The Atlanta – Rio de Janeiro Sister City Committee was organized in 1978 as an initiative of the former late Mayor, Maynard Jackson, to expand trade links with Latin America. Many Atlantans, through tourism or Brazilian educational experiences, had developed special relationships with Brazil and / or Rio and flocked to become members. Not so many people in Rio participated so the relationship was a bit one-sided. In a case like this, the initial enthusiasm eventually wanes when ideas and proposals keep going nowhere.
Over a ten year period, the Atlanta – Rio Committee disbanded twice until Mayor Jackson tapped Mrs. Sharon Flexner to chair it. Sharon’s recruitment skills were formidable and the conference table in a Buckhead travel agency soon filled up with a talented cross section of Atlantans possessing broad interests in Brazil. Increasingly, because of the coming Olympics, many Brazilians who were engaged in business projects here began to help develop links with organizations and companies back home. The Atlanta – Rio Committee enthusiastically supported the joint global business educations and student exchanges that I proposed
Northside High School and North Fulton High merged in 1991 to form the new North Atlanta High School. I went from teaching students who were predominately enrolled in Northside’s performing arts magnet to students predominately enrolled in the International Studies magnet. At first, I taught some World History classes in the International Baccalaureate program while also taking over and re-developing the International Business program. I was therefore open to new sources for providing my students with international education learning opportunities.
Mrs. Sharon Flexner, a warm and gracious lady, had been informed of my interest in international education and called me up to invite me to become a member. My thinking was that Brazil was an up and coming major economic power, Rio de Janeiro was a great city, so why not get involved? Sharon, over the next three years, would virtually groom me to serve as chair when she moved on to establishing the Children’s Museum.
I had already revived the Montego Bay High School student exchange program, inherited a partnership with Gateshead College in Newcastle, England, and was interested in expanding the sister school concept to South America. My being a social studies teacher with an interest in global education and sister cities made building a partnership with a Brazilian school a natural objective. My investigations led me to the conclusion that given the problems that Brazilian education was experiencing at the time that I should pursue a relationship with the American School of Rio de Janeiro due to contacts I was making and that school’s exceptional resources.
My intent was to seek both a school to school partnership and import Brazilian arts and crafts to add to our Jamaican and other Caribbean lines that we were selling. Mrs. Flexner assisted the IBP in doing business with H. Stern’s Jewelry Rio-based arts and crafts outlet – Casa do Folclore – by working through the Phipps Plaza store in Buckhead. The International Business Program’s requests to engage in student exchanges were routinely approved because of our business plan – import arts and crafts from artisans to build our giftware company. I mailed a letter to Mr. Hans Stern, the largest gems producer and distributor in Brazil, to introduce myself and plans for doing business and possible sponsorship of our proposed exchanges with the American School.
Hans Stern’s company has stores in nearly every fashionable, upscale tourist destination in the world so I imagined that Casa do Folclore’s crafts lines were the best that Brazilian artisans produced and fit ACTCo’s business plan and IBP learning objectives perfectly. The bottom line though was that IBP / ACTCo capital was less than a $1,000 and borrowing / credit at the time was premature. I decided I would fly to Rio to meet with H. Stern & Company to assess the value and marketability of the crafts, determine profitability margins, purchase sample lines for student approval.
My aim was to include the student run enterprise’s importation of giftware lines into a joint project / student exchange with the American School of Rio de Janeiro. North Atlanta students would visit the American School to begin a sister school relationship – both are IB schools too – to strengthen the sister city bond between Atlanta and Rio. The respective sister cities commissions would:
· Sponsor for secondary students joint global business education programs at the high school level
· Involve students in the direct importation / exportation of goods to experientially teach international trade practices
· Support student exchanges for the purpose of promoting for the young people of Atlanta and Rio de Janeiro the building of friendship and future trade connections.
I prepared to meet with City of Rio de Janeiro officials to collaborate on strengthening the Rio – Atlanta Committee which was functioning under the leadership of several expatriate Americans and Sally Pecanha, a Carioccan. Ideally, I hoped for a public high school in Rio to twin and build a partnership with – the reality was that even Rio city officials steered me the American School with its spectacular campus set amidst a mountain side rain forest and families and students with homes far above the national poverty level.
This exploratory and organizational trip was made possible by a Varig Airlines sales representative whose job was to build the direct flight trip business that Varig had just instituted. After several months of doggedly petitioning the rep and trying to wear him down to provide me a pro bono airline ticket to Rio, Varig recognized that I was trying to achieve objectives on behalf of North Atlanta, the Atlanta – Rio Sister City Committee, the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission, the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs and granted me the subsidy. I believe that Varig’s investment was returned in full as I was a very busy guy that week trying to leave behind a stronger local sister city committee, install a couple of programs, and commence several joint projects.
Atlanta Caribbean Trading Company Expands Its Scope and Lines:
I met with American School Headmaster Dennis Klumpp who, at the time, bore an amazing resemblance to actor Michael Douglas sporting a crew cut. He had previously served as Headmaster of American Schools in Vienna and Paris but had settled in Rio because it was his wife’s home. Dennis quickly saw the value in the joint programs and projects and became a good partner. See below Admissions Brochure, circa 1994.
I prepared North Atlanta’s two student delegates, Seth Combs and Jackie Johnson, and their families about safety in Rio and American School background information.
