4 simple ways to not be a prisoner of your zip code

4 simple ways to not be a prisoner of your zip code
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(Note: this is a follow up on action steps that you can take from our first Charlotte Agenda Live Speaker Series event that discussed segregation with historian Tom Hanchett. Our second Live event will be announced via our newsletter early next week.)

Throughout his Charlote Agenda Live talk, Tom Hanchett, historian with the Levine Museum of the New South challenged us all to step outside of our comfort zones, understand where this city came from and join a community to help shape where it is going. Here are his thoughts on how to bring this from a conversation to action:

(1) Eat the world

Cultures from across the U.S. and around the world are bringing hundreds of cuisines to Charlotte.

Interesting eats are everywhere from Taste of Buffalo at I77 Exit 25, to hyper-international Super G Mart out Independence Boulevard, to the excellent “real Chinese” restaurant inside Grand Asia Market on the edge of Matthews. To explore online:

Taste of the World, an annual restaurant crawl in east Charlotte.

Food From Home, which I write for the Charlotte Observer, explores a different eatery each month.

Tricia Childress at Creative Loafing regularly turns me on to new restaurants — and new cultures.

(2) Visit a museum

If you think museums are boring, you haven’t seen what’s happening here. Two unexpected examples:

Levine Museum of the New South, where I work, was honored at the White House for its innovative vision of “using history to build community.” The big, interactive permanent exhibit Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers puts you in touch with the people who have shaped this region from cotton mill workers to sit-in activists to bankers. Another current exhibit, NUEVOLution: Latinos and the New South, tells stories via videos — and a Latino concert series kicks off March 30.  There’s even a series of evening programs called The New South for the New Southerner.

McColl Center for Art + Innovation  gives space to local, national and international artists to create. Which would be cool enough — but the aim of most of the art is explicitly to engage with social issues and make Charlotte and/or the world a better place. Watch for the free studio-crawls — next is April 29 — hang out with the artists, enjoy munchies, meet interesting people.

(3) Scope out a community issue

If folks are arguing, that means an issue is deeply important to a lot of people — and that means it likely affects you.

Here are two issues, with one way to start exploring each one:

Can schools be less segregated by income and ethnicity?

Can we create neighborhoods that mix incomes?


(4) Listen and serve

Raquel Lynch of Crisis Assistance Ministry, gave her perspective on the conversation…

“It’s energizing to hear people challenging each other to break out of their zip codes (or other sociological boxes) and take action to create a positive, inclusive future for our city.

But what now?

Let’s agree not to create solutions for others without involving the people most affected in the process.

In a recent conversation, Crisis Assistance Ministry organized with families living at the poverty level, a single mom broke down in tears — not because her life is hard (though it certainly is challenging) — but because someone was finally asking HER for ideas, listening to her challenges, and involving her in the conversation about how to improve things for families like hers.

It’s true. We can’t change the future if we don’t know where we’ve come from.  And we can’t solve problems we do not understand for people we have never met. So let’s take our excitement and use it to engage with others who also feel left out of the “establishment” process.

Grassroots initiatives are growing in many areas of the city and there are numerous opportunities to get connected to people and perspectives outside our own communities:

  • Jump into initiatives like the Opportunity Task Force. Head across town to attend a listening tour session in a neighborhood that’s not your own.  Take the opportunity survey and share your thoughts about opportunity in our city.
  • Find out what’s happening with One Meck and their #DiversityWorks initiative to ensure “fair, equal, and excellent educational opportunity for all.”
  • Connect with Project L.I.F.T.’s efforts to engage community leadership in raising graduation rates and academic performance at high poverty schools in traditionally underserved neighborhoods.
  • Seek out the leaders of Charlotte’s Black Lives Matter group, follow arts initiatives in minority communities, and add your voice to the voices of others who are often marginalized.
  • Connect with the dozens of opportunities at Crisis Assistance Ministry where YOU can volunteer.

Get out of your zip code. Let’s move Charlotte forward with intention.

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