By Kallan Louis
We are currently witnessing rapid and steady growth in Charlotte. As luxury apartments, retail shops and restaurants have residents flooding back to live in uptown and South End, Charlotte’s historically black West End has remained mostly neglected. The often-mentioned Harvard study on economic mobility — which ranked Charlotte last out of 50 major metropolitan areas on economic mobility — reveals how complex the issues truly are. As local leaders and organizations scramble for solutions, more people look to move closer to the center city, and fear of gentrification in the West End looms as attempts are made to whitewash the character and significance of one the area’s oldest Black communities.
In September, Johnson C. Smith University published “Ten Men,” a book developed under JCSU’s Smith Institute for Applied Research. University officials hope it can serve as a tool to lead civil engagement, celebrate local Black leadership and better understand the Black male experience in Charlotte. “Ten Men” introduces us to the some of West Charlotte’s Black male influencers and change agents, and explores the social and economic issues residents face on that side of town.
“ ‘Ten Men’ serves as a reflection of the diversity that has existed within the Black community for decades, often under the radar,” said Colin Pinkney, one of the men featured in the book. “Men of color have thrived against incredible odds in all manner of endeavors, and will continue to do so, because that is the bedrock of our cultural heritage. The question becomes, ‘How do we pool our diversity to improve quality of life?’ ”
Pinkney is the executive director of the Harvest Center of Charlotte, a faith-based organization focused on helping the homeless, poor and unemployed. Through his experiences, particularly with Black male youths today, he believes the various sets of rules Black people live by can create confusion, causing delayed progress. His solution: recognizing the differences and collaborating — which is exactly what this book achieves.
“As we all work to improve and advance a better quality of life for our communities, we have an opportunity to build unity without pressing for uniformity,” said Pinkney. “Simply stated, we are different, but we need to work together.”
The other men featured in the book:
Attorney and civil rights legend Charles Jones, who was a freedom rider and a leader within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
Newly-elected Charlotte City Council member Justin Harlow, who represents District 2, Charlotte’s northwest corridor
Former Charlotte City Council member Alvin Austin, who resigned in July to accept the position of HBCU outreach director for the State of North Carolina’s Department of Transportation
Barber and entrepreneu, Damian Johnson, co-owner of No Grease Inc.
Director of JCSU’s Master of Social Work program, Melvin Herring, Ph.D.
Architect Darrel Williams, founding partner and principal of Neighboring Concepts, the local design firm behind Romare Bearden Park, the Mosaic Village at Johnson C. Smith University and the Renaissance educational village
West Charlotte High School’s athletic director, Titus Ivory
Artist Jerry McJunkins
Smallwood Presbyterian Church pastor Darryl Gaston, an advocate for the Druid Hills neighborhood.
The editor of Ten Men is award-winning journalist and author Ron Stodghill. Formerly a JCSU professor, he also edited the university’s anthology, “Let There Be Light: Exploring How Charlotte’s Historic West End is Shaping a New South.
Print copies of “Ten Men” are available at Amazon.com, and in the JCSU bookstore. The book It will also be available for digital download for Kindle, Nook and iPad.