Guest Commentary

Where every voice is valued

It’s time to get off the sidelines to address community concerns

Justin Perry

Just because a candidate has black skin does not mean that he or she will best advocate for the needs of the black community.

There, I said it, and now I can exhale.

As a native Charlottean, I have seen candidates year after year pander to us. They stand in forums of us and grandstand. They gain our votes despite having no clear, laid-out plan for change.

Even worse, I have seen black candidates get a pass after saying words and supporting policies that we would never tolerate from a white candidate, all as we mistake their biases as “keeping it real.”

This year is no different, and the school board race has highlighted a long, pervasive pattern.

I think the Black Political Caucus (BPC) did strong work in its city election endorsements. However, I see some troubling things related to its choices for school board.

Some black candidates are feeding a disturbing narrative. In a school system where the suspension rate for black children was 9 times higher than for their white peers in 2015 and where 100 percent of the 28 pre-k suspensions were black 4- and 5-year-olds, I cannot hear that we simply need more “law and order” in our schools. What about restorative justice for black children?

On the campaign trail, we hear some candidates hammer “law and order” as a talking point, only to have their second point be about single mothers.

Many of our strongest households are headed by single mothers. So the question should be, why are our women in this position to begin with? How did we reach a point where becoming a single mother became not only an emotional choice but, at times, a rational one?

If a candidate cannot connect the dots to see that our school system is feeding a school-to-prison pipeline versus a school-to-career or school-to-college pathway (which reduces the pool of potential male suitors) then why should we support that candidate?

Let those words leave the mouth of a white candidate and tell me how you would respond.

This is not a new game. One of the greatest plays of oppression is to have oppressive ideologies articulated by someone of the demographic you seek to oppress.

When candidates spend time pumping up how dire discipline issues are in the black community while minimizing issues around our white students, that is troubling. The only thing worse is for those candidates to slip past our black community and win endorsement from a respected body.

This brings me to my final point:

One of the greatest challenges in our community as black folks is that those of us in the middle class, whether active in career or retired, are too often missing in our schools.

In the push to end racial desegregation, many of us downplayed the value of economic integration. Our older generations may have endured schools that were racially segregated, but they also were blessed with schools that were economically integrated.

Today, many of us seem to mistake schools that are 95 percent high-poverty as HBCUs. They are not the same, and many of us know it, which is why a growing number of us are sending our children to magnet and charter schools.

Ultimately, my generation and younger middle-class black folks need to be more active in the BPC. I was once in a period of stepping back and being less active, so that made me part of the problem.

All generations are needed in this effort. Older residents have much they can teach us. Likewise, younger folks can contribute, too, especially around social media outreach.

Collectively, we must do better, unless we want to watch our black youth, especially our economically isolated youth, go further down the path of transitioning Charlotte into Baltimore. I am in the process of joining the BPC. I encourage you to join as well.

Justin Perry is co-chair of OneMeck, which advocates for greater school diversity and opportunity.

Editor’s Note: What’s on your mind? Email We welcome diverse viewpoints.

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