One award is not enough for local entrepreneur Tonja Khabir


Sometimes one is not enough, especially when it comes to awards. A Macon community member and social entrepreneur took home three of the 26 awards in the form of grants from The Downtown Challenge. With these grants, Tonja Khabir will focus on preserving the historic Macon community, Pleasant Hill.

According to the Knight Foundation, The Downtown Challenge is a three-year grant that equips individuals [or groups] with the funds to foster an idea that will essentially transform the [downtown] Macon community into one with high civic engagement among members.

“Why can’t we organize? Why can’t we save our treasures as well?,” said Khabir, as she discussed her reasoning behind her project plans.

Tonja Khabir, a graduate of Central High School and Fisk University, won a total of three grants that totaled to the amount of $15,025. She plans to implement a Jones Cafe, a Pleasant Hill Photo Festival and a bike tour through the Pleasant Hill neighborhood.

According to the Knight Foundation, these grants are made possible by donations from the Peyton Anderson Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation themselves who as organizations each donated $1.5 million to help fund the challenge. The Community Foundation for Central Georgia oversees the funds and administers them.

Since her youth, Khabir has loved black history and black culture. A man who she considers family taught her importance of black history in Macon in general, but also specific things like Pleasant Hill.

“It [Pleasant Hill] has cultural assets and there are places relevant to that area,” Khabir said.

Khabir plans to use her first grant of $8,400 to implement the Jones Cafe, named after Bobby Jones.

The Booker T. Washington Center in Macon adopted a building across the street to use as a performing arts center. The space was named after and became known as the Bobby Jones Art Center. Bobby Jones was the first African-American professor with tenure at Mercer University.

“It would be great if there were some type of poetry cafe, a space where artists can come and showcase their visual art, but also do performing arts as it used to be a performing arts center. There would be food from local Macon vendors and restaurants. I have $8,400 to turn that space into an outside cafe space,” Khabir said.

Khabir plans to create the space outside because she is unsure of if the indoor space is structurally sound to hold multiple people yet.

The second project, the Pleasant Hill Photo Festival, received a grant in the amount of $4,000.

“Every year there’s a group in Pleasant Hill that does something like a neighborhood reunion. And so one of my ideas was to create a community-based archive for the reunion,” Khabir said.

Individuals will be allowed to submit photos and documents whether they are family photos, community photos, photos from the Booker T. Washington Center, Bobby Jones Art Center, or anywhere in Pleasant Hill.

“We’ll use these photos and documents and find a way to present them to the community so that people can come and say ‘oh yeah, that’s Pattie Mae. I remember when she was sitting on that porch doing whatever.’ A way to reinvigorate and still feel that love and that history from Pleasant Hill,” Khabir said.

The third project, granted $2,625, is Pedal to Porch. The event would be a bike tour of the Pleasant Hill community. Khadir said it’s a model that started out of Detroit.

“Instead of going to porches to talk to individuals or families, we are taking it to community assets,” Khabir said.“We have identified 17 assets. We will create either one large tour or break it down into three different tours. They’ll go to the different locations in the community and someone who has had an experience there will then talk about that place. We might even do multiple people.”

Khabir is the only individual without a real institutional connection [that she knows of] who has won multiple grants. She stated that there are organizations and nonprofits like NewTown Macon that have won several grants. Previous winners of the grants are listed online but currently inaccessible.

“Tonja and I met during the summer of 2018. I was her intern at the Griffith Family Foundation. As a young black woman, it is very hard to find mentors sometimes. However, I quickly realized that Tonja’s ambition and passion would inspire me to be a better community leader,” said Melissa Henriques, a junior journalism and global development double major at Mercer University.