An open conversation about race in the Junior League of Charlotte

Updated: Jun. 25, 2020 at 5:26 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - For nearly 95 years, the Junior League of Charlotte has trained women to be leaders in the community and make an impact through philanthropic endeavors.

It is one of about 300 chapters across the country with the same goal of creating leaders and propelling them into cities to make real change.

Currently, the league in Charlotte is made up of a diverse group of women, but it has not always been that way.

Charlitta Hatch has been a member of the Junior League for 13 years, so she felt prepared to take on the role of president.

She knew she would face challenges, but she did not predict a global pandemic and a national fight for racial justice all at once.

“It’s a privilege and it’s a big responsibility feeling like you are going through some of the turmoil as the mother of a black son and married to a black man and seeing what’s going on in our community, but also knowing I have the JLC where I know I can be a part of the change and the solution,” Hatch said.

Hatch often reminds members of how far the league has come.

“I reflect back to the 1980s when the first black member was admitted into the Junior League, and at that time you had to have eight sponsors,” Hatch said. “Now, we’ve transformed to only requiring one sponsor, and if you don’t have a sponsor we will match you with a sponsor. So we are always looking to eliminate those barriers that members may have.”

She follows the footsteps of women like Toni Freeman, who became the first black president of the JLC in 2002.

″I’ve always felt as a black female that people maybe just didn’t care,” Hatch said. “I now realize that people just didn’t know. I really do believe that some people didn’t realize the different experiences and challenges that black people in this country still face. It humbled me and challenged me that the way that I want to be treated where people don’t assume things, I also have to do that myself.”

Hatch said it is time to have uncomfortable conversations.

“The women of color can certainly have the conversation, but having our nonwomen of color participate in those conversations, serve as allies and charging the way to make sure it’s equal and just, I think that’s important and the women can certainly model the way for citizens of Charlotte,” she said.

Hatch said they also have to match words with action by pushing for equality through volunteering in the community.

“The Junior League is focused on school readiness for kids from birth to 5th grade in zip codes prioritized by Mecklenburg County,” she said. “It is our way of helping the economic mobility challenges with Charlotte being 50 out of 50. We do train our members on how you do you volunteer, what do you wear, what are the unconscious biases that you may have, how do you make sure the people you’re serving feel equal to you?”

Hatch said she believes in the power the league has to make a change.

“I think the world of women,, seeing all the things women can do,” she said. “The fact that in Charlotte you have 1,600 trained community leaders. The work that we can do internally to challenge our 1,600 women to have a conversation, and fire those people up to have a conversation. I believe that the breath of the JLC can have a huge impact not just through JL in the community but also with service through ourselves.”

She also says it is not about the destination, but the journey.

“We know that there has been systematic racism in place since slavery,” Hatch said. “I think that we will always need to work at this, and I’m not sure that we’ll ever be done. But as we look at the progress and celebrate the small wins and bring our children in, we can look back and say we were a part of that progress, and they can continue to move that forward.”

To learn more about the JLC, click here.

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