Friday, August 23, 2013

Charlotte natives know this city before it became what it is today, the way we transplants know it. Because of my work as a journalist, I tend to learn more about this city's history than the average person who moved here within the last decade, like myself (Charlotte had the nation's fastest growing population from 2000 to 2010, by the way). And I love talking to natives who share stories about how things used to be, like how Uptown Charlotte wasn't always the hip and attractive destination it is now, and where certain low-income housing projects used to be, long since replaced by ritzy urban living. As they wax poetic on yesteryear, most will agree that we're all better off with the Charlotte of today. But for some, they want to bring back a little of what's been lost.

That's the case with West Fest, an annual community festival that thrived in the 1990s and that showcased Charlotte’s Westside. It would take place on the football field of West Charlotte High School and feature local vendors, live musical performances, community resources, games, and more. Now, through a collaborative effort led by several local organizations, West Fest returns this Saturday, August 24, noon to 6 p.m., free and open to the public.

West Fest 2013 is being presented as the latest initiative from Project L.I.F.T., the lauded public/private partnership between community leaders, Charlotte-based corporations and foundations, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to help transform West Charlotte High and the eight elementary and middle schools that feed into it. The other major partners in West Fest are UNCC's Urban Education Collaborative, Radio One Charlotte, WBTV, and West Charlotte alum Amber May.

It's an event for the whole family. There'll be food, games, vendors, and a full afternoon of performances from about 20 musicians, poets, and dance groups. The performance lineup includes rappers Bettie Grind and Mr. 704, soul singer Nicci Canada, slam poet Bluz, the West Charlotte band and cheerleaders, and more before national gospel recording artist Zacardi Cortez closes out the stage. Click here for the complete schedule.

Each of the entertainment acts will be introduced by West Charlotte graduates from the 1970s through 2000s, including many who have gone one to become community leaders, like Charlotte City Councilman and mayoral candidate James “Smuggie” Mitchell and JCSU head basketball coach Steve Joyner. There was a time when West Charlotte was churning out future community leaders like them, as well as former-Charlotte-mayor-turned-recently-appointed-U.S.-Secretary-of-Transportation Anthony Foxx. That's the vital community West Fest is trying to showcase, and that Project L.I.F.T. is working year-round to bring back. It starts with the community, the parents, the youth--everyone.

In other Project L.I.F.T. news, the organization is asking fathers with students at any of its nine schools to personally take their kids to school on August 26. They're participating in the nationwide Million Father March, created by The Black Star Project, to increase adult male participation in schools. Research shows an increase in male involvement increases academic and social outcomes for students.


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