CRC Newsletter | August 2020
Read the latest news from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee.
Community Relations Annual Report
By Adrienne Martinez, CRC Member
At the end of every fiscal year, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Department produces an annual report summarizing the work of both the staff and Community Relations Committee (CRC) members. Michael Smalenberger, CRC chair and Willie Ratchford, CRC executive director recently presented highlights of this report to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. Click here to watch a replay of the meeting presentation on the County Commissioners website.
Below you will find a few highlights of accomplishments from the fiscal year (FY) 2020 annual report related to Fair Housing, Americans with Disabilities (ADA) and Community Affairs.
Fair Housing Program
The Fair Housing Office continues to work to ensure that program resources remain accessible to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community during this global health crisis. During FY2020, the Fair Housing staff offered 17 in-person trainings and trained 796 people on fair housing rights. The staff is evaluating virtual training options for anyone interested in learning more about fair housing and resources available. Additionally, the Fair Housing Office is in the process of executing several education and outreach methods with the use of a recent Fair Housing Assistance Program Partnership Grant from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), including public service announcements and safe distribution of educational materials.
One helpful resource is the When You Rent Handbook which is now available on CRC’s website, providing immediate access to tips and information for tenants and landlords regarding fair housing and landlord-tenant rights.
Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance
Throughout FY2020, the City of Charlotte has continued to undertake self-evaluation of its programs, services and facilities to provide full and equal access to all persons under the ADA. The City’s ADA Program Office is led by the Community Relations deputy director who has collaborated with representatives across the City organization on this effort. The City is currently working with an external consultant to ensure ADA compliance which included interviewing 30 City departments, analyzing approximately 1,230 City programs, services, and activities, hosting an ADA Transition Plan Public Forum, an assessment of 180 City-owned facilities, and creation of a GIS database for City-owned facilities to be inspected. More than 500 City employees were also trained on ADA. After the evaluation is complete, the City will move into its implementation phase, which has to be approved by the City Manager and then sent to City Council for adoption. For more information, visit the City’s ADA Program webpage.
The Community Relations Department has actively engaged with the community through dialogue, partnerships, training and youth programs during the last fiscal year. More than 3,000 community members participated in a program or engagement activity that was led by Community Relations or where the department was a key partner. In addition, over 800 community members attended training facilitated by Community Relations. One of the priorities over the coming months is ensuring that engagement can be continued in a virtual capacity. Whether it be through virtual town halls, trainings, mediation sessions or youth peer groups, Community Relations is committed to adapting to the changing needs of the community. The services and programs provided may need to be offered in a different way, but they are all still available and accessible throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
To access a PDF of the full FY2020 report presentation, visit the CRC website.
Partnering to Address Backlog of Eviction Cases
By Justin Lyons, CRC Member
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Relations Dispute Settlement Program (DSP) has partnered with the Clerk of Superior Court, District Court Judges, Legal Aid, Crisis Assistance Ministry and the Charlotte Housing Partnership to help address the backlog of eviction cases due to COVID-19. DSP is assisting by pursuing resolution through the mediation process. The hope is that bringing the parties together to discuss their concerns and having them develop options for mutually agreeable terms will help keep tenants in their homes and landlords with payment options.
DSP maintains a pool of seasoned mediators who are eager to assist the families in our community and have been involved in this effort. DSP has set up a signup process for mediators that has 60 slots per day for mediation opportunities yielding a potential of 300 cases that can be mediated per week. Due to the social distancing restrictions, mediation training sessions have been offered via virtual platforms and Legal Aid has provided training on the CARES Act.
To share information about DSP more broadly, informational materials have been sent with 1,800 court notifications mailed by the Clerk’s office. Additionally, this information has been emailed to Social Serve, Heal Charlotte, Enlace, Magistrates Office and the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association among others. For more information on services, becoming a volunteer mediator or to download the flyer that was distributed by the Clerk’s Office, visit the Community Relations DSP webpage.
Confronting Our Implicate Biases
By Dr. Scott Gartlan, CRC Member
Below is an excerpt from an interview with CRC Executive Director Willie Ratchford by CRC member Dr. Scott Gartlan. This portion of the conversation focused on the evolution of the CRC and the impacts of implicit bias.
