I’m not a Charlotte native. You don’t need to tell me that you are.

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I’m not from Charlotte. I’m reminded of that nearly once a week, when someone declares, “I’m a native Charlottean” at a community meeting. After eight years, these words define my time in this city and sum up my complicated feelings about Charlotte. These feelings run the gamut from grateful (for amazing people) to frustrated (because of unrealized opportunities) to isolated (because it still doesn’t feel like home).

The first time I heard these words, I was working on a political campaign. People walked into our campaign office constantly to express their skepticism of a team of outsiders. They questioned whether we could win a local election. I heard them again when I proposed a business idea. It wasn’t the “Charlotte way.” Most recently, I heard them at a meeting about how to advance upward mobility. I’ve heard these words at business meetings and house parties. I’ve heard them from social justice activists and investment bankers alike. It is the single ubiquitous idea I’ve uncovered in eight years of exploring the city of Charlotte.

I’ve always found this sentiment to be curious. I want to know why it’s part of an introduction and not an explanation. I want to know if the speaker chose to stay or lacked the opportunity to leave. I want to know if hometown pride includes ownership of the problems seemingly calcified in a system of inequity.

“I’m a native Charlottean.” It’s only four words, but they create so much distance, intentionally drawing invisible lines in a city where visible lines are already problematic. Sometimes, they are offered as a tactic to lift up perspectives of people who have a history here above the perspectives of people who want a future here. These words are often heavy with a sense of nostalgia for a simpler time, not when problems didn’t exist, but when there weren’t so many channels to expose them. And, in my opinion, these four words hold us back.

Personally, when I hear these words, I feel unwelcome. I am reminded of my outsider status. I want to be respectful of history and context and as a result, take longer to offer my ideas. I spend time figuring out how to present solutions in the “Charlotte way.” A few times a month, I think about whether I belong here. And, I’m not alone.

Last week, I attended a meeting of young civic leaders. As part of our introductions, we were asked whether we considered Charlotte “home.” Only one person out of ten said yes, and yet, collectively, we had contributed so much to making Charlotte a great place.

Around a single table were people involved with alleviating homelessness, improving public education, catalyzing entrepreneurship, transforming criminal justice, elevating local politics, developing mentorship and leadership and building community. Professionally, we represented real estate, law, public service, higher education, nonprofit, banking, and tech. And yet, we were hesitant, almost reluctant, to claim Charlotte as our home.

The city needs its talent to stay. We bring our families. We build companies. We move here for jobs, but we stay for the communities we create. And, our outsider perspective is critical to the future of Charlotte. In a world of options, we chose Charlotte. We see something that is harder to see when you’re close: potential.

As outsiders, we bring different experiences, resources, and social networks to bear and serve as ambassadors for this city to our friends and families back home. We are unable to own much of Charlotte’s history, and as such, feel less sentimental about making necessary improvements.

The truth is, not everyone is comfortable in Charlotte. And, not everyone who can afford to be comfortable is comfortable being blind to the way things have always been. There’s something painfully universal about the problems that we face in Charlotte today – social injustice, educational inequity, poverty, political division, homelessness, hunger – the list goes on and on.

Each day, 100 people move to Charlotte. We should embrace and engage them quickly. When everyone who lives here feels a sense of ownership of the problems and believes they are responsible for the solutions, we will be closer to building a city we can all call home. Let’s move beyond where we are from, so we can all get to where we want to be.

We don’t need to be native Charlotteans to want a better future, but we do need to be Charlotteans to help create it.

Photo: John D. Simmons/Charlotte Observer

This story originally ran at CharlotteObserver.com.

17 COMMENTS

  1. The only thing “Banktown hell on earth” has to offer is monetary gain. Culturally, its empty, nothing more or less. In Charlotte you climb the corporate ladder, drink till you puke and then f**k. Thats it

  2. If you feel unwelcome, why would you want a future in Charlotte of all places. Its a big world out there and Banktown is not the center of the fucking universe as some would have you to believe.

  3. Oh yeah, why do you WANT a future in Charlotte if you have so many issues with it and fill like an outsider? I bet your to gutless to answer that.

