(Note: Charles Thomas is the Knight Foundation’s Charlotte program director, husband and the father of three young boys.)
Just before the fatal police shooting of Keith Scott triggered violent protests in our city, I spent two days in a workshop on dismantling racism, alongside community leaders from many backgrounds. They are all members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, a dedicated group that meets several times a month to work on how we can make Charlotte more inclusive, and create more pathways to economic opportunity.
As painful as this moment is for Charlotte, it’s an opportunity to accelerate that change. Change which, in my view, does not mean taking anything away from one group to give to another, but removing obstacles to the opportunity that powers our economy, and embracing the diversity that fuels American innovation, that sits at the core of our democracy.
The workshop we attended, hosted by Race Matters for Juvenile Justice, was at once harsh and hopeful. It looked deeply into American political and economic history, arguing that race is a social construct, perpetuated by the structure of our society and our own biases. It may seem daunting, but I know we can reverse the artificial divisions. Since we built the system, we can change it.
Of course, like most others, my immediate reaction to the events in our city was intense and personal. But the personal is where change begins. That’s why I would urge my fellow Charlotteans to take this opportunity to talk to each other.
Ask questions of someone different from you. Preferably, someone who makes you uncomfortable. Maybe it’s someone of a different ethnicity or economic background. Maybe it’s a protester, or someone in law enforcement. Ask him or her how they are processing what’s happening. Ask how they are feeling. Ask what their hopes are. We all may be surprised.
If you want to know more about the Task Force, or engage with the many people who are working to design a more inclusive, more successful Charlotte, come to the upcoming discussion “Race and Economic Opportunity” led by johnathan powell.
Dr. powell will provide context for our current struggles and share concrete ways for shaping a better future in our city. In addition, I recommend you learn, for example, by attending a workshop like the one I did. But only if you are ready for a radical shift in perspective.
I believe Charlotte is ready for true change. Let’s make the most of this painful moment to move forward faster, together.