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Occupation: Entrepreneur, podcaster, and producer
Residence: Atlanta’s West End
Community work: Founder and executive director of Motivated Adults Developing Excellence (MADE).
Protesting police killings. Saving long-forgotten black graves from the crush of bulldozers. Helping a toddler secure a much-needed kidney.
Eldredge Washington has spent the last dozen years speaking up for people who can’t.
Some days that has meant making phone calls, speaking out at city council meetings, or hoisting placards in protest at 5 a.m. before lawmakers get to the state Capitol.
It’s all worth it to the small-town Georgia native, especially when he came across a Facebook photo of A.J. Burgess, who recently celebrated his sixth birthday.
The last time Washington saw Burgess was in 2017 when he was an ailing toddler at the center of a fight with Emory Hospital doctors over a kidney transplant. Emory officials initially wouldn’t permit the transfer of Burgess’s father’s kidney to the little boy because of the father’s probation violation. The “Baby A.J.” case drew national attention and local activists like Washington and eventually led to the child getting the kidney he desperately needed.
“This was a case where the community came together. It wasn’t a large group,” Washington told Atlanta Civic Circle. “It was a crew of people but it wasn’t thousands of people outraged. People made phone calls and petitioned and the baby who was expected to die is now alive and well.”
“The Baby A.J. case shows we always have to do our part and fight even when it’s something that’s not going to be major,” Washington added.
While many of his activist peers have been busy with voting, police brutality, and other causes, Washington has spent the last two months focused on bringing justice to one of the darkest chapters in Atlanta history: the former Chattahoochee Brick Company where Black inmates and teenagers were forced to work for free a century ago via Georgia’s convict-leasing program. Many are buried at the site
Rail giant Norfolk Southern was set to transform the brickworks site in northwest Atlanta into a rail transfer facility and memorial but community protests and an injunction signed by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms ended Norfolk’s Southern’s plans in February.
“We accepted from the beginning that we had a special responsibility to develop this site in a socially and environmentally responsible way, given the atrocities that once took place there…” Norfolk Southern chairman and CEO James A. Squires said in a statement posted on the company’s website. “The company will complete the necessary work to stabilize and secure the site and then withdraw.”
Washington views Norfolk Southern’s retreat as “another example of power to the people.”
“We sent out letters to Mayor Lance Bottoms and city council asking them to use their influence to get Norfolk Southern to stop building,” recalled Washington who was among a group of activists who recently spoke out in front of the rail giant’s headquarters. “We want to make it some type of memorial or park to honor those Black people who worked and died there.”
Washington’s activist work took shape in his hometown of Monroe, a small town near Athens, Ga. He founded a nonprofit called Motivated Adult Developing Excellence, or MADE, which Johnson says is “a movement of young people who want to do more in community service and who really want to change the world in a tangible way.”
At 18, he moved to Atlanta, home of some of the world’s largest organizations such as the United Way and the Boys and Girls Club of America.
“I felt it was a good place to come learn and grow,” he said.
He started out working in the community and feeding the homeless — what he called “direct service work.”
Since then, Washington says he has been trained and mentored by some of the best in the community organizing realm. He learned the intricacies of voter registration from Helen Butler of The People’s Agenda and the late voting rights advocate Rev. Albert E. Love.
“They shared with me the importance not just of the big election but for the quiet elections people don’t really think about like the House of Representatives and Senate,” Washington said.
But it has been his work with community activist and former city councilman Derrick Boazman that helped “change the game” for Washington.
“He took me under his wing,” Washington said. “Derrick showed me direct action, which are things that help you create concrete change. You’re advocating legislation that’s helpful to the community.”
Organizing communities in direct response to police shootings in DeKalb County was among the first direct action projects, Washington recalled.
“I’m just proud to be doing the work of our ancestors,” he said.
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: Eldredge Washington (center) speaks at a demonstration.)