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, masking was made optional as of March 21, 2023, and hospitality tables were resumed on the same day.
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 above 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 Belmont Center meeting room is open for networking from about 8 a.m. on the Tuesdays when the Forum meets.
A hospitality table will feature coffee weekly, plus whatever food is donated and brought in. Donations collected at the coffee table support coffee supplies and year-end Forum charity; none goes to support food brought in. Coffee Fund financial records are here. For more about food donations or to volunteer your time to keep the coffee service going, check with Facilitator Natheley McElrath.
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 stand and 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.
Forum meetings have been livestreamed since fall 2015. Initially, cameras focused on presenters to honor the privacy of individuals merely attending the meeting.When meetings shifted to the Belmont Center in 2022, Webex gear fed a livestream that routinely picked up audio of people in the room, as well as both presenters and participants’ images. For persons uncomfortable with this change, see section below.
Livestreaming of meetings
The Forum is using Webex gear at the Belmont Center to create livestreams of its in-person meetings. The livestream may be viewed by watching it on this website or where the livestream appears on Facebook and YouTube. After the meeting, the recording of the livestream is edited and posted on this website, on Facebook and on YouTube. Those watching livestreams will not be visible to Belmont Center participants and will not be able to ask questions in their own voice.
Covid-19 brought waves of change to all, including the Forum. Earlier versions of this page have been kept, and cover the following periods: in-person May 2022 to March 2023; virtual March 2021 to May 2022; (no meetings March 17,2020 until March 2021); before March 2020.