"My Heart is Breaking"

My heart has been breaking. Yes, moving home has been tremendous fun spending more time with family, reconnecting with friends, and starting work at a wonderful church filled with great people. The problem is that while away I seem to have glorified the city of Charlotte in my memory with only childhood experiences from which to draw. Over the last 32 years, I have lived in Davidson, Richmond, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta as I circled the southern Appalachian Mountains trying to get back here. Each of those places had things that made them great and had lots of good people. Still, none could live up to Charlotte, my image of the perfect city. 

It was not long after getting back here that I started hearing over and over about how Charlotte placed 50th out of the 50 largest US cities in the prospects of upward economic mobility. (Seriously? We couldn’t beat Atlanta? Come on!) Simultaneously, I was becoming aware that I felt like I was now experiencing the most racially segregated city in which I had ever lived. Perhaps this is because I had just moved from a more cosmopolitan Atlanta. I suspect the real reason is not that I was comparing life in Charlotte to life in Atlanta, but comparing my new life in Charlotte with my former one that included being a student at West Charlotte High School. 

It was probably the most important 3 years of my life and definitely the most important parenting decision my folks ever made. I learned that all the world does not look like Eastover. I learned that some people have to struggle with things with which I did not have to deal. I learned that diversity is something to be proud of because it is a sign of a healthy community. Diversity is a valuable precondition for growth whether we are talking about investment portfolios, ecological systems, or upward mobility within a community or of a whole city. 

Of course, I knew then that things were not perfect, but my experience at WC led me to believe that Charlotte would close in on getting it right first. I have heard the same thing from other peers who went to other high schools around the same time. As a teenager, I was incredibly proud of my city because of the school it gave me. Now, coming home hurts a little. 

It is unfathomable to me that the thing I regard as the most valuable factor in my life education would be dismantled without being replaced with something else that was even better. I think it should have been envied by those other 49 cities. But while I believe busing was absolutely the right thing for Charlotte to do at the time and that we would be in a very different place on that list of 50 if it had continued, the problem we have with race and with economic stratification needs a deeper solution. Schools were a great place to start, but they are not the only places and institutions that need to be desegregated. I don’t have the answer, but I’m thinking. I also am encouraged to have heard so many people talking about the problem with a desire to do something and to have met so many people who are working hard at it—though efforts seem poorly coordinated. I am still trying to find the right place for me to step into the conversation and the labor. I hope you have found yours. I will take any suggestions. 

The WC yearbook page, from which the above photo of the ’82-’83 JV boys’ basketball team was scanned, had as a then painful caption, “Winning Isn’t Everything.” 11-9 didn’t cut it on the court at WC. But the truth is that winning wasn’t everything. Being together on the same team was. 

I’ve got more to say, but I’ve got more to learn first. 
It is good to be home and God is good—but we can be better than we are.


Comments

  1. I like your words and agree with your thoughts. We all need to step up to be a part of the conversation.

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  2. Yes, we can be better! This city is more segregated than ever! We are pushing the middle class right out of here. I have met with people living in neighborhoods near uptown. I've eaten with them, been in their homes, heard their stories. They are people, like us, with the same problems, heartbreaks, joys. They are heartbroken that their neighborhoods are being destroyed.Homes with big price tags are now there. Their sense of community is surely shattered. Charlotte seems to want to sweep away these folks. Most of these families are Black, and Charlotte would like to see them all out of sight. These communities have been around many, many years.
    There must be a way to reach out more directly with other parts of our community.
    Maybe we should ask ourselves-is there a more direct way to reach out ? Making sandwiches for the homeless is nice, serving food to those at the shelter is nice, but it's something you can walk away from when you're done and forget about until next week or next month.
    There has got to be a way to get more directly involved in the "reaching out to the other side" process. Have we, as a church, really made an effort to desegregate?
    What I hear is that we are in a white area, so only white folks will come here. Really? There is a church a half mile away that has a large Black and Hispanic population. A church in a very "white" area. What are they doing differently?

    Before we can move ahead in a more positive direction , we have to stop being so complacent. We have to really care. We have to WANT to do something. I don't have the answers, but I'm on board for reaching out and doing much more. Let's shake things up!! Suggestions???

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  3. Joe B....I grew up in Mt. Hope, WV where we integrated beginning in my 5th grade. We were a small town with great students and famous athletes. We just lost our music instructor, Eunice Fleming, at the young age of 96. She was a black Angel. Yes, all angels are not White. We did not see color....we viewed people as all of God's children. We had no racial problems at Marshall University. In fact ,the first time I witnessed racial unrest was when I served in SE Asia during my Army days (1970-73). I saw a changing of America during the 8 years of President Obama's time in office. I saw an America that returned to the 60s and racial conflict. I support Jesus is weeping at Charlotte and other cities. So you played at WC under Coach McCollaugh?

    Gary Sweeney

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  4. Joe B. How true and concerning. You are exposing the biggest problem in our city and nation. We all need to look for answers but while doing so act in whatever ways we can.

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  5. I was sent this link from my dad as he knows I am pretty passionate about this. I attend a church that meets on Freedom drive - but, went to Sardis as a youth. Thank you for sharing your heart.
    Couple of things I wanted to share that have been very encouraging to me & wanted to pass along:

    FOR CHARLOTTE is doing amazing things - here is their link:
    https://forcharlotte.org/

    "Our story was birthed out of a shared burden of many pastors in our city. Tired of the deep division, competition and territorialism we saw in Charlotte’s church culture, we began to pray about what God might do if we reframed the way the church in our city approached missional engagement. Instead of competing with each other for people and resources, we asked the question; What if we worked together to seek the good of our city? This began a process of praying, building relationships and trust, and learning how this vision could be realized in Charlotte. And over the next few years of countless meetings (along with countless cups of coffee), the idea that was For Charlotte, became a reality.

    Also, wanted to share with you the research that was done by them in "State of the City" reports. Once again, very eye opening - if you haven't seen it. Here is the PDF.

    https://forcharlotte.org/state-of-the-city/

    Blessings & may your heart continue to be moved to action.

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  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this. A native, I left Charlotte in 2001, lived in Atlanta for 12 years, and then NYC for 5 years. I recently relocated back to my hometown of Charlotte and I feel alienated. The segregation and inequality is so much more conspicuous than I remember. My values seem so out of sync with what I see and hear. I'm already planning to leave again at the nearest opportunity. This cannot be my home.

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