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|An Angel of an activist: Meet one Atlantan making a difference|
|Written by Ryan Lee|
|Friday, 24 December 2010 00:00|
A high-stepping, flamboyant street performer is not usually cited as a role model by someone who aspires to be mayor of Atlanta, but community activist Angel Poventud thinks the city’s politics could use a little flavor from its streets.
“Baton Bob and I — I kind of feel a kindred spirit with him,” says Poventud, who can regularly be seen whizzing across Atlanta in rollerblades, frequently either shirtless or wearing a lime green dress.
“My role is really pushing on the edges of socially acceptable behavior, giving space for people, so they can feel that breathing room when that space is created,” he adds.
Poventud’s persona as a carefree hippie who oozes goodwill and greets everyone with hugs and kisses can be somewhat misleading. While his public character is a sincere reflection of his personality, Poventud is also a civics wonk who spends dozens of hours each week volunteering and attending community meetings alongside more traditional upstanding citizens.
He serves on three committees for the Midtown Neighbors’ Association, offering a progressive counterweight to MNA leaders who have had an antagonistic relationship with the neighborhood’s gay population. Twice a month for the past 10 years, Poventud has volunteered to plant trees with Trees Atlanta, and he is a devoted proponent of the Atlanta Beltline.
Poventud’s environmental activism recently earned him the title of Cox Conserves Hero, a national honor the media company awards for community green involvement. Poventud donated the $5,000 prize to Trees Atlanta, which he credits with improving air quality, providing shelter for wildlife and helping manage storm runoff.
And although Poventud often looks like he’s on a lifelong vacation while rollerblading in Piedmont Park, his community involvement is scheduled around his full-time job as a freight train conductor for CSX.
“The key is, I don’t have a TV,” Poventud says of his ability to maintain a presence on the streets and in community meetings. “The TV broke and I didn’t replace it because I wanted to save money and get a really nice one, and all of a sudden…it’s been about eight or nine years.”
Showing up, showing out
Poventud became a full-blown community activist about five years ago, the day a friend alerted him to an article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. It was there that Poventud learned that the building where he rented an apartment was being torn down to make room for condos.
“At the time, I didn’t know who my city councilmember was, I barely knew who the mayor was, I didn’t know anybody,” Poventud says. “In the course of that year and a half, I met everybody that represented me as I was trying to save these historic buildings.”
Although his efforts to save his building were unsuccessful, Poventud committed himself to staying aware of community issues.
“Once you start going to meetings and being aware of one pillar of the community, then all of a sudden other things that you’re passionate about or interested in, you realize there’s a connection between that and the next thing, and so it makes sense to start paying attention to all of it,” he says.
Poventud soon recognized the power and responsibility that comes with civic engagement.
“I think of our city — Atlanta, 500,000 people — there’s probably 100 citizens that are actively engaged in what’s going on regularly,” Poventud says. “There’s people that show up when they get passionate about one issue, but there’s not really a lot of people that are paying attention. If you don’t show up to a meeting or process, chances are that nobody’s going to be there for what you’re passionate about. Just showing up has a massive impact.”
Poventud’s civic activism has gradually spread beyond Midtown, and he relishes offering a gay presence while working on non-gay issues. Attending a transportation meeting in Old Fourth Ward recently, Poventud found himself discussing gay issues with a fellow progressive activist who didn’t know it was legal to be fired for being gay in Georgia.
“Here I am having this amazing, deep philosophical conversation at a transit meeting about gay issues with someone who I would not normally have the opportunity to talk about this with,” he says.
Poventud seriously considered running for the District 6 Atlanta City Council seat in 2009, and just as his involvement has broadened beyond Midtown, so have his political ambitions.
“The main reason I didn’t run was that I didn’t want to have to change who I am, and I really felt like District 6 doesn’t know me well enough to elect me as I am,” Poventud says. “That’s the goal I have over the next three years, as the next election cycle comes up, to make sure the city knows me so well that there’s no question what my passions are and what my commitments are. I’m thinking big. I’m thinking citywide. I’m thinking of running for mayor.”
While Poventud thinks Mayor Kasim Reed has performed admirably, he believes the city could benefit from a different style of politics.
“I really believe right now that Kasim is doing an amazing job of being a cheerleader for the city on the corporate and D.C. scale, and I just feel like the city of Atlanta needs a cheerleader on the civic and community scale,” Poventud says. “I want to escalate it from being visible to being to hands-on.”
Poventud knows that some voters and political interests might scoff at his platform of more trees, bicycling, compassion for the homeless, public art and volunteerism, but he knows how important it is to just show up.
“We need to have an intelligent conversation,” he says. “I could be wrong [about the issues], but we need to be having that conversation and not just giving people blank elections, blank checks to do what they want without accountability.”
Top photo: A familiar presence roller-blading through Piedemont Park, Angel Poventud has gradually expanded his civic activism beyond Midtown, and he relishes offering a gay presence while working on non-gay issues like the environment. (by J. Yi via Facebook)
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