• TILA Studios

Shirley Franklin & Sierra King: When Black Women Step Up to Lead Change

Shirley Franklin is one of the most prolific Black Women in Atlanta history. Just in case you didn’t know, she was not only the city’s first woman Mayor but also the first African-American woman to serve as Mayor of a major southern city. That was in 2002 and she ran this city eight years strong. Throughout her time in office, she balanced the budget shortfall, initiated municipal government oversight and made the lives of everyday citizens that much easier (hello covered potholes).

But her imprint is far more than those tangible accomplishments. Her essence is left in intangible ways through a vision for the future of Atlanta. She had the foresight to look at how things could be and how they should be many years down the road even after leaving office. Sustainability. That’s what she procured through her work and activism. She definitely showed Atlanta what it needs to take care of and preserve. She was instrumental in that in key ways. And she kept that historic Atlanta story alive.

The annual Shirley Franklin Day at the Center for Civil and Human Rights recognizes her contributions to the city’s legacy. Her work upheld, through the middle and high school youth the day empowers through reflection, inspiration and transformation around topics of civic engagement, community service and local activism.

Community Manager Sierra King led an Arts and Activism workshop at the event. It morphed from doing something with photography to creating mini murals and allowing it to be interactive with whoever was there. Most of Sierra’s early work has centered on protest. And it has highlighted the subtle ways, like in Franklin’s case, in which activism is not just raging and loud but simply using one’s voice.  

Sierra shared with me her take on the relationship between arts and activism. She also mentioned why fostering the youth or those that come behind us is ultimately important and Black Women’s inevitable role in it all.

What kind of relationship does arts have to activism?

I was telling them at the workshop, I think arts and activism is always pushing and pulling with each other, whether the artist intends it or not. Whatever the time that you’re in, it can be seen as activism because you’re providing a voice to something that necessarily wouldn’t have a voice. I think a lot of when we think about the word activism, we think about this fully charged type thing and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that. It can be super positive, just something coming authentically from you that is either sharing a different perspective or different story and aligning with your values things that you see important.

What essence do Black Women bring when we talk social justice, equality or civic engagement?

I think Black Women are at the forefront of that. For example, you see Shirley Franklin being one of the first Black mayors of Atlanta. And what she was able to do across the board, whether it be bring The Beltline, working closely with Mayor Jackson for the Olympics, and all of her values she instilled into her mayoral candidacy. And even now with Stacey Abrams running for governor and Keisha Lance Bottoms as mayor.