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A ride down MLK provides peek into city's racial psyche

The street of dreams

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A drive along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will get you through parts of Uptown easily, offering a view straight out of a tourism guide. But chances are you've never realized the street, which was renamed in 2007 from Second Street to honor the civil rights icon, provides a coincidental journey and look into the city's cultural psyche and African-American heritage.

MLK Boulevard begins on one end at the intersection of McDowell Street, in the vicinity of Marshall Park, a five-and-a-half acre public park with a small lake and amphitheater, and where a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. has stood for decades. Heading west, the next landmark is the NASCAR Hall of Fame building, which honors the national motorsport that has deep roots in the Charlotte area. And while it doesn't have a strong history of diversity, the league is inducting the late Wendell Scott, the first African American to race full-time in NASCAR's top series, into its Hall of Fame class next year.

Continuing along, there's the light rail track, Charlotte Convention Center and a couple of office towers that are home to Wells Fargo executives. Crossing College Street puts you in close proximity to the Levine Center for the Arts, where the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art sits prominently, and to the left, facing Tryon Street within the same block, is the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, named after the city's first black mayor.

Approaching Church Street stands the audacious Romare Bearden Park, which opened in 2013 in honor of the legendary African-American artist and Charlotte native. A short distance later, MLK Boulevard dead-ends, just past the Charlotte Knights minor league baseball stadium.

Clearly, the street that Charlotte named after Dr. King is a prominent and idyllic one, and has only become more so since the decision to rename it. It breaks the narrative of most MLK streets around the country, which tend to be relegated to "the hood," or impoverished areas (such as in Houston, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and many others).

Because this is Charlotte, where everything is great, everyone thrives, and we all get along.

But do we really?

Next week, I have a story running in CL discussing a topic most of us don't like to talk about: race. I've written a rather extensive piece, with interviews and research from prominent people and sources, and it's from what I know: the black perspective in Charlotte.

I've written hundreds of articles in the past decade, but rarely have I written about race, either because I didn't want to seem like a black journalist playing the race card, or because I was concerned about alienating my peers.

Well, I started noticing something about Charlotte in recent years. It's a beautiful, fast-growing city and I love living here, but we are very segregated.

I remember attending a dialogue session a few years ago, one of several the Levine Museum of the New South facilitated in conjunction with one of its exhibits. The dialogues were between African Americans and Latinos, and we were grouped based on our careers or other affiliations. So the session I participated in held a roomful of African-American and Latino journalists. I think I knew all of the black journalists prior to this event, and I knew two or three of the Latino ones as well.

The session was open and honest, as we discussed race, stereotypes, discrimination and the effects those things have on important areas such as education and the community. At one point, as I've been known to do, I made a joke. I asked one guy who's worked in local Spanish-language media for several years why he didn't come to my birthday party. The room erupted in laughter because it was following a serious discussion on how we're so segregated in Charlotte.

Jokes aside, though, this journalist and I have known each other professionally for several years, run into each other at business-related events numerous times, always exchanging pleasantries, but we've never "hung out."

Unfortunately, that's how it is in Charlotte, especially between blacks and whites. We work together at these corporations where diversity and inclusion are often important objectives — including the companies who've funded some of the African-American monuments I mentioned. But after 5 p.m., we mostly go back to our separate-but-equal lives. Personally, I've made some improvements in this area, but I can still do better. I bet most of you will agree you can too.

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