A letter from Executive Director Michael Lucas.
On January 1, 2021, I took over as AVLF’s Executive Director. I’m taking the reins from my friend and mentor, Marty Ellin, who led this organization for the last 20 years.
Building on his legacy, the shoulders on which I will stand are strong. (As you may know, Marty is also a very tall man, so the view from up here is pretty great!)
As we usher AVLF through this transition and look ahead, I can see a long way into an exciting and ambitious future. AVLF has never been better positioned to thrive and make a meaningful difference in the city of Atlanta.
Five years ago, we made a strategic decision to focus in on two critical areas: survivors of intimate partner abuse and low-income tenants.
Five years ago, we made a strategic decision to focus in on two critical areas: survivors of intimate partner abuse and low-income tenants, both of which are fighting for safety and stability in their homes. Since then, we have more than quadrupled the size of our team—and our budget. We have become an impassioned and impactful collection of lawyers, social workers, community advocates, and all the other critical people to make this organization run smoothly and help our clients tell their stories. We are now one of Atlanta’s largest providers of emergency financial assistance, which both strengthens and is strengthened by our legal advocacy. We now operate out of eleven satellite offices in addition to our main office—nine in APS schools and two in the Fulton County courthouse.
So what’s next for AVLF? In 2019, we embarked on another strategic planning session that identified our “North Star”—our vision for the next 20 years:
AVLF will be the national leader in innovative, holistic legal programs that promote safe and stable homes and families. Our Atlanta programs will be a national model and a catalyst for change in the way civil legal services are delivered and deployed as a vehicle for community change.
On our way to that North Star, we dreamed of all the ways we can continue to innovate and be responsive to community needs. We dreamed of ways to expand our nationally recognized work with survivors of intimate partner abuse out into the community, reaching survivors who otherwise would never make it to the courthouse for our help. We dreamed of new ways to support our volunteers, especially as we grow to integrate more non-lawyer volunteers into our fight for justice (e.g., accountants, paralegals, experts). We dreamed of expanding the reach of our groundbreaking pro bono family law program, as the community need continues to overwhelm the resources currently available. And we dreamed of growing our Standing with Our Neighbors program – doing more at the intersections of housing and education, health, homelessness, and even trauma.
What if we insisted on inclusivity and transparency and, in doing so, were able to marshal all the incredible ideas and talents of our team?
Finally, we dreamed of being the best run non-profit in the country. We dreamed of all the ways we could invest in our people, as they work so tirelessly to invest in this community. What if our people had the best support behind them—a human resources department that made sure they were thriving, a finance department that efficiently processed all the client assistance we disseminate to stabilize families, a communications department that helped make sure our clients’ amazing stories were amplified? What if we insisted on inclusivity and transparency and, in doing so, were able to marshal all the incredible ideas and talents of our team? We will be focusing on these areas, and when we get this operation really humming, that North Star will be well within our reach.
It is with this planning and a great deal of momentum that we entered 2020. Just as we were gathering steam towards this North Star, COVID-19 changed the world. From the lived experiences and lessons taught by both our staff and our clients, we at AVLF knew that people of color—as well as low-income tenants and survivors of intimate partner abuse, specifically—are often more vulnerable in a time of crisis.
We—as a society, as a sector, as a people—are following along an arc toward more diversity, inclusion, and equity in our institutions.
This is painfully true during the COVID-19 pandemic. As one of the many legacies of structural racism, people of color are suffering disproportionately during the pandemic, and there is an unprecedented eviction crisis looming. What’s more, survivors are even more trapped than before, often literally isolated with their abuser, and with fewer resources to help break free.
As the largest provider of holistic legal services to both tenants and survivors in Atlanta, and with a client population that is over 90% percent people of color, we felt strongly that we needed to do more to be part of the community response. As they always do, our amazing team responded with innovation, dedication, and compassion. You can read more about their efforts here.
We won’t achieve all our dreams overnight, but if our past experience is any indication, we will make them a reality.
We—as a society, as a sector, as a people—are following along an arc toward more diversity, inclusion, and equity in our institutions. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, we commit and recommit ourselves to the fight for equal justice—and as we talk about our North Star and the long arc toward getting there, that work must continue. We must strive towards the same in our staff, executive leadership, and board. I have no doubt that when we get this right and we continue to better reflect our community, our arc as an organization will start bending even more toward that North Star. I look forward to leading that effort.
As we enter 2021, we are all refocused on these dreams for our organization and how we can better serve Atlanta. We won’t achieve all our dreams overnight, but if our past experience is any indication, we will make them a reality. Having survived and even thrived through the challenges of 2020, we know we have the most amazing team energized and poised to do exactly that.
Stay tuned right here to see what we do together.
Note: A previous version of this letter mentioned a quote from Mike Tyson, who has a public history of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. We’ve removed the quote and apologize for the oversight.
Want to read other Letters From Leadership? They are an easy way to find out what drives us here at AVLF. You can find them all here.