Greeting from Charlotte, NC, or the Current Center of the Controversial Universe

Guest Post from Sue Wood Englert, educator & love warrior

Normally, the phrase, “Greetings from Charlotte, NC” would bring a yawn from the reader.  But not lately.  Lately, it probably brings visions of hellfire and huge groups of rioters breaking into buildings and beating people up and basically destroying the city.  Or maybe it brings images of police brutality and oppression of minorities.  We’ve been getting a lot of press lately, and not the kind most of us really want.

Needless to say, for those of us who live in the metropolitan Charlotte area, this has not been an easy time, but not for the reasons you might think.  As a resident of suburban Charlotte, I am not being as directly affected by the goings on as friends who live, work, and play “Uptown” are being affected. I didn’t get any days off work like the big bank employees did last week.  I didn’t have any trouble accessing my home for the night as one friend did last week. I wasn’t driving on the interstate and stopped by protestors as others were last week. I was not directly affected by the tear gas or the midnight curfew or the police lines or the National Guard. 

But I’ve still been affected by it. I’ve been deeply saddened by the news coverage; however, I am not at all afraid for my life and there have been some incredibly positive things happening that just aren’t newsworthy, I guess. I’ve also been embarrassed that this is the image many people now have of our great city, but please know that Charlotte is nothing like what you’re seeing on TV.  And I’ve been motivated to change myself, and to help others, rather than to hunker down in my suburban whiteness and curse “The Other,” even though lots of people seem to think that would be the appropriate response from folks like me.

First, I want to reassure you that Charlotte has NOT been destroyed off the face of the planet.  To twist a favorite Mark Twain quote, “The reports of Charlotte’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.”  In fact, there have been many examples of people standing for love that just aren’t being reported. For one, my daughter attended a beautiful wedding on the rooftop of one of the many hotels in Uptown Charlotte Friday night. Lots of people thought they should have cancelled the wedding. I’m glad they didn’t. There were helicopters flying overhead, but they just decided to write them off as wedding paparazzi. There was also a Carolina Panthers football game on Sunday.  People tailgated all over uptown, just like they always do, and even though there were urgent news reports that protestors were planning to block the entrances to the stadium, there were none. No blockades, at least according to my daughter who was at the game. She did report to me, however, that people outside the stadium and in the stands were shaking hands and hugging and making new friends.  People from different backgrounds and people of different skin colors were all standing for love.  Right here in Charlotte.

As far as those pictures of Charlotte you have in your head from the news coverage? To address those, let’s play a quick round of “Did You Know.” Ready? Did you know that Charlotte is a big city? It’s the 17th largest city in the US,  according to census numbers. Did you know that Charlotte rates second among the fastest growing cities in the US? Yep. Did you know that Charlotte proper is bigger than Denver, Detroit, Seattle, Washington D.C., Memphis, Boston, Nashville, Kansas City, St. Louis, and a LOT of other big cities? (www.census.gov

Did you know that we are a banking center?  Did you know that we have a world class art museum? Did you know that we have fantastic restaurants, theater, and a symphony orchestra? Did you know that we have professional football and basketball teams and a minor league baseball team with a beautiful brand new stadium right smack in the middle of the city right next to a brand new park that was built to honor a famous artist from Charlotte, Romare Bearden?  

Did you know that the Charlotte Metropolitan area includes seven counties in both North and South Carolina, and that almost 2.5 MILLION people live here? Did you know that sometimes there is civil unrest in big cities? Think about it. That’s how things often get accomplished in our country. It starts with unrest and leads to dialogue, then dialogue leads to progress. 

Charlotte is an amazing place to visit and to live, but it is far from perfect. Have there been police shootings in Charlotte? Yes. One was just last week. The man who was shot was black. He probably had a gun in his hand. He definitely refused to comply with police ordering him to drop the gun.  His name was Keith Lamont Scott. I’m sure you’ve seen the videos by now.  I hear the black officer who shot him is in hiding, in fear for his life. And two years ago, a young man named Jonathan Ferrell was shot and killed by a white police officer in Charlotte. He was also black, but he was unarmed. He had a car accident late at night and was banging on doors to try to get help. The officer who shot him was white. He said he feared for his life and that Jonathan Ferrell was “charging” at him, even though he was the one with the gun. (CNN)

Have police officers also died in the line of duty in Charlotte?  In just one tragic incident in April, 2007, two white police officers were shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance call in a predominantly black neighborhood. Their names were Sean Robert Clark and Jeffrey Shelton.  That rocked our city to its core. And the shooter, who was black, was convicted and sentenced to life without parole (Officer Down Memorial Page.org). But these are not the only examples of public servants giving their lives in the line of duty here in Charlotte.  We lose police officers, firefighters, and other protectors of the community just like other big cities. It happens everywhere. Everybody mourns.  

