Even the Energizer Bunny is no match for Carl Gilliard

Carl Gillard

Header image: State Rep. Carl Gilliard touring Bugg Farm in Pine Mountain, GA. (Credit: Brandon Franklin)

Carl Gillard
State Rep. Carl Gilliard tours Bugg Farm in Pine Mountain, Georgia. (Credit: Brandon Franklin)

State Rep. Carl Gilliard has been running at a fast clip for nearly four decades, juggling a ministry, making music and movies, writing books, feeding the hungry, hosting talk shows and performing community activism.

As a teenager, Gilliard founded a local rap group in Savannah to fight gun violence. By the time he was a student at Morris Brown College, the late civil rights activist the Rev. Hosea Williams was his mentor. His activism also put him in the sphere of other influential civil rights icons: the Revs. Joseph Lowery and Ralph Abernathy, and Coretta Scott King.

Gilliard later went on to become a minister himself as well as an author, radio show host and head of a multimedia group that produces documentaries on history. Gov. Brian Kemp appointed the state representative from Garden City to the Georgia Film Commission in 2019.

Gilliard sits on eight legislative committees, including appropriations, creative arts and entertainment, and transportation. 

In January, Gilliard ascended to a critical leadership post in the Georgia General Assembly: chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC), the largest caucus of Black lawmakers in the nation.

In that role, Gilliard is determined to get Black farmers solidly entrenched in Georgia’s $69.4 billion farm-to-table pipeline. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” the 59-year-old is fond of saying.

Caucus member Sen. Gail Davenport, D-District 44, marveled at Gilliard’s energy. “I don’t know how he gets it all done. He’s busy,” she said. “He has led the caucus very well. He knows South Georgia very well and certainly here in the General Assembly, he has been an effective leader. He works to make sure the Senate understands the position of the House and the House understands the position of the Senate as far as the Democrats are concerned.”

As caucus chairman, Gilliard has made Black farmers and other Black businesses, access to credit, affordable housing and medicine top priorities. 

But Black farmers are close to his heart. He recalled years ago when Georgia lawmakers gave millions of dollars to pecan farmers after tornado-ravaged storms damaged their pecan trees. 

“We did a bill to give them money. Then we called a special session just to appropriate more money,” said Gilliard, who served on the Appropriations Committee at the time.  “Unfortunately, Black farmers were not a part of [getting] that [money].” 

State Affairs spoke to Gilliard about his role as chairman, what he intends to do to help Black farmers, and his other top priorities. 

Q. How do you see your role as chairman?

A. As chairman, I’m blessed to be able to walk in the leadership of 74 great senators and representatives from across the state. We represent the melting pot of Georgia.

Q. What has been the biggest takeaway in your first five months as chairman?

A. Being able to hear from the members and their diverse communities. When we look at the big picture, we have more in common than not in common. That is the reason we did the GLBC rollout in reference to legislation because those are some of the things you hear in communities across the state.

Q. You head the nation’s largest caucus of Black legislators. What are the economic and social issues impacting Black Georgians and how is the caucus poised to address those issues?

A. The needs of Black Georgians are just like what we went through when the recession hit. Everybody on Wall Street got bailed out while the people on Main Street got left out.

We are constantly playing catch-up. We’ve got to do more: continue education, start more businesses, be able to get a fair share of [state] contracts and be able to deliver services so that we can have generational wealth for future generations.

Black Georgians also have to be included in the top levels of [Georgia’s] $4.4 billion film industry. So the focus is to look at legislation that gives inclusion to levels of opportunity in film.

We must also try to get more Blacks into the business side of film, in reference to the creative opportunities of making and producing films and soundtracks.

Q. Some people feel now that we’re in a post-racial era, there’s no need for a separate caucus for Black legislators. Thoughts?

A. There will always be a need for a Black caucus in Georgia. There’s always been a need since 1868 with “The Original 33” senators and state representatives who were [initially] not allowed to take office. Fourteen of them were lynched and killed. They had to go through unscrupulous challenges. We still face those challenges when we are in the minority, and we’re trying to get legislation passed for  the people who are still facing obstacles. Across the nation, there will always be a need for Black caucuses because of the consensus of the people we represent. We represent over 3 million [Black] people in Georgia.

