Atlanta Center for Civil and Human Rights receives major boost from Woodruff Foundation

By Maria Saporta

When the National Center for Civil and Human Rights held a groundbreaking ceremony for its expansion on October 14, it had raised just $27 million of the $50 million project. The expansion, which will include the construction of the East and West Wings, will add an additional 20,000 square feet to the 42,000 square foot facility. With an $8.5 million grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation and a few other donations, the Center raised $37.3 million.

A rendering of the west wing addition to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. (Special: NCCHR.)

This means that the Center will likely build both wings of its proposed expansion during this fundraising campaign. At one point, it seemed like the two wings would have to be phased.

“The Woodruff grant gives us confidence that we can build both wings,” Jill Savitt, the Center’s president and CEO, said in an interview Monday. “It wasn’t a sure thing. Now we think we can build anything.

Still, Savitt was focused on the job at hand.

“We have $13 million left,” she said while thanking Woodruff, the Georgia Pacific Foundation and the Zeist Foundation for their recent donations. The fundraising campaign’s top donor so far is the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, which has donated $17 million for the project.

The goal is to complete the expansion with both wings by June 2024, the 10th anniversary of the Centre’s opening.

Atlanta is what it is because we were the epicenter of the civil rights movement,” said Russ Hardin, president of the Woodruff Foundation. “We need to remember this story and tell it well. The Center does exactly that.

The $8.5 million donation is in addition to a $1.5 million grant the Woodruff Foundation provided to the Center following the murder of George Floyd. The foundation provided this grant so that the Center could develop two training programs – human rights training for law enforcement as well as diversity, equity and inclusion training for businesses and major employers.

The two training programs will generate $1.1 million in new revenue in 2022, half of which will be net proceeds.

“NCCHR offers world-class programs for corporate employee groups and for law enforcement professionals,” said Hardin, who added that both training programs are gaining traction.

Shirley Franklin chats with AJ Robinson and Jill Savitt before the grand opening on October 14. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)

AJ Robinson, President and CEO of Central Atlanta Progress, and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin began nurturing the vision and development of the center more than 15 years ago.

The initial project for the Center was launched at the time of the 2008 recession, which ended up having to scale back plans. Then the two-wing expansion campaign was launched in October, just as there was talk of another recession.

“This expansion is really in line with our original 2008 vision,” Robinson said at the grand opening of the two wings. “We do a lot of things right, but timing isn’t one of them.”

In a follow-up interview, Robinson said the Woodruff grant significantly improves the Center’s ability to complete the campaign.

“We’re all much more optimistic that we’ll be able to close the gap in the next two months,” Robinson said. “This institution, because of its location and the work it does, captures Atlanta’s past, present, and future identity in a way that we should all celebrate.”

Robinson mentioned several key moments in which the Center helped define Atlanta’s identity.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns spent two days at the Center for inspiration. The Women’s March gathered at the Center on January 21, 2017, before heading to the State Capitol. The Thursday night before the 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta, Arthur Blank hosted a special dinner for NFL owners at the Center.

More recently, when a site selection team for the 2024 Democratic National Convention came to Atlanta a few weeks ago, they met at the Center.

“Speaker after speaker spoke about how important the Center is to Atlanta,” Robinson said. “We’ve become an important part of the Atlanta ecosystem, and we’re only eight years old.”

US Representative Lucy McBath agreed.

“Since its founding in 2014, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights has been a beacon for change,” McBath said at the inauguration. “I want to commend the Center for inspiring everyday Americans, especially young people who may not be familiar with the history of the civil rights movement.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens speaks about the importance of the Center at his annual gala – the Power to Inspire Awards – on October 13, the day before the groundbreaking. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Andrea Young, who sits on the Center’s board, credited the “dynamic duo” of Robinson and Franklin for kickstarting the development. Franklin has chaired the Center’s Board of Directors since its inception.

No place tells the story better than the National Center for Civil and Human Rights,” said Young, who added that the goal was to inspire people. “It’s also an anchor of the Atlanta brand and its tradition of inclusion, diversity and tolerance. It helps keep the spirit of civil and human rights alive.

For Savitt, the Woodruff fellowship is an “endorsement” of the Center’s work. “It indicates that the project has been reviewed and that they believe we are ready for this growth,” she said. “It sends a message to the community that this is a project worth investing in.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, a longtime supporter of the Center who enjoys bringing young people to experience the city’s unique history, said it best when he said, “The Center truly represents the best of our city and how to move Atlanta forward. .”

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