There are no voiceless people, there are only people who haven’t been heard yet

There are no voiceless people, there are only people who haven’t been heard yet
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(Note: amalia deloney is a community leader and works for the Media Democracy Fund. She holds a B.A. in Urban Studies and History and a J.D. with a focus on Social Justice, with additional study in International Human Rights at the University of London’s Institute for Advanced Legal Studies.)

“There are no voiceless people, there are only people who haven’t been heard yet.” -Albert Sykes, Young People’s Project

For too long, the police, news media, and others have told us the “official” story of Charlotte is one where hard work and determination coupled with a belief in innovation are rewarded with a home in a family-friendly city ripe with opportunity.

But for the last two nights, the streets of this city I have grown to call home are talking back—publicly questioning the assumption that this was ever true, or ever intended to include everyone. As a woman of color and a Historic West End resident I heard this clearly, particularly when I embraced the principle that “everything begins by listening.”

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With a home, health care, and full-time employment, my husband and I enjoy our life in this city. But when I’m catching the bus, walking to the Gold Rush Trolley or flyering the neighborhood for a community meeting, I am deeply aware that many of my neighbors live a different reality. I thought of this last night, as I stood outside the Omni hotel for hours, watching, listening and documenting as the following statistics were given life.

“No justice, no peace”
Second-highest rental costs in the state

“Hands-up, don’t shoot”
A public education system where one-in-three schools have 80% of their students living in poverty

“The people united will never be defeated”
Above national average costs on groceries and transportation

“Whose city? Our city!”
More than a third of Charlotte census tracts are high-poverty

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While the contested police killing of Keith Scott lit the fuse, it’s these structural conditions that have created the dangerous dynamics and actions we are bearing witness to. Given these conditions, frustration, anger, and even rage is an appropriate and reasonable response.

Unfortunately, rather than giving voice and visibility to the root causes of the anger now spilling out into our public view, the news media is using racial stereotypes to turn a complex public debate into clickbait–fanning the flames rather than throwing water on the fire.

Still, communities are telling their stories for those who will listen.

The answers, like the conditions, are complex, and require thoughtful, grounded leadership. Right now, Charlotte doesn’t need singular charismatic leadership; in fact, it’s that style of leadership that has resulted in gross inaction. Instead, we need the kind of 21st century movement that creates leaders out of everyone it touches.

We do not have voiceless residents; we have community members who have not been heard. Last night they were present, as they gave voice to “what is.” If we sharpen our minds to listen, rather than assume the need to speak on their behalf, we will hear the wisdom that is being shared:

  • Build vs. attack
  • Focus on strategies rather than issues
  • Presume our power, not our powerlessness
  • Know we can help you to solve the most significant problems of our day

Cover image courtesy of Bruce Clark

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