Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

My New Book, Chapter One, Part Two

Kevin Ford

Kevin Ford

When Tom Cousins moved to Atlanta in 1954, his first job was respectable but hardly indicative of the career that was to come. He parlayed that initial job with a company that manufactured kits for homebuilders into a home building company of his own. By the early 1960’s, Cousins was the largest homebuilder in the state of Georgia. In the mid 1960’s he got into commercial and office development and his success grew exponentially

Cousin’s resume’ is nothing short of stunning. He was largely responsible for transforming downtown Atlanta in the 1980’s. He developed the CNN Center, 191 Peachtree Tower, and built the largest skyscraper in the nation outside of Chicago and New York City. He donated the land for the Georgia World Congress Center. Brought pro basketball (the Atlanta Hawks) and major league hockey (the Atlanta Flames) to the city. When his basketball team needed a larger arena, he built the Omni, at the time a state of the art sports complex.

Cousins enjoyed social prestige, political influence, and immense wealth. He had plenty of time to play his beloved game of golf, along with a passionate desire to help others. Life was good and his had been well lived. But then one day he picked up the Times and began the journey that would lead him to the greatest challenge of his career – transforming East Lake Meadows.

The article pointed out that the vast majority of inmates in New York’s state prison system were from a small handful of neighborhoods – no more than six. Cousins reasoned that the same must be true in Georgia. So he asked a law enforcement official in his state that question. Yes, said the official. That is true. Only, in Georgia, it is far fewer than six communities. And there is one dominant neighborhood when it comes to feeding inmates into Georgia state penitentiaries – East Lake Meadows. “One of the worst places in the world”.

Cousins had heard of East Lake Meadows but he decided to ask around. What he found stunned him. But the true day of reckoning was when he braved a field trip to the project itself. I could not believe this was a place in America, he said later, shaking his head.

When he began talking about his hopes to transform the area, his friends and other Atlanta leaders began shaking their heads. The problems are too deep and severe, he was told. That would be throwing good money after bad, they said. We’d be better off to tear the place down and start over or maybe just wall the whole neighborhood off, some argued. Most daunting of all, the people living in the community would never trust you, some said convincingly.

But Cousins was tenacious by nature and gripped by a growing vision to break the cycle of poverty and despair in East Lake Meadows. And golf – of all games, the game of the wealthy elite – provided him an entry point.

Stay tuned…

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