By Vanessa Raditz, Student in Community GIS Spring 2023 Class and Volunteer with AHAT
For the second half of the Spring 2023 semester, the Community GIS class will be collaborating on an Eviction Mapping project with the Athens Housing Advocacy Team (AHAT), which is a local grassroots organizing group focused on the “fight for the right to affordable, healthy, dignified, stable housing as both a human right and the right to the city.” AHAT began tracking local eviction cases in 2021 in response to ACC Mayor & Commission conversations on a COVID-19 emergency rental assistance program and the lack of appropriate data about local eviction rates that could inform policy. The research project began with an interest in the impact and pitfalls of two rental assistance programs: the state-level Georgia Rental Assistance (GRA) and the local Eviction Prevention Program (EPP). Neither of these projects continue to operate, though ACC is currently seeking a new community partner to administer the EPP.
With funding from the Urban Institute and technical support from the ACC Geospatial Office and the UGA Community Mapping Lab, AHAT has digitized dispossessory files from the ACC Magistrate Court between Sept 1, 2021- Jan 31, 2023, and has created a spreadsheet of data that pulls out relevant information from these files including plaintiffs (landlords), addresses, outcomes of the case, and qualitative notes from the tenant answer form, including if there are any references to GRA or EPP. Through collaborating with the Community GIS class, we want to better understand the data we have collected and what they can tell us about eviction trends. We will also be using other data sets related to Athens property ownership and the EPP program to think about bigger picture processes that create the conditions for evictions in Athens. Through this pairing, we hope this project can help AHAT shift the foundation of this project from “eviction mapping” to “anti-eviction mapping;” maps that can contribute to community organizing and local decision-making that supports tenants.
In the initial report attached here, PhD candidate Jessica Martinez lays out some of the initial findings from their qualitative analysis of eviction files from the ACC Magistrate Court, field notes from a year of attending tenant meetings with AHAT, and interviews with AHAT community organizers. This qualitative data shares the ongoing story of housing insecurity in the Southeast from the perspectives of multiply-marginalized tenants and housing advocates. It gathers pieces of the overall story of housing that are frequently excluded or silenced, including the voices of tenant organizers, housing advocates, and community leaders who build complex relationships of solidarity and strategies of resistance that are essential to any initiative to ensure housing for all.
By Caroline Shin, Student in Community GIS, Spring 2023
Taught by Dr. Shannon, Community GIS (GEOG 4385/6385-L) is a course that focuses specifically
on how engaged research intersects with GIS and how community-engaged geospatial research
can actually be practiced. By this, I mean that this class utilizes a project-based approach to
learning, where we would collaboratively and collectively work toward completing certain tasks
as part of a larger project—as opposed to sitting through lectures and completing a series of
labs (a format found in many of the classes here at UGA). The two main projects planned for
this semester are 1) creating a digital archive and map of Brooklyn Cemetery and 2) mapping
the process of eviction in Athens—the first of which is currently underway.
As a brief background, the Brooklyn Cemetery (officially known as the Bethlehem Cemetery),
which was established in 1882, was one the first African American cemeteries in Athens, GA. It
has served as the final resting place for the residents of the Brooklyn and Hawthorne
neighborhoods in West Athens. For those of you that are familiar with the Athens area, the
cemetery lies behind Clarke Central Middle School on West Lake Drive. Due to neglect, however,
the cemetery has experienced large overgrowth and many unmarked or hard-to-see gravesites
(especially in the background of the naturally wooded area); the objective of this project would
be to aid the trustees in their revitalization efforts of the cemetery by interactively mapping the
area (cemetery boundaries, roads/trails, section markers, gravesites, names of the deceased,
etc.) so as to hopefully help make easier the process for descendants to find their ancestors.
Prior to this course (and to this project), I was unfamiliar with the history of the Brooklyn
Cemetery, and learning more about it has really been an eye-opening and enlightening
experience for me as someone who generally enjoys learning a bit of history and should,
especially in the place where I attend school. And considering that the Brooklyn Cemetery is an
African American cemetery, the historical relationship between African Americans and the city
of Athens as a whole. Because it feels more personal and that the stakes are higher, we
discussed the importance of paying attention to not only to the technical aspects and
challenges (i.e., inconsistency of points and GPS) but also to the emotional and effective
elements about doing this work (i.e., the visceral experience and connection, the feelings of
disrespect for the remains (especially for unmarked graves)). Personally, I agree with a lot of
these points brought up in discussion.
