Seeing video of Philando Castile bleeding out from a Minnesota police officer’s gunshot set Patrice Funderburg on a new life path in July 2016. Two months later, Scott’s death accelerated her change.
Funderburg, who had built a career in corporate HR and organizational development, launched a six-week discussion series based on Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Just over 100 people turned out to explore racism in the criminal justice system, including police shootings of black people. Scott’s death came two days before the group’s final session.
In January Funderburg launched a new career running Educate to Engage, which does antiracism consulting and continues to host free discussion groups. Her sixth round of New Jim Crow discussions started Sept. 7. In the past year, Funderburg has started volunteering with Changed Choices and the Center for Community Transitions; both support people who are or have been incarcerated. She has also built new coalitions with longtime and emerging activists.
“I literally had an anxiety attack last July after watching Philando Castille being murdered on Facebook Live. It propelled me to do something different than just be aware of what’s happening in the country.
“(For the first discussion series) myself, my husband, my daughter and maybe two other people were the only brown faces in the room and I did not know what to do with that. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t expecting a room full of white people. But the same voice that came to me when I had that anxiety attack on the greenway said to me, ‘You don’t get to choose who you serve.’ I had my little scripting notes and I just went with it.
“(At the meeting after Scott’s death) none of us knew how to process what just happened this week, so we added on a seventh week. ‘Did anyone go out to protest in the street? What did we learn?’
“How I know I’ve made an impact is when people take action in ways that are meaningful to them in their space. So that can be a Myers Park space, it can be a Ballantyne space, it can be a Concord space, it can be an east Charlotte space … It can be whatever space is your space.
“The very first cohort I had a woman who created her own six-week series in Cabarrus County, where she lives. … and it’s targeted to white people.
“There’s ways that I think Educate to Engage helped people look inward: Where am I in relation to this topic around criminal justice? What didn’t I know? What do I know now that I can’t unknow? Where are there places that I can engage in taking action?
“I’ve learned so much from young folks, particularly black trans and queer people of color that really stood up from a leadership standpoint last year after the Keith Lamont Scott shooting.
“I’ve been here 12 years and I’ve learned more about Charlotte in the past year than I have in the 12 years that I’ve been here. ... Charlotte has been awakened. I would say absolutely, Charlotte is changed. Changed in awareness, vs. changed in action, I think is where the opportunity lies.
“Last year I said I was looking to find my fit in social justice, and I think I literally fell into it. ... This is my soul work.”