But why do I share this with you? And how are we all reacting to these situations? And what in God’s name has happened to our humanity? This past week, I’ve seen and heard and read LOTS of finger pointing and blaming and hatefulness. I’ve seen posts on Facebook that were over-the-top racist rants. I’ve seen people post about how they’re tired of Black Lives Matter, and insist that All Lives Matter, as if the Black Lives Matter movement somehow devalues the lives of people who aren’t black.  Apparently, these people don’t read. Do I wish the BLM movement had been named something like, Black Lives Also Matter, or Black Lives Matter, Too? Maybe.  But it seems that too many people are reaching down inside and pulling out that inner racist instead of reaching out or trying to understand.  And they are definitely not looking at themselves in the mirror and asking, “What can I do to make it better?” And this makes me incredibly sad.   

Confession:  I embarrass my family daily.  I smile at everyone. I speak to complete strangers. I make friends with children. I ask restaurant servers about their lives. I invite people into my home when they need a place to stay. I’m not kidding when I say sometimes my family is horrified. I teach students in a High School Equivalency program at a community college. My classroom is a rainbow. I have heard life stories that would bring you to your knees. I have students who deal with poverty, racism, abuse, rape, hunger, and more on a daily basis. And I love nothing more than to learn about them because it broadens MY knowledge. It helps me understand how “others” got to where they are and how it all relates to me. Because it does all relate to me and to all of us. The things my students share with me often make me cry. Sometimes the things they have to deal with make me angry. Sometimes they overwhelm me.  But I would not feel like a complete human being if I did not know them. As Oprah Winfrey says, “Once you know something, you can’t unknow it.” It’s there and all you can do is ask yourself, “What am I going to do about it?” 

So I am going to share one story with you--just one of many. One particular student told me of her childhood, growing up in a single parent home in an impoverished area of a big city. From the time she can remember, she was told that the police are bad and cannot be trusted.  She was taught to run and hide whenever she saw a police officer. She was taught that the police beat up people she loved, that they took people away never to be seen again, and that she should always be afraid when she saw police.  She remembers feeling this fear as a very small child, and it continued to be ingrained in her as she grew up by the adults around her. Just think about this for a moment. I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a community where police officers were admired and looked to for help. I was taught to respect them and appreciate what they do.  I was taught that if I was in trouble or scared, just find a police officer and they would help me. This is the complete opposite of how my student was raised.  If I had never heard her story, I would never be able to understand why someone would run from the police, or refuse to comply, or resist arrest. Does this make you think? Are there things that might be motivating people to protest, even to protest angrily and even violently, that maybe we don’t all understand?  Can you just consider that possibility? And remember, this is the story of just one person. How many other stories are out there that we don’t know because we never bother to ask?

So I’m asking myself and others around me, and you, to turn off the news for a while. Turn off the political ads. Get still and listen to each other. And by “each other,” I don’t mean that friend who agrees wholeheartedly with your political views, or your religious beliefs, or your family members who grew up with your same cultural background. I really mean “others.” People with whom you think you have nothing in common. People from whom you think you can’t possibly learn anything. I mean walk up to people you don’t know, who don’t look like you, and smile. Say hello. Start a conversation.  Ask them how they’re doing. You might be surprised what you find. And I’m going to be practicing my new mantra so that I can continue to stand with love. I’m going to be telling myself every day to shut up and listen because I just might learn something.  I just might be able to help someone.

And if you ever decide to come visit the great city of Charlotte, NC, there are plenty of others like me who will graciously show you around, take you to dinner, and share our beautiful, multicultural city with you. Come on out.

Sue Wood Englert is a sorority sister of mine. We found each other on Facebook a few years ago, and now that we have reconnected we have discovered we truly are “soul sisters.” We both are teachers, readers, mothers, and fellow love warriors. I love this girl!

photo courtesy of upload.wikimedia.org

photo courtesy of upload.wikimedia.org