My 10-year-old and I sat with newly-elected City Council member and fellow parent-of-three, Braxton Winston, at Joe & Nosh over a cup of coffee and quite possibly the best brownie I’ve ever had.
After the September 2016 police-shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, Winston, a Davidson College athlete and graduate, went head-to-head with police, protesting the injustices that were coming to light within our city’s systems, leading him to a win a seat in, what Winston described as, “the largest turnout in recent years” — 21.05 percent compared to 14.76 percent in 2015.
We started our conversation chatting about his upbringing and some significant problems in our city, ultimately landing on parenting and the parallels between raising children and healing a city.
“Honestly, parenting-wise and politically speaking, what influences me most are my life experiences,” Winston said, which include going from the Brooklyn projects to the prestigious Phillips Andover Academy.
His approach to parenting and politics are incredibly similar and laced with intentionality, which is something both children and our city need in a leader.
Here are five facets of Winston’s parenting and life experience that have shaped how he plans to impact policy and local government.
(1) Provide an environment of growth
Winston spent a lot of his younger years out of his home and in sports, school, and theater after his mother found a public magnet school for him to attend.
“It takes different things for different people to thrive,” Winston said. “That’s how I think as a parent, I try to provide the best environment I can for my children to become themselves. In terms of this new leadership in government, that’s how I think of being a steward of the city. How can we create the best environment for Charlotteans to thrive? This is not always going to be the same thing in every place.”
(2) Embrace experiences beyond your comfort zone
Like most parents, Winston and his family have their favorite activities — at certain libraries, parks, museums. He believes the key is to challenge ourselves, to take our kids to different parks and allow them different opportunities to experience things outside their comfort zones.
“You have to be there so you can learn,” he said.
This is what Winston did when he stepped out to protest and run for office.
“In so many ways I’ve been told by people in the community that this is so necessary,” he said. “The time away from my family is hard, the hours are long. You can participate in whatever you want, you just have to show up.”
(3) Fix the root of the problem
Winston discussed how our kids can throw tantrums and as parents we have a few options: we can send them to their rooms and yell at them to get it together or we can meet them where they are with a warm blanket.
“Maybe some of their needs aren’t met,” Winston said. “Like ‘Oh, I haven’t fed you breakfast yet’ or ‘it’s cold in here’.”
When we get to the root (that needs aren’t met), instead of attacking the branch (the tantrum and outrage) then we are able to make a sustainable change in our government and our children’s lives.
“You can’t give up — not on your kids and not with the city,” Winston said. “You can get mad and send your kids to their room, but you can’t leave them in there forever.”
(4) Be a voice for the voiceless
One reason Winston told me he was so compelled to run for office was to shed light on inequities in our cities, such as how certain neighborhoods are (or are not) developed and the types of policies that have been put in place over the years.
“We have to acknowledge these things exist and bring more voices to the table,” Winston said. “There are so many voices that haven’t been heard, that didn’t know where to go to be heard. It is our responsibility to include more people and hear more voices.”
In the same way we are our children’s advocates when they can’t speak up for themselves, we are our city’s advocates for those whose voice is not being heard. It’s our responsibility to give them a platform on which to speak and be their voices when they are not able.
(5) Leave it better than you found it
“We have an opportunity to leave Charlotte better than we found it and it’s the same with parenting,” Winston said. “Things are already better than they were last year. We’ve gone through some unfortunate times in Charlotte and it’s the same with family — it’s how you come through it that makes the difference.”
In parenting, Winston’s comforting reminder is that we don’t have to know the solution to the issue, which sometimes even means not fully understanding the problem initially — we just have to keep showing up, keep trying to understand. When we work together to build a good, strong village for our children, we are inevitably setting them up for success, hoping to grow them into fantastic adults who can begin the cycle again.
Photo: Diedra Laird/Charlotte Observer