A few weeks ago (June 26 to be exact), I attended the debut Uptown Jazz Festival at the N.C. Music Factory — and, I'm happy to say, it was a great experience. The venue was lovely, the weather was great, and the performances were entertaining. The event brought big-name jazz artists (like Mike Phillips, Maysa, Norman Brown and The Rippingtons) — some who hadn't played here in years — to town and treated the audience to an event that's never been seen in the city. As I sat at the festival, enjoying the music, I thought to myself: "This is the first time that Charlotte has delivered."
I moved here from Los Angeles almost 10 years ago, and I remember the hype surrounding Charlotte. The Queen City was supposed to be the next Atlanta -- a black "Mecca" with tremendous amounts of cultural and political clout and ambitious people from all over the world. I came here for a job, so I wasn't too worried about the hype; having lived in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and abroad, I had all of the hype that I needed. I had lived in fabulous cities, enjoyed the energy, the people and already knew -- even at that young age -- if you know who you are, it doesn't matter where you go.
I had also learned by that age to take each city for what it is. Each city, town or hub has its own identity and you have to embrace it or go crazy comparing it to other places. I noticed here that Charlotte had a lot of transplants who were constantly comparing the city to other places, particularly Atlanta. I remember thinking: "Why would anyone want to be like Atlanta?" Go live there if it's all that. It's a straight shot. It wasn't like pining for Sydney, Australia, or San Francisco or something, where it would take more than a notion to get there.
On the other hand, I found that if people weren't comparing Charlotte to other places, then they had an elevated sense of the city; this came mostly from people who lived here for a substantial amount of time. At the time I thought: "What are these folks smoking? You just got skyscrapers." People would say that Charlotte is progressive, and I would be like, "Relative to what -- Winston--Salem?" As someone born and raised in Virginia, what I'd consider a conservative state, I hadn't seen anything but conservatism in Charlotte. Even my hometown of Richmond has a dynamic, active and empowered progressive community that I did not see here at that time. I honestly didn't know what people were talking about and felt like a fish out of water most of the time.
Having lived here for almost a decade, I'm now thinking, perhaps native Charlotteans could always see and imagine what outsiders like myself could not -- a major city with all of the trappings of big city life, but with Southern charm and mad curb appeal.
Until just recently, I still didn't totally believe the "hype" about Charlotte, but I began to see the possibilities and truly embrace the city for what it is. My mother always says that change is a process. I became involved in civic organizations, learning more about the city and what it had to offer. I watched as Charlotte grew and changed with the influx of diverse groups of people -- racially, socioeconomically and geographically. I also watched residents change and want more and do more for the city.
The election of Mayor Anthony Foxx represents this change on a political level, which includes merging the old with the new. Foxx is a native Charlottean who lived elsewhere and has come home to create the change that he wants to see in his city. He has taken those outside experiences and brought them here to the city.
Charlotte is leading the state of North Carolina in more ways than one -- not just becoming a town that looks like a major metropolis, but a city that acts like one. I love going Uptown and seeing people because I remember living in Uptown when I first got here and seeing no one on the streets except people stumbling away from bars in the middle of the night. While I disagree with some of the additions to Uptown, I understand what the city planners are trying to do -- make our city a place where you want to play and stay.
People in positions of power in the Q.C. come from all walks of life -- women, African-Americans, ivy-leaguers, state-educated folks, married, single, Latino, Asian, East Asian, rich, poor, middle-class, hood-rich, hillbillies; you name it and Charlotte's got it, which leads me back to the Uptown Jazz Festival.
Perhaps it wasn't the first time that Charlotte has delivered, but it was the first time for me that I didn't feel like an outsider. I felt like this was an event that reflected who I am ... and where I'm trying to go. No drama, no thugging, no racism, no cliques -- just folks being themselves, enjoying the music and enjoying the moment.