Q. Who are Georgia’s Black farmers?

A. When people think about farmers, 99% of the time they just think about those who grow. But you have farmers who have land. You have farmers who have cattle. We even have farmers today [whose business ranges from] cattle to produce to hemp. They just don’t get an opportunity to [publicly] share all that they produce.

Having the resources to upgrade and getting the materials and equipment they need — that’s the biggest need.

They don’t have the workers to help with these farms. And they don’t have the money to hire. They’re just trying to survive. So there has to be a connection to workforce development to help them. The state has workforce development programs that may be able to help some of these farmers. Here again, it’s about us being innovative enough to use what we have to help them.

Q. Have you talked to Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper about your concerns?

A. Well, we’re going to be talking with the new agriculture commissioner. We’ll give him a chance to get in the door [of his new job] first. We’re giving him the benefit of the doubt to say, ‘Let’s meet.’ This will better Georgia because agriculture is the No. 1 entity in Georgia.

Q. What’s the caucus’ next step as it relates to Black farmers?

A. We’ll push for a bill that would create the Georgia Racial Equity in Agriculture Act. It would establish an Office of Equity in Agriculture, provide training for farmers of color and other historically-underserved farmers and ensure equal distribution of federal aid from the Inflation Reduction Act and Promoting Precision Agriculture Act. And we are gathering information to establish a Georgia Black farmers directory to list all of the farmers who are currently in the state to get them support from consumers as well.

Q. Aside from Black farmers, what are the caucus’ other priorities?

A. Health care for all Georgians. Looking at the criminal justice system and people who are unfairly on probation for long periods of time when they have a misdemeanor. Some people are still on probation after 20 years. We’ve got to look at different elements of the criminal justice system to see what is fair and what needs to be updated.

We need to make sure we have a fair shake in the minority participation of state contracts. If we’re 30% of the population, then those contracts need to look like the representation of the 30% of minorities in Georgia.

Q. What are some of the events the caucus has planned?

A. On June 7, we have the Young Leaders Conference at the Capitol for high school and college students. The caucus’ annual conference will be in Savannah July 21 to 23 and we have several for-the-people rallies coming up in Athens, Augusta, Macon and Valdosta. Lastly, we have a Black university tour the first week of September at several Black universities in Georgia.

Rep. Carl Gilliard
The Carl gilliard files
  • Title: Chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus; Democratic state representative, District 162 (Savannah)
  • Age: 59
  • Hometown: Savannah
  • Residence: Garden City
  • Occupation: Pastor of Family Life Center in Garden City which operates the Empowerment Center, a program that “gets people on their feet and helps them with everything from housing to credit.” He also has a nonprofit, Feed the Hungry, that has distributed about 1.5 million servings of food in 10 cities in Georgia and four in South Carolina.
  • Education: Graduate of  Morris Brown College; Doctrine of Divinity from the New Generation School of Seminary.
  • Career: While in college, worked as the national youth coordinator for then-presidential candidate the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Became a minister in 1995. Sworn in to the Georgia House of Representatives on May 5, 2016.
  • Accomplishments: In the mid-1980s, he founded the Savannah-based rap group Candy Love to combat gun violence. Creator of four national gospel plays. Host of a radio talk show in Savannah as well as gospel TV shows. Founder of Feed the Hungry Inc. in 2009. In 2012, he launched a multimedia communication company called Urban Media and the Gilliard Foundation,  which produce documentaries and television specials on history. Author of an upcoming book “Power of the Pen.”
  • Family: Married father of four daughters
  • What do you do to relax: Watch sports. I am a writer and a filmmaker who does documentaries.
  • What’s your ultimate dream? Having a farm.

Have questions, comments or tips? Contact Tammy Joyner on Twitter @lvjoyner or at [email protected].

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Header image: State Rep. Carl Gilliard touring Bugg Farm in Pine Mountain, GA. (Credit: Brandon Franklin)