Opportunity for All?

Report on opportunity in Charlotte is out. Now What?

An eight-year-old girl spends her afternoons in the coffee shop of the building where her mom works, helping the shop owner with customers. She meets a family of attorneys.

Over time, the father and daughter of this law family visit the shop regularly and become good friends with her. One day, the daughter of the family offers to take her to lunch.

“It was the first time I’d ever eaten at a sit down restaurant. During that lunch, she taught me how to order food, where to place my napkin and how to eat during an important lunch date. I would have many other opportunities like this, many presented to me from people who knew my mother and wanted to help her help me succeed in life.” — Brandi Williams
Brandi N. Williams

Fast forward and meet Brandi N. Williams — a city PR professional and hip-hop music lover who uses her formal training in public relations to advocate for others. The recent Opportunity Task Force report points to Brandi’s personal experiences and the importance of two things: access and opportunity.

The Task Force Report

Earlier this week, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force released its Leading on Opportunity report, a set of findings and recommendations to address the community’s social and economic divide and the opportunity and mobility hardships that so many children, youth and families in our community are experiencing.

The Task Force investigated why the odds of moving out of poverty are so low for children born in our community and recommended a plan of action to change this long-standing situation after a study ranked our city 50 out of 50 among largest cities for one’s ability to experience upward mobility. Their report details 21 priority strategies and 86 recommendations.

Recommendations in the report seek to address two important factors that impact one’s ability to move out of poverty: the impacts of segregation and social capital. The Task Force was very clear — it will take everyone to improve this across Charlotte.

Leading On Opportunity Report Video. Courtesy of Leading on Opportunity Website.

Social Capital — Opening Doors

For Brandi, social capital — the connections she made and access to information — helped lead to a path for success. She’s enjoyed a successful career in nonprofit, government, entertainment, lifestyle and corporate sectors.

“We often take for granted things like knowing the difference between hourly and salaried positions, understanding how to balance a checkbook, and knowing the importance of speaking to children — and speaking to them in full sentences,” she said. “This knowledge provides access, access that many of the poorest people in our community don’t have.”

The Task Force focused on developing a set of recommendations for the community to help all young people gain access to the experiences, education, resources and support necessary to succeed as adults.

The recommendations provide three areas to improve upon:
• Early Care and Education
• College and Career Readiness
• Family and Child Stability

The recommendations also bring light to the impacts of segregation, and how it hinders mobility, but how social capital or networks can aid mobility.
Networks and relationships have economic value. Many in our community lack strong or diverse networks. Typically, people land jobs, careers and educational opportunities through their networks.

“I had a strong network; It is often said that your net worth is only as strong as your network. I learned this early on. Many of the poorest people in our community don’t have these things — and not due to any fault of their own. I am often reminded that when you know better, you do better. If you don’t know better, you can’t do better.” — Williams

Helping our Neighbors

Brandi says the community must do a better job of getting children and families access to information, people and resources.

“What I’ve found through my work in the community is we don’t make knowing better easy; we limit access to information, people and resources to far too many people in our community. It is for this reason that I’ve dedicated my career to being a broker for change, working to help those who lack access gain access through education and advocacy.” — Williams

Looking to the future and the next steps for these recommendations, The Task Force invites us all to join in this important work. No matter who we are, or where we live, we can take steps right now, to help young people in our city succeed.

Read the report. Then the call to action. There are other eight-year-old girls in Charlotte who needs us.