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Charlotte is booming. Our economy is robust and talented people from diverse backgrounds are locating here. Charlotte has a reputation as an open, tolerant and trusting community, where diversity is welcomed and everyone has clear access to opportunity. The banding together of people of color to assume more power and to work collectively has peeled away layers of racism. We have now built trust where it did not exist before. More work needs to be done, but the citizens of Charlotte have the will and tools to ensure everyone can have a say and experience fair play in how decisions are made.
It's 2015. Charlotte is booming. Our economy is more robust than it's been in years, with new business and job growth reported every month. Our Center City is thriving, our neighborhoods and infrastructure are strong and our overall quality of life is better than ever before. Talented people from diverse backgrounds and education want to locate here, and new businesses aligned with technology, research and new manufacturing practices are drawn to the city.
Our prosperity is due, in part, to Charlotte's budding reputation as an open, tolerant and trusting community. We are now widely recognized as a place where diversity is welcomed and everyone has access to opportunity. Much of this newly earned reputation stems from the vastly shifting status and influence of people of color over the last decade.
This monumental shift in status began in 2009 when frustrated African American, Latino and other leaders of color banded together to address increasingly blatant inequities and discrimination in affordable housing and employment opportunities that were affecting the ability of working families of color to survive in Charlotte. The leaders of this "alliance" had also grown tired of whites constantly blaming immigrants and other people of color for Charlotte's economic and social woes and feared continued escalation in racially motivated hate crimes. They knew that as a joint force, they could assume more overall economic and political power and achieve greater success in effecting changes in hiring and housing practices and in dealing with other disparities.
Through increased voter registration, greater involvement on boards and committees and sustained grassroots community efforts, this newly forged alliance has become a unified and significant political force. At first, many whites viewed the alliance and its ideas about increasing access, inclusion and equity as radical and disruptive. Tension and fear mounted among whites, while people of color were feeling empowered. Spearheaded by alliance leaders, a group of African American, Latino, white and other leaders from the faith and business communities and grassroots organizations came together to discuss and address mutual fears, concerns and issues. As time went on and common interests emerged, it became increasingly apparent to everyone involved that this movement toward shared power and equal access to opportunities and decision making would, indeed, be good for Charlotte as a whole. And it has been.
We can already see the positive impact of the changing leadership, influence and power of people of color with our public education system. Leaders in the communities of color assert that education is the key to permanently lifting the disproportionate number of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and others who live in poverty out of their limiting circumstances. Therefore, as a unified front, these leaders have identified equity in public education as their top priority for influencing change. They have strategically joined hands with white advocates who also have been pushing this important agenda.
As a result, elected officials, with support from the business community, have committed the financial resources and other support needed to bring underperforming urban schools up to standard, relieve overcrowding in suburban schools, reduce attrition of experienced teachers and provide equal access to quality pre-school (0-3) and after-school programs. Now all students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg have equal access to a quality education. And to increase access to higher education and advanced technology training in the community, the alliance and Johnson C. Smith University have spearheaded a collaborative initiative with CMS, UNC Charlotte, Queens University, Central Piedmont Community College and the Charlotte Chamber to provide internships, apprenticeship, scholarship and other educational opportunities for students in traditionally underperforming schools.
The shift in the status of people of color has also resulted in change on the community revitalization front. Many of Charlotte's once vulnerable inner-city neighborhoods are much more stable now because an increasing number of middle and upper class African Americans, Latinos and Asians have chosen to live and invest in racially identifiable neighborhoods where they feel more at home. Their personal and financial commitment to these areas has been a catalyst for new business and affordable housing development, which, in turn, has been a boost for the entire community.
While many people of color prefer to live in an ethnically homogenous neighborhood, others are moving into and investing in the integrated mixed-use/mixed-income neighborhoods that are developing along transit corridors such as South Boulevard and North Tryon Street where light rail currently operates. Young adults who tend not to use racial and ethnic labels as a way to identify themselves are moving into the "gray" transitional zones that exist between the established white neighborhoods and the evolving, strong ethnic communities. These young adults are successfully building bridges between the two worlds.
In addition, coalition building among neighborhood and business groups has helped marginalized middle-ring corridors such as Central Avenue, Albemarle Road, Independence Boulevard and Beatties Ford Road, bounce back. The racial and economic diversity that exists in these areas is now viewed as an asset, not a negative to overcome. Crime in these areas has been greatly reduced, home ownership is on the rise and living wage jobs are more plentiful. Clearly, the return on public and private sector investments made in and around these corridors has been significant.
In Eye to Eye, the banding together of people of color to assume more power and to work collectively to increase access, inclusion and equity in Charlotte has helped peel away yet another layer of institutionalized racism and to build understanding and trust where it did not exist before. Indeed, Charlotte is better off for this. And yes, more work needs to be done. But at least we now have the processes and tools in place to help us navigate our way through this unfamiliar territory where people of color and whites are equal partners in making decisions. At last, we in Charlotte truly are meeting one another eye–to–eye.
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