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Charlotte Mayor: It’s time to be uncomfortable about race

As the public expresses outrage over the death of George Floyd and the weekend shooting of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles writes that quick police reforms and hastily appointed task forces are not enough this time. We need to have uncomfortable discussions about race, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Here’s more from Mayor Lyles’ must-read op-ed that appeared Sunday in the Charlotte Observer:

Mayor Vi Lyles (Photo: Charlottenc.gov)

Growing up in South Carolina during the Civil Rights Movement, I am no stranger to racial injustice. I attended segregated schools. I was a toddler when Emmett Till was lynched. As a teen I witnessed the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Though I knew I couldn’t completely escape racism and discrimination at the time, I hoped things would be better in a more progressive city, so I set my sights on Charlotte for college. I quickly learned the battle Black America fights daily wasn’t limited to just one place. As protests against racial injustice and police brutality engulf our country, I’m reminded this ongoing fight isn’t limited to a moment in time.

The eight minutes and 46 seconds that George Floyd was pinned down by the police was not much different than the events I lived through in the 1960s. It’s why the same anger that exists in Minneapolis exists in other large cities and rural towns. Downtown and suburbia. It exists in Charlotte.

We share in the outrage and anger, because in mourning the death of George Floyd, we mourn the deaths of Keith Lamont Scott, Johnathan Ferrell, and Danquirs Franklin. We say their names. We march. We seek answers to why Black men and women continue to die at the hands of police.

In response, we call for reforms and create task forces. We do workshops and implement de-escalation tactics. Yet, we fall back into the comfortable places we’ve grown to know. We fall back into a place where black parents continue to have the ‘talk’ with their children – as I have done – on how to get out of traffic stops alive. We stop questioning why many in the Black community continue to live in segregated neighborhoods and accept low-wage jobs without healthcare or childcare. Professionally, members of the Black community become comfortable taking jobs at publicly-traded companies that lack diversity in the boardroom and in the c-suite.

We can no longer allow ourselves to fall back into those comfortable spaces. We aren’t just at a breaking point for systemic racism, but also a breaking point for the systemic comfort that we’ve grown to know.

It’s time to remain uncomfortable. We need to have the uncomfortable discussions, be uncomfortable in our approaches, and embrace the uncomfortable because that is where growth and change live.

We need more than policy and training changes and youth programs. The issue with systemic racism isn’t just a policing issue. It is education, jobs, development, planning. A systemic issue needs a systemic response.

For the corporations who call Charlotte home, we don’t just need their funding and messages of support but need the diversity in their offices and on their leadership teams. The actions of leadership must reflect those statements of solidarity, particularly in their hiring, promotion and customer service practices. We need these organizations to change the systemic practice of only recruiting in the top 10 percent of colleges and universities, which eliminates talented Black students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, state schools and community colleges.

And for our faith community, we need your support more than ever. we need to discuss your ideas and have your congregations join us in this call to action.

As mayor, I will continue to listen. I want to have the uncomfortable conversations that matter so we have a united community vision for systemic change.

Read more in today’s Charlotte Observer.

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