Nine years after helping to organize “Friday Friends,” the Rev. Tony Marciano is pushing Charlotte to revive the idea of having lunch once a week with someone of a different race.
It has been five weeks since the police shooting of an African American man and resulting protests that brought national attention to Charlotte, and Marciano is urging people to build relationships that could help relieve systemic issues of racism.
“My concern is that a few weeks after the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, we would just forget and life would move on and nothing would change,” said Marciano, executive director of Charlotte Rescue Mission.
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But this time, he said he doesn’t want to lead the effort. He just wants to give it a nudge. “I’m not driving this like I tried to do nine years ago,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is put it out there and share it with folks. I would love to see this grow organically.”
Marciano issues the challenge in a column that will appear in several community newspapers Friday. In it, he provides a list of questions to discuss on six consecutive Fridays. “Find somebody of a different race and just have coffee with them,” he said in an interview.
Friday Friends was inspired by the Race Day lunches of almost two decades ago. In March 1997, during a meeting of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Urban League, former bank executive Joe Martin started a local movement when he challenged Charlotteans to practice “Race Day” every Thursday by going to lunch with someone of a different ethnic background.
In the years since, Charlotte has become more diverse, with steady growth in the Hispanic, Asian and Muslim communities. Local tension was palpable amid the recent protests over the Scott shooting and during the 2015 protests after the trial of former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Wes Kerrick, charged with the 2013 killing of Jonathan Ferrell, ended in a hung jury. Differences also simmer over immigration and suburban versus urban fights over the future of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.
Marciano’s column cites two recent studies that have highlighted the need for relationship building among the races.
In 2001, a Harvard University study of 40 metropolitan areas found that, while Charlotte and surrounding counties finished second in house of worship attendance, they scored 39th – next to last – in interracial trust.
And in 2014, the Charlotte area ranked last among the country’s 50 largest metro areas for upward mobility, according to researchers at Harvard University, University of California-Berkeley and the Treasury Department.