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Charlotte, NC

May 15, 2007

Exploring a generational leadership gap

Tuesday's Forum discussion explored a generational leadership divide that some at the Forum suggested was hampering progress in Charlotte-Mecklenburg's African American community.

The discussion was sparked when a Forum participant asked if the controversy over dropouts at Myers Park High School might affect the outcome of the projected school bond referendum in November. One response was: "I don't feel comfortable that the organizations that should be concerned aren't concerned."

From there the discussion took several turns as young people sparred with older people over tactics for community change, as others counseled a middle path, as still others suggested that the generational divide is smaller now than 50 years ago.

In accordance with the general policy governing reporting on this Web site of comments made at the Forum by those not invited to be a speaker, there are no names or identifiers attached to these comments. Each paragraph marks a change in speaker.


"I think here, as of late, when I've come back to the city of Charlotte, there is a numbing of issues that disproportionately affect [African-Americans] and the organizations that you think ought to be frontrunners of those issues are not. And, more importantly, when an issue, whether it is county-related, school-related or city-related, the city has a machine or mechanism by which how they deal with those issues and, pretty much, an issue we feel passionately about today, 90 days from now, 120 days from now, it goes away. Meanwhile, that same issue is still affecting that particular segment of the community disproportionately, almost in like a cancer-like manner, to the point that it kills and it weeds and it dies things off. And so when you look up, a year, two years from now, you wonder where all your small businesses have gone, you can look and find city policy that was affected three years ago."


"The people who say I wish the organizations would get involved, I wish the people saying that the organizations should get involved would come and help me. Treat me like I'm an organization. I've been out there every day for a long time. When I walked the streets in '05 [to oppose the school bonds] everybody deserted me but my wife. Me and my wife put out all of those signs. We put out thousands of flyers all over this city.... I wish everybody who says the organizations are not doing would say, I am going to do it.... Go out there and do what you are asking organizations to do. And then we might have an organization. At least we'd have two."


That's the number of children enrolled in Mecklenburg public schools who were homeless on last Thursday, May 10, 2007, Betty Chisholm reported. As recently
as 2001, there were
only about 500 homeless children on
the equivalent day of
the annual census.

"I think what is happening is not just organizations. I think what is happening is that the people that were the ones that got outraged and got people talking are aging, and I think that is the problem. All the organizations that I belong to are older people. I do belong to the Women's Commission, which was an older group but now has a lot of younger people, and I'm there trying to keep them focused in one direction, when I find that the young ones are going in a more, if you will, corporate approach to women's issues. They're not really into the grassroots, what's wrong happening in Mecklenburg County. They're more into, let's try to network in a corporate way. So I've found in the organizations I'm involved in, if it's not an older group, their focus is going to be different, and they're not into the outrage and protest. I think what's happening is, for whatever reasons, we either did not train them, or they're just not focused on the same things we were focused on. And the older ones are just getting tired. They just can't keep doing it."


"I think that there is a disconnect between the old and the new. The old have a way of doing things that was successful. And not to negate that, but I think a generation such as mine has a different way. We are more Internet-savvy. We think we can get a lot more things done via Internet versus going knocking door to door or putting up yard signs. So I think if the older, mature leadership would embrace and respect the young, and the young would do the same for our older generation, and then keep in mind what the ultimate goal is. I think you can have two different approaches but reach toward the same goal. But unfortunately there is a disconnect there, and nothing in my opinion of any real significance is getting done. If you take a look at the resources, if we all united around that one particular issue."


"In 20 years or 30 years, when you become an older person, will you have the same network of people, that you'll be sitting around with at the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, talking about all the things that y'all had done? Do you feel you have that same network of peope that the older people have?"


"No. That's the reason I come here [to the Forum], so i can listen and I can learn how you did it. And then what try to do is take from the old, and mix it in with the new. But again, my ultimate thing is to have positive, effective change. I don't care how you do it. Let's just get it done. But unfortunately -- this is just my opinion -- I don't think you'll ever find unity among the people anymore. I think you'll find unity around issues. And I think we're so focused and concentrated on who's in the room, versus dealing with the issue itself and trying to rally around that particular issue. I think, in my opinion, our older African American leaders are stuck in a time and a movement that has passed them by. Meanwhile issues that affect our community are still ravaging our community, and we have not embraced the entire community around that one particular issue."


"What I'm saying is there should be another 30 or 50 of you. And if you want to do it through the Internet or any other way you want to do it, fine. But it should be being communicated out into the community that there's something wrong at Myers Park, and we need to be saying something about it. I don't care how you do it, but no one is doing it. The older people are just tired."


