Gujarati population, in Atlanta, in the sixties was less than 50 families and migration to Atlanta started in early seventies. Most of the people who migrated to Atlanta earlier were engineering and medical professionals. Then in late seventies there was a surge when many ventured in businesses mainly in motel business.
In the seventies, Gujaratis used to celebrate Diwali and Navratri in small groups at private residences or clubhouses in apartment complexes or at Gujarati owned motel meeting rooms, especially Conyers Motor Inn and Golf-land Motel. As the Gujarati population grew, people felt a need of some kind of organization.
Looking from a distance, or from historical perspective, it feels some years are more memorable than others since they brought our goodness from within. They were years with lots of ups and downs, however, they made us stronger! Just like a crisis makes a man stronger at the end!
On a fine evening in late October 1980, over fifty members of Gujarati community met at Mr. Sharad Shah's residence in Stone Mountain to discuss the formation of a Gujarati association. It was unanimously decided to form an organization with the main goal of preserving Gujarati Culture and helping the community. An ad hoc committee was formed to prepare article of incorporation and draft a constitution and bylaws. Thereafter in December 1980 a meeting was held at Gold-land motel where it was decided to form “ Gujarati Samaj” and drafted bylaws were approved. The General body elected Jitubhai Patel as our first president, Sharad Shah as treasurer and Deepak Shah was elected as a secretary. The executive committee worked very hard to get this organization registered as not for profit organization and obtained tax exempt status with IRS within 6 months.
At the end of first year, Samaj membership was at 200 and today it is over 900 with 550 life members. First year ended with a variety program where the main performance was a traditional Bhavai "Lalwadi-Fulwadi" performed by all local talents. By the way, all performers were males some of them also performed women roles as in Ramlila in India. Persons who attended this play commented that this was the outstanding play that has never been performed in USA even after thirty years.
The main goal of the association is to preserve the Gujarati Culture and provide services per the article of incorporation. "An Investment in Gujarati Samaj is an Investment in Our Children's Future" was adopted. Over past thirty years countless, dedicated members of all ages have volunteered in the great success of Samaj. Those children who participated in the first cultural program are now helping the next generation to preserve our culture. Today's event is the evidence.
Samaj's main event turned out to be Navratri Garba nights that were held at Dekalb County recreation center initially and then at larger venues as the community grew. Today, Navratri is enjoyed by over 4000 people at Sardar Bhavan. In last thirty years, Samaj has organized many events to cater the needs of many. Events included plays and concerts by Lata Mangeshkar, Hema Malini, Babla and kanchan, Bakul Tripathi, Kumar Shanu, Purushottam Upadhyaya, Diwaliben Bhil, Manubhai Pancholi and many more.
Gujarat Darpan" is the registered trademark of Samaj's quarterly magazine that was published regularly from 1981 to 1998. It was published quarterly and supported by local businesses and professionals.
In the memory of their father Late Mr. Jagmohandas Shah, Dr Jayanendra Shah & Family and Harshadbhai Parikh's family has helped Samaj to set up J. B. Shah Merit Award for the high school graduating seniors since 1987. Mr. Mukesh Shroff also helped Samaj to set up an award in memory of his father.
Samaj purchased property on Elam Road Stone Mountain in 1988, which was sold in 1999. Samaj also owned a piece of real estate on Dickens road. During the year 1999, then building committee worked very hard for property development plan. Drawings were done and county had approved the plan but building committee unanimously decided that this place not gone suitable for Samaj future needs and growth so requested to executive committee not to proceed. The Dickens Road property was also sold in year 1999. Emergency general body meeting was called. General body unanimously gave authority to executive committee to look for better bigger place for Samaj. Task was very difficult and Samaj had limited resources. Numerous properties were considered and rejected. After several months running around one place settled in the minds of then leaders. Emergency general body meeting was called again. After lengthy and considerable deliberation among leaders and outsiders executive committee decided to move forward. Several banks were contacted for the mortgage. One thought came into mind of then leaders to obtain interest loan from samaj members which appeared almost impossible task.
The very first member wrote a check of $ l0, 000 within five minutes! Then it was a history-one after another in all we received interest free loans from 45 members. A new property at the current location was purchased in 2000 to fulfill the need of the community. On Wednesday 2000, the first day of Navratri, at 1 pm we received Certificate of Occupancy from county at the last minute. More than 5000 members and guest enjoyed during this festival in year 2000. Samaj provided this facility as a venue and supported many prominent organizations such as BAPS, Jain Samaj, Swadhaya Pariwar, Brahmin Samaj, Gayatri Pariwar, Pusti Marg Satsang Mandal and many more. Religious discourses by many prominent religious leaders such as Swami Sachchidanandji.
Gujarati Samaj made 72 life-time members in 1998, 76 in 1999 and 75 in year 2000.
Samaj has been holding Health Fair's since 1989 regularly on Father's day and picnic on mother day since 1981. Youths of Gujarati Samaj organized the first Senior Citizen program in 1991 to honor our elders. Currently, Seniors of Samaj meets once a month and organizes various events to entertain the elders. Gujarati Samaj youths organize summer camps for youths every year since 1994. They have also organized annual cultural programs with participants from four years to twenty-five years old.
History is a philosophy drawn from example among all ups and downs, and so many presidents and their executive committee. One thing was sure that they all work very hard to bring samaj up with the best of their ability. We whole heartedly thank all of them for their services.