“I think this city has the capability to be a city of compassionate capitalism,” Michael Render says with his trademark gravitas on a blessedly temperate June afternoon in the historic West End of Atlanta, Georgia.
Render, who is best known as Killer Mike, a legendary rapper and one half of the duo Run the Jewels, will spiral into several streams of civic and economic consciousness during this hourlong public conversation with Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey at Monday Night Brewing’s Garage space.
“I would like to encourage people to participate in capitalism,” he continues. “I would like to encourage people to make way for small, local, and black businesses, and to support small, local, and black businesses. And when I say, ‘small, local, and black,’ I’m really just saying ‘local.’”
Sporting a leisurely outfit and baseball cap, Dorsey could’ve easily been mistaken for someone worth slightly less than $4.7 billion. But his understated onstage presence lent considerable weight to Mike’s message. His subtlety—put another way: a powerful, wealthy, white, influential person who was ready to facilitate discussion and listen intently to the results—was encouraging. After all, more attention needs to be paid to the changing needs of ATL’s Westside.
I’ve seen the changes come slowly for years, having moved to Atlanta in 1995 to attend Morehouse College. The area has long been ignored by the business community. Now, with the BeltLine, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and loads of gentrification coming rapidly, the feeling of being left behind is real. It’s realer, in fact, than the buzz you get from drinking admittedly delicious beer while a famous rap artist and a billionaire entrepreneur discuss Big Ideas.
Mike and Dorsey talking partnership, inclusion, and entrepreneurship in the first brewery to arrive in this part of town? It’s a good thing. It speaks to Mike’s position of leadership that he can attract powerful men like Dorsey and Bernie Sanders to the neighborhood, that powerful women like Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will show up as a surprise to introduce them. (Not to mention that conversations like the one that happened on this day feel like a reckoning of sorts following Brian Kemp’s appearance within these same walls just nine months prior.) But it’s also a reminder that black people are partners—not just in consuming, but also owning whatever happens next.
Yes, Square seems to have paid everyone’s beer tab. That’s nice. But in order for the city to truly be too busy to hate, black/local/“old” Atlanta must have equitable opportunity to be involved in “new” Atlanta, particularly on the Westside. And that investment has to go beyond a few hundred pours of aptly-named beers like Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Practice What You Peach.
Otherwise? The buzz will be bitter, sour, and temporary.