People in Charlotte are like people all over the country right now: trying to find something to do, some action to take, some new words to express heartbreak as the violence of this past week, from Baton Rouge to St. Paul to Dallas, washes over us.
“I’m so tired of just posting things. I had to just shut down Facebook today,” says Lynn Shanklin Caldwell, a community organizer and founder of the Atherton Market. “I want to do something that makes a difference.”
We asked people across the community, from nonprofit leaders to church and government officials to educators, to suggest steps people can take now. Here’s a look at what they recommended:
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Sign up for a course on bias. On Friday, Elyse Dashew, vice chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, thanked members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department who have taken courses to understand bias. She urges others to sign up with Race Matters for Juvenile Justice, a Charlotte-based group that holds Dismantling Racism workshops (go to www.rmjj.org and click “events”). “Implicit bias is powerful, real, pervasive, dangerous, and invisible to some (or most) of us,” Dashew writes. “It’s really hard work. Humbling. Surprising.”
Or start smaller, online. For people seeking to understand implicit bias – the idea that people can hold damaging stereotypes without being conscious of them – Patrice Funderburg of Charlotte, a diversity and social justice advocate, recommended taking Harvard University’s Project Implicit online tests, which can reveal hidden associations based on race, gender or sexual orientation. Find them at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.
Read up, for more context. Several people suggested widening your range of background information. Here’s the reading list for a book club Funderburg organized that brought together people of different races and backgrounds to discuss racial justice last year: “Civilities and Civil Rights,” William Chafe’s account of the Greensboro civil rights movement; “The Dream Long Deferred,” Frye Gaillard’s history of school desegregation in Charlotte; “White Like Me” by Tim Wise; “Sister Citizen” by Melissa Harris; “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson; and “Race Matters” by Cornel West.
Adolphus Belk, a political science professor at Winthrop University, offers one strategy for those Googling for information: Look for the word “syllabus” as you search. That’s often used by scholar-activists, in the fairly new practice of using social media to both crowd-source and share information online. Then look at the credentials of the people who’ve pulled it together: Full-time or tenured faculty at prominent schools are a good sign of credibility. A Ferguson syllabus, for example, is at sociologistsforjustice.org/ferguson-syllabus/. He recommends the writing of Duchess Harris of Macalester College and Melina Abdullah at Cal State.
Look for groups already doing work you support. “Sometimes people look to create things and you get into duplication,” Belk says. Some national organizations, “on the community level, are right on the front lines.” That can include both churches and non-governmental groups.
Step away from social media. Ana Cunningham, a CMS high school English teacher, says she doesn’t post on social media in response to events like this because it tends to be a short-term release. “Our action lags behind our fervent rhetoric. It’s great that people want to be awoken, but it’s passive to post on social media. It’s passive to have hashtags and prayers and marches.”
If you believe all lives matter, she says, you should volunteer in high-poverty schools (CMS’s volunteer page: bit.ly/29su6ed; its reading tutoring program: bit.ly/29tKMxV), register voters, or help an immigrant learn to speak English (Charlotte’s International House is one way: ihclt.org). And you need to stay involved for months and years, not days: “It takes going beyond our comfort zones” to build lasting relationships with people who are different.
Talk with someone you don’t know. Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run, now runs the Red Boot Coalition, which works on getting people from different communities to interact. The coalition is planning a panel discussion 6-7:30 p.m. July 21 at the Morrocroft Library. “I keep coming back to my belief that what the world is yearning for are bridge builders,” she says. “A lot of my white friends, people I know, really, really want to engage and are afraid simply because they’re afraid of offending. We’ve got to get over that. Being open to dialogue doesn’t fall on just one group.”
Break bread together. In the 1970s, when a biracial group of parents came together to work on the plan to integrate Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, leader Maggie Ray started a yearlong series of potlucks. Lynn Shanklin Caldwell would like to see people return to that idea, holding meals to talk about solutions.
“Food is the thing that connects everybody,” she says. “You cannot sit down at a table with somebody and share a meal and not have a kind word. People end up finding they have way more in common than they realize.” She suggests International House (link above), the Community Building Initiative (cbicharlotte.org) and Project 658 (project658.com) as sources; there’s also the West Charlotte Worship Gathering, of churches on Charlotte’s west side, on the last Sunday of each month.
Teach young people to stay safe. Patricke Ward is a member of the fraternal group Phi Beta Sigma, which partners with Myers Park Presbyterian Church’s outreach center to hold life-skills classes for black males ages 8 to 18, including bringing in police officers to help. “We go into detail about how to engage and interact with the police,” he says. “At the end of the day, everybody wants to go home. Cops want to go home and we want to make sure our kids get home. It gives a chance for the police to interact with the community. Partnerships are what make the community great.” He’s always looking for volunteers; contact the outreach center.
Talk and listen even more. At Creative Mornings, the Friday morning community gathering hosted by Matt Olin, this week’s talk, by slam poet Herrison Chicas, was on love. “Of all things,” says Olin. “It was very, very much in the air. I think people felt a sense of comfort, just in being together in the room and connecting. It was a great reminder that in coming together as a community, whatever the solutions are will be discovered.”
Olin is planning an open-mic discussion for the July 20 gathering. “It will be interesting to see where, unguided, this conversation will go in the face of huge chaos out there.”
Contact legislators with your thoughts, and get ready to vote. “Get out and vote,” says Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice Bishop Tonyia Rawls. “Get engaged in the process; start right where you are.” Political strategist Aisha Dew echoes this: “We have an opportunity to make a difference, from the White House to the courthouse.” Examine legislation at the local, state and federal levels and get in touch with representatives to tell them what you think is needed. Find out how to register to vote, and how to contact your legislators, at meckboe.org.
Read and listen. Greg Jarrell and his wife, Helms, are the founders of QC Family Tree, which works with youth in the predominantly black Enderly Park neighborhood. They also have recently opened a coffee house, Third Place, run by Enderly Park residents. “The writings of James Baldwin are really important in understanding the inequities we live with. The music of North Carolinian Nina Simone – that’s a good one.”
Turn off the TV. The Rev. James C. Howell of Myers Park United Methodist Church filed a post on his own blog Friday: “I can’t know how God feels about our ‘thoughts and prayers.’ But I am positive God would be far more pleased if we would open our eyes, lift up our heads, get up off our knees, and go and do something. … We can turn off any TV show where a gun is fired. We can resource our schools more equitably. We can elect different people. We could pass some gun law, any gun law, if only to make a statement. We could connect with people who are different instead of judging them. We could enthusiastically support our police and rebuild trust with them – but only if we are also willing to hold the small minority of them who exceed their authority accountable.”
Keep asking. Theresa McCormick-Dunlap, the wife of LeRoy Dunlap, pastor of Redemption Christian Ministries, was in the courthouse every day during the trial of Charlotte police officer Randall Kerrick, accused of killing an unarmed man, Jonathan Ferrell, in 2013. Kerrick’s case ended in a mistrial. “I still have the same question,” she said Friday. “What am I doing to improve life for myself and for all of us? When I come in contact with others, it’s the same thing: ‘What are you going to do to make things better?’ ”
Stop waiting. “Everybody is waiting for someone else,” says McCormick-Dunlap. “I was talking to someone last night who said, ‘What we need… ’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. We are who we are waiting for.’ ”
Staff writers Ann Doss Helms, Tim Funk, Helen Schwab, Jim Morrill, Michael Gordon, Brandon Marks and Tyler Fleming contributed to this story.