May 17, 2020
To the Forum:
I have decided that my future with the Forum will need to be digital-only until there is a COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 or whenever. What I think that will look like is that I will continue to do the Announcements, continue to update and pay for the Forum website and e-mailing service, and continue to explore digital methods for continuing the conversation on public affairs in the tradition that the Forum has pioneered. More about those digital efforts in a moment.
Like some of you, I am on the COVID list of vulnerable senior citizens, due to underlying health conditions. In my case, the chemo that whacked a cancer in 2005 also zinged most of the bone cells that create antibodies that battle germs and, um, viruses. I joke – but with reason – that if I meet Mister Covid on the road, I am a dead man. Because of my personal history, I will not be attending the Forum if it begins meeting anytime soon, because the risks of being in a meeting open to the public are simply too high for me. I know they are too high for many of you, as well.
When the Forum resumes large meetings, I know that much will have changed. Surely one of the first changes will be to eliminate the open coffee service, where everyone helped themselves and touched hard surfaces without a thought. There will be no passing of wireless microphones for the same reason. It was an eerie feeling Friday morning being in the huge Forum meeting room, with the tables and chairs set up for a maximum of 10 meeting participants. The only meetings held there since March apparently have been occasional city staff meetings; the doors are locked, and signs outside read that the building is closed.
My errand Friday was to remove from the Belmont Center all coffee-making and electronic equipment used during the pre-COVID Forum. What follows here will be more information than most of you need, but I want to be clear that there are two pieces to that decision.
(1). I paid for all the equipment, and I have always happily shouldered the legal liability for its use that such ownership entails. But if I am not to be physically present at any future meetings, then I would not want to shoulder that legal liability.
(2). The consumables – coffee, creamer, sugar, cups, etc. – were purchased using the free-will donations collected at the coffee table. Those consumables, particularly the unused coffee, are getting stale. To close out the coffee service, I have rebated to the Coffee Fund the retail value of all the leftover consumables. With that done, I closed the books on the Coffee Fund. All the details are here. The final Coffee Fund balance, $370.95, will be available to Forum facilitators when they decide how to proceed.
Many of us have had experiences during this stay-at-home period with online meetings. Some young people have been off at what Barack Obama recently called Zoom University. I have been genuinely appalled at how awful such meetings can be. To capture the depth, civility and focus of meetings in the Forum tradition, I have gravitated toward formats more like Tavis Smiley or Charlie Rose. I use those names only to identify the concept; I am well aware that both men were booted from their exalted perches because of charges of harassment or abuse of women.
Since last year I have been working on the production end of such a format. At the moment, that work is proceeding under a different “brand” because it will not be my decision to graft such an online format on to the Forum’s legacy by using the Forum name. Besides, I am still looking for what I believe is the key ingredient: the young, extroverted African-American female with deep understanding of and roots in Charlotte’s African-American community, eagerness to do lots of pro-bono homework, and the many hours that such a leadership role would take. That’s a long list, but it is precisely the magic that Sarah Stevenson brought to the Forum in the 1970s and kept at and kept at and kept at and…. Nominations would be welcomed at my e-mail address below.
Should I inadvertently meet Mister Covid on the road, I want all of you to know that my direct association with the Forum since 2002 has been been one of the honors of my life. Barring such a meeting on the road, I look forward to continuing to serve. As I step aside from some of my previous roles, however, I hope other people will step forward. I am particularly hopeful that the young people who could build on the Forum legacy and reshape it to their needs will seize the opportunity to serve. Those interested in exploring those opportunities further should e-mail Laura McClettie.
All good wishes, and keep those Announcements coming!