ATLANTA -- Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed attended Monday's Martin Luther King memorial service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and made a promise to keep Dr. King's work alive by improving the street that bears his name.
Martin Luther King Jr. Drive stretches about 12 miles through parts of the city of Atlanta. Part of that street passes in front of the Georgia State Capitol, but much of that street passes through areas the city is not particularly proud of. Areas ridden with crime, dilapidated buildings with lots of graffiti.
The mayor said Monday that in the birthplace of Dr. King himself, that is unacceptable.
Inside the crowded Ebenezer Baptist Church, Reed's statement was among the biggest applause lines of the day.
"Shame on me and shame on all of us, that in the city where Dr. Martin Luther King is from, Martin Luther King Drive looks like every other Martin Luther King Drive in the United States of America," Reed said. "We're going to do something about that!"
Going to the street bearing Dr. King's name, the feeling is about the same.
"I think it's time," said Harry Manning.
Manning is invested in the future of MLK Drive financially - he opened Mardi Gras Cafe 14 months ago on MLK Drive, and he owns six buildings along the street near the Atlanta University Center.
"Somebody's gotta do it," Manning said. "Somebody's got to be the one to take the first step and start putting nice things in the community."
Manning says one of the hardest parts is fighting the stigma.
"When I say, 'I'm on MLK on the west side of town,' people might say, 'Ehh,'" Manning said. "You know there's some history behind the corridor that's not so good."
The new Atlanta Falcons stadium deal pulled MLK Drive into the spotlight last year, bringing with it promises of change. New additions, like an in-town Walmart store have sparked hope.
"I'm just going to continue to push," said Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin.
Martin has been a champion for MLK Drive for more than 20 years and he says one of his focuses is bringing down blighted properties. But on the day set aside to honor Dr. King himself, Martin says he believes words can and will go far.
"He's pushing himself by saying it on the day of King," Martin said. "And in that national audience, it's a strong encouragement."
It's important to note that many of the people we spoke with along the MLK Drive corridor are optimistic that things will change.
Martin says one of the things he's done over the past year is to put together a committee. He's also applied for money for a planning study to figure out how to bring businesses and residents to the corridor permanently and help it grow.
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