Three weeks after I moved to Charlotte to join Levine Museum of the New South, a police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott and people took to the streets. They were outraged, grief-stricken and some were violent during days of demonstrations. So many others who watched the protests unfold on national television were stunned. “This isn’t my Charlotte,” they said.
Before the streets cleared, Levine Museum began getting calls: “What’s the museum doing about this?”
It was a sobering question and introduction to a city that consistently makes the “best places” lists. In fact, the anger that erupted during the protests has been in the ground for decades, deeply rooted in the city’s history. This is, indeed, our Charlotte.
Levine Museum’s answer was to create a rapid-response exhibit about police-involved violence. It was a scary undertaking, because the mere mention of this topic creates controversy, a reality that can paralyze organizations. But with the help of many in the community, we opened K(NO)W Justice K(NO)W Peace just four months after the uprising. This exhibit provides local and national historical context that reveals the roots of the unrest and reasons for the profound distrust between communities of color and the police. And over the past year, we have engaged hundreds of people through dialogues, films, author talks and panel discussions exploring the diverse perspectives that exist within our community, and giving voice to those too often left out of the civic dialogue.
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This week, as we arrive at the anniversary of the shooting and the Charlotte uprising, I would like to pose the question we heard back to our community:
What are you doing about the issues exposed by the tragic events of last year?
Levine Museum challenges you to reflect on how you felt during the Charlotte uprising, to examine your thoughts about it today, and to resolve to do something, big or small, that will help address issues of poverty, racism, school segregation and community distrust that continue to simmer in Charlotte and will inevitably erupt again.
Perhaps you can volunteer in the schools. Hold an event to build bridges between communities and the police department. Engage through the programs of the United Way, Urban Ministry or dozens of other nonprofits which, like Levine Museum, experienced an awakening this time last year.
How about plugging into the work of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, which has done the heavy lifting of identifying Charlotte’s biggest challenges? While those issues can feel overwhelming – segregation, income inequality, school quality and, for many, a lack of social capital – they can only be overcome by the contribution of time, talent, sacrifice and support from each of us.
Can you listen – genuinely listen – to perspectives that differ from your own, and can you let that listening lead you to a place of new understanding and empathy?
Going forward, Levine Museum’s answer is to extend the run of K(NO)W Justice K(NO)W Peace and to continue raising undercurrents to the surface to educate and help our community understand the issues we’re facing – so we can act.
Going forward, what’s your answer?
Hill is president and CEO of the Levine Museum of the New South. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org