusion

It’s easy to see why niche.com gives Peachtree Corners an A+ for diversity. Let’s move forward holding hands (figuratively, of course), leaving injustice behind and making the fabric of Peachtree Corners stronger and more beautiful than ever before.

“We must continue to go forward as one people, as brothers and sisters.” ~ Rep. John Lewis

Vitals

From the United States Census Bureau’s QuickFacts about Peachtree Corners, it’s easy to glean some of the latest statistics about the elusive 16.23 square miles that constitute the largest city in Gwinnett county. I say“elusive” as many citizens might have trouble envisioning our city’s borders. In our defense, it was incorporated just eight years ago, on July 1, 2012.

What makes our community a Top 10 best suburb, and one of the best places to live in the State of Georgia—besides quality education, low crime rate, desirable cost of living, employment, access to amenities and general livability? The great diversity in housing options, places to worship, the cultures represented here, the businesses and the amazing residents we share our community with, of course.

Population: 43,905

Median Household Income: $67,949

Poverty Rate: 9.9%

Employment Rate: 71.7%

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Community

Harvest Gwinnett invites residents to be part of two new community gardens

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Here we grow again! Harvest Gwinnett invites gardeners of all skill levels to reserve a plot and be part of Live Healthy Gwinnett’s two newest community gardens.

Applications are now being accepted for 4-foot by 8–foot garden plots at Lenora Park in Snellville and Graves Park in Norcross. These raised beds are $35 each and are available for the 2020 fall and winter growing season.

Harvest Gwinnett, a program of Live Healthy Gwinnett, was launched in 2019 to connect community members with hands-on environmental education, to improve local access to fresh produce and to nurture engagement opportunities leading to improved health outcomes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, community gardens act as health promoters decreasing mental and physical stress levels in adults while enhancing mobility, socialization and community impact.

In response to a growing need for access to fresh food, Harvest Gwinnett works alongside community partners to close the meal gap by implementing community gardens, nutrition education, food distributions and more. Harvest Gwinnett’s first community garden in Lawrenceville opened in May 2020 and has already produced more than 400 pounds of fresh food alternatives that have been distributed to families served by local co-operative services, housing authorities and senior food distribution programs. Continued partnerships with Gwinnett Parks and Recreation and UGA Extension Gwinnett will provide important guidance for these two new community gardens. 

The Lenora Park Community Garden is located at 4515 Lenora Church Road in Snellville, and the Graves Park Community Garden is located at 1540 Graves Road in Norcross.

For more information, and guidelines, visit LiveHealthyGwinnett.com or contact HarvestGwinnett@GwinnettCounty.com

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