1996 – 1997: Responding to a Crisis

In the Fall of 1996 a series of incidents and circumstances in Charlotte-Mecklenburg focused attention on racial division within the community. A police shooting, the prospect of public school desegregation, as well as the increasing ethnic diversity of the community all contributed to a climate of unrest. Another factor was the influx of large numbers of new residents who were either unaware of or unconnected to Charlotte’s historical image of having positively dealt with issues of race and discrimination.

In early 1997, Parks Helms, Chairman of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory asked the Foundation For The Carolinas, a non-profit community foundation, to serve as a neutral convener of a task force on race and ethnicity.

A set of objectives and action steps were drafted; seven prominent community citizens were recruited to serve on the Leadership Team, which recruited another 45 citizens of diverse backgrounds to serve on what became the Community Building Task Force. Mecklenburg Ministries, an interfaith advocacy organization, was engaged to guide the process, which included the following accomplishments:

  • Development of a focus group model and the conducting of 15 neighborhood-based focus groups across the community;
  • The compilation of an inventory of community groups addressing the issues of race and ethnicity;
  • A Community Conference entitled “Something Has Begun” attended by over 600 citizens in December 1997.