"We've lost that as a community. Because my kids don't go to Myers Park, it doesn't affect me. But there was a time that if it affected your child then it affected me. I don't know where that movement, that love, that respect, that passion has gone. I personally think it has something to do with desegregation, to be perfectly honest with you. So that's why I say it's more of an issues issue. So if you can't get the white parents of Myers Park to rally around that particular issue of those kids getting kicked out of that school unfairly, you can forget it, because you're not going to find the parents on the west side of town who are going to be interested in that Myers Park issue. It's just not going to happen anymore...."


"I kind of fit between the two. I like the balance, because there is a lot to pull from those who've done it before them. And yet, those whipper-snapper, Internet-savvy out there? They're energized. I like that energy. And you know there is just so much that we could bring together with the two of them, and there is that disconnect. Yes, there are times you've got to knock on the door. You've got to give a face-to-face. That's kind of like when it comes to public relations: If you want certain people to know certain things, you'd better talk about it in the barbershop, beauty shop, face to face. You know what' I'm saying? And there are other times that, hey, send it everybody on your e-mail, that's going to be more effective. But I think there's got to be a balance of the two because they both work..."


"There is a large preponderance of newbies like me who now live in Charlotte. And they come, they flood in every month. And they don't know Myers Park from a hole in the ground. They don't know the history of your city. They don't know the struggles you guys have been through. They don't know what it cost you to get where you are.... They didn't come to the Tuesday Morning Breakfast to learn all the things that I've heard since I've been here. And they don't know. So it does not bother them that there is a problem at Myers Park, or that West Charlotte is having issues. All they know is their child's school, which they found out by chance where that school was when they rented their apartment or bought their home, that they have enrolled their child, that there may be problems there. And they're struggling with the issues that their child is having, at the three schools where their children are being bused to, and they aren't close together and they're discovering what the logistics are of getting their children back to some central location after school every day. They don't know. And there is a problem with trying to teach new people how to become connected, how to become informed, and how to become a part of of this community."


"But wasn't there a saying, 'An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere'? That's the essence of what I was trying to say of us as a people and us as a community. We no longer feel that sense of obligation to an injustice in any part of town. Regardless of where it is, it's an injustice, and I don't think we have that rallying cry like we used to. We have little pockets that try to go put out major fires, when the reality is we need to be locking arm-in-arm in addressing these issues and tackling them. I'd like the community to rally around just one issue. I don't care what that issue is. But we can never seem tackle an issue as a community to deal with that issue. And it's really unfortunate. And that's what I tried to do dealing with these small organizations: I know everybody has their own purpose and mission statement. That seems to be a challenge for me. But let's deal with education for an entire year as a community. We know we've got crime and unemployment. How do we do that? I haven't figured it out yet."


"I agree with you about the saying. But those of us who are old enough to remember the saying, we commit to that, we found a way to find organizations like this and the Black Women's Caucus and other groups that are of importance to us that can connect us to the community as soon as possible. For younger people whose directive was to find the corporate world and become connected there, they didn't look at this as the initial point of contact. They may eventually drill down to this, they may. But their initial point was to become connected someplace else.... For those of us who are here, it is our job in our positions to reach out to them and say, we are here, and we'd like to have you come and be part of us. We invite you to be part of our organization. These are the things that I am involved in.... That's how I got here. Somebody told me about it."


"I like the idea of people getting involved. But be reminded that when we started the movement, there wasn't a starting point, you know, most of the time, there were folks who said, 'you young folk need to go somewhere and sit down and stop rocking the boat. When SNCC and the SDS [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Students for a Democratic Society] were created, there were members of the NAACP who said, 'y'all need to quit aggravating people.' When we were growing up in Charlotte, there were 100,000 people in this community and 25 to 30% of them were African Americans and so you're talking about a community that was exponentially smaller than it is now in terms of people, and it was truly a segregated community where everybody lived together. You lived in Greenville and Biddleville and Griertown, not Grier Heights, Cherry and First Ward and Third Ward, that was pretty much it. And then later on they added Brookhill and Southside. Am I making sense? There were isolated communities out in the community, but Charlotte was shrunk. When West Charlotte High School was built, the city limits was at Senior Drive. The city got a special dispensation from the county to annex West Charlotte. When I started Northwest, the city limits was at LaSalle Street. So what we're talking about is an exponential growth over the last 30 years and our folks have become scattered. Our folks live everywhere. Even though communications are easier, we still are a traveled people.... And I think that's part of what creates the lack of cohesiveness. But I want to say this: There are more people involved today, and I would suggest at a higher level, I don't mean just in terms of numbers, in terms of percentages, involved in issues of community than there was when I was a kid. At least... there is not the rancor from the establishment, the established black folks, who say you ought to go somewhere and sit down.... At least that is not being said today."





The Forum welcomes all persons to its meetings beginning at 8 a.m. most Tuesdays of the year
at the West Charlotte Recreation Center, 2222 Kendall Drive, Charlotte, NC
down the hill from West Charlotte High School.