Throughout our work on the cemetery, we have collaborated with Linda Davis, one of the
cemetery trustees and a prominent community member; speaking with the class about the
cemetery’s historical and emotional significance, her passion struck a chord, shifting my
perspective and perhaps giving me a greater understanding of the community’s attachment.
Because I was unaware of Brooklyn Cemetery, I did not initially have any sort of connection;
however, after visiting Brooklyn Cemetery and seeing the state that it’s in, I immediately felt
that attachment (albeit nowhere near the level of those who are personally connected to the
cemetery) as it was obviously unique and largely invisible to the usual passerby—given how
uniquely situated it is. This experience also gave me immense respect for the community
trustees and others fighting for the cemetery’s visibility (as well as the ones buried there) as
their work has been largely based on oral records.
Despite the positive feelings a mapper may get from helping the community from outside the
‘ivory tower’ of an institution, it is essential not to let personal feelings, experience, or ego
obscure the needs of the community voiced by community members themselves. As such, a key
idea of community-engaged research learned from this class is respect and the important
practice of active listening as this project is not for you but for the community. This is not to say
that people do not care about community needs or do not have their best interests in heart, but
it takes time and a conscious effort (and reminders) to build that trust and to properly engage
with community members.
By Sarah O'Neal, Student in Community GIS, Spring 2023
Over the past several weeks, the Community GIS service-learning class at the University of Georgia (GEOG 6385) has been working to update GIS data for the Brooklyn Cemetery. Project kickoff involved watching the documentary Below Baldwin, which concerns the discovery and controversial burial of former slaves’ bodies found under Baldwin Hall during construction. Below Baldwin showcases the university’s reluctance to publicly recognize the history of slavery on campus, as well as its questionable site selection for the bodies’ final resting place. Linda Davis, who is prominently featured in the documentary, as well as other community members, argued for the bodies to be located at Brooklyn Cemetery, an African American cemetery opened 1880. However, the university chose not to consult these community members and instead selected Oconee Cemetery as the bodies’ final burial place.
Davis and community members preferred Brooklyn Cemetery for the bodies’ final resting place because the cemetery houses many former slaves’ remains and thus plays a major role in Athens’ African American history. The cemetery features seven sections (A-G), each with varying levels of grave markings—some graves are marked with PVC pipe and others are entirely unmarked, with no way of identifying who lies beneath. The borders of the cemetery and its sections are somewhat ambiguous, and various maps that have been created over the years contradict each other.
For the past several years, Davis and other Brooklyn Cemetery trustees have overseen an extensive revitalization and preservation effort. With the assistance of several volunteer groups and nonprofits, the trustees have backfilled sunken graves, developed roads, cleared substantial overgrowth, and restored gravesites. Most importantly, the trustees have blocked numerous redevelopment efforts—thereby cementing Brooklyn Cemetery’s standing as a significant historical site.
The Community GIS class plans to support these ongoing efforts. As part of Phase 1, the Community GIS class has been working together to clean, merge, and verify existing data points.
The class has four primary goals for the secondary phase of the Brooklyn Cemetery project:
Each of these goals plays an equally important role in the cemetery’s preservation. For each item, the class plans to work with Linda Davis and other community partners involved with the Brooklyn Cemetery. Feedback from these stakeholders will help ensure that our provided solutions continue to be sustainable, practical, and impactful.
The class is facing a few challenges with this project. First, the project is constrained by a limited timeline—the Brooklyn Cemetery Project is intended to encompass the first half of the semester, but the weeks are quickly passing. Thus, each group will need to quickly define scope, priorities, and deliverables.
Within this hurried timeline, the class must also revisit data from past projects to validate their accuracy. The borders of each section, for example, are somewhat ambiguous and vary considerably in size; the class must define and demarcate precise section boundaries. Also, sections A, B, and E are much larger than the others. The class is considering potentially dividing these sections into subcategories.
As part of Group 1, I am tasked with confirming the accuracy of grave marker data— specifically graves containing identifying information. Group 1 has partnered with Group 2 (responsible for developing a cemetery map) to ensure that every marked grave is properly recorded. Next, we hope to create an accurate map that cemetery visitors can access via pamphlet or QR code.
