Where do we go from here?
That’s a question I keep hearing, in one form or another, around Charlotte, N.C. Now that we’ve had our crisis, the protests exploding out of the killing of yet another African-American male by police — what’s next? How do we change what needs to be changed? How can we let this moment give us some momentum to make us better, to change the disparities, to heal the divisions?
During the heat of the protests, the mayor wrote, “This is not Charlotte.” Others said, “We need to get back to the way it was before.”
But this is Charlotte. “The Queen City” was judged 50th out of 50 major U.S. cities in helping the poorest among us to move out of poverty — despite our power as a banking center, and the nearly unprecedented growth we have known in the last 20 years. This “City of Churches” was evaluated 48th out of 50 cities in a study of racial trust — this, despite the nice (very nice), cordial, Southern hospitality that oozes even from our sky-scraping skyline. This is Charlotte — and these facts mean, whatever we do, we do not need to go back there.
There is calm, and there is peace — and going back would just be to take up the calm. In these after-the-storm moments we need to hear the ancient prophets warning of those who cry “‘Peace! Peace!’ when there is no peace.” There is no peace, so we’re all asking …
Where do we go from here?
Here’s the thing about going anywhere from here: fighting injustice is difficult. It’s really, really difficult.
It’s not that people don’t want to do the right thing. I believe most people, given a clear understanding of any situation, honestly want to do the right thing. I’m a little schizophrenic about our humanity — I know we’re deeply flawed, yet I have this high anthropology. I just believe in people. I think that most of us, most of the time, want to do the right thing.
But coming together around how we accomplish that right thing … is difficult. It’s really, really difficult.
In Charlotte today, there is a palpable sense of urgency. We know we need to do something. We know now is the time. We want this to happen.
The mostly-white business community, the power-brokers who have built this banking juggernaut, want this to happen. The black executives and their colleagues want this to happen. The evangelical clergy, black and white, want this to happen. The progressive clergy, black and white, want this to happen. And the black Millennials, the activists, the organizers want this to happen.
I really believe they all want a new Charlotte, and these groups are all meeting, and planning and talking and praying — but even among my clergy group there are disagreements and quiet factions.
Where do we go from here? We can’t even get out of one meeting with a clear direction for the next.
So it goes for years: we polish the patina, anxious that the status quo will be disrupted — not because we want racism, injustice, inequality, but just because it’s always easier the way it is. There are good intentions, but they are never a match for complacency and resignation, indecision and confusion, the way things are and the way they’ve always been. Then the tempest comes, we have our chance, we meet and dream, and then … it passes. And we wake up one day, and the way Charlotte is is back to the way Charlotte was.
I don’t know where we go from here.
I want it as much as all the others who are meeting and dreaming and hoping and planning and praying, and I believe that if we don’t find the where and the how, then where we’ll go from here is just too frightening to imagine.