A few weeks ago, Caylin and I had the opportunity to serve as facilitators for a Kinship Summit organized by SHARE Charlotte on behalf of the Reemprise Fund. Charlie Elberson, his wife Lou Kinard and more than 50 leaders in community development got together to discuss the concept of kinship. Suggested by Father Gregory Boyle, founder of HomeBoy Industries, kinship is the state of being intimately connected to other people — of loving them and being unconditionally loyal to them.

In a town that bandies around the term “social capital” with reckless abandon, Charlie and Lou are interested in better understanding how kinship plays a role in building the bridges and bonds that make resource linking across difference possible. It was an incredible morning and words don’t really do it justice so I won’t try.

The setting for the summit was the Grier Heights Community Center, the former historic Billingsville school that reopened as a community center in 2015. It was a place I had been before but never with my eyes opened quite so widely.

The walls outside the main meeting rooms (which were once classrooms) are lined with photos of individuals from the Grier Heights community who had made a meaningful impact on the people there. My eye was drawn to Kathleen Ross Crosby, with the following inscription:

“In 1971 when desegregation created tensions at Billingsville, an elementary school on the edge of all-black Grier town and all white Cotswold, she was made its principal. Advocating child-centered programs and generous doses of praise, she gradually created a relaxed integrated school,” declared Jack Claiborne, Associate Editor of the Charlotte Observer in an article written about Mrs. Crosby’s accomplishments featured in the newspaper on Saturday, July 2, 1977.

Mr. Claiborne, further stated, “Her work was not unnoticed. The B’nai B’rth women gave her a human relations award. The NAACP elected her to its Hall of Fame. WBTV made her its ‘Woman of the Year’ and Johnson C. Smith University named her ‘Alumnus of the Year’.”

Mrs. Crosby’s outstanding leadership abilities are indicative of the high-quality educators who have worked in the Grier Heights Community.

I found this amazing video of Mrs. Crosby on the The History Makers website, the nation’s largest African American video oral history collection. The video starts mid-story as she is talking about a special meeting of the Board of Education for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, convened apparently because she had sought to transfer a popular teacher who was under-performing. As she tells the story about how she had earned the respect of the school board (all white men), and that they backed her decision in the face of an angry mob of “rich parents,” I can’t help but think about how kinship-forming played a role that day and throughout Mrs. Crosby’s career. Give it a watch if you have a few minutes to spare – it is also clear she was a hoot in her day!

February is Black History Month. Our trip to the Grier Heights Community Center reminds me that while we all might feel a tremendous sense of urgency to make Charlotte the best it can be, we are standing on the shoulders of giants like Mrs. Crosby. Feeling tremendous gratitude for her great work. Though she passed away in 2012, her spirit lives on.