To Spelman College President Dr. Helene D. Gayle and the Spelman College Board of Trustees,
We, the undersigned Alumni of Spelman College, are writing this open letter with the hopes to:
- Inform our international community about the critical situation in Atlanta;
- Urge the college president and the members of the board to use their influence in the Atlanta political and development ecosystem and insist that Spelman and affiliated institutions completely divest from all entities supporting Atlanta Police Foundation and their proposed police militarization facility known as Cop City; and
- Publish our unequivocal and enthusiastic support of both the student and faculty protests across Atlanta and the movement to defend Weelaunee Forest.
In September 2021, the Atlanta City Council voted to approve the development of a $90 million, 382-acre police training facility—despite hearing 17 hours of public comment wherein the majority of commenters vehemently opposed the project. In an appalling display of Atlanta's priorities—indeed a harbinger that we are still entrenched in The Atlanta Way—elected officials, non-profit leaders, and private interests have colluded to barrel through the democratic process so that this project of police hyper-militarization and environmental desecration can succeed.
Cop City, as it has been dubbed by local activists and community leaders, represents an existential threat to the lives of not just Atlantans, but people all over the world. Truly, Cop City is a threat to the safety and well-being of the Spelman community itself.
As teachers, activists, health care professionals, advocates for liberation, representatives, and forever Spelmanites, we beseech the Spelman community to understand that the "choice to change the world" is not just a mandate for Spelman students. That said "choice" must also be one to change the world in support of Africans around the world, and other peoples surviving under the global white supremacist capitalist power structure. This is the perfect opportunity for Spelman College to reify its long-standing investment in the comprehensive wellness of our communities.
The impact of Spelman's failure to contextualize our choice and power to change the world within the current political moment is felt most readily by the Atlanta community. Atlanta is suffering from a collapse of the Neighborhood Planning Unit infrastructure and the closing of hospitals, ranks as the worst in the country for upward economic mobility, is facing an extreme housing crisis, and has a homelessness crisis of growing severity. This is because city leadership has siphoned funding and resources for projects, programs, and experiments that support our communities, and has instead reappropriated them towards prisons, policing, violence, and exploitative development.
Spelmanites are rigorously trained to understand the many complex systems that comprise our world and their impact on the lived realities of Black people further marginalized by their gender (or lack thereof). Destroying a critical ecosystem to invest millions of dollars into a police terror institution is an act of environmental antiblackness of the highest degree, and represents only the latest casualty in a string of destruction of our social infrastructure.
Spelman President Helene Gayle's membership on the Atlanta Committee for Progress's (ACP) Board is deeply concerning. ACP has been a leading champion of Cop City, stating its unequivocal support for the facility as early as April 2021. Additionally, as board chair of ACP, Alex Taylor was asked in 2021 to lead the fundraising campaign to raise $60 million in private funds for Cop City. ACP has been a key driver of Cop City, and Spelman's involvement with ACP is not only an expression of antiblackness, but an insult to the core principles of the establishment.
Spelman's founding is not only a critical example of the bravery of freed Black women, but should also inform any strategic directions taken by the college. For a school founded for formerly enslaved women, it is an insult to their legacy for Spelman to offer any support to the institution that was the historical development of slave patrols. Unfortunately, given Spelman's other questionable links to the prison industrial complex and the state, including contracting with Aramark and hosting the CIA, ICE, and Border Patrol for recruitment events, it is not surprising. Spelman boasts a commitment to the cultivation of Black gender-oppressed people, yet the institution's silence in moments such as these reflects alternate motivations.
As Alumni and members of the Spelman community, we must denounce any and all projects that seek to expand the powers of the same police force that murdered Kathryn Johnston via a no-knock warrant, killed Alexia Christian in the back of a squad car, failed to act against officers who kicked a handcuffed Black woman in the face, tased a Spelman student during the 2020 national uprisings, and currently stewards multiple detention centers that harm and terrorize gender-oppressed people. Moreover, we would be remiss if we did not uplift the fact that should the militarization facility succeed, it will be used as a major force in the final sweep of gentrification across Atlanta. As Atlanta studies scholar Tea Troutman eloquently suggests, the fight for the forest is just the latest of Black-led, cross-racial coalitions to preserve Black communities and the natural environments that make them. Many Spelman graduates participated in the 63-day Tent City anti-displacement struggle that occurred at Turner Field Stadium in support of the (historically Black) Intrenchment Creek watershed communities. Several of those same graduates were committed members of the campus Students for Justice in Palestine chapter; a necessary intervention in Atlanta's ongoing partnership with the Israeli occupying forces via the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange. In both instances, Spelmanites were able to make the connections between increased police power, gentrification, and our institution, because Spelman students come from the city of Atlanta.
