White woman wearing a face mask speaking to a crowd of people indoors
YELLS Founder and CEO Laura Keefe addresses the crowd at their Community Conversations event as Cobb County Schools Board Member Leroy Tre' Hutchins (seated left) looks on, Sept. 17th, 2022. (Lena Littlefield/Fresh Take Georgia)

In brightly colored rooms lined with children’s artwork, Marietta officials and community organizers sat across from local parents and teens as they talked about issues facing the Franklin Gateway community.

Common themes brought up at Saturday’s workshop centered around affordable housing, parks and greenspace, and community-police relations.

Youth Empowerment through Learning, Leading and Serving, a youth nonprofit that provides after-school and mentorship programs for local students, organized the event to bring people together to find solutions for the community’s concerns, YELLS founder Laura Keefe said. 

Since the organization was founded in 2008, the neighborhood formerly known as Franklin Road has seen drastic changes. The 2017 arrival of a $60 million training complex for Atlanta United has encouraged additional development projects. However, some say the effects of the rapid redevelopment, including the demolition of old apartment complexes and rising rents, are pushing residents out of the area and creating additional problems.

“We hear so many challenges that families are having,” Keefe said. “Having the chance to have people in the room that could listen, and hopefully do some things about them … was really uplifting and inspiring.” 

Public figures in attendance included Cobb school board member Leroy “Tre” Hutchins, Marietta’s community development manager, Kelsey Thompson-White, and Marietta Councilman Joseph Goldstein.

The Marietta Police Athletic League joined with YELLS to facilitate the event. The league’s executive director Daneea Badio-McCray said the involvement of the teen members was important so they could see the “people in the community that are here to support them, work with them, collaborate with them, partner with them and uplift them.”

Black woman in green jacket speaks to a crown of people at an indoor event
Daneea Badio-McCray, executive director of Marietta PALS, delivers closing remarks at YELLS’ Community Conversations event on Sept. 17th, 2022 at their headquarters in Marietta, Georgia. (Lena Littlefield/Fresh Take Georgia)

“I think it’s huge for our teens, our youth to be involved in all of that, so that they learn and understand that their voice matters,” she said. “They do have the power to make change, to have an impact, to be heard.” 

Ka’Mya Carter, a 10th grade student in YELLS’ mentorship program, said it gave her a community and a place to be herself. 

“I’ve just always been kind of on the shy side, so it has helped me step out of that,” said Carter, 15. “I have people here, multiple people, who supported me, loved me and were always welcoming and never judged me.”

Keefe said that the organization hopes to implement more programs, but they are running out of space. 

“We are bursting at the seams,” Keefe said. “We would love to have a building here that’s got a gym and a field outside that the residents can use and really be able to do more and bigger events.” 

YELLS has teamed up with the Marietta Police Athletic League on other projects, including helping its youth successfully petition to prevent the city government from changing the name of their neighborhood – eventually reaching a mutual compromise to call the area “Franklin Gateway.” Badio-McCray said that the years-long partnership has led to positive change by showing people how to be engaged in their community.

“Whether they stay in this community or move somewhere else, it’ll be pretty hard for them to sit back and do nothing once they’ve learned that they have the power to change,” Badio-McCray said.

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