Born to one of the largest families on Erie’s West Side, Atkinson was inspired early on by his great grandmother, Gertrude Arrington. The daughter of Mississippi slaves, Arington earned a college degree and became a beloved teacher and revered figure who preached the value of education. “She became an academic and intellectual force throughout that entire area” of the state, Atkinson recalled. Further inspired by Celestine Davis’s teaching of African American history, Atkinson attained his education at Georgia’s Clayton State University, eventually returning to Erie. With fervent and positive “righteous indignation” and a Grandma Arrington-inspired commitment to education as “the great equalizer,” Atkinson leads ServErie, where he leads a “transformational partnership” with local schools and now Erie neighborhoods. Atkinson is also host of WQLN public radio’s NEXT program.