The following letter was sent to members of the Opportunity Task Force on the release of their report by Council’s executive director Bob Simmons  An edited, amended version of this piece first appeared in the Viewpoint section of The Charlotte Observer on April 6, 2017. 

To Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, Dee O’Dell,  all of the members of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force

I want to thank you, and through you the entire Task Force and everybody who supported your work, for the courageous directness of your findings and recommendations. I read it from cover to cover, dog-eared pages, and made notations by the middle of the afternoon. You have addressed the root causes and core issues of the inequity of opportunity in our community with a courage not seen before.

Perhaps because of my engagement with you all and with your process along the way, and perhaps because I believe that you addressed the core issues that underlie the problem of inequitable opportunity as it affects the majority of people disadvantaged in our community, I have been surprised by the somewhat negative response the report has received in the media and from some individuals in the community. I do not believe those responses either accurately reflect your work or recognize the importance of your product.

You have stood up where almost all in the past have sat down. You have spoken out where almost all in the past have remained silent. That alone is noteworthy of acclaim and celebration.

The history of our community’s efforts to address these issues may well provide a reasonable basis for skepticism, but none of those previous efforts included such a diverse group of leaders willing to identify structural, systemic, and institutional racism, and the resulting segregation, as the root cause of inter-generational poverty – much less to acknowledge that it is the result of deliberate public policy decisions supporting private discrimination.

You have stood up where almost all in the past have sat down. You have spoken out where almost all in the past have remained silent. That alone is noteworthy of acclaim and celebration.

But you did so much more than that. You identified the need for policy changes on issues of juvenile and adult justice (like Raise the Age), issues of affordable housing, issues of access to health and mental health services, and issues faced by children and families from prenatal care through the beginning of self-supporting work. You stood up and spoke out for the changes and the funding needed not only to help those individuals already born and suffering but also to make the long-term, far-reaching changes to our socioeconomic structure, our systems, and our institutions that will dismantle injustice to produce a real sharing of power that can build a better future for all.

I have been involved in reform efforts in our community since moving here in 1986 to raise my yet unborn children in a community that cared enough to create successful desegregated schools, so I understand how skepticism can be born of disappointed hopes. But I have also seen how each of those disappointments left behind the seeds of future progress: from the work of the Superintendent’s Discipline Advisory Panel from 1994 to 1996 revising the Code of Student Conduct towards a more educational and less-punitive system of school discipline (which is now reflected in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Justice Memorandum of Agreement) to the work of Council for Children on Core Values for Children adopted by the County Commission in 1999 (which led to the United Agenda for Children a few years later, then to the Larry King Center for Building Children’s Futures, and now to the use of that work as foundational for Read Charlotte and the Mayor’s initiative on out-of school program with MeckEd).

As a society and a community, we tend to see everything through the lens of our own personal interest and our own areas of focus and we tend to want to see those issues elevated to the primary position. When our expectations fall short, too often we allow our disappointment to feed our skepticism instead of recognizing the progress that can revive our hope. We have much work to do and there are plenty of people in our community who will see shortcomings or threats in what you have done and what you have said, but you have given us a brave blueprint for real progress. Now we need to have the strength to follow it boldly to build a better future for our community.

So I thank you, and I look forward to continuing to work with your successors and the army of our hopeful neighbors to make your vision a reality – if not in my lifetime then for some future generation who will look back on March 27, 2017 and say, “That was the day that made all of the difference for us.”

 

 

More information on the next phase of the work can be found at the Leading on Opportunity web site 

Read More:  OTF full report and the executive summary 

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