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‘Something To Remember Him By’ | The community of East Point honors the tragically short life of Ty’Rell Simms

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City officials, non-profits, and local charter school help to celebrate the memory of student with ‘Buddy Bench’, balloon memorial, and new mural. 

EAST POINT, Ga. — On the evening of Friday, November 6th, 2020, 11-year-old Ty’Rell Simms was headed home from his grandmother’s house with a friend. Tragically, he never made it — but his story and his legacy do not end there.

Victim of a drive-by shooting that had absolutely nothing to do with him, Simms left behind a grieving family struggling to cope with their senseless loss and a community left without their classmate, teammate, and friend.

Known for his natural athleticism, generous spirit, warm smile, and overall good nature, Simms touched the lives of many in the Tri-Cities in his brief eleven years. 

During the unpleasant undertaking of finding ways to commemorate Simm’s life, his fellow scholars at KIPP South Fulton Academy (KSFA) envisioned ways to commemorate his life. 

The Beta Club at KIPP Academy, where Simms had just begun his fifth-grade school year under pandemic distance learning approached the faculty and staff about a Buddy Bench.

The ‘Buddy Bench project’ is a relatively new initiative where plastic bottle caps and recyclable plastic items are repurposed into a functional memorial or ‘buddy bench’ in someone’s memory. 

“Our Beta Club scholars came to us wanting to find an outlet for celebration, for grief or just having a way to feel afterward,” recalls KSFA Literacy Coach, Kathryn McClinton.

“They came up with the ‘buddy bench’ idea so we could collect caps in his honor and create a bench where people could actually come and sit, and remember him while also forming bonds with other people.”

The goal of the daunting task of gathering 400-lb of plastics through donations, both local and abroad to create Simms’ memorial bench.

The cap collection process was spearheaded by a fellow athlete and community youth leader, CJ Matthews. While Matthews did not know Simms personally, he was so moved by the news of his passing, he felt compelled to contribute somehow.

Matthews is the co-founder and CEO of Blankies 4 My Buddies, an award-winning community non-profit that has been behind such community events as The Giving Bowl, and COVID Care Package.

Through its #Tops4Tyrell initiative, Blankies 4 My Buddies has collected donations from as far away as Columbus, Ohio. 

Family-friend and local pastor, Ray Waters solemnly recounts to Vox Pop All, the morning he received the call with the heart-breaking news of Ty’rell’s passing.

“It’s five minutes before church, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to talk about, and I get a call, and it is from Conrad’s (Ty’Rell’s father), brother. Scooter told me that Ty’Rell had been shot the night before and had died,” laments the Village Church pastor to Vox Pop ATL

“My whole life as a pastor, I’ve been called and told that something tragic that had happened — but nothing like that.”

East Point Parks & Recreation also contributed to Simms’ legacy by partnering with KSFA and the newly-founded community beautification program, Art in the Paint to paint the basketball court at Brookdale Park in East Point.

Other local companies that have contributed to the causes involving Ty’Rell are including the following:

Drip-Thru Coffee

Treat Love

Kupcakerie

For all the news that’s fit to click? Visit the Vox Pop ATL website and subscribe for news updates on Facebook.

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‘One To Grow On’ | Local non-profits join forces to expand food access options to the community

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Wholesome Wave Georgia and Food Well Alliance partner-up to expand SNAP benefits with ‘Georgia Plant 2 Plate’ program

EAST ATLANTA, Ga. — Although general concerns regarding the pandemic have seemed to greatly diminish, the needs of families still dealing with economic hardships and food insecurity have not.  

In an effort to increase the impact of its Georgia Plant 2 Plate food initiative, Wholesome Wave Georgia teamed up with Food Well Alliance to expand the benefits for SNAP households to include free gardening kits to Georgia families using their EBT cards at select local farmers markets. 

The Georgia Plant 2 Plate program was launched shortly after the pandemic shutdowns in April 2020 to ensure that SNAP recipients had reliable food access by offering 50% off fresh, healthy, and locally grown food.

https://vimeo.com/544003441

For 2021, the Plant 2 Plate program has expanded SNAP benefits to include 50% off local fruit and vegetable plant seedlings or ’starts’ to families paying with their EBT cards. 

Along with the purchase of fruit and vegetable starter plants, a free gardening kit including pots, soil, gloves, trowels, and plant care guides were provided to SNAP recipients.

Working in partnership with the Georgia Fresh For Less program at Wholesome Wave Georgia, Food Well Alliance hosted a Georgia Plant 2 Plate pop-up just in time for Earth Day on Thursday, April 22, 2021, at East Atlanta Village Farmers Market located at Stokeswood Avenue SE, Atlanta, GA 30316.

To date, Georgia Plant 2 Plate has hosted pop-up events at:

For more information about the 2021 Georgia Plant 2 Plate program, you can visit their website, and learn more about other programs involving the Food Well Alliance, click here.

For all the news that’s fit to click? Visit the Vox Pop ATL website and subscribe for news updates on Facebook.

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‘Breathe a Sigh of Relief’ | Community outreach organization provides face-masks to area schools

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IGNITE Resource Center donates over 4,000 much-needed face-masks to Woodland Middle and College Park Elementary schools

EAST POINT, Ga. — The faculty at Woodland Middle School and College Park Elementary School were greeted with a nice surprise Tuesday, April 20th as both schools received free face masks from the staff of the IGNITE Resource Center.

