Last week the Democratic National Committee announced that Charlotte, N.C., would host the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The Queen City wrestled the convention away from more popular cities like Cleveland, Minneapolis and St. Louis, Mo., to take its place on the world's stage, playing host to no fewer than 30,000 delegates. By all accounts, the North Carolina city had been the underdog in this matchup because of its reputation as an emerging metropolis, the home of the "New South," if you will.
But even before it was chosen as the host city for the convention, Charlotte had been dogged by national headlines. Its public school system is under fire for eliminating its volunteer diversity committee and sending students to neighborhood schools, relegating many economically disadvantaged Charlotteans to schools lacking vital resources and funding.
Despite Charlotte's challenges, the city's convention victory elicited a glowing mass e-mail from first lady Michelle Obama: "Charlotte is a city marked by its Southern charm, warm hospitality, and an 'up by the bootstraps' mentality that has propelled the city forward as one of the fastest-growing in the South. Vibrant, diverse, and full of opportunity, the Q.C. is home to innovative, hardworking folks with big hearts and open minds."
The 2012 DNC will take place under the leadership of the city's second African-American mayor — and first Democrat in two decades — Anthony Foxx. Did we mention that he is the youngest mayor ever elected in Charlotte history? The Root caught up with Mayor Foxx to discuss the DNC and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which helped produce the Charlotte native.
The Root: What were you thinking the minute you found out that Charlotte had won the DNC?
Anthony Foxx: I was very excited for the city. The DNC effort is the culmination of a lot of city building that has happened over many years. I also thought about my own family — five generations of people going back to 1860 in Carthage, North Carolina, where I can even go today to see where my great-grandmother was sold on an auction block. [We have] come so far — from the auction block to the mayor's office of the largest city in the state.
TR: What will the DNC bring to the Charlotte community?
AF: The level of national and international recognition is going to be incredible. It won't just start the week of the convention — it has already started. I've already heard of international companies that have begun scoping out hotels and locations. I think there will be a direct economic impact from hotels, restaurants and travel-related business. There will also be a secondary benefit that will be much longer term, which will be the opportunity to introduce our city and state to the world.
TR: How will you ensure that people from all walks of life have access to the jobs and opportunities that this convention will create?
AF: As we start working to envision the DNC in a much more fleshed-out way, that will be the focus of the effort: making sure that we are inclusive in the opportunities, not exclusive, especially as it relates to small businesses. We've got to partner with the Democratic National Committee on how we execute this vision. It is my intention that this event be a proof point for involving our community in these opportunities and showing that we can and will deliver.
TR: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has been getting slammed in the media and has even been referred to as "terrible" by some. As a product of the school system, what are your thoughts on CMS?
AF: One of the things that Charlotte is not unique in having to deal with is the fact that nationally, there is a significant achievement gap. In fact, if we compare the gap [between] kids in Charlotte [and those in] some major cities along social and economic lines, we fare pretty well. Having said that, the failure rate is still too high. I don't think it's terrible by any stretch.
Like anything else, [CMS is] as good as the resources that are placed in it, and it's as good as the community wants it to be. One of the real developments over the last 20 years has been the extent to which there has been a lot of anti-rhetoric about the schools. It started with some who said resources weren't the issue — we needed to create more accountability in the school system. Other voices were arguing that you can have all of the accountability that you want, but with no resources, what does it matter? It's not an either-or situation; our kids need dramatically greater levels of involvement and investment in their future, and we've got to reinvent the way education is delivered.
TR: What can be done?
AF: It has to be a joint effort. We need to have more flexibility with the calendar, which means a longer school year. As parents, we need to be cutting off the television and having our kids do their homework before they go out and play. We need to serve as tutors. I tutor a young man once a week at my alma mater West Charlotte High School.
We need to create a culture in this city that does not tolerate mediocrity. To be the pubic school system that we all want to be, we're going to have to stop arguing with ourselves and pick up a bucket and a squeegee and start working at it.
Nsenga Burton is editor-at-large for The Root. She also serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing and is an assistant professor of communication and media studies at Goucher College in Baltimore. Follow her on Twitter.