‘The Good Black Excellence City’: Spotlighting Black leaders in Albany
ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Black excellence can be found across the Good Life City.
There are a number of leaders in Albany pushing Black history forward. As part of Black History Month, WALB News 10 Digital Team is spotlighting Black leaders across Albany. Leaders from business owners to government officials and those that are doing their part to better the Albany community each and every day.
Quinetta Hall, Q’s Cakes and More
A unique vending machine with an assortment of cakes, such as red velvet and cheesecake, comes straight out of Q’s Cakes and More.
Owner Quinetta Hall takes pride in being one of many Black-owned businesses in the Good Life City.
”My business is Q’s Cakes done the old fashion way, doing business as Q’s Cakes and More. And what inspired (me), I started by baking for holidays for people and the orders kept coming in. So, I decided to get certified. I started in my home eight years ago now,” Hall said. “It has been amazing, and the community has been everything for my business.”
Hall’s food ambitions came from her grandmother who was the cook of the family. It was only right for Hall to carry on her grandmother’s love for cooking and baking.
“She would be proud of me. I don’t think she thought I was really listening when she would be in the kitchen cooking and baking, but I took it all in, with the help from some other people. Of course, my grandmother is not here anymore. She passed away, but I know she would be very proud,” Hall said.
Having a Black-owned business in today’s climate is very important to Hall when it comes to representation.
Her influence has gone outside of her baking as Hall said she makes it a point to connect with her community.
“My influence impacts the community because I’m a trailblazer. I set the tone for different things that people haven’t tried, especially our Black community,” Hall said. “I’m not afraid and my business has always been led by God. When God says go forth, I have to do just that.”
Hall said her business’s creativity and fresh food options set her business apart from other local businesses.
“In the local area, we don’t have a mom-and-pop bakery. I bake from scratch. I bake homemade every day and it’s fresh daily, so that’s something that we don’t have,” she said.
Q’s Cakes and More doesn’t just serve sweet treats. Hall said her healthy menu is another factor that makes her business stand out.
“And then, I implemented a healthy menu, which they don’t have that around here either. Some of my main dishes for the lunch menu is turkey burgers, veggie burgers, stuffed avocados and different things like that that they don’t have around here anywhere,” Hall said.
For Hall, Black History Month has always been a way for the Black community to come together.
“It just means so much to me because I’ve seen so much Black history made within the past few years. They’re (the Black community) brave enough to step out now and do what they need to do to become a part of Black history,” she said.
Tommie and Tiffany Terrell, Better Way Grocers
A big white bus has become the answer for some residents suffering from food insecurity.
Tommie and Tiffany Terrell, owners of Better Way Grocers, have been the powerhouse behind that mission.
“Better Way Grocers was established back in 2017 when we thought of a plan where we can come with some other partners and possibly tackle the food deviations that we have in our area,” Tommie said. “After one of the major storms, of course, we know a lot of the grocery stores closed down, so it left two or three of our zip codes without any type of groceries or produce. So since then, we’ve had one truck and we started going through neighborhoods and basically just feeding the neighborhood. And the accomplishment that we are hoping to achieve is to make food more accessible to everyone.”
Better Way Grocers doesn’t serve just any type of food.
“When the pandemic first started, there were a lot of people that were getting sick. We definitely started making a better variety of produce that they can have. More than just traditional collard greens,” Tommie said. “We started trying to incorporate greens such as kale, spinach, swiss chard, some of those things in their diet along with eggplants.”
But it wasn’t enough to just serve healthy food choices. The two entrepreneurs also teach their customers about the benefits of a healthy diet.
“We also teach them about the benefits and the possible reverses of some of the things they may have by just eating healthier fruit and vegetables,” Tommie said.
The nonprofit has touched many with their mission as they have served not only Dougherty County but also, Mitchell, Thomas and Terrell counties.
“Pretty much any of the areas in Southwest Georgia that need access or that have rented our help to kind of balance their food issues,” Tommie said.
The couple’s goodwill has gone a long way for the community.
