On the night that Justin Carr was killed during protests in uptown Charlotte, I stood in Marshall Park listening to a man with a bullhorn whose words pierced my heart.
“They got us in failing schools without adequate resources and then you don’t have the education to get jobs,” he said. “Then they want to talk about black on black crime. Why does black-on-black crime exist? It’s because we are living in a community of deep poverty perpetuating black-on-black crime. And that’s why we got police terrorism running rampant in the city.”
In a few bars, he summed up the foundation of the uprising Charlotte has seen, one that is not unique but perfectly expected in a community that is 99th out of 100 U.S. counties in economic mobility.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg, we are at a crossroads.
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We as a community have set ourselves – citizens, police, and educators – up for failure. In the last two decades, we have created a sprawling mass of strangers where division is designed, distrust and fear is cultivated, and an unsustainable path has been forged. Do not be fooled by ribbon cutting ceremonies; we have been building a straw house of racial and class division that is finally being blown down, exposing our shoddy craftsmanship.
And while some people mourn the death of “their” Charlotte, I delight in the opportunity to finally start building “our” Charlotte with a foundation of bricks. I look forward to creating a community policing model that not only will be more just and safer for our most vulnerable citizens, but better for our officers. I look forward to a push for support of a proposed moratorium on Pre-K to second-grade suspensions, which serve as a catalyst for the school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately affecting males of color. Finally, I look forward to us holding all three governmental bodies – school board, city council, and county commission – accountable and supporting them in collaborating to increase educational opportunities for all students.
In responding to the overwhelming research on concentrated poverty in schools, the school board is taking significant steps but must follow through on pushing to not have any schools with poverty rates above 70 percent while addressing missteps of the past around magnet access, gerrymandered boundaries, and schools for haves and have nots.
However, true improvement will require support from the other two bodies. The Charlotte City Council’s work on affordable and workforce housing must be followed through upon and must occur throughout our region, not consolidated to one part of town. We cannot call for neighborhood schools in one breath and say Not In My Backyard in response to affordable housing.
Meanwhile, the Board of County Commissioners must follow through on the bond it said it would push for in 2017 and begin preparing now as we move towards a new superintendent. We taxpayers pay for you to be collaborating partners with CMS. Repeating the early 2000’s Family Choice plan with more waitlists than choices is not an option.
Indeed we are at a crossroads. Do we want to be compared to Denver or to Ferguson? If we identify as leaders, this is our time to shine, not to shrink. This is our Charlotte.
Justin Perry is co-chair of OneMeck, which advocates for greater school diversity.
An editing error in Sunday’s For the Record gave the impression that the Charlotte City Council had left others to fend for themselves with HB2. The author, Michael Clement, believes that the City Council has been left by other city leaders to fend for itself.