Taylor Stanley (M.P.P. ’13), granddaughter of ambassador and civil rights activist Andrew Young, is creating long-lasting social change in Atlanta by addressing racial inequity at the youth level through ATL: Advance the Lives.
ATLANTA—As program director and sole employee of ATL: Advance The Lives, a foundation formed by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and his wife Sarah, Taylor Stanley dedicates her time supporting and connecting organizations across the city that are tackling the systemic discrimination Black youth face.
“There are already many organizations in the city doing this work who need additional support,” said Stanley, granddaughter of ambassador and civil rights activist Andrew Young, namesake of the college from which she graduated. “We want to highlight what’s working, provide funding and increase capacity to assist more children. All of this in service of creating opportunities for Black youth in the city of Atlanta to have access to the entire city.”
In response to the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and subsequent unrest, Matt and Sarah created ATL: Advance The Lives to bring the Atlanta sports and business communities together to fight inequality impacting Black youth. The foundation fulfills this commitment by investing in undercapitalized organizations across the city that have the opportunity to build capacity—aiding them in assisting the growth and development of Black youth in the city.
“We feel very fortunate to have Taylor Stanley to spearhead our efforts moving forward,” the Ryans are quoted on the foundation website. “Her ties to the city and her previous experience working in policy and education make her uniquely qualified to lead ATL moving forward, and we are truly excited about the direction and vision she has for the organization.”
When Stanley came to the organization in May 2021, she began meeting with various organizations and community leaders to understand the needs of Atlanta’s Black youth. Since then, she has directed funding to nonprofits across the city to support transportation, clean clothing, food services and programmatic experiences.
“Regarding programmatic support, one of the biggest requests we had involved technology. There is a massive barrier to access, and COVID amplified that,” Stanley said. “Providing that assistance can make all the difference in a child being able to experience a certain opportunity.”
A self-proclaimed connector, Stanley links organizations that serve Black children and assists them in creating an Atlanta that encourages them to feel safe, be seen and flourish—without the requirement of exceptionalism, which she views as requiring one to be the best at something before being granted access to specific resources and experiences.
“Oftentimes, we put this pressure on Black children to be special to feel worthy investing in,” she said. “It’s the ‘you have to work twice as hard to get half as far’ logic. But our kids shouldn’t have to do that. They shouldn’t have to prove to anyone that they deserve to receive support because they are the best at something we value as a society. We have to meet them where they are and help them explore their potential and figure out the path that they want to follow.”
“All Black children deserve to be invested in, regardless of what talents they have,” she said. “Every single one of them has the potential to contribute to society, but everyone doesn’t have to be a leader in order to make that contribution. That’s something that I had to grapple with myself. In multiple drafts of the vision statement, I included language like ‘leader’ and ‘community leader,’ and I had to ask myself why I felt like that was the required outcome.
“When we require exceptionalism from Black children, we are ignoring the inequitable systems that have determined what is considered ‘normal’ or ‘average’ for Black children and Black people. If you look at the heat maps for poverty, health and education, and then look at the one for the racial make-up of the city, it’s the same exact map. So why add the requirement of being ‘the best at something’ on top of all of that?
“I firmly believe that every Black child has the potential to do great things. It’s our job as a society to remove these barriers keeping them from accessing opportunities,” she said.
ATL: Advance The Lives was not founded to prescribe a fix, according to Stanley. Her work is to understand where the gaps exist, find opportunities, and craft support for existing organizations to meet the needs of the youth they serve.
“I am trying to create as few barriers as possible and avoid discouragement for organizations,” she said. “We can drive systemic change and create models of community support that uplift Black youth and honor their unique experiences,” Stanley said. “I believe that children deserve grace, and that’s a part of our goal.”
Story by Victoria Bowden, M.P.P. Candidate