Emory Report
February 2, 2009
Volume 61, Number 18



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February 2
, 2009
Leading the force for good

By Patti Ghezzi

As an emergency medicine physician at Grady Memorial Hospital, Sheryl Heron witnesses the desperation of the city’s poorest residents every day. In 2001, she enrolled in Leadership Atlanta, joining the city’s business, arts, government and nonprofit leaders in a yearlong study of Atlanta’s past and present.

“Leadership Atlanta helped me see how everything fits together, how everything is intertwined,” says Heron, associate residency program director for emergency medicine and assistant dean in Emory School of Medicine, noting that she learned about the criminal justice system, education, development and transportation — all issues that impact her patients.

Emory has 31 alumni of Leadership Atlanta and about seven graduates of a similar program, Leadership DeKalb. The alumni represent Emory’s top leaders, from members of the President’s Cabinet to distinguished professors.

The goal is to inspire top professionals in diverse fields to use their leadership ability for serving the greater good. Participants say the experience enabled them to visualize Emory’s role in the city.

The experience has also created many tangible partnerships between Emory and local nonprofit organizations. For example, Ruth Parker, professor in the School of Medicine and a member of Leadership Atlanta’s Class of 2008, was recruited to the board of Literacy Action.

“We’re the largest employer in DeKalb,” Parker says of Emory. “We’re supposed to be at the table.”

Sitting at tables with people from different vantage points creates “enormous fruitful thinking,” Parker says. “Leadership Atlanta broadened my links in the business community, the education world and the nonprofit community.”

Betty Willis, senior associate vice president for governmental and community affairs, participated in Leadership DeKalb in 1997 and Leadership Atlanta in 2002.

“We are so blessed at Emory to have so many resources and areas of expertise,” Willis says. “Once you see where the need is, you can see where the opportunity is to develop partnerships.”

Nathaniel Smith, director of partnerships and research for equitable development in Emory’s Office of University-Community Partnerships, says the Leadership Atlanta experience is helping him “see, holistically, the various leaders it takes to make the city grow and prosper.”

As a member of the Class of 2009, Smith observed a 20-year-old father of two sentenced to 25 years for committing two armed robberies. “So many lives affected by his mistakes,” Smith says, adding that experience brought home the human face of societal problems often tackled within the University’s walls.

“It gives me an opportunity to position Emory on the front lines of potential solutions,” Smith says. “We’re embracing our place as a critical force for good in our city and our region.”

Leon Haley, deputy senior vice president of medical affairs and vice-chair of clinical affairs at Grady for Emory’s Department of Emergency Medicine, graduated from Leadership Atlanta 2000 and as a result was tapped for the boards of the nonprofit organizations Camp Twin Lakes and Girls on the Run. Now on Leadership Atlanta’s board of directors, he helps plan programs at Grady for Leadership Atlanta participants.
While the experience exposes Emory leaders to the community beyond the campus, Leadership Atlanta also teaches others about Emory. “So many people have no idea Emory is involved with Grady,” says Haley, Grady’s chief of emergency medicine. “Now they understand that Emory plays a valuable role.”

Acceptance to Leadership Atlanta and Leadership DeKalb is competitive, but that shouldn’t discourage applicants, Haley says. The organizations seek diverse leaders with strong records of community service. Participants must demonstrate sound judgment and potential to inspire change for the long-term benefit of the community. Information: www.leadershipatlanta.org, www.leadershipdekalb.org.