On the Charlotte, N.C., leg of our 2014 State of the South road trip, we met with local leaders from the nonprofit, business, and education sectors. One of those was Ron Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU). Johnson C. Smith, an HBCU founded in 1867, is located in Charlotte’s Northwest corridor, a collection of historic neighborhoods outside of the city center that are being revitalized. President Carter is leading reinvestment efforts in this part of the city, making investments in physical infrastructure and building relationships with new communities within the corridor. These efforts highlight the link between place and opportunity, because, as President Carter sees it, “If we don’t have corridor development, we won’t get to city development or state development.”
Since his arrival in 2008, Carter has been working with community members and public/private developers to construct and restore buildings, attract community wellness assets, and advocate for east-west transportation connections to the rest of the city. Charlotte’s Northwest corridor is a major transportation route from uptown Charlotte and gateway to 37 neighborhoods in the historic West End. The Northwest Corridor Revitalization Initiative began with the Soul of the Northwest Corridor survey (launched in 2010) to solicit residents’ opinions about their community and local economic growth. Follow-up studies informed other community engagement efforts, like the Indaba held on the JCSU campus. (Indaba is a community forum common in African tribes.) At these gatherings, participants review annual community action items and plan community enhancements. (The 2013 Indaba focused on increasing the effectiveness, influence, and representation of political leadership of the Northwest Corridor). Some of the enhancements already in place include a visual and performing arts teaching facility and theater (in a renovated tire company building); a mixed-use development with student housing, public parking, retail, and commercial space; community gardens; a health and wellness facility, and public art installations. The initiative is strengthening economic and social connections for young people and their families.
Johnson C. Smith also is working to build connections in communities outside the typical realm of an HBCU. In 2011 they became part of the Latin American Coalition’s College Access Para Todos program. JCSU began actively recruiting qualified Latino students from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System and admitted 81Latino students for the 2011-2012 school year. (The university also sponsored English as a Second Language classes for parents and grandparents.) In 2014, a group of JCSU students established a Latino fraternity—one of the first on an HBCU campus. Many of these students grew up in Charlotte and are undocumented, meaning they are ineligible for in-state tuition and federal financial aid, even when they are accepted into the state’s public university or community college system. Enrollment and financial support at JCSU allow them to continue their education and contribute to the community and economy in new ways. Writing about the program in a 2012 Charlotte Viewpoint, President Carter said, “But it is not just the students whose lives have been enriched by their presence on campus. With their differing legacies, history, and culture, they bring to the Smith campus a diversity that gives gravitas to the university’s vision of excellence in global education.”
These efforts to direct resources to areas of highest need—recapturing productivity and reaching across communities—are a great example of the physical and social relationships that are required to support an infrastructure of opportunity for young people in the South.
Ed. Note: This post originally appeared on MDC’s blog, The North Star.