Businessman William Nordmark was upset last year about nationwide tensions between police and African-Americans.

“There were police officers who were called into parking lots and gunned down,” he told the more than 300 attendees at the second annual Interfaith Community Initiatives Friendship Luncheon on Wednesday, Nov. 15. “There were unarmed African-Americans being shot and killed while running away.”

William Nordmark (left) talks about what led him to start the Atlanta Friendship Initiative with fellow businessman John Grant.

He came up with the idea of getting people of different colors together to have “deep, intentional friendships.

Nordmark’s first such friendship was with John Grant, the executive director of the ESPN Celebration Bowl. The two men have grown Nordmark’s idea into the Atlanta Friendship Initiative, a project that facilitates friendships between people of different backgrounds.

Since the initiative officially launched in October 2016, Nordmark and Grant have connected 138 pairings. Each pair agrees to meet once per quarter for breakfast, lunch or dinner and once per year with their families.

Judy Marx, the ICI executive director, welcomes attendees to the luncheon.

“We are all from the same Creator,” Grant told the crowd. “If any one of you was cut, would you bleed any color but red? We are all the same under our skin. Change does not happen by a desire to understand others; it is a reflection of your understanding of you.”

Nordmark said he and Grant have spoken to leaders as far away as South Africa interested in participating in the project.

The ICI luncheon at the Carlos Center Ballroom on the campus of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation included many representatives from the Atlanta Jewish community, such as Rabbi Ari Kaiman of Congregation Shearith Israel, Rabbi Ron Segal of Temple Sinai, Rabbi Ellen Nemhauser from the Center for Israel Education, American Jewish Committee Atlanta Director Dov Wilker and ICI Executive Director Judy Marx.

The event exceeded its $50,000 fundraising goal.

Photos by David R. Cohen