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What is it about Charlotte

by Diane English

July 6,2007

I’ve lived in Charlotte for 34 years.  I’ve been here long enough for people to assume I’m a Southerner or in some settings to qualify as a Charlotte “native.”  But, in truth I am neither.

I was born in Easton, Maryland of Canadian parents who became U.S. citizens in the 1940s.  Our family lived in Brooklyn, on Long Island and then in Wilmette, Illinois, north of Chicago.  I graduated from New Trier High School, which had a student body of 4,000.  During childhood summers my parents took us across the border to visit our Canadian relatives.  When I was applying to college, my father wanted me to see “another part of the country.”  Consequently, I spent two years at Emory in Atlanta and two years in Chapel Hill.  After graduating from Carolina, I moved to Queens, New York, worked in Manhattan and then lived in Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale and Athens, Georgia.

I came to Charlotte with a first husband and one son, had a daughter and divorced.  I went to CPCC, worked for a small graphics firm, eventually remarried, had another son and by and large lived a suburban life in south-east Charlotte.  For no particular reason – other than circumstance – I have lived most of my adult life in Charlotte.  I am often conflicted about whether I consider Charlotte my “home” – the place from which I come – or simply the place where I happen to live.

What I am sure about, however, is that Charlotte is the place where I have found meaningful work to do – work that allows me to deal with issues of deep and personal importance.  It has connected me to people who have both supported and challenged me. 

So what is it about Charlotte?  Despite mounting and very real challenges related to growth, school re-segregation, geographic isolation and political polarization, I still believe that Charlotte is a place in which change and transformation are possible.

I am not naive about the challenges we face.  At times I am cynical and just plain tired.  I’d like for something other than a crisis to inspire us to action and response.  I’d like to see a robust political campaign with lively and respectful and responsible debate.  I’d like for people to come out of their suburban and urban neighborhoods and see the Charlotte that many others are forced to occupy.  I’d like for people who work 40 hours a week (or more) to have shelter and food and healthcare and hope for themselves and their children. I’d like to see people who hold different points of view gather to listen and be heard, trying to understand rather than dismiss or degrade.  I’d like for people to invest in prevention – to see that it is more cost effective to educate rather than incarcerate.  As the daughter of immigrants, I’d like for us to be more pragmatic, more progressive and more compassionate about immigration.  I’d like for race to be understood as a reality not a problem. I’d like for us to address why disparities in our community still track to race and now ethnicity. Whether we consider Charlotte our home or the place where we live at this time, it is a community in which we can work on issues and conditions that impact us, our families and truthfully, all people.  It is a community in which we can make a difference if we  make time, seek out opportunity, invest our resources and question our leaders and ourselves.

I would commend to you an initiative that intrigues me at many levels. Crossroads Charlotte uses the power of stories to describe four very different but plausible futures for Charlotte in 2015.  The stories ask each of us to contemplate the community we see, to examine real-time issues in light of these four envisioned futures, to connect with others and to make intentional choices that maximize our chance of having a more positive, accessible and inclusive present and future. As a young woman I came to Charlotte and found a life I didn’t expect.  In many ways, I found myself.  It could have happened in many places, but it happened here.  And, for that I am grateful.

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