Hannah Gebresilassie (aka Hannah Joy)
Background: Daughter of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees who came to the United States in the 1980s.
Residence: metro Atlanta
Community work: Founded the Promote Positivity Movement in 2018. Co-founded ProtectTheVoteGa in February of this year to address voter suppression issues. She also is involved in Optimize the Vizion; Justice for Georgia; ATL Social Change; Habesha Networks and Habeshas Vote.
It is the middle of the afternoon on an overcast Thursday in March. Hannah Joy Gebresilassie has been up since 6:30 a.m. and has already participated in protests at the State Capitol and the governor’s mansion. She will close out this day with a rally at Delta Air Lines’ south terminal at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport and witness State Rep. Park Cannon’s arrest for knocking on the door as the governor signed a controversial voting measure into law.
Gebresilassie will finish the week out on Friday with three more protests — including one at the Governor’s mansion — protesting a trio of voting bills in the Georgia legislature.
Her frenetic schedule — which included a stop Thursday to get a COVID vaccine — has been so tight that she’s caught off guard by a milestone: It is the 22nd day of weekday protesting which began Feb. 25, exactly a month ago.
Invariably, anyone who is involved in metro Atlanta’s community organizing scene knows of the journalist-turned-activist best known as “Hannah Joy.” Her work as a television reporter and anchor led her to community organizing.
“It opened my eyes to a lot,” Gebresilassie, a graduate of Georgia Tech and Northwestern University, told Atlanta Civic Circle. “When you’re interviewing people about their stories you really start to understand the challenges people face… you feel the pain. You feel the challenges and for me, I always took that home. I want to tell their story but I also want to see what I can do to help.”
After working in Illinois and other places, Gebresilassie returned home to metro Atlanta in 2018. She started her own media platform, HannahJoyTV, and founded a volunteer-led group called Promote Positivity Movement.
“She’s ruthless,” Community activist and former Atlanta City Councilman Derrick Boazman told Atlanta Civic Circle, adding that her prowess for organizing and bringing people together around causes is unmatched.
But it was a string of national incidents last year — the murders of Georgia Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor — that really spurred Gebresilassie to action.
Disturbed by the incessant police brutality, she spearheaded a series of daily protests in Atlanta last June called Line of Solidarity.
“I seriously thought 200 people were going to come,” Gebresilassie, the daughter of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees who came to the U.S. in the 1980s, told Atlanta Civic Circle. “What happened was 2,000 people came and since then, it’s never stopped. We’ve protested for 50 straight days.”
The protests eventually went virtual as COVID-19 cases increased. From there, Gebresilassie participated in rallies and other community events to alert people to the presidential election, the senate runoff races, and now the voting bills.
In the midst of it all, Gebresilassie contracted COVID-19.
“It was bound to happen [but] I was able to overcome it,” she said.
The protests and demonstrations Gebresilassie has participated in during the past nine months may seem to exist in silos but she insists they’re interconnected. They all have the thread of democracy running through them.
“Everything we were fighting for during the summer of 2020 is connected to the election process,” she said. “Voting impacts so many aspects of our lives. Everything from immigration to police brutality to jobs and health care and education and foreign policy and international relationships. This is a moment where we have to stand up and protect our votes because we’re not just protecting our votes, we are literally protecting our lives.
While events of the past year have led Gebresilassie to the streets in protest, she realizes protesting isn’t for everyone.
“We all play our role in this fight,” she said. “Everyone’s path is gonna look different. I just want to encourage everyone to find what has worked for them. Everybody doesn’t need to be in the streets marching. Everybody doesn’t need to be in the corporations. Everybody doesn’t need to be in every space, our paths are so unique for each of us.”
To learn more about how you can get involved, visit Protect the Vote Georgia. The website aggregates information from more than a dozen community organizations and includes upcoming events and activities.
Know someone who is engaged in civic activities or causes and has an interesting story to tell? Let us know. Send their name and contact information to Tammy Joyner.
(Header image: Atlanta activist Hannah Joy. Photo courtesy of @sheepreebright.)