One group that could help Charlotte’s opportunity task force

The Observer editorial board

Black Lives Matter protesters gathered at Marshall Park in 2015. But the group is about much more than protests.
Black Lives Matter protesters gathered at Marshall Park in 2015. But the group is about much more than protests. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

We won’t solve Charlotte’s glaring inequality and race problems by tiptoeing around social and political landmines that have strained the region for decades.

That’s why maybe the most important thing the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force accomplished to date was to unflinchingly acknowledge that which divides us and detail the enormous challenges we face.

To ensure that the task force’s findings will lead to the kind of tangible results we need to make real progress, there must be people committed to holding those in charge of the action phase accountable. Black Lives Matter Charlotte has offered itself up to help play that critical watchdog role. That’s a worthwhile idea.

On the surface, it may seem a dubious one because in the minds of many local residents the name alone – Black Lives Matter – conjures up images of in-your-face protests instead of efforts to unify. The editorial board had questions about the group’s mission before a recent sit-down with organizers.

They said less-than-ideal police-community relations are among the many problems Black Lives Matter Charlotte wants to help resolve. But it also wants to tackle health care disparities and address obstacles to upward mobility, and crime. Bettering educational outcomes and reducing high concentrations of poverty are also among its goals. That includes encouraging the kind of collective community responsibility those on the left most often highlight – and the personal responsibility those on the right believe is crucial for real uplift. The group has been meeting with residents for more than a year to start exploring solutions.

The vision of Black Lives Matter aligns well with that of the Opportunity Task Force and other groups hoping to improve our city and county. Given the complexity of the task ahead, having like-minded groups work together will give the region its best chance to shed its title as the worst among 50 cities cited in a 2014 study by Harvard University and UC-Berkeley for its seeming inability to move poor kids up the economic ladder.

Make no mistake, difficulties lie ahead. As Michael Marsicano, CEO of the Foundation for the Carolinas said when the task force report was released, there is no silver bullet.

Even if, for example, we hit the city’s goal of creating 5,000 affordable housing units, we will still fall well short of what’s needed, according to the task force’s report. Providing more long-term contraception – an effective tool against unwanted pregnancies and abortion – makes sense. Convincing a diverse populace that it won’t be done for nefarious reasons that harkens back to the dark days of Jim Crow and eugenics won’t be easy. Closing the achievement and discipline gaps in our schools won’t be, either.

The task force has laid out a blueprint and understands the urgency for action. Black Lives Matter Charlotte has been convening large, diverse crowds that include experts and everyday residents.

Those efforts need to be married. Effective action must be the priority. All hands are needed on deck and rowing in the same direction.