Sunday, February 27, 2011

Black History Tribute: Dr. Ronald Carter

Posted by Jarvis Holliday On 2/27/2011 No comments
This is the final installment in my week-long tribute to Black History Month, where I've spotlighted Charlotte-area people and organizations that are making black history.

One of the things I enjoy most about my work as a journalist is the remarkable people I often meet when I'm working on stories. Last September, I spent a great deal of time with Dr. Ronald L. Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith University. I attended at least a half-dozen of his meetings and events where he spoke, as I gathered material for the article I was writing for Charlotte magazine. Months after the article came out ("Answering the Call," November 2010 issue), I'm seeing some of the things Dr. Carter was working on come to fruition.

Dr. Carter speaking at a recent event at JCSU. Photo by Jon Strayhorn/Media Arts Collective.

In his third year at the helm of JCSU, he's passionate about helping the historically black university connect more to the city--culturally and physically. He's launched several community-based programs that he feels will expose students to great opportunities and teach them to be civic-minded. He chairs the Charlotte Streetcar Advisory Committee, not the type of committee many university presidents would roll up their sleeves for, but he wants to ensure that his university and its Beatties Ford Road community are represented in the city's transit plans. One of those plans is Charlotte's proposed streetcar. The line would run a total of 10 miles along Beatties Ford Road near I-85 through Center City along Trade Street, traveling up Elizabeth Avenue by Central Piedmont Community College, and out to Central Avenue at Eastland Mall. Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) got a huge push in the right direction when it received a $25 million federal grant for the project last summer, but the costly streetcar still faces many economic challenges.

Dr. Carter was able to celebrate a smaller, but very important, victory two weeks ago, however. The Gold Rush, CATS' free Uptown bus service (the trolley on wheels that a lot of city and bank employees use), began its extended red line stops at JCSU on the west and Central Piedmont Community College to the east. The extension is made possible by a financial partnership between CATS, Charlotte Center City Partners, JCSU, and CPCC. Now JCSU students are able to travel to Uptown more conveniently to get to restaurants, meetings, cultural events, jobs/internships, and to catch buses and the light rail, all without using a car. Not to mention the potential for Uptown leaders--from city councilmen to business executives--to take the Gold Rush to JCSU's campus, where Dr. Carter has made the traditionally closed campus more open to building community and business relationships.

Another important initiative by the prez began in September. I attended a press conference then, in which he announced the university would be funding a community survey called Soul of the Northwest Corridor. Dr. Carter was inspired to have the study conducted after seeing the results of the Knight Foundation's Soul of the Community Project, which is a new community model that provides guidance for community and local government leaders seeking to create long-term, positive change within their cities. JCSU wanted to dig deeper and zero in on its neighborhood specifically. So it partnered with the Knight Foundation and hired Gallup to conduct the survey, which is said to be the first in the nation to be conducted at the neighborhood or community level.

Yesterday, JCSU released the results of the Soul of the Northwest Corridor Survey, in which 1,000 residents of neighborhoods along Beatties Ford Road were polled. It's a lot of data that can be particularly useful for a segment of the population that's not traditionally studied in such ways (click here to read it). I'm reminded of something Dr. Carter said a few months ago at an event in which he spoke in front of an audience of mostly African-American businessmen: "We cannot continue to say there is a problem and not define the problem." That's where Dr. Carter's going to make the most impact in the community. He's leading efforts to define the problems many African-Americans have complained about for years. And once they've been defined, real solutions can be sought.


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