Messages of community togetherness and perseverance were a recurring theme during Roswell’s virtual State of the City address.
Almost a year to the day when Roswell shut down its city facilities and began cancelling city programs, Roswell Mayor Lori Henry and Roswell Inc. executive director Steve Stroud spoke at the State of the City address on the changes Roswell has experienced in the last year. As the coronavirus plagued the state — and entire world — Roswell residents, officials and business owners came together for their community.
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“We are a resilient country and Roswell is resilient community,” Henry said during her address. “We did not stop living our lives — we found new ways to do all that and more. We lifted each other up in so many different ways over the past year.”
Once COVID-19 came to Roswell, Henry and city staff adapted and changed the budget many ways, including a hiring freeze, postponing city projects and halting employee raises. Henry said the city did not have to dip into reserves or lay off any city employees because of the coronavirus.
“Roswell has not stopped moving forward or planning for our future,” Henry said.
Henry and the city took several actions to combat the pandemic’s affects on Roswell businesses and residents. Henry formed the Business Recovery Task Force to help businesses begin recovering from the pandemic. The Task Force created the Come Back Safely pledge, which allowed both business owners and residents to sign the pledge, promising to wash their hands, social distance and wear a mask. Upon signing the pledge, businesses receive downloadable posters, flyers, graphics and other promotional materials to display in their business.
Stroud and Henry credit the pledge with being the most important and helpful concept to come out of the task force. Henry said the pledge helped residents feel more comfortable about getting out.
“It keeps coming back to communication,” Stroud said. “Communication with the city and being able to know which [business] was open...that was key for a lot of our residents and to keep businesses open.”
More recently, Roswell city council approved an $800,00 COVID-19 Relief Grant for both residents and businesses.
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“This has been the toughest year we have faced together,” Henry said. “It stretched us to the limit. Some of you lost loved ones, some loss jobs and businesses. We had to adjust to new reality of masks, social distancing and remote learning.”
Henry also took a moment during her State of the City speech to address the racial tension last summer that peaked when 46-year-old George Floyd was arrested and killed by Minneapolis police officers after a convenience store employee claimed Floyd paid with a counterfeit $20 bill.
Roswell had over 30 demonstrations and protests, all of which Roswell Police Chief James Conroy says were peaceful and productive. One of the most prominent demonstrations in Roswell was the Roswell Solidarity Rally. The rally was put together through the city, Conroy and Dr. Sabin Strickland of Pleasant Hill Church. During the rally, Henry, Roswell city council members, Conroy and the attendees took a pledge to stand against racism. Henry also created a Racial Equity Advisory Committee made up several community members to tackle racial inequity head on.
“We gathered because we love our community and we must acknowledge and accept the fact the Roswell was built on the enslavement of African-Americans,” Henry said. “We have to acknowledge the government’s role in racial inequity.”
“We have to accept it in order to fix it,” Henry said. “Local governments can lead the way to dismantling institutional racism.”
Stroud commented that the words of the year seem to be ‘pivot’ and ‘vaccine.’ Stroud hopes the COVID-19 vaccine will bring back consumer confidence and bolster businesses. Roswell Inc. and the community have a lot to do, Stroud said, but they are equipped with the environments to create commerce and that is what the organization is all about.
“The future of our community looks bright,” Henry said. “We will get through this together and come out stronger on the other side. Please take precautions to stay safe and healthy.”