Mr. Taylor Boone was an Atlanta attorney who was also a committed member of the Atlanta – Rio de Janeiro Sister City Committee. Taylor’s parents lived in Rio and he had grown up in the South American city. Taylor asked his parents to please support my mission to Rio – the Boone’s were wonderful people who assisted me with local transportation and helping to form a functioning committee.
Dennis and the American School received our students with warmth, generosity, and provided them an excellent program.
Picture of Rio’s Copacabana Beach stretching all the way to Leblon, the next beach town over.
President Carter delivered a sermon that Sunday morning that infused the gospel and foreign relations in an inspiring manner. Afterwards, Jimmy and Roslyn took a group photo with the 10th grade IB trip to southwest Georgia. Andrea is the taller girl with red hair in back left row behind Mrs. Carter, Marguerite, a pretty blonde, is hidden behind President Carter.
Dennis wrote to me to express his and the school’s appreciation for providing Marguerite and Andrea with a fine program and fulfilling visit to Atlanta.
The sister cities program is a network for groups and individuals in respective cities to propose ideas and initiatives to each other. Completion of ideas into successful projects fosters committee validation. In 1995, Sharon Flexner resigned her position as Atlanta – Rio Chair and essentially anointed me to become the new chair. I appreciated Sharon’s trust and faith in me and assumed the challenge to keep the program moving forward. This challenged was deepened by the sudden shrinkage in membership the committee experienced upon the Olympics’ conclusion.
Many of the Brazilian members of the committee had come to Atlanta for performing contract work for a range of Olympic venues. Most hooked on to another position when the games were over, often in Miami or back in Rio. Varig pulled out of Atlanta altogether after mounting losses from scheduling direct flights to Brazil.
Myrna Cohen became the Vice Chair and we quickly realized that my three year term was looking more and more like a caretaker regime. Given the lack of a functioning counterpart in Rio – Taylor’s parents were returning to Atlanta – we recognized that our main goal was to keep the program alive.
So I approached Dennis Klumpp with some ideas that might capture his imagination.
I made a concentrated effort to keep the committee’s structures strong while having few significant projects to sponsor save for the educational collaborations with the American School of Rio de Janeiro and H. Stern & Co.
Rio, of course, has since been awarded the 2014 World Soccer Cup and 2016 Olympics. I apologize for the lack of pictures in this short and personal sister city committee history. As required, North Atlanta high school student exchange participants produced web pages documenting their visits but the www.actco.org web site domain they were posted on expired and was immediately bought up by a chemical company in Texas. All of the pages were lost – furthermore, all of my Rio sister city committee pictures were posted on the committee’s web site located on the City of Atlanta web site and have been lost too. Several crashed hard drives during the past two decades apparently wiped out the rest.
The North Atlanta IBP sent an exchange group to Rio March 30 – April 11, 1996 and needed Brazilian visas because of the U.S. visa requirement and the Brazilian traveling public’s resentment of it. This delegation included my son Sasha who was enrolled in the International Baccalaureate that year and the IBP the next.
By now I gather that the reader is fully aware that travel between Atlanta and Rio is limited by the above restrictive measures that originated with tens of thousands of Brazilians over-staying their tourist visas and settling into American life. Both countries are working on ways and means to better control legal immigration and speed up the entry process.
My students were placed with families who mostly lived in luxury condo towers in Barra, a suburban Rio beach town that included a private barrier island as a playground of sorts. They bought terrific new lines of high quality arts and crafts worth about $250 purchase price and sold out very quickly at a 100% markup rate. The North Atlantans were treated to a great program and fun time while I was leading another IBP group across Estonia and other two Baltic Republics.
Scheduling conflicts were the most typical problem facing partner schools trying to build long term programs – the American School for that year could not send nor receive exchange students. Virtually all joint projects were placed on hold.
Unfortunately, Jaime Arraujo disappeared upon returning to Rio and was not heard from for three years when he finally surfaced at the 2001 SCI Convention in Atlanta.
Mr. Albert Maslia, a highly valued member of the IBP / ACTCo Board of Directors, was selected for a special economic development trip to Brazil and Rio. The trip was co-sponsored by the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission and Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. I asked Al to please perform a couple of tasks for me during his time in Rio.
The North Atlanta and American School partnership began fading after this correspondence. I recognize the difficulty that IB schools face in connecting with other educational worlds outside that very rich and competitive academic sphere that is one of the best college prep patterns in the world. The IB concept also includes a small international business education component that satisfies most member school’s entrepreneurship education needs.
North Atlanta was receiving many new offers to engage with interesting schools in other important countries and pursued new opportunities. For a classroom instructor teaching at least four classes a day and managing the social studies department, there was only so much time for global salesmanship.
My three year long term as Chair of the Atlanta – Rio Sister City Committee was up in 1998 and I had become weary of promises that “a committee will be re-formulated after the elections…or after Carnival” and so on. I felt that a real Brazilian – American who spoke Portuguese was better equipped to lead the committee and build a viable counterpart than I was….and I was right. Mrs. Wilma Kruger eventually took over and built a juggernaut of a committee that is a model for all others (501 c-3 foundation). The committee is currently moving forward under the strong leadership of Franklin McGruder.
In 1998, I chaperoned a student exchange to Ra’anana, Israel and discovered that a smaller and resourceful city might make for a more facile partner. I am very proud to have chaired two important and successful sister city committees, Rio de Janeiro and Ra’anana.
For more information about the Atlanta – Ra’anana Sister City Committee, please access all web pages located under Sister Cities drop down column at www.arnoldheller.org.