Editor’s note: One year after the NAACP Minority report was released, we asked community leaders how things have changed since then. This is part one of a two-part story looking at race in Charlotte.
The Harvey B. Gantt Center isn’t taking its role in the Charlotte community lightly, especially after the 2016 protests related to the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. This brought national attention to Charlotte.
“After the social unrest in our city, we wanted to formulate a strategy that we knew wasn’t going to go away,” said Gantt Center CEO David Taylor. “We didn’t feel compelled to do a quick six-month reaction. We wanted to have a cultural strategy, an institutional strategy really, about beginning to address these issues, while also being able to stay in our lane in the arts.”
In September, the 45-year-old institution opened its “Welcome to Brookhill” photography exhibit, which follows the lives of current residents in one the city’s historically black neighborhoods on the verge of gentrification.
The museum also announced its intention to set aside a permanent space for social justice-related exhibits. In the fall, it kicked off a monthly speaker series connected to the Brookhill exhibit to talk about topics such as affordable housing and economic and social mobility.
The Gantt Center’s effort to drive the conversation about Charlotte’s underserved African-American community is just one example of how local leaders have tried to drill down on a decades-long problem.
But it’s the timing of the museum’s effort that is particularly poignant. Exactly a year ago, the NAACP released an in-depth Minority Report about the road blocks Charlotte’s African-American residents still face today. Since then, discussions over areas highlighted in that report — policing, jobs, affordable housing, education — have continued to make headlines.
Yet some, like Minister Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte chapter of the NAACP, don’t see this continued conversation as progress at all.
“I know they’re having conversations,” Mack said. “I know they’ve made promises, but I haven’t seen any tangible change yet, and that is my concern. It’s one thing to have conversation after conversation after conversation. Conversation is great. Work is better.”
On the heels of the Minority Report’s anniversary, CharlotteFive decided to take a look at the months that followed the NAACP’s findings to see what’s shaped the conversation surrounding the city’s black community since then.
The Minority Report
In February 2018, the NAACP released a Minority Report for three cities: Charlotte, St. Louis and Baltimore, all places that had been the site of civil unrest in recent years. For the Queen City specifically, the report looked at how the black community was doing after the Keith Lamont Scott shooting and subsequent protests uptown in 2016.
The NAACP identified disparities in policing and racial profiling, education, housing, economic mobility, and the success of small business. It also pointed out how segregated Charlotte still is, both in schools and neighborhoods. Suggestions for improvement in the report included police training and provisions to make housing more affordable.
In May 2018, for the first time in Mecklenburg County history, voters elected African-Americans to the offices of sheriff and district attorney, Garry McFadden and Spencer Merriweather respectively.
“I think that the idea of these new public officials that can address the tension between African-Americans and the police is a great move,” said Marvin Owens, the senior director for economic programs for the NAACP, of the election’s connection to the Minority Report. Other Charlotte positions held by African-Americans now include the mayor, city manager, fire chief, police chief and a number of city council positions.
Taylor at the Gantt Center agrees with Owens, but he said there’s a caveat: “It’s important that they not just be window dressing,” he said. “They have a responsibility to help shape the story and narrative around, by their behavior and their messaging, around equity and influencing the community.”
Arts and Action
The Harvey B. Gantt Center launched its Initiative for Equity + Innovation (IEI), a partnership with Bank of America and Hugh McColl, to create exhibits and programming that drive conversation about social issues, justice and taking action in the community in September 2018. Alongside IEI, the museum opened photography exhibit “Welcome to Brookhill” to the public. Open through September 2019, the exhibit follows the lives of current residents in Charlotte’s Brookhill neighborhood, a historically black community close to South End.
Taylor said the exhibit’s goal is to humanize issues of gentrification and affordable housing, which are hot topics both locally and nationally. “I think Charlotte is certainly open to conversation,” Taylor said. “I think Charlotte is one of those communities, like any community, I think we see ourselves as good people. Sometimes our track record doesn’t reflect that, and I think that challenge still exists for our community.”
Taylor said that although he’s seen progress during his tenure at the Gantt Center, he’s hesitant to say there’s been a sweeping change. “Is that glass ceiling still there? Does it just got a crack in it or is it really broken? My sense is it’s just got a small hole. It’s not broken even after all these years.”
Also this year, The Levine Museum of the New South decided to extend its “K(NO)W Justice K(NO)W Peace” past the original March end date. If you remember, the exhibit opened as a temporary installation after the protests in 2016. In April 2018, the museum also started hosting #ShapingCLT events in conjunction with the exhibit to teach attendees how to take civic action. Since that series started, topics have varied, touching on issues of policing and gender diversity.
Coming Wednesday: A look at affordable housing, black-owned businesses and what’s next for Charlotte.