In Tribute to Heather Alhadeff

Written by Suzanne Burnes and Nathaniel Smith

Nathaniel Smith and Heather Alhadeff

The Partnership for Southern Equity was blessed with Heather Alhadeff’s courage and energy towards advancing racial equity. She served more than five years as an inaugural member of PSE’s board. In PSE’s earliest days, as Nathaniel still worked to make the case for an organization focused on advancing racial equity in the American South, Heather stood with him and other board members, contributing tirelessly to PSE’s early efforts.

She developed key tools to inform leaders and community stakeholders about T-SPLOST efforts, and served on the editorial committee for the Metro Atlanta Equity Atlas, wrote a chapter on transportation equity for the first MAEA report. and editorial advisor for other early transportation advocacy reports. Our Just Growth portfolio would not be what it is today without her commitment to its beginnings. 

Suzanne Burnes reflected that learning at Heather’s funeral this week she learned to play soccer on an all-boys team before she was school age made perfect sense. Just imagine that young girl bringing her ferocity to the pitch, running after that ball. Not shying away from bigger, tougher boys. Not accepting the unfairness that there wasn’t an all-girls’ team to play on. Not listening to anyone who told her she couldn’t do it. Imagine the twinkle in her eyes as she scored. 

Suzanne also said that Heather lived large. She had intense passions, big ideas, and strong values of justice, for people and the environment, that she didn’t just talk about – she lived them. We met her as she was finishing her city and regional planning graduate degree, and watched as she quickly blazed her own trail of changemaker and fierce advocate through prominent roles in many agencies and organizations. As a lifelong Atlantan, she challenged the city to rise to its potential and towards Dr. King’s Beloved Community, and she never stopped working for change, particularly for transportation equity. 

Long before PSE’s inception, Heather and Nathaniel met as young professionals during the American Jewish Committee event Project Understanding, which brings together young professionals to enhance dialogue between Black, Jewish, and Jews of Color communities. Heather and Nathaniel have been close friends ever since.

Heather was committed to advancing transit equity, she understood her legacy as a Jewish woman. She was also very important to PSE. She was our eyes and ears in many institutions that did not understand equity yet. She supported us on the outside and when it was important, she was not afraid to speak truth to power when it came to issues involving racial equity.

Whether you knew “transportation geek Heather”, “soccer Heather”, or “dance floor Heather”, as another friend recalled fondly this week, to know Heather was to be inspired and challenged. Leukemia cruelly came for her after COVID had already robbed many of us of time with her for too long. She burned so bright, and Atlanta and all who knew her are better for her light.