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Free Your Mind - and the Rest will Follow

by Angela Lindsay

June 4,2005

When I tell people around here that I am a native of Charlotte, they usually give me a look equivalent to witnessing an extra head sprout out of my neck. We local folk are becoming rare. So rare, in fact, that you are probably more likely to make the acquaintance of someone from Buffalo than you are to meet someone who actually grew up around these parts. But that is to be expected with any rapidly expanding area.

I almost didn’t recognize Charlotte when I relocated back from Los Angeles just eighteen months ago. I remember when the Queen City was just a blip on the radar screen between Atlanta and the nation’s capital—a place into which people flew only because of a US Air layover during their business trips to much more commerce-friendly parts of the country. Now, this is the place where people come for business meetings, conferences, sporting events, even to live.

Our small town is transforming into a full-blown city—traffic problems, proposed tax hikes, endless construction and all. However, despite the negative effects that such growth can bring, one bright spot is the influx of new residents and the prospect that we are becoming more multi-cultural.

A Yankee friend of mine once commented, “Everything down here is so black and white”—referring to both the racial composition of the city and the ways of thinking of many of the residents he had encountered. Being from the tri-state area where the impact of immigrant culture is felt in everyday life, he found indigenous residents here to be less open-minded. After gently reminding him that he no longer lives in Jersey, I thought about the truth of his statement and my time in Los Angeles.

In the heart of L.A., it is difficult to find any venue or event that is predominantly one culture or another. Everything from Wal-Mart to Wendy’s is thoroughly cross-cultural. It was refreshing evidence of how diversity can contribute to a city’s overall attractiveness. That is to be expected from such large metropolitan areas. But I like to think that Charlotte is not so hopelessly deficient in this department. In our fair city’s defense, there are opportunities to embrace the uniqueness of many segments of our society. One just has to willing to traverse outside of his or her comfort zone.

Most recently, I attended NASCAR’s Pit Crew Challenge and Nextel All-Star Race. As an African American female and a diehard football fan, I was in the minority in more ways than one. It was, to say the least, an eye-opening experience. But I was glad to be in attendance. I had a good time. Learned a lot. Made new friends. Such is the case with other enriching events I have attended. Among them: the Greek Festival in Dilworth, Salsa night at Cosmos in Uptown, a Jamaican concert in South End, an art exhibit at the Afro-American Cultural Center, my first ever Cinco de Mayo celebration this year, and, up next, a Native American Pow Wow. And this is just the beginning.

Charlotte is now one of the most prominent cities of the New South. It behooves Charlotteans to cultivate more progressive mind-sets as we become more diverse. While it may take just a few years to change the look of a city, it sometimes takes a little longer to change the minds of the people in it.

I am always amazed when I meet people who have lived here a while but who have never so much as visited the other side of town. Sometimes people tend resist change, to question the unknown. But being receptive to differences is not tantamount to sacrificing local flavor, if you will. Rather by embracing them, we can look beyond how we remember Charlotte being in the past toward the culturally-rich environment that it is set to become in the very near future. I am convinced we are moving in that direction every time I am welcomed with open arms into the folds of a new culture and vice versa.

The way I figure, it can only add to the Queen City’s description as having a rich landscape—without necessarily referring to the tree-lined streets.

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