The College Park-based community outreach organization has partnered with four local schools in the Tri-Cities area to provide the students and faculty with PPE (Personal Protection Equipment). 

This initiative has been taking place since the beginning of the 2021 school year according to Jamelle McKenzie, Executive Director for IGNITE College Park Resource Center.

https://vimeo.com/542381473

“We have adopted for schools in the Tri-Cities area, and one of the things we like to do is to provide these schools with the necessary PPE that they need,” Mckenzie tells Vox Pop ATL.

“So, today we actually visited College Park Elementary School and Woodland Middle School, and delivered approximately 5000 face-masks that can be used for students, their families, and the faculty.”

With the number of in-person teaching increasing this year, the need for PPE has definitely increased for the scholars and their teachers. 

IGNITE Resource Center delivered 2,500 face masks to Woodland Middle School and 1,500 to College Park Elementary School. 

Dr. Brown extols her appreciation for IGNITE Resource Center to Vox Pop ATL out front of Woodland Middle School in East Point. 

“Something as simple as masks you would not think would make such a huge impact, but it definitely has here at Woodland Middle,” shares the Woodland Middle School principal.

When asked how did she feel about the face-mask donations and continued support from IGNITE Resource Center, College Park Elementary School principal, Dr. Maisha Otway had this to add:

“Some people think that everyone has masks and that’s not true. We have them until we don’t,” affirms Dr. Otway. “So, on delivery like this is, it’s phenomenal and these are just so awesome and colorful and cute. We love that, too.”

For more information about the IGNITE College Park Resource Center, visit their website

For all the news that’s fit to click? Visit the Vox Pop ATL website and subscribe for news updates on Facebook.

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‘Up, Up and Away’ | East Point pilot discusses the continued importance of breaking barriers and representation in minority communities

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Aviation trailblazer, Leslie Irby shares her thoughts about achieving milestones and the undeniable impact of ‘Black Girl Magic.’

HAPEVILLE, Ga. — “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

This popular quote has been misattributed to famous female historical figures from Eleanor Roosevelt to Marilyn Monroe, but the credit for this expression actually belongs to Harvard professor and historian, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author coined the phrase in 1976 in an academic paper published in ‘American Quarterly journal. Since then, these six simple words have become one of the de facto feminist slogans for women looking to ‘break the mold.’

That’s exactly what, did back on July 23rd, 2019, when the Purdue University graduate quietly entered the annals of history when she received her pilot’s wings at the EAA AirVenture convention.

https://vimeo.com/538178393

In the process, she became the very first Black female with a disability to earn their pilot’s license — ever. Not too shabby for an East Point native who used to dream of flying as she watched the planes criss-cross the skies above her childhood home. 

Her childish curiosity led her to ask her father how could she operate one of those fantastic flying machines. This prompted her dad to bring home a poster of Bessie Coleman, the first Black female to earn her pilot’s wings in U.S. History. Irby never looked back.  

Beginning at the tender age of sixteen, Irby began aviation training in a program called Aviation Career Enrichment (ACE) based in Atlanta. In fact, by the time she was ready to graduate from high school, she was flying single-engine aircraft regularly. 

“People who turn right instead of left are the ones who truly stand out,” Irby shares with Vox Pop ATL, “I am very honored to be named the first African-American female with a disability to become a licensed pilot.”

As we all know, the road to success is rarely, if ever, a straight line. During her journey to becoming a pilot, Irby and some family members were involved in a devastating car wreck in 2013. The accident left Irby a paraplegic from the knees down while two of the other passengers were not so lucky. 

Despite all that she endured, Irby refused to let this speed bump become a roadblock. She eventually discovered, Able Flight, an aviation school founded by pilots with the sole purpose of allowing people with a wide range of disabilities the unique opportunity to not only advance but complete their pilot’s training. 

“Don’t give up,” Irby implores. “Don’t worry about what you see on TV. Don’t worry about what you may see in the media, on Instagram, on Twitter, or Facebook.”

Completely unrelated to Leslie’s story, a local artist by the name of Muhammad Yungai, who goes by the handle @artofyungai on Instagram, was commissioned by the city of Hapeville to paint a mural on the side of the Hoyt Smith Recreation Center located at 3444 N Fulton Ave.  

Appropriately titled, Tuskegee Airgirl,’ the mural features a jubilant rendition of Yungai’s niece decked out in the forest green jumper, deer-catcher, and goggles to boot. 

In addition, to the beautifully rendered artwork, an enormous quote reads — “Dream high! There are no limits, not even the sky.”

In a Facebook post shared by Yungai upon completion of the mural back in January of this year, he states,

“This mural is about the ambition vs. opportunity for girls and women. Our girls in America should be dreaming as high as our boys, and our women should be afforded the same opportunities as our men!”

Irby tells Vox Pop ATL, “I know there are little girls out there who want to be pilots. There may be a little girl, differently-abled, who also wants to be a pilot, and now she sees me.”

Last year, Irby has begun yet another risky endeavor — entrepreneurship. In October, she took the plunge and invested in opening a hair salon named  The Loc Doc ATL Hair Salon — on 0ct. 1st, 2021 in South Fulton.  

To learn more about Able Flight’s training program, visit their website, and for information about Leslie’s business, The Loc Doc ATL Hair Salon, click here.

For all the news that’s fit to click? Visit the Vox Pop ATL website and subscribe for news updates on Facebook.

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