Journalist Soledad O’Brien launched her national “Black In America – Town Hall Tour” Tuesday night at the Knight Theater in Charlotte, a wide-ranging dialogue about race, wealth, power and the nation’s rapidly shifting demographics.
“America’s changing,” said O’Brien, 47, daughter of an Afro-Cuban mother and white Irish father. “America is going to be majority minority in the next 20 years.”
Drawing from research for her “Black in America” series on CNN, O’Brien offered statistics showing wide disparities in household wealth and classroom achievement between whites and blacks. Black unemployment and infant mortality rates are roughly double those of whites, she said, and median household wealth for whites is 20 times that of blacks.
Joining O’Brien on a panel was Patrick Graham, president of the Urban League of Central Carolinas; Tiffany Capers, a managing director for Teach for America; and Ron Stodghill, director of the Innovo Laboratory at Johnson C. Smith University.
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Graham said it was important to talk to children about such issues as the Trayvon Martin case, in which a 17-year-old was killed during a struggle with a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. Graham said he talked to his son about it, starting with the issue of wearing a hoodie, then the discussion ranged all the way to slavery.
Capers spoke of the need to improve education and urged people to stand up to improve schools.
“We have to stop feeling like the public education system is doing us a favor,” she said. “When are we going to rise up and say, ‘We deserve better’?”
Stodghill, a 10-year resident of Charlotte who grew up in Detroit, said that while Charlotte has a veneer of success with its sizable black middle-class community, it still needs more minorities to rise to prominence with innovative success.
O’Brien, whose forum was sponsored by the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and PNC Bank, said her parents met through Catholic mass at Johns Hopkins University in the 1950s but couldn’t find a restaurant in Baltimore that would serve an interracial couple on their first date. Vestiges of those attitudes still exist, she said. “Discrimination, once overt, today is much more subtle,” she said.