Social capital is a critical factor for change in Charlotte — 4 experts weigh in on what needs to happen next

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In partnership with Bank of America

On Tuesday, June 13, Levine Museum of the New South’s Breaking Bread dinner series returns to deep-dive on a topic that has been top of mind for Charlotteans for the last several months — social capital.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force has named social capital as one of the critical factors impacting social mobility and quality of life in Mecklenburg County. In other words, understanding the concept is necessary for making strides on some of Charlotte’s most serious issues.

So what is social capital, exactly?

“Social Capital,” according to the task force’s 2017 report, “is defined as the relationship and networks people have that can connect them to opportunity.”

Four of the panelists for Tuesday night’s event have weighed in, helping to kick off a dialogue they hope will continue in the community far beyond a shared meal tomorrow evening.

Responses have been lightly edited for brevity.


Mario Shaw, Profound Gentleman

Mario Jovan Shaw serves as Chief Program Officer for Profound Gentlemen. He received his M.S.Ed from Johns Hopkins University School of Education in 2015 and a B.A from University of Cincinnati in 2012. Mario began his journey as an 7th-grade teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools through Teach For America. During his time in the classroom, Mario created the BrotherHood, a program to address the needs of young black males in his classroom. Mario is a 2015 recipient of the Echoing Green fellowship. He has been recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30 as one of the world’s brightest social innovators who seek to bring about change and equal opportunity for boys and male educators of color. 

In some areas of Charlotte, affluent and low-income neighborhoods sit right next to each other. How do we build bridges between the two?

There are great non-profits in the city who focus on this issue and have established programs that aids to close the gap. In addition to what these organizations are doing, I personally believe that this work starts with self. Affluent communities have to acknowledge their privilege and understand the opportunities in our city that all Charlotteans don’t have access to.

Additionally, we have to further acknowledge that Charlotteans of low-income communities have values. Money isn’t the only thing that brings value to your life. In all communities, there are trades and skills like gardening and computer tech that make every individual unique. I believe part of this issue is not acknowledging the value in someone’s life outside of their social status or wealth. We have the ability to change our minds in how we think about people.


Dr. Lyndall Hare, Concierge Gerontologist

Dr. Hare has worked in the field of aging for 30 years, both in the United States and South Africa. Her Concierge Gerontology Services include highly personalized Eldercare Coaching, helping to navigate the tricky landscape of elder-caring and the maze of aging services for loved ones. As an Aging Consultant, she coaches organizations that serve boomers and elders by providing innovative visioning and creative programming and planning. She has a passion for social justice, to which she’s devoted her life since coming here to the U.S. in political exile because of her work during the Apartheid regime in South Africa.


What’s the key to ensuring that all communities of Charlotte have social capital and the ability to exercise it?

Conversations and attempts at bridging social capital in Charlotte have taken place amongst those with social capital, by and large, rather than insuring that these conversations are inclusive of those who are living in areas with very little infrastructure or affordable housing. I do think that one of the most important “keys” to unlocking access to social capital for those without it, is to pass an ordinance for a living wage.

In some areas of Charlotte, affluent and low-income neighborhoods sit right next to each other. How do we build bridges between the two?

By partnering to establish land trusts for long-time home owners of low-income neighborhoods to protect family assets instead of predatory pressure to sell at low prices. We can also protect the “third spaces” established in areas being gentrified – the corner grocery store, the ethnic restaurant, the barber shop, the “funk” and “otherness” that has historically created community spaces in neighborhoods for residents.


Andrew Plepler, Bank of America

Andrew D. Plepler is Bank of America’s Global Head of ESG. In this role, Plepler spearheads the company’s focus on environmental, social and governance factors. Plepler also founded and continues to serve on the board of the Washington, DC-based Urban Alliance Foundation, a nonprofit jobs and mentoring program that works with economically disadvantaged high school students. He also serves on the Boards of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Living Cities Inc., Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force and Levine Museum of the New South. 

What’s the key to ensuring that all communities of Charlotte have social capital and the ability to exercise it?

The key is taking the time to develop stronger relationships. We need to get to know each other – understand the different experiences that together make us such a diverse and vibrant city. Break down the walls that are built by misconceptions instead of experience.

Spend time outside the normal course of your day, talk to people you don’t know, go to events you normally wouldn’t and build understanding of the many perspectives within our city.


Cynthia H. Knight, Castle’s Daycare Academy

Cynthia Knight is the owner and director of Castle’s Daycare Academy located in Charlotte. It has been in operation for 28 years. Cynthia Knight has served as a community advocate for the educational development of the young child. She has developed teaching strategies to enhance the educational levels of the young child to a much higher level of knowledge than expected. She is committed to a process of education that will advance a child to reach the level of learning that will produce a positive and “bright” future.

We’re at a moment when nearly all of Charlotte acknowledges that change is needed. But what will it take for Charlotte to actually achieve meaningful change?

Social capital must first begin with fair work and hiring practices and notifications of opportunities to stimulate employment and entrepreneurship. In order to do so, we must stop the concentration of one type of market or demographic to one area or field of work. For example: building another fast food chain in a low income neighborhood instead of a business park or school or warehouse.

There should be an equal distribution of economic opportunity to all areas, while at the same time investing in dreambuilders and those not in “ideal” situations or locations. We must also start by educating our youth to be proud of their achievements, not just to take tests. Teach trades, and skills in order to make people more employable and able to stimulate networks between communities.


The conversation continues…

Tickets for Breaking Bread dinner “Accessing the American Dream: Social Capital” are sold out, but you can find more details and be added to the waitlist here

Cover image courtesy of Levine Museum of the New South. Andrew Dunn contributed to this story. 

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