Taylor Batten

Welcome these fresh, challenging voices

Toussaint Romain, in the white shirt, sought peace during the Keith Scott protests. Romain will be one of eight contributing editors to the Charlotte Observer editorial board.
Toussaint Romain, in the white shirt, sought peace during the Keith Scott protests. Romain will be one of eight contributing editors to the Charlotte Observer editorial board. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

When the Supreme Court agreed last week to hear a Colorado case about a baker who cited his religion in refusing to make a cake for a gay wedding, I considered writing an editorial about it.

I certainly have opinions on the issue. But then I realized there are others who might have a unique voice to bring to the debate. Enter Billy Maddalon.

Maddalon brings three perspectives that apply directly to the Colorado case: He is openly gay, he is a small business owner in the hospitality industry and he’s Christian. What tensions must he bring to the issue?

You can find out in Monday’s paper or online on Sunday, when Maddalon kicks off a new initiative we are launching on the Observer opinion pages. We have recruited eight engaging and bright people to serve as contributing editors. They will each write one column a month, plus engage with readers in other ways.

They are a diverse bunch in every sense of the word. They vary in age, gender, color, political preferences and professional backgrounds. They have one thing in common, though: They are all sharp thinkers who care deeply about our city, state and nation. That, we believe, will mean our readers will be treated to intelligent, fresh and challenging commentary from a whole new array of voices.

Some of their columns will be about topics of their own choosing. But many, like Maddalon’s first one, will be a product of the editorial board asking them to share their views on a hot topic in the news. We consider them a rich resource who will provoke us all to think anew about the big issues of the day.

Tiffany Capers leads the Charlotte chapter of Black Lives Matter and works for Teach for America. During her more than 20 years in Charlotte, she has also worked for the city and the Foundation for the Carolinas.

She has spent recent years convening community conversations about social justice, economic mobility and racial equity. She serves on several nonprofit boards and committees and mentors students at West Charlotte.

She says she tries to follow her father’s advice: “When people ask you what you do, you should always be able to say, ‘I do good.’ What you do to make a living is less important than what you do to make your life.”

Amy Chiou is the executive director of Queen City Forward, a nonprofit accelerator for social entrepreneurs and civic innovators who are building social startups.

She started her professional life in politics, working on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign and Anthony Foxx’s 2009 mayoral campaign. She also worked at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in 2012 and the DNC in Philadelphia in 2016.

Chiou is the founder of #WTFwevote (with WTF standing for We’re the Future, she says). That was a nonpartisan effort to increase political engagement in Charlotte. She’ll bring a lens of political activism and social entrepreneurship.

Billy Maddalon owns Unique Southern Estates and has been active in public life in the city and state. A Charlotte native and graduate of Charlotte Catholic and N.C. State, he was a staff assistant at the legislature for two years early in his career. He is a trustee of Meredith College and has held a variety of volunteer leadership roles at N.C. State.

He served on the City Council and ran unsuccessfully for the state House. He has served on a number of nonprofits and neighborhood associations.

Maddalon and his husband, Brooks, are licensed Therapeutic Foster Parents for maltreated youth and have parented 18 foster children.

Matt Olin says that as an identical twin, he has practiced the art of differentiation since the womb. That’s important as a copywriter, creativity consultant and owner of Matt Olin Creative.

Olin is the producer and host of CreativeMornings/Charlotte, a monthly breakfast lecture series that builds on the notion that everyone is creative. He also co-created the Queen City Quiz Show, which won a Knight Cities Challenge Grant last year.

A UNC Chapel Hill and Columbia University grad, he has spent much of his life in theater in Charlotte and New York. His productions have won 14 Tony Awards and many others.

Bob Orr spent 10 years as a North Carolina Supreme Court justice and eight as a judge on the N.C. Court of Appeals. After retiring as a justice, he headed the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, a nonprofit generally seen as conservative that educated and litigated constitutional issues.

His legal practice now focuses on constitutional issues, appellate work and advocating for college athletes. He lives in Raleigh but spends a good bit of time near Burnsville.

He ran for governor unsuccessfully in 2008, losing to Pat McCrory in the primary. He won four statewide judicial races as a Republican but says he’s “frustrated with the state of politics in our state and country.”

Many people in Charlotte – and nationwide – know Toussaint Romain as “the guy in the white shirt.” Romain, an assistant public defender, gained notice last September when, in a dress shirt and tie, he inserted himself between police and protesters on the streets of Charlotte, seeking to broker peace.

But Romain has been involved in this community in many ways and times beyond that one night. Besides representing low-income habitual felons in court, Romain also teaches as an adjunct professor at UNC Charlotte and serves in a volunteer capacity at numerous local nonprofits.

He is concerned with matters of race, crime, leadership, rehabilitation and youth.

Judy Schindler, the long-time rabbi at Temple Beth El, is now an associate professor and director of the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University of Charlotte.

“Engaging with community” is her calling, she says, and she was taught by her father and grandfather to use her voice against hatred and discrimination. She has helped lead the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice and helped create four social justice documentaries. Her book on recharging congregations through civic engagement will be published in December.

Mark Washburn is a familiar face and voice for loyal Observer readers. He retired in April after 18 years as a writer and editor at the Observer. He covered broadcast media and wrote local columns blasting the I-77 toll lanes project, the streetcar, and kids on his lawn.

Washburn worked for the News & Observer of Raleigh and the Miami Herald before joining the Observer.