Atlanta Influences Everything

by Bem Joiner

By Google Arts & Culture

Bem Joiner

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In late 2015, my friend, Kaos, a 1999 graduate of Atlanta’s storied Douglas High, maneuvered his way to a corporate design job at Nike. Not Niketown in the mall, but Nike’s corporate headquarters in Portland.

Freaknik In 1997 by AJC Staff Photo / Jean ShifrinWABE 90.1 FM

Atlanta's public high schools had their share of kids in the back of class who sat and drew sneakers. But it was rare that the student found their way into the career designing exactly what he used to draw in class.

LIFE Photo Collection

Kaos called to tell me about some special Bo Jackson cross trainers he was designing to honor the 20th anniversary of the Atlanta Olympics.

Grace Ladoja and Yagazie Emezi model the Nike Nigeria 2018 collection (2018)Original Source: Homecoming Festival

My background in lifestyle marketing coupled with my obsession with counter culture sneakerheads meant that I had seen cool activations from Nike and Adidas.  So, my firm started planning to pitch Nike on a plan to release the shoes in Atlanta. 

lilli Midtown by Evey Wilson / WABEWABE 90.1 FM

Kaos quickly stopped me: Nike had no plans to do anything in Atlanta, he said. Atlanta wasn't a top tier market. They had lots of data showing that other cities were the focus. Data that put Atlanta in a “place of no placeness.”

Trap Rushmore (2018-09-10) by MarkeidrickTrap Music Museum

Feeling upset, I started thinking of various ways in which Atlanta was relevant. From the NBA commercial that had the 808 drum machine sound to the Apple ad with Gucci Mane’s music to Nike’s very own spot featuring Atlanta unique dances.

Dirty South Hustle (2020-01-20) by Rovel WilliamsTrap Music Museum

That’s when I shouted out of frustration: Atlanta Influences Everything!

My business partner heard my declaration and immediately put it on a t-shirt. The statement seemed uniquely Atlanta’s. 

MOMO: Boulevard Tunnel (2014-04-20) by MOMOLiving Walls, The City Speaks Inc.

By several measures, Atlanta is having a moment. Companies and people are flocking to the city. Hollywood movies and TV shows are being shot on every block.

3ttman (2013-08-15) by 3ttmanLiving Walls, The City Speaks Inc.

But even with the explosive growth and a robust creative class, the narrative of Atlanta remained out of control. At the time I didn't realize it but, Atlanta Influences Everything became a sort of unifying rallying cry that was specially made “for us, by us”. 

Atlanta's Rainbow Crosswalk by Evey Wilson / WABEWABE 90.1 FM

The creative class in Atlanta hadn’t yet garnered the same respect of other major cities. While big brands would come in and out of the city to get a piece of our culture, they were also avoiding city government or civic leaders. They would go straight to cultural creators and use our ideas, but seemed to disappear when it was time to fund wider initiatives. 

The foundation of Atlanta’s influence is wide and deep. It’s been built from the work of the natives and longtime residents who have toiled the soil and made it fertile for those that came during or after the Centennial Olympics. 

Atlanta Skyline (2014-03-31) by Mike Stewart/ AP PhotoWABE 90.1 FM

The Three C's

Atlanta’s influence rests on three pillars. Civic, Corporate and Cultural. 

Martin Luther King Jr. by Associated PressWABE 90.1 FM

As the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the cradle of the civil rights movement, Atlanta’s impact on the world was set in stone decades ago. The leaders who followed his path have transformed the city and the world in ways that range from impacting modern travel (Maynard Jackson), Diplomacy (Andrew Young) and Humanity (Jimmy Carter). 

The roads that have allowed a woman named Keisha to be mayor of a growing, dynamic city were paved with the blood, sweat and tears of some of the most important civic leaders in history. It’s fitting that John Lewis represents a large swath of the city in Congress. 