During this process, I have faced challenges ensuring accurate locational data because my mapping device (my phone) sometimes has difficulty identifying my exact location. This process demands caution, as any small discrepancy can cause the map to be incorrect.
While the mapping project itself is somewhat straightforward, I have struggled with the graves in my section that are marked but the writing has become illegible over time; it is difficult to comprehend that these individual’s identities may have permanently disappeared. I also believe that the unmarked graves deserve to be mapped in some manner, but our time constraints preclude us from doing so. However, by storing and memorializing the graves we can currently see, we protect additional identities from being lost should their physical markers degrade with time.
Group 1’s success not only depends on the work completed, but also on the sustainability and adaptability of each deliverable. Our group hopes to produce tangible assets that other community members can continue refining after project completion, and that our community stakeholders can enjoy for years to come.
By Tim Naff, Community GIS student in Spring 2023
Mapping and maps in general for me have always been about the visual aspect of it, their
pleasing aesthetics and interesting information, nothing more. I've also always been a
community-involved person, whether it be helping with food drives or more significant events
such as local markets or social/mental awareness-promoting occasions. When I came across
Community GIS, taught by professor Jerry Shannon, at the University of Georgia I didn’t
hesitate to enroll. Prior to the course, I was unaware there was a way to combine my love for
both GIS/maps and supporting my community in both enjoyable and beneficial methods.
Throughout the first half of this semester our class has been tasked with creating a digital
archive and maps for Brooklyn Cemetery, an all African-American Cemetery in Athens, GA.
Formerly known as Bethlehem Cemetery, Brooklyn Cemetery is a historic cemetery that was
established in the early 1800s and is located in central Athens. The cemetery contains many
grave markers and monuments that date back to the 19th century and it is the final resting place
of many prominent individuals from the Athens area, including Civil War veterans, local
politicians, and business leaders. However, many are still illegible, unmarked, or unknown. The
cemetery is still in use today and is maintained by its board of trustees working to ensure its
place and existence in the history of Athens. Through many community events there has been
noticeable progress on its restoration, such as cleaning and clearing brush and scanning for
unknown buried persons. Our project is on somewhat of a different wavelength but with the
same idea in mind, preserving and protecting Brooklyn Cemetery and its history, meaning, and
integrity so that future generations, perhaps relatives, can seek their ancestors/family, as well as
give locals the chance to learn about important history of their community.
Learning about the history and context of what we are working towards was extremely
valuable. Not only did I learn about the specific history of the cemetery but other stories and
events that happened in the past that correlate with what our issue is, the invisibility and
unrepresentedness of African-American related areas. An example is the Texas Freedom
Colonies, an reading we did, which illustrates the invisibility of African-American agricultural
communities in Texas post-emancipation. This relates to our project because Brooklyn Cemetery
is almost invisible locally. It’s invisible in the sense that it is often overgrown in a somewhat
hidden forested area and is barely marked. Much like the Texas Freedom colonies which were isolated, unregistered/off the record, and out of the scope of political and economical powers and
resources. Another connection is that both have gained recognition in recent decades which is
important so that the communities can restore and ensure the legacy they bring. Knowing the
history of my community has always been of importance to me because I am a curious person
and like to know why things are and where they are. So to get an idea and context for our issue at
hand was both interesting and needed for our project.
Besides learning about the history, the other important factor was the importance that
both sides are tailored to, for class, the process of learning and experience, and for the
community members, an end product that is attainable and of quality. Although a community
project, this is a college course so learning has been a definitive factor. This is where our GIS
“expertise” comes in. I have been introduced to aspects I had not know known, such as sites for
data-grabbing, workflows, the importance of metadata, and teamwork. Also to mention are the
critical thinking and problem solving aspects as well as the exposure to different perspectives
and social injustice issues that are obtained through the process. However, the most valuable
aspect for me of this class and project has been the opportunity to get real hands-on/professional
experience being the most valuable.
Through restoring and engraining the important history of Brooklyn Cemetery online and
on-site through references and maps so far I have learned many things and can envision the
immensely positive results that GIS and community involved work has to offer. Although
unfinished, this project goal should help facilitate the expansion of my knowledge in GIS, my
community, history, and perspectives so far. It has already helped me realize the potential of the
combination. I’ve already gained knowledge in collaboration, software skills, concepts, and
specific history all while enhancing my interest in GIS and community topics. That is all I
could’ve asked for. Not even to mention the final product we will have when completely finished
for the community members we’ve worked with. I hope it will successfully and effectively
inform the community of Athens for years to come. I also hope to be involved in various
community initiatives and promote community engagement and collaboration not only after this
class but once I graduate to contribute whatever I can wherever I end up living, all whilst
continuing to learn about my community and GIS.
