It’s the end of October, y’all!
I say that with all the gratitude and love I can muster after a whirlwind of fall events and programs.
I have travelled coast to coast programming and planning for social impact with museums, conferences, schools, nonprofits, and individuals who are absolutely committed to manifesting change in their communities and beyond. We are purposeful and deliberate in our actions toward creating greater equity and we can’t stop now, as the holiday season approaches. There is no time to waste!
A few days ago we launched another large scale engagement effort in Charlotte resulting in thousands of conversations geared toward action. I was very aware that we were broaching what is, for many people, a taboo subject in a very public and forthright way. 6000+ people discussing the legacy of segregation in our community- it was decidedly ambitious and possibly inglorious if it went off the rails.
And we did it anyway.
It certainly hasn’t helped anyone in Charlotte to NOT talk about directly with historically accurate guidance. We provided a clearly written timeline, video testimonial from real Charlotteans, and pages of guidance related to engaging across difference.
It was made possible through direct funding from the Knight Foundation and Foundation For The Carolinas, and most importantly by you. The energy to sustain and execute an initiative of this scale and level of engagement requires a fierce commitment to possibilities. Now, with two full nights of sleep and a lazy Sunday to reflect I can see three clear lessons from this work.
- Understanding motivation is only the start.
We had survey results from the 2017 On The Table CLT reflecting a serious interest in educational outcomes, economic disparity, access to affordable housing. These data outcomes closely matched the findings of the 2017 Leading On Opportunity Report. While not surprising, the underlying connective factor was the topic that very few ever broach directly in Charlotte: the legacy of segregation in Charlotte. So, what initially motivated people to participate in On The Table CLT, an opportunity to share their point of concern for our community, would likely prevent them for discussing the underlying reason: racism. Neighbors, friends, co-workers, and strangers would have to commit to moving through discomfort together, with the focus on each other’s experience, and a plan to move to action.
- Willful blindness is another form of misdirection.
We still heard loud and clear that many thought that there is no segregation in Charlotte. Even with a clear hard-printed copy of a timeline detailing the policy mandated segregation resting literally on the table, they were in denial.
- We also heard, “I don’t feel safe (to talk about segregation).”
- “Self-determination could solve the ills of the Black or Brown communities,” (while apparently denying direct and lawful denial of access- See GI bill).
- And, “Don’t blame me- I am doing all I can to help others! Look I am participating.”
These statements are a form of misdirection-a deliberate derailing of necessary work- to refocus on fear, ignorance, and refusal to recognize our current civil rights crisis. What would it take to move people? Bombs, killings, voter suppression, church burnings? Are we reviewing our collective American crisis of 1965? No, all things we have witnessed firsthand in 2018.
3. People-loving Freedom is at the heart of liberation.
We don’t often situate our understanding of how to work with each other in freedom. Instead we look for ways to create more control and less empathy. This is a fallacy that grounds the majority of our interactions with each other. If we centered love for each other our decisions would look drastically different. Our collective shift would recognize humanity and emphasize our freedoms as shared, rather than exclusionary. Reparations require recognition of value. We start by seeing each other as all valuable.
The initial feedback we received from On The Table, while overwhelmingly positive, still helps us acknowledge that so much more is needed.
- People were excited by the diversity of their table in 2018. In a geographic community that is statistically incredibly racially “diverse.”
- People realized that they had NEVER had a conversation about segregation with someone who is a different race.
- People listened to their fellow church-members, co-workers, and colleagues publicly commit to acting in ways to dismantle segregation many of whom work in places that were supposed to be publicly committed to dismantling injustice already.
I deeply appreciate everyone who recognized their On The Table CLT experience as one part of a long tradition of disrupting our “Charlotte” way. Our national discourse on civility, does very little to teach skills around engaging each other and correcting injustice. Just talking cordially is just not enough to change reality.
Let’s move to action together.