In DeKalb County, one of Georgia’s largest black and Democratic counties, no public honors have been bestowed on the president.
There are no public spaces, no buildings or roads named for Obama.
But since May, the Stone Mountain-based Georgia Black Veterans for Barack Obama has been attempting to change that.
In a May 23 letter to DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis that was copied to the seven members of the Board of Commissioners and 4th District U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, the group asked for Wade-Walker Park in Stone Mountain to be named the “Barack Obama County Park.”
Countywide, the only institution bearing the president’s name is the privately owned O.B.A.M.A. school on Glenwood Road in Decatur.
Vernell Davis, founder of the school that serves children from infancy to 12 years, said she renamed it for the president in 2009 to inspire her students.
She said the Georgia secretary of state would not approve the name and she had to resort to an acronym, which stands for Only the Best Attend My Academy, to get it.
“It reads Obama and everybody gets it,” she said. “Our students are proud to say they attend the Obama Learning Center.”
The 177-acre park targeted to be the first public space named for Obama is home to a new $20 million, 60,000-square-foot YMCA. It offers a range of fitness and family fun, including baseball, softball, soccer and multi-use fields, and street hockey. The park, located at 5585 Rockbridge Road, has tennis courts, a swimming pool, playgrounds, picnic areas, pavilions, a lake and walking trails.
Karim Shahid, who co-signed the letter with fellow veteran Alfanso Mallory, said it would be beneficial to our county to honor the nation’s first African-American president by naming its signature park for him.
“It would show our support for our president,” he said. “Over time, history will prove that Obama was the right man for the job at the right time, and we will have honored him.”
“We live in a great nation lead by President Barack Obama, a president that we all can be proud of in what he has achieved in the areas of education, human rights and world affairs,” said the veterans’ letter.
Through Thursday, the men had not received a written reply from Ellis.
CEO spokesman Burke Brennan said Thursday that he was seeing the letter for the first time and would bring it to Ellis’ attention when he returned from Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., where he had gone to hear the president’s speech accepting his party’s nomination for the Nov. 6 election.
“I know that the president is very popular and very revered in DeKalb, but I don’t know of any renaming that is happening in the county,” Brennan said.
District 4 Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, in whose district Wade-Walker Park is located, said the honor is “something to consider.”
“Having a park dedicated to our president is a great idea,” she said. “If the community wants to do that, we should consider it.”
Barnes Sutton and Super District 7 Commissioner Stan Watson, who also represents Stone Mountain, would have to sponsor such a resolution. She said she would discuss it with Watson.
On Wednesday, Watson said it was the first time he was hearing about the proposal when a reporter called him.
“I haven’t seen the letter,” he said, adding that in general, he would be in favor of honoring the president in some way.
District 3 Commissioner Larry Johnson, the presiding officer, said naming the park for Obama is a good idea he would support.
“This is not on Larry Johnson,” he said. “The districts 4 and 7 commissioners would have to take the lead on it. They are the key, but I would support it.”
Mallory said Wade-Walker Park is the best and largest park in the county.
“Everybody uses the park,” he said. “That’s where people meet. It would be a fitting tribute to the president.”
Shahid adds that the park brings people together, just like Obama does.
“He unifies people,” he said. “That’s what the park does. Everybody goes there.”
Mallory said he is beloved by everyone.
“We don’t know who Wade-Walker was,” he said. “To have an African-American president is of extreme and important historical significance. We should carry this forward by naming something after him.”
Brennan was unable to say on Thursday who Wade-Walker was and why the park was named for him. He promised to find out but did not respond before press time.
Shahid said their request to honor the president has nothing to do with his re-election campaign. He said everyone has dropped the ball on honoring Obama.
“The president has been in office for nearly four years,” he said. “We should have done something before now.”
Their group, which has a membership of 50 veterans, is pushing for the honor because Obama has been supportive of veterans.
“He has done a yeoman’s work for vets,” Shahid said.
They also point out in their letter to Ellis that Obama has created thousands of new jobs, saved the auto industry, ended the war in Iraq, killed Osama Bin Laden, and has been a leader for women’s rights.
The men said the commissioners they have spoken with are mostly supportive, but they were disappointed that three months after they wrote their letter, no resolutions have come to the floor of the BOC.
“There may be hesitation because of some of the negative things going on toward our president,” Shahid said.
Mallory thinks the county may be hesitating out of fear of offending its conservative black clergy.
“They don’t support the president anymore because of his stance on same-sex marriage,” he said. “I think that definitely came into play. No question in my mind.”
They said they will continue pushing for the honor.
“We are a Democratic black county,” Mallory said. “To not bring it to the table to talk about it and vote on it is not good for the county.”
Shahid said he would like to see the park renamed before the Nov. 6 election. “Or at least be in the planning stage. Hopefully it will happen.”