Atlanta City Hall’s Old Council Chambers turned into a lively classroom on Nov. 14 when more than 100 social work students met with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
The mayor answered questions about policy issues for nearly an hour. Students showed particular interest in how she addressed disparities of access to resources, including housing, mental health services and services for the differently abled.
The mayor, an Atlanta native, also spoke frankly about her difficult childhood and how her father’s incarceration impacted her life.
“I carried a lot of shame and pain, but it helped shape me into the leader that I am today,” she said. “I’ve since learned so much about people and the choices they make when they feel they don’t have any other choices.”
The interaction was organized by June Gary Hopps, Thomas M. “Jim” Parham Professor of Family and Children Studies, and Master of Social Work students as part of Parham Policy Day. The annual School of Social Work event highlights the impact of social policy on society. This year’s event also was supported by the Donald L. Hollowell Professorship, held by Llewellyn “Lee” Cornelius, director of the UGA Center for Social Justice, Human and Civil Rights.
Hopps said she hoped the students came away from the experience with a better understanding of how public policy responds to social needs.
“Students heard firsthand how the lack of resources, e.g., funding, can be a barrier to policy initiatives; why it is essential to develop allies to facilitate change or prevent unwanted change, and how to work with other government units and a variety of interest groups,” she said.
Students said they were impressed with the mayor’s confidence and openness.
“The experience … was helpful in many ways to me as I prepare for graduation and next steps as someone that hopes to work in policy advocacy and public interest,” said Simone Moonsammy, one of the student organizers. “The experience also was helpful in reminding me to stay engaged and intentionally make time to contribute to issues that I am passionate about and to not stop doing that, even if it’s just a few hours here and there.”