Given the annual student protests against the housing conditions on campus, the number of GoFundMes that never cease to circulate to help keep students at Spelman, the lack of scholarships offered to incoming students, and the abysmal amount of research funding offered to faculty, there is no shortage of other opportunities for Spelman to invest in. Cop City will accelerate gentrification in Atlanta, amplify the effects of the climate crisis, and threaten the lives of AUC students even more than APD already does. Black institutions have the ability and the obligation to shape history.
We are demanding that Spelman help to build a history that affirms our past as an institution, serves gender-marginalized people, and will help to build a future that includes liberation for us all.
- Eva Dickerson, Class of 2019, Miss Spelman College 2018-19
- Ariana Brazier, Ph.D. Class of 2016, Miss Spelman College 2015-2016
- Amber G. Johnson Class of 18
- Jill Cartwright
- Nia Woods
- Tiara Denson
- Andrea Richmond
- Seynabou Denise Niang, MPH, Class of 2016, Alumna
- Autumn N. Harris, Class of 2019
- Tobi Shannon, MBA, MPA, Class of 2016
- Piera Moore, Class of 2019
- Gabrielle Webb, Class of 2019
- Faty-Sharon Sylla, Class of 2018, AUC Students for Justice in Palestine President 2017-18
- Aziza Belcher Platt, Class of 2001
- Adriane McDonald, Class of 2019
- Synclaire Butler, Class of 2017
- Moya Bailey, Class of 2005, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) President 2002-2005
- Dr. Banah Ghadbian, Class of 2015, Valedictorian, AUC Students for Justice in Palestine Founder
- Sarah Nahar, Class of 2006, AUC Peace co-founder, Student Government Assoc. President 2005-2006
- Rachael McLaughlin, Class of 2020
- christian reeder, Class of 2021
- Asha Grant, Class of 2014
- Ruha Benjamin, Class of 2001, SASSAFRAS, Valedictorian
- L'Erin Asantewaa, Class of 2001, SisterFire Founder
- Amoni Thompson-Jones, Class of 2015
- Takkara Brunson, Class of 2005, FMLA
- Bettina Judd, Class of 2005, AFREKETE President 2004, FMLA Co-President 2003
- KaiYanna Washington Class of 2017 & 2019, AUC Vybz Founder & VP
- Grace Sanders, Class of 2005, FMLA, Salutatorian
- Sheri Davis, Class of 1997, Alumna & Adjunct Professor
- Njeri Waititu, Class of 2022
- Shaquavia Straughn, Class of 2022
- Janée Williams, Class of 2022 Miss Black Georgia USA 2022
- Diop Russell, Class of 2022, Miss Spelman College 2021-2022
- Raesha Estep, Class of 2019
- Destinee Johnson, Class of 2022
- Melanie Schwartz, Class of 2017
- Ananda Griffin Class of 2022
- Azia White Class of 2022
- Danielle King, Class of 2021
- Alysia Gradney, Class of 2006, Afrekete President 2005 & 2006, SisterFire Co-Host 2004-2006, SASSAFRAS member, FMLA member, Big Mama's Roundtable member
- Jordan Parker, Class of 2022, Captain Emeritus of the Spelman College Speech and Debate Team
- Taylor Talley, Class of 2022
- Erin Parks, Class of 1999
- Stephanie Crawford, Class of 2022
- Karleen Singleton Class of 2021
- Taylor Lewis, Class of 2018
- Cameron Carter, Class of 2016
- Catherine Briscoe, Class of 2019
- Tia-Lanette Oliver Class of 2019
- Janae' "Jaee" Sumter, Class of 2017
- Erica Lamberson, Class of 2015, Salutatorian