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Community forum confronts the challenges of racial equity in Charlotte

Community members and local leaders gathered at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to discuss racial justice, focusing on Charlotte’s specific challenges with housing and education.
Community members and local leaders gathered at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to discuss racial justice, focusing on Charlotte’s specific challenges with housing and education. rcherzog@charlotteobserver.com

Community members gathered Tuesday at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to discuss racial justice, focusing on Charlotte’s specific challenges with housing and education.

“Because we’ve become so much more divisive on economic and racial lines, the more we can encourage discussion and insight, the better,” panelist and former Mayor Harvey Gantt said.

The event included a panel of community leaders who addressed the issue and also took questions from the audience.

The church has been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ award-winning book “Between the World and Me” as a congregation, and it served as a guide for Tuesday’s discussion.

“This particular book is one of many resources that brings people into a deeper and uncomfortable place about the body, the body our shell,” said the Rev. Ollie Rencher. “How we see one another, how we often create stereotypes about one another.”

Other themes from the book that guided the discussion included coming to terms with history, being open to understanding the experiences of others and realizing that change is still needed despite progress.

“What (the book) drove home to me more than anything else is that I had no clue about (Coates’) experience,” said panelist and church leader Paul Hanneman. “My vision of justice would be that there would be a space where everyone would be at the table and would feel comfortable in the discussion.”

In addition to Gantt, the panel also included former Charlotte Observer associate editor Fannie Flono, development consultant Rosalyn Allison-Jacobs, UNC Charlotte researcher Amy Hawn Nelson and Oliver Merino of the Levine Museum of the New South.

Charlotte’s challenges

The discussion shifted to Charlotte’s specific history and ongoing challenges with racial justice. Audience members raised concerns about inequality in education, housing, transportation, voting and religion in the city.

One audience member brought up the lack of mandatory low-income housing along the new light rail routes.

Another questioned the progress Charlotte has made with school desegregation, and another brought up the direct correlations between segregation in housing and income.

Attendee Jenny Rosenthal and her husband, Rich, attend panels like this often because they find them interesting. But Jenny Rosenthal said they largely preach to the choir.

“You look around at a lot of these things and you see the same people,” she said.

Rachel Herzog: 704-358-5358; @rachel_herzog

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