As my Volkswagen Jetta, resplendent with its multitude of blue and gold West Virginia University stickers, carried me the many miles from Morgantown, WV to Charlotte, I daydreamed that the new apartment complex that my now-husband, Tony, and I were moving into was going to be like ”Friends”, but without Ross.
I had also figured that I would secure a job lickety-split, but it took a couple of months. Tony, who started work almost immediately upon arrival, was working long hours. I was all kinds of lonely and my homesickness for my college town was so severe at times I felt nauseated.
College, from my dorm to the student union to the grimy bars, was the first place that I had ever felt like I belonged. I was accepted, loved and protected. I missed that feeling once I moved to Charlotte. I missed feeling part of a community. I missed home.
When I moved to Charlotte the plethora of breweries and funky coffee shops had yet to be built. And, even if they had been, I know myself well enough to know that I would not have gone to them to seek out friendships. I’m not a joiner. I get crazy awkward and over talk in situations like that.
Inevitably, I’d walk up to someone and say something like, “I see that you’re wearing a red sweater. I have a red sweater. I’m not wearing it now, and it doesn’t really look like yours, but it’s red. Red is a power color, you know? Would you like to become my friend and see my powerful red sweater?”
I am now more than 16 years into my stint in Charlotte. It is home now, and I am fairly certain that it will always be. My first job in Charlotte became my first community. Had it not been for that job with those co-workers, I don’t know if I would have ever fallen in love with Charlotte.
It was one of my first co-workers who told me that I needed to join the YMCA. I said that although I liked a good drunken sing/dance along to the Village People as much as the next person, I thought that I could skip the Y. They laughed and said that it was different in Charlotte. That everyone belonged to the Y.
Despite my initial skepticism, I joined and met a wide range of amazing, welcoming people and most importantly I met some people who became so much more than my “Y friends”. They became my bring-me-soup-when-I’m-sick friends, my act-a-fool-at-concert friends, and my don’t-mind-a-group-text-with-them-friends.
However, in the past year there have been two places that have made me have a deeper sense of belonging in Charlotte.
I’ve gotten two tattoos at Haylo Healing Arts Lounge in the past year. It is most certainly a cool place, with its vintage furniture and funky light fixtures. However, it is not the coolness that draws me there. It is the warmth. Haylo is inviting. It makes me feel at ease — which is nice when you’re about to have needles repeatedly stuck in your body.
Although I’ve only been an official member of CrossFit Jane for about a month, it has quickly become a place that I miss when I am not there. Not to sound too #basic, but I feel like I have found my tribe. Not only do I feel better physically since joining, I am in a better mental state having met a group of authentic and supportive people.
Where do you belong? 4 places that will welcome you with open arms.
Humans seek belonging. It can be argued that it is one of our most basic and primitive needs, right alongside food and shelter. It also helps us put value on life. Here are some of the places that Charlotteans can feel at home.
(1) The Red Boot Way
Long-time Charlottean and Red Boot Way board member Eric Law states that the mission of The Red Boot Way is to create compassionate communities by teaching a practice of intentional communication that is specifically designed to make everyone feel welcome, no matter where the meetings are held.
(2) Local college and university campuses
Law also stated that even in divided times that old familiar places can make him feel more relaxed and comfortable, for him these places include the many colleges and universities that call the Queen City home.
“Whether it’s JCSU, UNCC, Davidson, Queens, or others, I get a special feeling on the grounds of those schools,” he said. “The common pursuit of knowledge provides a palpable sense of community and shared purpose.”
(3) Snug Harbor
Lesa Kastanas, community advocate and co-owner of Soul Gastrolounge, states that Soul will always be home because she and her husband created it to encompass their passions, but Snug Harbor is their second home.
“It’s not just a place we gather to hear great music and hang with friends, but it’s also a place where the Plaza Midwood neighborhood celebrates and, when needed, where we mourn together,” Kastanas said. “I love the diversity and the sense of family that the Snug crew cultivates. I’ve spent many a night smiling and shouting ‘where else but Snug Harbor?’.”
(4) Improv comedy class
Artistic Director/Co-Founder of the Comedy Arts Theater of Charlotte (CATCh), Kevin Shimko said, “Being a part of the improv community goes way beyond being funny and performing. It’s about connecting with people on a deeper level. I know this is what I want to do with my life; help build a home for this community and spread the joys of being bold and saying yes to improv, to ourselves, and to life. That’s what CATCh is for me. A home.”
There are others that are still looking for their community within their community. This is particularly true for those who don’t work a traditional 9 to 5 jobs, like Marion McMahon. She believes that there are “community deserts” in Charlotte.
She stated that the only two places she has felt accepted in Charlotte are the grocery store and the library.
“I like this city, but I’ve always found it very hard to find community here without seeking religion or fitness,” McMahon said.
The world can be cruel and lonely and as the “Cheers” theme song explains, sometimes we wanna go where everybody knows our name — and they’re always glad we came.