SOWEGA Rising tackles troubling community issues

Sherrell Byrd, left, co-chairman of SOWEGA Rising, talks with Ward III Albany City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher after Tuesday’s Albany City Commission meeting.

ALBANY – It’s no secret that Albany suffers from the ills of poverty, poor housing and gangs. But an organization formed in March is hoping to tackle those and other crises facing the city.

On Tuesday, officials with SOWEGA Rising addressed the Albany City Commission to discuss the organization’s mission and to seek support from the city to help make its efforts a reality.

“There’s a housing crisis,” organization board member Dedrick Thomas told commissioners. “Conditions are deplorable, no insulation, faulty wiring (which) leads to high utility bills.

“We know that there are no grocery stores in south Albany.”

Because of that last bit of reality, residents who don’t have time or transportation to go to supermarkets resort to dollar stores, where the choices usually consist of processed foods high in sugar content, Thomas said. This leads to children who are fidgety at school.

“(And) when we turn them loose, there’s somebody waiting to get them – the gangs,” Thomas said.

Because east and south Albany exist in a “food desert” those processed and sugary foods contribute to diabetes in a significant number of the community, Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard said.

“They’ve said 85 percent of those that are on dialysis are people of color,” he said.

In addition to those issues, some others SOWEGA Rising personnel said they’d like to address include public transportation, employment, art and culture, civic engagement and recreation.

Planned initiatives include economic injustice, food insecurity, criminal justice reform, cultural and historical preservation, and rural health.

“Today, we wanted to focus on what some of the crisis issues are,” Sherrell Byrd, co-chairman of SOWEGA Rising, told reporters after the commission meeting. “We have a huge number of people in south Albany who do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Utilities is a critical issue.”

More than half of residents in the area are renters, and much of the housing is energy-inefficient, Byrd said.

The organization covers 13 other counties in addition to Dougherty County, but Albany is the organization’s initial focus area.

“We’re using Albany as our model,” Byrd said. “We have several solutions we want to bring to our communities.”

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