By Caylin Viales.

A big crowd braved the heat yesterday evening to attend Charlotte Magazine’s latest #DiscussCLT event, “How a Broken System Led to Two Charlottes” at Lenny Boy Brewing Co. Moderated by Adam Rhew, associate editor of Charlotte Magazine, the discussion was focused on exploring the underlying forces behind Charlotte’s segregated neighborhoods and the growing gap between rich and poor communities.

#DiscussCLT at Lenny Boy Brewing Co. on June 15, 2017. Photo by Caylin Viales.

The panel featured the following Charlotte leaders:

  • Ann Clark, Superintendent at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS)
  • Brian Collier, Executive Vice President at Foundation For the Carolinas
  • Lawanna Mayfield, District 3 Representative at Charlotte City Council
  • Toussaint Romain, Assistant Public Defender, Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Defender’s Office

Now, this was my only second #DiscussCLT event, and after just six months in Charlotte, I don’t pretend to be an expert on the city’s long and often challenging history. But by virtue of being a bit of an urban planning and history nerd, I have already learned a lot (insert plug for Tom Hanchett’s book Sorting Out the New South City here). Plus, I have seen these two Charlottes myself in the short time I’ve lived here. This event felt like an opportunity to begin to have the tough, uncomfortable conversations needed to move the city forward and build a more unified community.

The panel began with a discussion of how we got here. “Segregation didn’t happen organically,” said Brian Collier. “It was the result of deliberate policies – and it will take deliberate actions to undo it.” The practice of redlining in the late 1930s split Charlotte in two (roughly along the same crescent pattern that exists today) and urban renewal projects in the 1960s and 70s destroyed established black neighborhoods like Brooklyn, Biddleville and McCrorey Heights.

Lawana Mayfield explained that a recent boom in population growth has ushered in a new era in the tale of two Charlottes: the rapid gentrification of central low-income and working-class neighborhoods and a city-wide affordable housing crisis. According to a recent report from the Urban Institute, Mecklenburg County ranks 79th of the 100 largest counties in the nation in availability of affordable housing.

The deep divides between rich and poor in our community are demonstrated through the state of our schools. According to Ann Clark, 77 of CMS’s 170 schools are identified as Title I schools (with significant poverty-level student populations). We should all be outraged by this concentration of poverty. So often though, she said, “the expression I hear is ‘those kids.’ Who are ‘those kids’? They are all our kids.”

The conversation quickly turned to solutions. What do we do about this? How does Charlotte move forward?

It was immediately apparent that these challenges will not be easy to solve – and they will not be alleviated through the tactics and strategies published in the Leading on Opportunity report alone. Before we can successfully implement any of those recommendations, we, as a city, need to focus on building new relationships and normalize engaging with different communities.

As Toussaint Romain reminded us last night, we already have more than 4,000 nonprofits in Charlotte, and many of them work in silos, disconnected from each other and the larger community. “Imagine,” he said, “[what would happen] if we could connect them.”

This conversation is not over – it cannot be. If you want to see more from the event and keep the conversation going, check out Next Stage’s Twitter @NextStageCLT, where we created a Moment capturing tweets, photos and reactions from last night.


Caylin Viales joined Next Stage Consulting as Associate in January 2017. Before relocating to Charlotte, Caylin worked as a Program Associate with the GreenLight Fund, a philanthropic organization with roots in the venture capital community. Over a three-year tenure, she supported the selection and launch of five high-performing national organizations in Philadelphia. Prior to GreenLight, Caylin spent six months as a fellow at the national consulting firm Frontline Solutions, working with the Philadelphia office in their efforts to enhance the impact of nonprofit and public sector programs.