Social Justice Symposium addresses equity, quality of life issues

Graduate student organizers of the Athens Social Justice Symposium, left to right: Molly Petner, Johanna Weller-Fahy, Daniel McCrary, Kellye Call and Ada Allair.

Graduate student organizers of the Athens Social Justice Symposium, left to right: Molly Petner, Johanna Weller-Fahy, Daniel McCrary, Kellye Call and Ada Allair.

By Laurie Anderson | January 28, 2020

For many people, the new year is an opportunity to focus on self-improvement. For graduate students at the University of Georgia School of Social Work, it’s an opportunity to focus on working together with the local community to improve the quality of life for all Athens. The fourth annual Athens Social Justice Symposium, held on Jan. 25, did just that by engaging 150 local residents in dialogue over matters that affect marginalized populations in the Athens-Clarke County area.

The free day-long event, organized by social work graduate students, encourages Athens area residents to connect with organizations that are working toward more equitable and sustainable access to local resources.

More than a dozen nonprofit organizations gave presentations. Speakers and panelists discussed financial literacy, immigration, disability empowerment, LGBTQ issues, trauma and resiliency-informed services, and the intersection of mental illness and the criminal justice system, among others.

“I hope people can walk away from this feeling like they have allies in the fight for social justice, because it’s a hard fight and you can’t do it alone,” said Daniel McCrary, a social work graduate student and administrative chair of the organizing committee.

The sessions were well attended, McCrary said. Krystle Cobran, J.D., received wide praise for her presentation on how to have difficult conversations about race. Attendees showed particular interest in two sessions that focused on events of the 1960s. Representatives of the Linnentown Project spoke to a large audience about their efforts to recover the history of an African American community in Athens that was displaced under the Federal Urban Renewal Program. June Gary Hopps, the Parham Professor of Family and Children Studies, also spoke to a packed room about leadership during the civil rights era.

Hopps also introduced the presentation of the June Gary Hopps Bridge Award, given annually to recognize the efforts of a local individual or group in support of human rights. This year the award went to Linda Towns Lloyd, executive director of the Athens Economic Justice Coalition. Lloyd, who holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Georgia, is active in the living wage movement.

Keynote speaker LaKeisha Gantt spoke on the topic “Everybody’s an Ally in the Classroom.” Gantt is a certified school counselor and assistant professor of psychology at Piedmont College, and president of the Clarke County Board of Education.

“We have to get out of our comfort zones,” she told attendees. “Commit to change. Commit to the change that occurs outside of the comfortable places, outside of our classrooms.”

The symposium was held at the Athens Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and sponsored by the University of Georgia Center for Social Justice, Human and Civil Rights, the School of Social Work, Office of Sustainability, Office of Multicultural Services and Programs, and the Georgia United Credit Union.

For more about the symposium, visit

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