The Forum operated as below between May 10, 2022 and March 21, 2023. Our pre-pandemic ways are archived on the About Us Before Covid-19 page.
The Forum shares “information of importance to the African American community in particular and the rest of Charlotte in general.” Formed in the late 1970s, and after holding meetings at a number of places, the Forum has held in-person meetings at the City of Charlotte’s Belmont Center at 700 Parkwood Ave. since 2016. When the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered Charlotte buildings, the Forum suspended meetings in March 2020. From April 13, 2021 through May 10, 2022, meetings were held virtually on Webex. In-person meetings resumed May 24, 2022.
Sarah Stevenson helped found the Forum in the 1970s with a number of other people, including the late Jim Richardson, the late Rev. Bob Walton, and Stevenson’s longtime friend, the late Mary Brooks. In the early years, the Forum rotated through subjects, each with a regular facilitator who would be responsible for programming. Among the early facilitators were John Crawford, Anthony Hunt, Leon Miller, Kermit Waddell and Troy Watson.
Sarah Stevenson presided over meetings for decades, but involved other people in leadership, chiefly with programming speakers and facilitating meetings. Over the years, even as she depended more on others, she attended the Forum weekly, through late 2019. On Jan. 4, 2022, facilitators, shown at right, renamed the Forum in Stevenson’s honor. A health issue in summer 2020 led her to move to a nursing facility, where she gets the care she now needs. Updates on Stevenson’s heath are here.
The ground rules
Participation in Forums is a privilege sustained by agreement to stay on topic, to treat all participants with respect, and to honor facilitators’ decisions. Violators of this agreement may face immediate suspension of the privilege.
The City of Charlotte follows Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidance in operating the Belmont Center. At any time during this COVID pandemic, those rules may recommend, or require, the wearing of masks covering both nose and mouth. The Forum wants its participants to be safe, and will require that participants in the conference room wear tightly fitting masks during Forum meetings at the Belmont Center.
Any hard cap on occupancy at the Belmont Center conference room, which may vary from week to week, will be reflected in the number of chairs placed in the room each week. Participants entering the room should take an available seat immediately, wherever it is. If no seats are open, leave the room. If for any reason you are uncomfortable about being in an enclosed space with dozens of other persons, please view the Forum outside of or away from the Belmont Center via livestream, and review the section of this page headlined “Livestreaming of meetings” below.
The Belmont Center conference room is open for networking from about 8 a.m. on the Tuesdays when the Forum meets. A hospitality table of coffee and snacks – for decades a fixture of Forums – has returned on an irregular basis. To offer to bring something to share, check with Facilitator Natheley McElrath. Coffee mugs or other refreshment may also be brought into the room by participants for their own use.
Forums begin at 8:30 a.m. Most meetings will begin with a welcome by the facilitator; a prayer; a presentation; then a Q&A session. During the Q&A, the facilitator will call on people in the room who, by raising a hand earlier, signaled their interest in asking a question. At points during the meeting, the facilitator may recognize candidates for office, and/or elected officials who are in attendance.
Near the close of the Forum, facilitators often call for Announcements. During this period, participants can mention upcoming community events – which become part of the Forum’s next set of e-mailed announcements – or raise community issues they wish to bring before all participants. Details and supporting material about announced events may also be sent in at any time via e-mail. There is no charge to sponsoring organizations. “Upcoming events” focus on public policy topics of interest to Mecklenburg residents that are open to the public. Listings will include any known admission fee. Business and faith house promotions are generally not published. Sign up to receive free weekly e-mails here. An archive of announcements back to 2004 is here.
Visual privacy change
Since fall 2015, Forum meetings have been livestreamed. Cameras generallly stayed focused on presenters to honor the privacy of individuals merely attending the meeting. In the return to in-person meetings at Belmont Center in 2022, Webex gear will pick up audio of the person speaking, and video may refocus on that speaker. The set-up means that Forum participants must be advised that their image may become part of Forum livestreams in a way that was uncommon in the past. For persons uncomfortable with this change, see section below.
Livestreaming of meetings
Scores of new Forum participants were drawn to the Forum during the Covid pandemic. Some will now no doubt attend in-person. But for the many who either are not prepared to be in an enclosed space with many people, or wish anonymity, or wish the convenience of off-site viewing, the Forum will continue to livestream meetings as often as the technology allows.
The Forum will use the Webex gear at Belmont Center to create livestreams. The livestreaming produces a video file, which is edited and later posted on this website. When the Internet is working and the equipment is in order and the stars are aligned, the livestream may be viewed in real time – from anywhere on the Internet and with most any device – by watching it on this website, on Facebook or on YouTube. These three links may be reached at any time by clicking the version of the graphic above that sits on the front page of this website… or by clicking on the graphic above in this paragraph. Try it!
In transitioning back from Webex-based virtual meetings to in-person meetings, facilitators have decided to close the Webex room to participants. Exceptions may be made for out-of-town presenters. Those watching the livestream will not be visible to Belmont Center participants and will not be able to ask questions in their own voice.