Columns » Thank Me Later

How will we define leadership in Charlotte following the Charlotte Uprising?

When the smoke clears


I wasn't in Charlotte in late September, when the protests began. Like so many whose op-eds made the next day's news — and the next day, and the day after that — I could only offer words, tweets, opinions and prayers to help give an ailing city some semblance of solidarity.

The dissent and turmoil spilling out through my Facebook news feed made the safety of home elusive. When I arrived back from my travels, I stood in the middle of a rally recording the words, the tears, the signs and the discomfort of my neighbors asking to be seen. Considered. Valued. Respected.

Our shared weight with the very same communities we once watched across news channels and hashtags from the comfort of our everyday lives came to the forefront when it was our turn to account for the consequences of what it means to wear black skin in America.

Endeavoring to not speak for the experiences of every black American, I do confess that when a man, a father, a husband like Keith Lamont Scott is murdered, his death becomes political ammunition for widening our understanding of how the other half lives.

We turned our attention to the academics, the politicians and the street leaders to help guide us out of the chaos. We read Dr. Cornel West and Michelle Alexander to help craft our language and establish talking points. We spit vitriol at online commenters refusing to allow our pain and agony to smear itself against the backdrop of an injustice steeped in the systemic dysfunction of race-led policies and cancerous ideologies.

Without question, the public bending of Charlotte's knees at the feet of its oppressed and vulnerable populations has awakened listening ears in a very real way, coupling emotions with the inevitable discussions that lend themselves to opinion-slinging at the hands of strangers and friends and outsiders compelled to share their "Here's what's wrong with Charlotte" thoughts ad nauseum.

Our public grappling with segregation, disinvestment, gentrification, homophobia and sound-proof good ol' boy networks has given us up, forcing us to look directly in the mirror at the less-than-polished, top city-making, New-South-singing farce that blocks us from progressing beyond a dope skyline, wealthy suburbs and coveted corporate jobs for a select few.

I marched in line down 7th Street, across Tryon and into Romare Bearden Park with mothers, brothers, outsiders, insiders, attorneys, cashiers, and people fed up with being ignored. I carried toddlers on my hip, raised a fist in solidarity with those walking into bars and out of hotels. My Snapchat runneth over documenting for my grandchildren the plight I thought their grandparents had been responsible for solving. I continued to write words so that they'll never forget that showing up in their own skin would not be protected by decades of marches, nor speeches, nor respectability politics.

The night I marched, someone threw objects into the crowd of protesters from the comfort of their high rise apartment. A few admonished us from above to remove ourselves from the streets. Tanks and guards looked solemnly into our eyes, unable to share whether they understood what we were up against.

As outrage cools and national media outlets leave the feeding frenzy behind, we're left to deal with ourselves. I am not convinced that we've come to an agreeable resolve as a community. Scott's murder and the highlighting of Charlotte's apathy toward investing in marginalized groups and communities has yet to yield a turn in the tide of our leadership.

I am equally afraid that by not defining the path forward in the form of a comprehensive plan that includes strategic policy changes, best practices and metrics-based development with a goal to close the opportunity gap across all of Charlotte, we'll be right back to where we started when the next black man, community or poverty-stricken being is killed on our streets.

This begs the question: do we remain committed to charging our leadership with the task of moving toward the real work of equity?

What now will be our process for accountability? If voting matters, so does the remaining 364 days in which our elected officials and business leaders are tasked with proving the worth of their weight in the city in which we raise our families and pay our taxes.

Sherrell Dorsey is founder of The Plug, the definitive daily source of smart black tech and business news.

Add a comment