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Group to unveil new urban agenda
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 Patrick Graham

Organizers hope to attract several hundred people Wednesday to Park Ministries for what’s being called “A Day of Opportunity.”

In addition to commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, a group of emerging leaders will release a “new policy agenda” to address issues in North Carolina affecting education, economics, workforce development, health, civic engagement and social justice.

The group, all young volunteers, was formed by Patrick Graham, president and CEO of the Urban League of the Carolinas, in the immediate aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Graham met with Qcitmetro to talk about the event. The Q&A below is based on that interview.

Q. What’s going to happen on Wednesday, August 28?

You will see some entertainment and celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. But then you will see the release of the actual public policy agenda itself and the very specific types of policy initiatives that we want to address. For example, under “education” we are going to be releasing a policy agenda that asked the North Carolina legislature to take us from being 46th in the nation per capita investment for students to the top 20 percent over the next five years. Under “civic engagement,” we want to increase the amount of people that are registered and that vote in precincts that are low- to moderate-performing in the next two years. It is these types of policies that you will see discussed. We want a repeal of the current unemployment benefit system in North Carolina. To take people from 26 weeks (of unemployment benefits) down to 12 weeks, to take them from $500 a week to just a little over $300 a week, is creating a situation where people will have limited wages but will actually be living in poverty, and that’s not what we want for North Carolina.

Q. Why call it a Day of Opportunity?

We actually look at everyone as “at-opportunity.” Instead of looking at communities as “at-risk,” we look at them as at-opportunity to be human capital and human resources that can lead us to a more competitive Charlotte, a more competitive North Carolina, a more competitive nation. We don’t look at the situations we face as grave and insurmountable. We look at them as opportunities for a new way of thinking, a new way of operating. These types of movements, just like the Civil Rights Movement, started in similar fashion, with ideas that people actually began to do.

Q. Is this an Urban League event?

This is an event that we are facilitating, but it’s actually made up of a group of individuals. Over 60 people are on the planning committee for this event. These are people who want to see us do something different in North Carolina concerning public policy.

Q. What gives you optimism?

I’m very optimistic because, one, the group of individuals who are working on this, the average age is 30 years old. With that, you have people who have access to social media, people who have larger networks. I see this as an opportunity to get a younger generation engaged around leadership in civil rights and discourse. Another reason that I’m optimistic is that this is a different approach – we’re talking about a sustained movement, not of rallies, but actually meeting with elected officials, local business, to really try and get their support on trying to change some of these policies in North Carolina. I believe that it starts with our grassroots politicians, getting them on board with this agenda so that they can also carry this to the state level. It’s about meeting people in these rural communities, because many of the senators and representatives that you see at the state level are coming from rural communities where people don’t have a full understanding of how these things impact them, and many of them are poor. So this is an opportunity also for us to create coalitions and cross race and class lines.

Q. These types of initiatives seem to come and go. What’s different about this one?

A problem we see with a lot of agendas is that they are very short term; you’re only talking about what happens in a budget year as opposed to setting out a marker – long distance – that we actually strive toward that creates more sustainable funding and more sustainable communities. We’ve already proven that it can work. Think about the fact that we have the State of Ethnic Charlotte initiative, of which this is a part. It had policy recommendations for the private sector. One of the things that came out of it was the Urban League Bank. That Urban League Bank now, since November – which came out of that initiative – has leant $2.7 million to minority business. Hundreds of accounts for those who were un-banked, or un-bankable, are now here. So we know there are things that can work, and we can see them. So it’s a matter now of telling that story and getting more people involved that can happen.

Date: Wednesday, August 28
Time: 6 p.m.
Place: Park Ministries (6029 Beatties Ford Road)


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October 9, 2015
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