Some Brookhaven officials are looking for help in finding ways to connect with the city’s large Spanish-speaking community.
Councilman Joe Gebbia, who represents Brookhaven’s southernmost district encompassing much of the Buford Highway corridor, is working to organize an advisory council that will serve as liaison to the Latino community. Many Latinos, who make up about 30 percent of Brookhaven’s population, live along Buford Highway.
Gebbia, along with Councilman Jim Eyre, met with residents on Feb. 15 for an early morning cup of coffee to discuss the direction the committee should take.
They met with Irma Walker, the program coordinator for the Hispanic Health Coalition of Georgia; Maria Duarte, a spokeswoman for Spanish language news channel Azteca Atlanta; and Kim Gokce, a leader of the Cross Keys Foundation, which supports Cross Keys High School.
“We need help understanding the community,” Eyre said. “We also need help from an advisory committee to understand who the leaders are and who we need to get involved.”
Gebbia and Eyre said they hope the committee can come up with outreach initiatives that can introduce the new city to the large immigrant population.
At a recent council meeting, council members delayed a vote to begin “code compliance sweeps” of apartment buildings and businesses along Buford Highway. The intent of the “sweeps” will be to identify buildings that are not up to code or businesses that are not operating with proper licenses.
Gebbia and Eyre said they want to make sure many residents’ first interaction with the city isn’t negative. “We want to put our foot forward in a very positive way,” Gebbia said.
Eyre said educating people about the city’s ordinances will be important. “We want to get out in front of that and make sure the community understands why we’re doing it,” Eyre said.
The city is now looking to begin its code enforcement efforts on Buford Highway this summer, Gebbia said.
“We have time. We want to make sure we get this right,” Gebbia said.
Duarte, the Azteca Atlanta spokeswoman, said she would begin work on a media plan to involve radio stations, TV stations and newspapers. Duarte also recommended translating as many city materials as possible into Spanish to make the Latino community feel included in the new city.
“They may know enough English to run their small business, but they may not have the vocabulary to understand the ordinances,” Duarte said.
Walker said in addition to media, schools and churches are good institutions to work through.
“Radio is huge in our community. The schools, the churches, that’s where they feel safe,” Walker said.
Gebbia is planning to reach out to parents at Woodward Elementary, which has a large number of Latino students.
“The key is creating a better level of communication and trust,” Gebbia said. “We don’t want to come in with any pre-conceived concept of what that is.”