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All In A Year

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Cross Keys High’s Unify BuHi celebrates inaugural accomplishments

Approximately one year ago, on March 30, 2016, a group of students from Cross Keys High School went to Plaza Fiesta—located at 4166 Buford Highway NE—to engage with local citizens about infrastructure improvements, government engagement and affordable housing.

“We are trying to find and show people better ways to improve Buford Highway so we can appreciate it more,” said then-freshman Jennifer Monzon. “We’re trying to find better ways to improve our community.”

On April 13, the group, which now goes by Unify BuHi under the guidance of Rebekah Cohen Morris, returned to Plaza Fiesta to celebrate and showcase the club’s progress.

“This is a celebration of the hard work we’ve been doing,” Morris said. “It’s a way to honor our students and their families.”

Morris said she saw the club’s biggest success in guerilla gardening efforts throughout Buford Highway. The club takes materials such as used tires and transforms them into aesthetically pleasing gardens at random locations along Buford Highway.

Morris said greater achievements involved community organizations engaging with Cross Keys High students, which resulted in joint partnerships. This included parent and civic organizations in Chamblee, Doraville, Ashford Park, apartment complexes and other locations.

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“[We’ve learned] about things you wouldn’t normally learn about, learning about each other, and learning about the community,” Morris said. “We’ve gotten 100 percent support. People hear about kids wanting to do something in the community and want to help.”

One of the byproducts this year is Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, an apartment residents’ association developed by Unify BuHi through which neighbors come together to share a meal, talk about civic issues and identify potential leaders.

“We’re taking a long-term viewpoint,” Morris said.

Sophomore and Buford Highway resident Dinamis Roblero Lopez said the efforts began as a “simple class project” but turned into something more after grabbing media attention in 2016.

“We’re showing what we want Buford Highway to improve on,” Lopez said. “Bus lanes, bike lanes and the safety of people around here—we focused on the people that live here.”

Lopez said she wants to see more bike lanes along Buford Highway to help curb pollution and allow her community to travel safely.

Unify BuHi’s efforts are currently in the process of being documented by Georgia Tech students Priya Gupta and Ben Morse under the direction of professor Juan Rodriguez.

“It’s been great—we volunteer with students, have them share their stories and go back to share them with the Georgia Tech community,” Gupta said. “It’s an untapped area. Not a lot of people know about these organizations that are right at the heart of high schools. It’s interesting to see how students so young can make such a large change.”

Rodriguez said Unify BuHi and Los Vecinos are two of the most interesting grassroots organizations working today to improve the Buford Highway community.

“It’s a great place—it’s a very diverse place,” Rodriguez said. “We should definitely try to preserve the essence of Buford Highway, which is diversity, good food and affordbale housing.

It is also a place that has its challenges, particularly when we talk about transportation and security, but it’s a great opportunity for educators, people in the city and urban developers to integrate socially without patterns of urban displacement.”

Morris said Unify BuHi plans to linguistically map businesses and organizations along Buford Highway and continue to work alongside Atlanta universities to better the region for all communities.

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