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Where Do We Go From Here to Fight Poverty In Charlotte?

Charlotte will become a better, kinder city only if we make it that way.  We have choices to make.

The Opportunity Task Force is no more.  The next incarnation, at least website-wise, is LeadingOnOpportunity.org, and this is where you go to read the report of the Opportunity Task Force findings and recommendations.  The comments in last Tuesday’s Charlotte Observer range from hopeful to unimpressed.  Former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl feels “the ball will be moved.” Former Mecklenburg County Commission Chair Trevor Fuller, who asked for the Task Force to be created, said he feels the message is “to not to do things the way they have always been done.” The report talks about what “should” happen without specific guidelines on how to make it so.  What we risk missing is the credit due our community for caring enough to make the efforts to engage the community and ask difficult questions.  The report puts forth noteworthy facts that should prompt consideration.  Some examples—

  • 50% of renters and 25% of home owners are housing burdened. The average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $1468.


  • CMS is home to 147,000 students. 39% are African American, 29% are white, 23% are Hispanic/Latino and 6% are Asian.  Third grade reading level averages 59% in racially balanced schools, 82% in predominantly white schools and 29% in predominantly African American schools.


  • Unemployment is +2.6% higher for individuals without a high school education compared to those who receive their diploma.


  • CMS has a 90% graduation rate, ahead of the state average, but 70% of CMS students entering CPCC need remedial help in math and/or reading before taking college entrance exams.


  • The median income for African American households in Mecklenburg County is $37,025; for Hispanic/Latino households it is $38,747. The median income for white households is $79,153 and for Asian households, it is $77,748.  (The median household income for Mecklenburg County is $56,854.)


  • 6300 grandparents in Mecklenburg County are parenting grandchildren under 18 years of age.


  • July-September 2016, 67% of j Mecklenburg County jail residents were African American; 19% were white and 13% were Hispanic/Latino.

These are numbers.  The real concern must be for the people whose lives and living conditions make up these statistics.

Years ago in Miss Balle’s senior English class at Garinger High School, I learned a line of poetry by John Donne.  “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. . . . “  I draw the conclusion that this means any person’s ill health or poor condition must also concern me because I am involved in my community.  How can I experience total joy about my good condition when there are so many others who are hungry, sick or without shelter?  I can’t.   So how do I help make it better?

Perhaps this report’s greatest meaning lies in what it does not say.

It does not lay out a step-by-step plan on how to improve the situation.  They have left that for us to do.

The full report is on the website.  There is also a list of community events where we can all go to learn more about the issues facing us, including lack of affordable housing, education shortfalls and counteracting discrimination.  Charlotte will become a better, kinder city only if we make it that way.  We have choices to make.  A few can live a great life or everyone can live a good life.  It is up to us what happens next.

Shay Merritt, Volunteer and Food Drive Coordinator for Loaves & Fishes