Why Colette Forrest is stepping down as chair of Black Political Caucus

The longtime community activist acknowledges a growing frustration as she worked to strengthen the BPC to make it more relevant in local politics.

Colette Forrest (Qcitymetro.com)

When 2018 arrives in the Qcity, Colette Forrest won’t be leading the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, a role she’s held for less than a year.

She’s stepping down as chair but plans to stay active in the organization.

Her surprise resignation means that Eric Erickson, the groups first vice chair, will assume the top spot.

Forrest, a single mother and longtime community activist, said she’s leaving, in part, because she accomplished all she set out to do – she’s grown the organization’s membership, improved its finances, and worked to make the PBC more influential in local politics.

Forrest said that as the caucus increased its outreach efforts, she began to see a more diverse audience attending the group’s town hall meetings – more people who were not African American.

“I was very proud of the fact that, as an African American woman, I was leading an organization at such a time as this that was actually making an imprint, not just in African American politics but in politics,” she said.

Behind the scene, however, Forrest said she also faced frustrations – issues primarily caused black elected officials who, according to Forrest, sought to put their own agendas ahead of caucus concerns.

And then came the day in September when Forrest learned that the caucus would have to pay fines totaling $1,500 to the state Board of Elections for failing to file spending reports on time.

The fines date to 2016, when Gloria Rembert was caucus chair, but Forrest said she was never told about the assessment until late into her first year in office. The revelation, she said, left her feeling less trustful.

Forrest said she leaves with no bitterness and hopes the caucus will thrive under her successor.

Forrest also talked her belief that black voters in Charlotte-Mecklenburg must demand more accountability from those they put in office.

Q. So what’s the real story? Nobody quits when she’s on top.

I came into the caucus, being elected February 19, 2017, and I had a platform that I publicized. I wanted to increase the footprint of the caucus in the community. I wanted to raise money and increase membership. I have done all of those things, by the help of the membership and help of the community. So I feel that I’ve accomplished everything I’ve set out to accomplish, and it’s now time for me to move from this space and allow others to now take over the reins.

Q. Isn’t there still more work to be done?

There is, but does it mean that I’m the only one who can do the work?

Q. Was there any tension behind your decision to step down?

I’m going to always be transparent with you, because I respect you. I was very blindsided by the previous chair not letting me know that we had a $1,500 price tag with the state Board of Elections. As a member in 2016, the membership was never told about that. I did not know we had fines that were accruing. My predecessor never shared that with the body, and she certainly never shared that with me as I took office. So I had no time to do anything but…just paid the money, because that was the right thing to do. I do think that that had something to do with dampening my trust with the infrastructure that proceeded me. I would be dishonest if I didn’t say that hampered my trust.

Q. Was there tension between you and your executive committee?

I think any organization that has black elected officials…it gets tricky, because the elected officials have their own agendas. Sometimes they don’t wish to support leadership, because they have their own agendas. I think I would not be transparently truthful if I did not say there were tensions among me and executive committee members and elected officials within the Black Political Caucus.

Q. Are you leaving with hard feelings?

Oh, God, no! I’ve been a member of the caucus for 20 years; I am still going to be a member of the caucus. I’m just not going to be the chair of the caucus.

Q. Where do you think the caucus stands at this point?

I think that’s up for the voters and community to say. I think I can say I had a little hand in rebuilding and reshaping and rebranding the caucus. I definitely feel that I left the caucus in a far better position Dec. 31, 2017 than when I met the caucus Feb. 18, 2017, before I ran and was elected.

Q. So what’s next for Colette?

Breathing. It was a lot of late nights and early mornings and sacrifices on my son’s part. I’m a single mother. He had to surrender his membership to Cub Scouts. We had to let that go, because I couldn’t balance it all just being me. Swimming lessons. A lot of things fell by the wayside.

Q. What do you want your caucus legacy to be?

I want my legacy to be that the Black Political Caucus became a relevant organization for all of Charlotte, not just black Charlotte…that we, the Black Political Caucus, demonstrated our relevancy to people other than African Americans.

Q. What’s your hope for the new year?

I’d like to see more people of color running for public office. I’d like to see take place on the Board of County Commissioners what we saw take place on City Council. I’d like to see things shaken up. I’d like to see the status quo challenged. I’d like to see an infusion of more younger people running for the Board of County Commission.

Q. African Americans hold a number of high-profile positions in local government. Are we, black voters, getting our money’s worth?

As African American voters, I think we are becoming more aware of our power and our muscle. I think we need to grow or muscles for accountability. I think we need to challenge those African Americans that are in public office. When I think of the direness of the infrastructure on West Boulevard and Beatties Ford Road, I’d like to ask James “Smuggie” Mitchell more deliberately and with more intentionality, “What are you doing for African American businesses? Ok, so you’re now reappointed to the economic development committee; what are you doing?” We have to have more expectation of those we elect to public office who look like us.

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