“I do know that we have a lot of influence with the community as far as what we do. I think it’s more of enough influence because we’re a couple that’s doing this together. We definitely put the community sometimes in front of our own needs and want to make sure we’re fulfilling our mission of providing healthy access to food and driving foods into our community for better health,” Tommie said.
The health food business has gotten a lot of positive feedback from the community, so much so that it’s gotten The Terrells several accolades.
“We are the winners of the Black Business of the Year award. That was definitely a major accomplishment with it being Black History Month. That just lets us know that our work is not in vain,” Tommie said.
For Tommie, Black History Month serves as a reminder to keep working hard.
“Black history means a lot to me, not only because I know my program and we are black history, but just being able to be a present piece of history. That’s going to be always looked upon as something that was successful,” Tommie said. “It’s very important for us to not only do our part this month but we do those other 11 months also. And we do know as a leader, we do have a lot of things that we have to do. We’re definitely up for the challenge and we’re also always trying to help and create some other leaders also throughout some of the various programs and departments that we have with other people. So we’re definitely always trying to continue to write history.”
Future plans are currently in the works to expand opportunities in underserved areas.
“Onto the future, we do have a lot of programs that we do have on the table that we’re working on now. We’re still looking at some blueprints and some of the previous programs we’ve done in the past couple of years, we may be rolling those back out again. It depends on funding and what’s available for us. There’s definitely some new stuff coming from Better Way Grocers,” Tommie said.
Dr. James Pratt, Albany activist, Albany State University professor
Dr. James Pratt has worked hard to strengthen the connection between the Black community and Albany government.
Pratt’s activism work is engrained in his Good Life City roots. Some of his activism work includes trying to repeal Albany’s saggy pants ordinance and creating a survey to help with COVID-19 and other community issues.
“I’m very interested in the people of Albany,” Pratt said. “Albany has been on the margins of society — high poverty rates, high crime rates — for years. Being someone that’s from Albany, I was always interested in how can I use the kind of privilege that I had, the education that I had, the relationships that I had to create a better Albany. As an activist focused on public safety, violence and security, my goal to help our communities realize that we can change the rates of crime and violence, not through harsh, tough on crime policies, but instead, through policies that are guided by love, compassion and mutual understanding.”
Pratt said his training as a criminologist guides his activism work.
Pratt is also a professor at Albany State University. For Pratt, Black history is an everyday subject in his classroom.
“Black history is always a part of my work,” Pratt said, adding that he integrates the work of notable figures like W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida Wells into his lessons. “There’s nothing unique about Black History Month for me, but I do motivate the students, particularly in this month, to learn more about music, culture, art that Black people have produced. But also, helping to recognize that is not just about the token figures, but it’s also about everybody in the community and their narratives and voices.”
To his fellow upcoming Black leaders, Pratt’s advice is simple: listen.
“Listen before you try to speak for people. I’ve, many a time, thought I knew the issues, thought I knew what people wanted and have spoken and spoken incorrectly. Also, be bold. Sometimes your path may look different than other paths. Sometimes, you may say something that may be five years ahead of what other people are willing to do,” Pratt said. “So, listen deeply to ancestors, listen deeply to the elders but also listen to the voices of the children and seek out the margins. Seek out those that may be have been at the limits of our society that may look like they may seem worthless or have been treated as worthless. Hear those people out and hear out those needs. But also, trust yourself, trust women — trust Black women in particular — and really think about how those experiences have been at the center of our country and our nation’s history.
Jalen Johnson, Albany City Commissioner
At 22, Jalen Johnson is the youngest person ever elected to the Albany City Commission.
“It feels good. It’s a very humbling experience and it’s an honor to know that the constituents here in Albany decided that I was the best person for the job and I’m going to make sure I do the best that I can do for my constituents,” Johnson said.
Johnson was born and raised in Albany. It’s these roots that he’s hoping will sprout change in his hometown.
“I’ve seen how things haven’t changed. I’ve seen how things haven’t grown. So now, I can give a perspective of a young individual who’s grown up here but has also gotten experiences from other places. So, I want to bring some of those ideas back to be able to give us a push forward and I think it’s a very positive benefit to have.”