By Kayla McCartney, Community GIS student in Spring 2023
At the start of the semester, my class begun a collaborative mapping project with the Brooklyn Cemetery. The Brooklyn Cemetery is one of the first African American cemeteries in Athens, GA. From my cursory observation, there seem to be two major kinds of cemeteries. The first kind is the one that remembers and celebrates the people who are buried there. The second kind is the one that people are buried in and forgotten about. Out of sight, out of mind. The Brooklyn Cemetery is an unobtrusive place that would become the second type of cemetery if it weren’t for a few select people fighting for its visibility such as Linda Davis. The purpose of this project was to take all existing data regarding the cemetery and combine and add to them to create a sustainable, informative, and accessible map for those interested in the cemetery.
Like many UGA students, I am not from Athens. I am not familiar with the history or layout of much of Athens. Before this project, I had never seen the Brooklyn Cemetery, heard of it, or even driven by it. I had no connection to the Brooklyn Cemetery. So, at the beginning of the project, I approached it like any other assignment: understand what needs to be done, then do it. However, it might be important to understand that while this is a geography class, I am a landscape architecture major, and I approach community engagement projects like a landscape architecture major. A lot of my experience with projects like these has been mostly in the realm of theoretical, and for the few projects actual communities were involved in, they said what they wanted then were majorly hands-off afterwards, somewhat similarly to this project. Something particularly relevant to me that I’ve learned by working more closely with a place like the Brooklyn Cemetery is a better understanding of the attachment to place in people regarding a place I am unattached to.
Linda Davis is the most visible advocate for the revival and maintenance of the Brooklyn Cemetery as a historical place. She came and spoke to our class about the cemetery’s historical and emotional significance. As it was established in 1880, only 15 years after slavery was abolished, it was likely many freed people had been buried there. Moreover, there was also a high likelihood her own ancestors were also buried there, which she explained as her strong personal connection. She then expressed to us how strongly she felt about the impact having access to their history and where they came from would have on future generations.
These things were significant and perhaps slightly confusing to me because they were things I don’t usually think about. My grandmothers on both sides of my family are Asian immigrants, and in coming to America, they more or less left their roots behind them. Both of my grandfathers have longer histories in the US, however maybe being veterans and not being as close to external living family members has made the history of how we got to this point less important to research or talk about. In my family, there is a much stronger emotional connection to family now than family gone, hence why Linda’s different emotional priorities felt very significant to me.
After she spoke to us, my perspective changed. Before, I had no attachment to the Brooklyn Cemetery, and I wouldn’t have necessarily called it important to me. However, after I was able to see how important this place was to Linda and how her connection to her family and roots felt mirrored to my connection to living family, I was able to develop a sense of empathy for this place through Linda’s attachment to the cemetery. More than that, I realized it was important to her. My mind then circled around to the idea that while importance is a relative concept, if looked at objectively, isn’t it universal? I can then start to think, because the Brooklyn Cemetery is important to her, it is important to me.
While I don’t know if this revelation truly changes how I approach this particular project, I believe that this kind of awareness of where my values end and another’s begin (how they relate and how to blur the lines) can be greatly impactful for future projects. It is the kind of thing that affects communication, understanding, and empathy which then affect how the project framework develops. When working on community projects, it can be easy to get stuck in the big picture headspace where you have a certain set of priorities and values. It’s easy to think in terms of “What is worth putting time into?”, “What will have the most impact?”, or “How can I best improve [this place] for [specific goals]?”. It’s easy to forget the about the people the change is for. It doesn’t help that many of my projects as a landscape architecture major has us working on community projects with limited if any contact with said communities. In building the world, it shouldn’t be so easy to forget who you are building it for.
What I’ve learned from the Brooklyn Cemetery project is that empathy is important. I’ve learned that when approaching projects, I need to come with my ego pre-dismantled. Because at the end of the day, I am not making design or planning decisions for myself. I am making places for people. People cannot be separated from place. So, when making a place, the first question I will ask from now on is who are these people, and what is important to them?