Apr 22, 2016 - Things to Do

The black community in Charlotte is divided on school assignment

Within Charlotte’s black community there is no consensus on the issue of student assignment. This really shouldn’t be news since African Americans, like any group, are not a monolith. Sure we share a skin color — various shades of brown — some linguistic and cultural traditions, but for many of us that’s about it.

While discussion of racially segregated schools and concentrations of poverty certainly implicates black people, not much has been heard at large in the most public forums. Outside a sparsely-attended community event at West Charlotte High, and a Black Lives Matter event focused on education and hosted by the Charlotte Post, you can almost count the number of black folks openly weighing in on the topic. But this doesn’t mean we aren’t talking or are disengaged.  


I’ve spent some time speaking informally to folks in the community and doing a lot of listening as well. Opinions are predictably diverse and depend on a host of factors. Whether you’re young or old, live in the heart of the city or on the edge of the county, whether you are working-class or upwardly-mobile, and of course whether or not you have school-aged children influences outlook.

Some are disenchanted with the entire process and feel “they’re gonna do what they want to do anyway” in reference to the board. But from what I can tell, schools of thought seem to cut along two paths: (1) keep things how they are, just make major improvements and (2) radically change the system altogether. 

It feels much like the competing philosophies of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, continuing to play themselves out in the 21st century. The age-old tug of war between Washington’s self-help, racial solidarity ideals and DuBois’ focus on civil rights and social change are certainly distinguishable. 

Many of us feel we should keep neighborhood schools and “cast down our buckets where we are.” Some elders in particular harken back to the days of segregation as a moment of community pride where people looked out for one another out of necessity. They talk nostalgically about the great people the city’s segregated schools have produced and caliber of black instructional talent that once taught there. Some, frankly, don’t trust the white community in Charlotte to do right by their children, citing a long list of historical slights. They don’t think things will improve by simply sitting poor black kids next to wealthier white kids. Others still just want great schools in proximity, but want them to be as good as the schools across town. A more simplistic view that begs equality.

On the flipside, some of us truly feel the inequality is systemic and the result of bad policy (ex: housing discrimination, neighborhood schools, etc). Those who lived through the Capacchione v. CMS (1999) decision to end desegregation say they foresaw things would end this way, with re-segregated schools and huge achievement gaps. Many who grew up in integrated schools play up the access to better education, resources and exposure it gave them to a more global society. They tend to view the issue from a social justice and civil rights perspective, seeing it as part of a greater institutional problem where separate will always be unequal. Still, some have a less analytical take and just want to their children going to racially and socioeconomically diverse schools that look like the world.

For anyone following this issue it’s no small wonder where I land. I’m for integrated schools, educational equity and excellence. Yes, I am most definitely black, but my views are also personal. They’re born from my experience as a student, teacher and policy analyst. My positions are passionate and convictions strong, but they are NOT universally held. It may be worthwhile to keep working to engage those behind the scenes who are currently most adversely impacted by the present arrangement both in the black and Latino communities to truly hear all voices. 

Time will tell whether the black community’s perspectives will be taken into account as the process is already pretty far along. The survey results have already been collected and analyzed, goals adopted and draft of the guiding principles presented. One thing is certain, no matter what decision is ultimately made, significant factions from within the community will be unsatisfied. 


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