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Wanted - Valuing Diversity in East Charlotte

by Uzzie Cannon

July 7,2008

When I recently received the notice from the City of Charlotte regarding the planning and development meeting for residences and businesses along the Independence Boulevard corridor, I was absolutely giddy inside because I believed East Charlotte’s time had come. I planned my day around the late meeting and drove eagerly to The Park to collaborate with my fellow Eastsiders, arriving in time for the second meeting. The turn out for the originally scheduled one was over capacity, speaking volumes about the concerns my fellow residents had about what was going to happen on the Eastside.

The meeting finally got underway after everyone had a minute to view polaris maps that were spread across several tables set up in the conference room. We already had an agenda in hand, so we knew exactly what would be discussed. Two officials spoke describing what this particular meeting was and wasn’t all about. I can’t rightly say how most individuals in the room felt when it was disclosed that the meeting wasn’t about transportation, but I was okay with it.

The most exciting part of the meeting, and perhaps eventually the most disheartening, was the moment the residents had an opportunity to talk about “the best and worst” of the Independence Blvd corridor. Everyone wrote feverishly on three separate yellow post-it notes the three things he or she found best about our area. There were two obvious superlatives that stood out from the activity: “great access” and “absolute beauty.” Once posted on the walls around the room, the post-it notes revealed that most residents and businesses love the access East Charlotteans along Independence Blvd have to everything in Charlotte. Next, in various neighborhoods, everyone appreciated the beauty of the parks and unique homes that pervade the area. Topping my “best list” were access, quiet beauty, and diversity (not necessarily in that order). While most agree with the former two, most didn’t give diversity a thought—therein lies the rub for me.

If I correctly recall from the meeting, only four or five people appreciated the diversity we have in East Charlotte along the Independence Blvd corridor. This disappointed me so much that I didn’t hear another word that was spoken in the meeting. Yes, we proceeded to point out the worst parts of the corridor, but I was too crestfallen to take the activity seriously. I glanced around the room at the demographic representation of our area: various classes, ethnicities, ages, sexes, and religions. How could one not love that heterogeneous mixture? As I continued to ponder the dynamics of the meeting, I was brought back to my original thoughts upon returning to Charlotte: (1) Charlotteans do not really want to embrace diversity, and (2) they don’t have a full grasp of what diversity entails.

Often social institutions embrace the idea of “social diversity” in purely rhetorical terms; they provide lipservice to the idea without making any concerted effort to manifest this dire need. When some institutions do make an effort at diversity, it is fraught with tokenism and stereotype. Diversity involves including and appreciating, not tolerating, a number of customs, traditions, mores, and beliefs from a variety of entities. Further, diverse communities collectively decide on what will be an integral part of their everyday lives. Charlotteans all have to recognize that the salad bowl theory of social interaction creates a more flavorful and exciting Charlotte. Therefore, diversity cannot become passé in Charlotte. We must let go of the stereotypical views we hold about various cultures and subcultures in our midst.

Considering the diversity we have on the Eastside now, I think East Charlotte could become a hub for meaningful diverse cultural interaction (not to imply that other areas cannot as well). Redevelopment in the area will have to draw attention to the wonderful people we have here and the businesses that could thrive if marketed to a diverse group of people. We have some fantastic ethnic restaurants and markets, but where are our coffee shops, bookstores, lounges, theaters, and activity centers that a variety of people would appreciate? If Charlotte hopes to epitomize the true New South, an identity it seems to already embrace, then diversity must become a social practice and not a word spoken loosely on the tongues of Charlotteans.

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