Growing up in the Good Life City is not the only experience Johnson is bringing to his Ward 2 commission seat. Johnson also had a stint in Washington D.C. as a legislative aide.
“I realized nothing happened in Washington. It’s constant gridlock. When people have complaints, nothing moves quick enough. And one thing about us, we love when things move quickly,” Johnson said. “So, I realized that in order for me to be able to have the biggest, greatest impact on individuals’ lives, was to come back to the local level and serve in the community that has given me so much.”
From Washington, Johnson said he was able to bring back an in-depth knowledge in policy, which is what he hopes to get to use in his Ward 2 commission seat.
“I want to see affordable and clean housing. I want to see us do some things about energy. We want to make sure that we can give people tax breaks here so that businesses can flow in. We want to give people a good quality of life. So that means we must give people good wages. Here at the city, there are different things we can do to help ease the burden for small businesses. We want businesses to be able to grow and thrive here in the City of Albany, not suffer,” Johnson said.
Johnson also wants to see public safety strengthened in Albany.
Johnson said he wants his generation to know that he has a say in what’s going on.
“Albany is a predominately Black city and it’s an honor to be from this city and I’m excited to be a young, Black energetic leader who’s going to be fighting for my generation,” Johnson said.
For Johnson, Black history is every day.
“Being able to wake up, breathe, live life with my family, live life with my friends — that’s what Black history is,” Johnson said. “We have to talk more about the contributions that Black people are providing in America each and every day. Not just the things in the historical context, but the things that we are continuing to do. I think that us upcoming Black leaders, we’re contributing to Black history as well, so we should just be proud of that, we should thank God for that opportunity. And we need to live every day moving forward in the future and seeing what we’re going to continue to contribute instead of living so much in the past.”
King Randall, The “X” for Boys
A young advocate is still on the rise as he continues to help the community.
King Randall is preparing to launch a preparatory school for boys while also providing his group, The X Boys, community children from ages 7-11, with opportunities they may not have otherwise.
Randall said Life Preparatory School for Boys’ purpose is to create a community of better protectors, husbands, fathers and mentors.
“Much of the change that will happen with the community here in 5-10 years will happen with our children. Sure, we’ll have them doing different community work and things like that, but for the most part, I want to see that change start happening as time goes by,” Randall said.
Randall’s goal is to train our replacements in the community such as the next doctors, lawyers, and leaders. Though Randall has been recognized nationally for his work with The X Boys, he said that will never defer his overall mission for the group.
“Nope, we’re here consistently every week and I will say that with the firmest that nobody will be as consistent as the X Boys is with boys in the City of Albany because we have the results, we have the change, we have the percentages with their reading results, etc. We’re here consistently every week and that’s one thing the boys love and their parents love too,” he said.
The boys gather for sessions like their weekly book club, community service, and monthly field trips. They even got a chance to tour the State Capitol and meet Governor Brian Kemp.
Randall said he also aims to introduce them to different professions.
“So, we’ve had people show them how to wield, firearms training. We’re going to try and do other workshops, teaching them how to build a house, plumbing workshops, electricity workshops. Teaching them how to work on cars, work on houses, just introducing them to so many areas,” Randall said.
Randall and The X Boys are also in the process of fixing up the new school building. They will have a volunteer weekend, March 18-20 where several donors will be helping with labor and supplies to clean up the new preparatory school. Randall said sign-ups for the school will begin after the clean-up weekend.
“So before we sign up, we have to make sure the building’s okay. But also, we’re taking applications for teachers. We are only going to start with sixth-grade students and we are only going to do 50,” he said. “We won’t stop working with the kids we’re working with. It will almost be like, almost like it is now, like an after-school program. But during school, it will only be sixth grade and we will grow them all the way till 12th grade.”
Randall said even though he’s only starting the school with sixth graders, he will add a grade each year leading up to 12th grade, along with dual enrollment for students.
Randall also said he is in the process of a community project for food deserts in Albany.
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