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Cornelius News

A black and white call for unity


FROM OUR ARCHIVES DEC. 6, 2016. By Dave Yochum. Some people say that the most segregated place in America is any given church on Sunday. So Union Bethel AME Zion on Catawba Avenue was a fitting place for a community forum on race relations in Cornelius.

More than 100 people attended, sharing ideas and experiences that ranged from job discrimination to fear of police stops.

“We have racial divide right here in Cornelius,” said Chris Hailey, an African American who is the chairman of the Lake Norman Chamber’s Diversity Council. He ran unsuccessfully for Mecklenburg County Sheriff two years ago.

Racial tension in America—and Charlotte—is running high. It started in earnest in Ferguson, Mo. two years ago, then came to Baltimore, then a variety of cities north and south ranging from Milwaukee to Charleston.

“It’s hard to build relationships if you’re not with each other.”

-Rev. Ellison Bowman, Torrence Chapel AME Zion Church

And then, of course, Charlotte’s racial divide was laid bare Sept. 20 when Keith Lamond Scott was shot by a Charlotte Mecklenburg Police officer. A week-long series of riots and marches damaged Charlotte’s reputation as a forward-thinking city—this, in spite of the fact that the city already ranks 50th out of 50 top U.S. cities in terms of upward mobility for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

An online media outlet in Charlotte asked “will Charlotte ever be the same” when the right question might have been should Charlotte ever be the same.

Hailey said whites need to get rid of their whiteness and blacks need to get rid of their blackness so that we can all approach each other as people.

Rev. Ellison Bowman, pastor of Torrence Chapel AME Zion Church, said to succeed as a society, “we will focus on our similarities, rather than our differences.”

Rev. David Judge, pastor of Cornelius Baptist Church, was also part of the panel discussion. He called on churches to do more leading around the racial divide, rather than steer clear of it.

“The churches have stepped too far out of their leadership roles…churches have gotten together in advance and prepared in advance,” Judge said, calling for more activities, including joint worship services, to bring white and black church members together.

“It’s hard to build relationships if you’re not with each other,” Bowman said.

Mayor Chuck Travis and Police Chief Bence Hoyle were also part of the panel discussion, which was co-hosted by the Smithville Community Coalition. Smithville is the historically black neighborhood just east of I-77 where Union Bethel is an anchor in the community.

“We have the great divide,” the mayor said, referring to I-77. Without fair and equal treatment, whether it’s schools or sidewalks, resentment and anger can breed.

The subtext, though, is the treatment African-Americans fear from police. Community members who attended the community forum told stories of counseling young blacks to comport themselves during a police stop.

One elderly black man said his son goes to work at 3 a.m. in another town, and the police there follow him every day. Ultimately, he was stopped, arrested, but the charges were dropped. His mugshot and arrest record prevented him from landing a decent job

For white kids, being taught how to be docile and compliant is likely not part of the lexicon of growing up. “It’s all about compliance,” Bowman said.

Indeed, police everywhere—the vast majority of them good cops—are under enormous pressure when entire communities are erupting in violence for long periods of time. “There is a real fear on the part of officers,” Hoyle said.

But Travis seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders, asking “are we prepared for what might happen in our community?”

He apologized, too, for not having a conversation sooner about race relations.

But since Scott was shot in Charlotte Sept. 20, there have been meaningful discussions among members of the town government including the police chief.

“We have started the conversation, but we’re not really ready for the conversation. Tonight is the start…how do we actually improve affordable housing? We are not unique…[countless] towns are dealing with the same issues,” he said, explaining that Cornelius has rocketed in size from 2,500 a little over 25 years ago to 30,000 now.

“We should have an affordable housing program in Cornelius. We need affordable housing on the west side of town.”

-Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis

“We’ve done a really bad job with planning,” Travis said.

“We obviously have like two towns, so it creates a challenge, the east side with textile basis, and the west side…with lake living,” Travis said. Solutions will not come easily, the mayor, a nationally known architect, said.

The mayor talked about “raising the minimum wage in our towns so you can afford to live in our own towns.”

Travis praised neighboring Davidson where new home development, by ordinance, must include an affordable housing component.

“We should have an affordable housing program in Cornelius,” the mayor said. “We need affordable housing on the west side of town.”

Calling himself a middle-aged white guy, Travis told those who attended “we need your help starting tonight. I will tell you there is a desire to help.”

Hailey, the black discussion leader, said: “Lake Norman is not ready…it could happen today, tonight, tomorrow. It is not if it is going to happen, it is when.”