The CRC engages in civil rights work which has evolved over the years. The way we as a community deal with discrimination and adverse treatment of individuals due to their identity has also evolved and changed. Back in the 1960s, 70s, and early part of the 80s, as we addressed racism and discrimination, we spent a great deal of our time addressing people’s personal racism. However, over time we have come to understand racism and its impact in a different way.
Years ago, I believed most white people were racist. I’ve come to believe and realize, through my evolution, that most white people are not personally racist and that the discrimination in our communities doesn’t happen because of a person who carries individual prejudice or racist feelings. It happens because of the structures, the institutions, the systems and our history around race in this country. If you start a country off to include 356 years of special laws that were designed specifically to advantage white people and disadvantage people of color, 250 years of brutal and inhumane slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal and 40 years of redlining — all of that becomes a part of the DNA of our country. It is who we are. This DNA is the foundation for the implicit and unconscious bias that runs rampant in America today. In other words, one does not have to be personally racist in order to enjoy the benefits of racism.
As a result, we have situations where one person might accuse another of being racist. The person being called out often denies it because deep in their heart they don’t see themselves that way and they really mean it. The problem with this is they may not understand where their accuser is coming from. The person who is making the accusation really doesn’t understand where the person they are accusing, may be coming from either. What may be happening here is unconscious or implicit bias. They may end up fighting and not understanding the reason they are fighting. If they would just have a conversation to try to understand where the other person is coming from, they might look at it differently.
The whole point here is that with implicit or unconscious bias, to treat people of color differently is so normal, so common, so much a part of our 400-year history and DNA that when you treat people that way you don’t know that you’ve done it to them. You just have no idea. All of us have biases regardless of our personal identity. ALL OF US HAVE IT! It is ok to have bias, however, we all have to work to better know our personal biases, so they don’t negatively impact our treatment of people who don’t look like us or because of a person’s identity.
In addressing racism and discrimination in our community, I am evolving to look at and address systemic racism, institutional racism, and structural racism. If I could wave a magic wand and every person in the United States of America instantly became an anti-racist and personal racism no longer existed, we would still be exactly where we are right now because the real problem of racism exists in our systems, our institutions our structures and our country’s DNA.
CRC Member Spotlight
By Sam Smith, CRC Member
The Community Relations Committee (CRC) is structured with several subcommittees where CRC members work to advance issues impacting residents’ lives, including intercultural relations, education, police-community relations, programming and communications.
Recently, the CRC has organized ad hoc working groups to commemorate the Juneteenth holiday and to assess City and County ordinances to identify opportunities for greater inclusion and equity in government services.
As new CRC members are welcomed, they have the opportunity to contribute in various ways through their work at-large and on subcommittees. In the first half of 2020, CRC welcomed several new members including Braxton G. Becoats, who works for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS).
Where is your hometown and how long have you been in Charlotte?
My hometown is Baltimore, Maryland. I have been in Charlotte off and on since I was two years old. I moved around a lot due to my father’s job. I have been in Charlotte consistently since December 2017.
Describe Charlotte in one word: Developing
What sparked your interest to join the CRC, and what has your experience been so far since joining the CRC?
I was interested in joining the CRC in order to help build a diverse and harmonious Charlotte-Mecklenburg community. Since joining six months ago, my experience with the CRC has been extremely positive. I was able to immediately get to work on issues that directly affect the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community.
What are you most looking forward to doing as a member of the CRC? I am looking forward to advocating to City Council & County Commissioners to create policies that ensure that the City of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County are diverse, not only in principle but in practice through policies/ordinances created.
What would you recommend to other community leaders that are interested in being a part of the CRC?
Do it! Join the CRC. Leaders are not supposed to sit still but be active in the community. You cannot expect the community to get better unless you actively participate in the community’s betterment.
[Just for fun] What is your favorite restaurant and hangout spot in Charlotte:
Ink & Ivy to eat! And honestly, my church — The Park Church — is my favorite hangout spot. I really enjoy spending time with my church family.