  4. Nothing makes a Charlotte native more angrier is to hear someone from another city tell us how bad Charlotte is. If it’s that bad then move on to another city. One that doesn’t have the problems you speak of. If you can find one. I wonder why 100 people a day move here, so they can complain?

  5. Why do we need to call it home to create Change? Why is it so necessary to identify with something that personally I’m not and will never be. I work in the community every day. I’m not from here and if there is an opinion around that, I’m not going to feed into its stigma and create a monster out of something. I am an outsider from up north and very ok with that. I know my value and what I have to offer. It takes people from all over and from all walks to create beautiful and impactful change. I meet the Charlotte “natives” all the time and they appreciate grassroot movements that strive to repurpose what has been trumped on (no pun intended). The way I look at it, is if I’m in a problem, sitting right in the center of it, & over analyzing it to death then I’m probably not going to find a very healthy solution. If I step out, remove myself, and assess it from an objective place, I’m more likely going to bring something to the table to make a difference. As a person who is currently working with underserved populations and navigating the painful terrain, I find myself at an advantage. I’m not tied to any history here or circle of politics. But I listen, I speak to so many who are. They are my mentors and I respect their experience and insight. The history is so important & strategically I can offer a fresh perspective by listening and keeping an open mind.
    Who cares where I am from or how long I have lived here? The ones that do fear change and fear what they do not understand. I will learn from the history of our past, I won’t stay stuck in it.

  6. Why do I have to feel guilty sharing I am a Charlotte Native? Please!!! If you are so positive and fast forward, do your magic and make a difference!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. A big clue. Not one problem in this entire world has ever been solved from sitting around a table. And, the “problems” you define are really just a repackaged liberal agenda. No wonder you are being rejected.

  8. What a huge load of nothing. I’m a Charlotte native, and I’ve moved away and back and away and back 1,000 times. Not once have I ever cared one whit whether anyone was from Charlotte or not. In fact, the ones who aren’t from Charlotte are more interesting to me personally because I can ask them about where they’re from and learn something new.

    I can’t even think of any native Charlotteans who look down on non-natives. Not a single one. I mean, why would we? We’re not that impressed with ourselves, believe me.

    If you’re just searching for a grievance to hang on your Grievance Tree, Amy, certainly you can come up with something better than this.

  9. It’s bad enough the Charlotte Observer featured this fluff article, that is better suited for Charlotte Agenda, but now it shows up in C5 the next day. I would have thought after all of the negative comments on the Observer post this would not be shown again. Even if people proudly tell you where they are from, which I highly doubt is happening to the extent mentioned, what is so horrible about being proud of your hometown? If your goal is to not report/write anything worthwhile and lose subscribers/readers this is a great start.

  10. I think it takes a while to call a place home. I moved to Charlotte about 20 years ago and when I had been here for 10 years, it was when I started calling it home. Calling it home, letting it feel like home meant that where I grew up no longer felt like home. It had nothing to do with native Charlotteans and everything to do with embracing Charlotte and letting go of where I grew up. I got used to Charlotte, where I grew up changed, and BOOM. Charlotte became home.
    It takes a while to embrace new places sometimes. But that’s not the fault of the people who live in a place… native Charlotteans seem to do a good job of embracing newcomers (even as they change their city). No cities do a great job of embracing and conquering their issues. Most places do seem a little (lot) head in the sand about issues until it’s a crisis.
    If you feel rejected and unwelcome. maybe step back from trying to change the place, and take a minute to learn to enjoy and value what we have to offer today. If you can’t do that, it is never going to be your place. No place can be everything and perfect for everyone.

  11. I wasn’t born here either but make no mistake. Charlotte is my Home! I’m sorry you aren’t open to making it yours. I have lived away but couldn’t wait to get back.
    There have been a lot of negative comments about my City. I find them sad. If you aren’t happy with what this city has to offer, you really should find the place that calls to you and go home.

  12. I moved here two years ago from Myrtle Beach
    For a great nurse case manager job The job is great . the place ? Very pretentious very young
    Very married ( not recommended for a fun 50 something single female ) ratio of women to men about 12 to 1 each with an average of $25,000 and plastic surgery
    Not The southern hospitality feel .relocating back to Myrtle Beach with the same company and it cannot happen fast enough three more weeks !

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