Mecklenburg County April 2022

Population
1,099,845

County Seat
Charlotte

Median Income
$66,641

Population Density Designation
Urban

We started our tour of Mecklenburg County at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), a private, historically Black university ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the #1 private HBCU in the state.

Situated in the Piedmont region, Mecklenburg County is home to over one million individuals and includes Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city. In 2014, a study by researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research, Harvard University and the University of California Berkeley revealed that Charlotte ranked last among the 50 largest cities in the country in measures of upward mobility. Put simply, “If you were born poor in Charlotte, you’re going to die poor in Charlotte,” said JCSU President Clarence Armbrister.

One area facing some of these challenges is the Historic West End. The Historic West End dates back 150 years and is home to African-American neighborhoods anchored by JCSU. Through the years, residents in the area have been impacted by Charlotte’s rapid growth and continue to experience employment and healthcare challenges, food insecurity, and displacement.

Community leaders from Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance, LISC Charlotte, For the Struggle Inc., and Ubuntu Community Development Project shared how their work and footprint in the Historic West End is strengthening and revitalizing the neighborhoods.

Jamall Kinard, executive director for Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance said his organization realized that Black communities essentially do not exist across the county. Neighborhoods exist, but not communities according to Kinard. “To have a community, you need four main things: access to a supermarket, a health care center, some type of vocational school, and a banking and savings institution,” Kinard said.

Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance recently secured the lease to an old school building in the Historic West End and has plans to turn it into an economic mobility co-op for its residents. Kinard said they want a healthcare center in the building that will provide services on-site. The center will also serve as a space to educate kids about careers in the healthcare industry.

Before leaving campus, we toured the community and aquaponic gardens that are part of JCSU’s Sustainability Village, an “innovative learning-living prototype for students.” The gardens help the university with its recycling and waste reduction efforts.

From JCSU, the team made their way to Central Piedmont Community College. The college has six campuses across Mecklenburg County and enrolls approximately 56,000 students each year in a variety of degree, diploma, and certificate programs as well as continuing education and basic skills courses. It is one of the largest colleges in the state.

Panelists from Central Piedmont, Creative Player Foundation, Camino Community Center, and the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte talked about how their organizations are working to ensure equitable growth happens across the county, particularly in the Latinx community.

According to panelists, growth cannot happen until the needs they’re trying to serve are met─ and meeting the needs of the Latinx community begins with trust-building. Joevanne Estrada is the director of the Ruth G. Shaw Academic Learning Center at Central Piedmont and said creating a safe space where students and their families feel comfortable is crucial. “In the Latino community, it’s about that trust and it’s about staying true to that word,” she said.

Trust-building can even look like driving someone to the hospital and sitting with them to make sure they get the answers and help they need from healthcare professionals – something that both Daniel Araujo, executive director of Creative Player Foundation, and Rusty Price, founder and president of Camino Community Center, have done.

Our visit continued with a discussion led by Leading on Opportunity. The nonprofit’s director, Sherri Chisholm, said the group was created in response to the same 2014 study referenced at our JCSU visit that ranked Mecklenburg County 99 out of 100 counties in upward mobility. The group was charged with addressing the three determinants for success: early care and education, college and career readiness, and child and family stability. One way the group operates is by coming alongside community partners who are working to change economic mobility outcomes.

Novant Health is one of those partners.

Dr. Jerome Williams, vice president of consumer engagement at Novant Health, shared how their involvement in community health is focused on achieving health equity for all. Novant places community health workers in a variety of areas across the county, including the Valerie C. Woodard Center, a community resource center with multiple services under one roof. Community health workers have a dedicated office space and help clients set up appointments with primary care physicians and counselors.

Meet Dr. Algie Gatewood

Dr. Algie Gatewood is only the fourth President to lead Alamance Community College (ACC) since it opened in 1958. During Dr. Gatewood’s tenure at ACC, the college won its largest ever bond referendum – nearly $40 million – in 2018 to fund a number of major capital projects and expansions. The college also secured $16 million in county funding in 2014 to build the Advanced Applied Technology Center. Other notable accomplishments include creating a Biotechnology Center of Excellence, introducing an Early College, facilitating an apprenticeship program, and introducing nearly two dozen new academic programs and articulation agreements with state universities.

U39702, 5/22