By Alex Marchante
I’ve lived in Athens for about 10 years now.
By the time I graduate, I’ll have spent more time living in Athens than what I consider to be my home, Massachusetts.
Although I don’t consider Athens my “home”, it is my literal home.
I know most of these streets, most of these routes, almost all the nooks and crannies of Athens.
Most of the people at UGA don’t come from Athens.
They come here not knowing the city and where everything is, which is okay.
But, they also leave here just knowing their bubble.
I came to Athens because of need more than choice.
There was virtually no backup plan, no other opportunity given, no other place to find my home.
I grew up in the lot, in the “other” Athens most UGA students don’t know.
The “other” Athens that can be seen a short drive from campus.
Away from the large buildings of the Historic District.
Away from the beautiful glow and wealth of downtown.
I found my home in the “other” Athens, the less-than-beaming, dim streetlight corner of Athens.
The “other” side of Athens that many students wouldn’t be caught dead in.
I went to the “other” high school in Athens. I went to Cedar Shoals.
The “other” school with the bad reputation. The “other” school that was off-campus, unseen, unheard, uncared for.
When I tell people that I went to high school in Athens, they immediately think of Clarke Central and I am quick to adjust their assumptions.
I have known more impoverished neighborhoods that my friends grew up than bars that any UGA student could gladly point to me.
I have known more gang members than nightclub bouncers.
I have seen more desperate searches for work in my family than most UGA students will know.
There is another “side” to Athens. Yet, it is invisible to most of the people on campus.
So blinded by stadium lights, so deafened by casual conversations in downtown, so invisible by the wealth we see.
There are children in Athens that can only aspire to come to UGA. They are surrounded by an environment that teases them with HOPE, yet they can’t find the path.
There are people in Athens that need a source of income but the stores are shutting down in a blink of an eye.
There are people struggling to maintain their rent, their bills and their children’s lives.
Clarke County is second in Georgia in income inequality.
You take a left here, a right here, slight turn there, you go from the bright lights on campus to the poor neighborhoods of Nellie B, Country Corners, Pinewoods, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
You drive five minutes away from campus and you see people trying to walk to work because there is no other way.
The truth is, the people are Athens are kind, beautiful and sweet to one another.
I’ve been blessed to have come to UGA, yet I am even more blessed to have lived in Athens, the “other” side of Athens.
I hope we can tilt the lop-sided scale just a bit. I hope we can help all 125,000+ people in Athens and not just the ones we see downtown.
I hope one day there can be lights all over Athens, laughs echoing from Broad Street to Spring Valley Road, from River Mill to Hallmark.
The other side of Athens is just as beautiful to me because I happen to have a seat at the table most times.
I hope one day, my colleagues join me and we can have a chat about the “other” side.