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Brenda Tindal, Charlotte historian, looks back before moving forward

The 36-year-old historian is leaving the Levine Museum of the New South to begin a new chapter at the Detroit Historical Society.

Brinda Tindal (Qcitymetro)

Brenda Tindal surprised many when she announced earlier this month that she was stepping down as historian at the Levine Museum of the New South to accept a job in Detroit.

In Motown, the Charlotte native, will be director of education at the Detroit Historical Society, where, among other things, she will help lead an initiative tracing the history of the 1967 Detroit riots.

Her final day at the Levine Museum will be Dec. 8.

Qcitymetro met with Tindal this week to talk about a range of topic, including her decision to leave Charlotte and her aspirations for a new career in Detroit. Despite the move, she said, Charlotte is home – a place bristling with family and friends – so she doesn’t see it as a final goodbye.

Here are some excerpts of that interview, edited for brevity and clarity.

Q. The last time we talked officially, you were talking about the Levine Museum as a career move. What happened?

When you get an opportunity to work in your hometown, work in an institution that has helped cultivate you intellectually and professionally, you value it immensely, and that hasn’t changed at all. But the opportunity to continue this work in a place like Detroit is exciting to me. I’m 36 years old, still incredibly young, unmarried, no children. If there were a time to sort of spread my wings a little bit, now would be the time. I value Charlotte, I love Charlotte, and I love Levine Museum of the New South, so it’s definitely bittersweet to leave a place that really gave me my wings.

Q. What do like about the Detroit job?

So much. Detroit is a place that has experienced a lot over the years, and I don’t think it’s been given its due credit. But it’s also a place that has an incredible history that needs to be documented in a more robust fashion. I think the Detroit Historical Society is doing just that — trying to capture the history of Detroit. Its newest exhibit, as part of this Detroit 67 project, is fantastic. And I think it’s on the cusp of really engaging the deep roots, the deep history and the important voices in a place like Detroit. I’m just excited to be able play a role in that important project.

Q. What are you leaving undone here in Charlotte?

I don’t think I’m leaving anything undone. I think the Levine Museum is on the cusp of some really great, innovative work, and I think some of our new staff members…have some amazing ideas about how to increase our footprint, both virtually as well as the work we do here. The work will continue. I think we have a fantastic group of folks to continue the work that I’ve been able to be a part of for the past two years.

Q. How would you rate Charlotte’s arts and cultural scene?

I remember going to a Discuss Charlotte event that talked about Charlotte as a creative city. I think there is incredible talent here. We have seen the cultural corridor grow tremendously, especially in the last 10 to 20 years, and that’s exciting. We’ve also seen smaller, more boutique cultural organizations pop up. I think the cultural sector is going to help lead the way for Charlotte, and I hope there is room for that.

Q. What’s it like to be in Charlotte as a young, single person?

It’s hard. I would say it’s difficult because you’re trying to cultivate your career and the city is as busy as it is. I think having work-life balance is an aspiration that millinials and young professionals desire to have. But when you’re young in your career, this is the time to go out there and be adventurous and be engaged while you have the energy and stamina.

Q. How will you find that work-life balance in Detroit?

I think being very intentional about it. I don’t know all the answers just yet. I’m going to be busy in Detroit, I’m sure, particularly trying to get to know the community, but I’m going to pace myself. I’ve learned a lot being so busy here in Charlotte and other places I’ve been. I think I’m at a point where I have a bit more wisdom and still more to learned about how to pace myself.

Q. Have you found a place to stay in Detroit?

I am actively looking. I think I have zeroed in on a place. I’d like to be close to the midtown-downtown area. That’s where the arts and cultural corridor is clustered, much like Charlotte’s center city. If I can find a place for a decent price in that area, which I’m honing in on, I would be very happy.

Q. You’re no going to buy one of those beautiful, old abandoned properties and fix it up?

Not right now. I’m going to get situated first. I’m going to sit at the feet of the community before I do anything that dramatic. I think it’s really important for me to learn the community. I haven’t lived in Detroit and would like to learn more about the city, not just from an intellectual perspective but from a community-centric perspective. So I want to do that work first, before I purchase property or do anything like that.

Q. If this were an exit interview, what advice would you have for Charlotte?

History certainly repeats itself. I would love to see some sustainable changes in the areas where we see a deficit. Charlotte has a reputation of having task forces and having initiatives that are very good intentioned. I’d really like to see growth in areas like affordable housing and areas like the intergenerational poverty cycle, so that 20 or 30 years from now we’re not having the same conversations.

Q. What you think it will take for that to happen?

I’ve said this before — if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. I think we need to make sure that whatever table we’re cultivating as a city, that we make room for the less fortunate, for folks who maybe haven’t had a seat at the table. It’s hard to make sustainable changes if you’re not hearing the voices and grievances of individuals who aren’t part of the policy-making process. I’m very hopeful. I think of this past (city) election; I think about some of the conversations that have been taking place, and lots of new energy helping guide the future of Charlotte. I’m very proud to see those changes.

Q. Is there a moment that will stand out in your mind about your time here?

I definitely would say September, 2016.

Q. You mean the Keith Scott shooting?

Absolutely. We were having an event here at the museum…and I remember after I left that event, I turned on the news and I heard about Keith Lamont Scott. In fact, I think I may have gone onto social media and just saw all kinds of frustrated posts. And I was like, “Wow!” This is very much unlike what happened in the aftermath of Jonathan Ferrell’s killing. For me, I could sense the consciousness of the city shift. I could sense it. And the day after the unrest that took place in the University area, I remember driving into the UNC Charlotte area and it was so quiet that you could almost hear a pin drop, and if you know anything about the University area at 7 o’clock in the morning, it’s busy. In that moment, I thought, “Wow!” And then to be in center city and witness the grand exodus when there was concern that there would be unrest in center city. That also was a very moving moment.

Q. Any parting words before you go

Never have a poverty of imagination. This city has so much potential. Give young people an opportunity to be part of leading Charlotte into its future.

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