At Least the Democrats Try to Bring Us Together

[Thomas Moore, "At least Democrats try to bring us together" Charlotte Observer (10/14/03): 13A]

I learned about the changing demographics of our school system last month. And I realized again that anybody who cares about building community in our region must vote Democratic in next month’s election. We are losing any sense of being a united community. Though both Republicans and Democrats have failed to bring people together, I’m more optimistic about the Democrats’ efforts. Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools’ changing demographics tell me we are drifting apart, becoming more like bigger U.S. cities with dreadful public schools and white flight to the suburbs. Look at the numbers. For the first time, black students outnumber whites in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. New figures show 43 percent of the system’s nearly 114,000 students are black, 42 percent white. Another 9 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent Asian. Minorities are now the majority.

When parents choose private school, they are in effect saying, "I’ll be committed to my community -- as long as it doesn’t involve my personal life." We talk about being one city, one county, one nation, but we have a long way to go. Children don’t see us together. Adults are becoming more polarized. We haven’t realized the lessons we were supposed to have absorbed by first grade: You sometimes have to give up short-term, selfish desires to have friends and people who will help you. You can’t always have things your way.

When I look at the Democratic Party, I see a cross-section of America. I see women and African Americans and Hispanics in leadership positions -- not enough, but it’s a start. The Republican Party seems far more uncomfortable with integration and diversity. The party acts as if we’d have been better off without the civil rights movement, which helped the United States become more of what it professes to be -- a land of opportunity for all. The Republican Party avoids working with African American institutions. Yes, I recently heard Mayor Pat McCrory, City Council candidate John Lassiter and five other Republicans at a candidates’ forum on the Westside. I appreciated their participation. But in general, I don’t see the Republican Party encouraging blacks to be part of it. When we try to talk about our concerns, Republicans turn away or call us liberals to discredit what we value.

It’s a shame Republicans shun African American involvement, because in many ways our two groups are alike. We are patriotic. We are religious. We prefer self-help to others helping us. As a child, I knew many African American adults who worked very hard, often at two or three jobs. These elders now have to depend upon government assistance, and wish they didn’t. But their jobs offered no retirement contributions and paid so poorly it was impossible to save for the future.

I understand the desire to be in homogenous environments. I work part-time at a white church and sometimes face awkward situations there because of race. It would be easier to work for a black church. But I’ve become more community-minded through my exposure to other cultures. That’s not a decision the Republican Party encourages. The party has been taken over by conservatives who apparently wish to isolate wealthy whites from everyone else. We’ve almost stopped seeing how dangerous that is for our city and country.

There are signs of hope. President Bush has stated the Republican Party wants more minority votes. I consider Sen. Elizabeth Dole more open to African Americans than Jesse Helms ever was. I believe there can be more leaders like her in the Republican Party. I call on Republicans to work with the NAACP and other minority organizations and institutions. Get out in the entire community -- not just when it’s time to court votes. Build trusting relationships. Slowly but surely, votes will follow. I really want to be a team player. I want to be on a team that tries to strengthen us all, versus those interested in strengthening only a small group. The late Mecklenburg County commissioner Jim Richardson, a Democrat, represented the best in that tradition. He was a statesman who encouraged people to unite, not divide. If we continue on our present course, there will be nothing to keep us in each other’s lives. We will have a divided Charlotte. And then all the private schools and gated communities in the world won’t be enough to lock the problems out.

Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books "Where is Thumbkin?" and "Do You Know the Muffin Man?". He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series "Music, Movement and More". He has also produced ten recordings for children.