Republic 727009Delta Flight Museum

Coca-Cola, Delta, CNN and Home Depot are all Atlanta born & bred. These corporate icons have build a business community that’s home to the world’s busiest airport and created an ecosystem that’s welcomed other global brands like Porsche and Mercedes Benz as transplants. Together, these big companies have allowed innovative start-ups like Mailchimp and scores of FinTech and cyber security companies to prosper. 

Spelman College Nergo Grad June Dobbs (1948-06) by Francis MillerLIFE Photo Collection

Taken together, our Chamber of Commerce the third largest in the country and the city is ranked # 3 for Fortune 500 company Headquarters. 

World-renowned colleges & universities such as Georgia Tech, Morehouse, Spelman, Emory, SCAD and Georgia State feed a qualified workforce into this community. 

Gucci Mane by Keenan Litmon and Cam Kirk StudiosBottom of the Map Podcast

Hip Hop is the #1 most streamed genre in music. In the world. And what’s Hip Hop without Atlanta? As the home of Outkast, Usher and too many to list more, Atlanta has driven this trend, spawning countless dances, cultural vocabulary and fashion.

King Maker (2020) by Fahamu Pecou

Most fashion and culture trends start in inner-city urban communities, before landing in the broader “pop culture.” This solid base of hip hop culture has helped anchor an amazing arts scene full of many of the organizations that Google Arts & Culture is currently highlighting. Our movie & film scene has become known the world over as well as a culturally unique Tech start-Up scene which “Fast Company” named “America's New Start-Up Capital.”

Alma Sewing (1935/1935) by Francis CrissHigh Museum of Art

Yet, even with these three areas of influence, Atlanta is currently #1 in income inequality and has a 4% upward mobility rate. If you are born poor in Atlanta, there’s a 96% chance that you will die poor in Atlanta. In the shadows of the world’s greatest brands, civic leaders and artists, the American Dream seems unattainable for most of our citizens. 

Earth Observations taken by Expedition 30 crewmember (2012-01-29)NASA


To make all of this influence work, we have to intentionally invest in all three pillars. It seems like the rest of the world is telling us to do so. They revere our leaders, buy our brands, dance to our songs and watch our movies. For this to be true, though, our city must do a better job of creating policies that support those that are out here working to extend this influence. 

cchr_mural_final copy 2The National Center for Civil and Human Rights

The leaders in the civic space must work to implement smart policy and increase capacity around the work that people are doing. They must also seek out and to lift up young civic leaders who want to follow in their footsteps.We are standing and doing this work on the shoulders of giants that came before us that allowed us to even be at our best so we have to continue to build future leaders of the community.

Photography of The National Center for Civil and Human Rights Exterior (2014) by Architecture - Philip Freelon in partnership with HOK (now Perkins+Will)The National Center for Civil and Human Rights

Corporate execs must build capacity and pipelines into their companies with locals, ideally from our public schools. Even as we can and should welcome people flocking to Atlanta for great jobs, it’s critical that our corporate titans foster homegrown talent. 

In order to create more connectivity between local talent and the great companies that do business in Atlanta, we have to build capacity around supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs that will build your infrastructure or enhance the infrastructure of the ecosystem which 

Kandi Burruss

Finally, as Atlanta’s influence is stronger than ever in the entertainment world, our cultural tent needs to widen. While production is flourishing and providing tons of jobs, shows like Atlanta and The Real Housewives of Atlanta shine a spotlight on the city and the culture. The city should build on the this engaged audience by finding ways to invest in the next generation and help them write our next chapters.

Andre 3000 by Cam Kirk and Cam Kirk StudiosBottom of the Map Podcast

The t-shirt delivers the message, but it’s just a start. Atlanta’s influence spreads wide and far and all of us should be invested in continuing to build infrastructure around, and pipelines into, these three pillars: Civic, Corporate and Cultural. 

Stankonia (2018-06-10) by Michael JohnsonTrap Music Museum

In 1995, Andre3000 famously, and somewhat defiantly, told the world that “the South’s got something to say!” In 2020, it’s clearer than ever that the South’s got something to DO. And what better time than now? 

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