ONE Charlotte kicks off with marching, music and prayers

Updated: Nov. 6, 2016 at 7:41 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLOTTE, NC (Kathleen Purvis/ The Charlotte Observer)- After unrest over a police shooting erupted in the city six weeks ago, ONE Charlotte aims to bring a lot of people together. On Sunday, at its first event, it even managed to bring together the staffs from rival health care systems: Novant, wearing purple shirts, and Carolinas HealthCare System, wearing blue.

"Blue and purple meet! Blue and purple meet!" Rocio Gonzalez, executive director of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce, couldn't contain her excitement at the start of ONE Charlotte's debut event, a peaceful march from The Square at Trade and Tryon streets to Romare Bearden Park, followed by an afternoon of speeches and music.

Even Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts voiced her approval: "Blue and purple – every color is welcome here."

More officially, Roberts and county commissioners Chair Trevor Fuller issued a proclamation, read from the stage, declaring Sunday "ONE Charlotte Day."

Jesse Cureton, a ONE Charlotte co-organizer, said Sunday's march was symbolic, but he also hopes it's only the beginning of efforts to bring people together and start conversations.

The riots that followed the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by police on Sept. 20 "was representative of things deep and systemic in our community. We couldn't sit back. We're looking to change the narrative."

ONE Charlotte (which isn't affiliated with O.N.E. Charlotte, an education network focusing on issues with schools) is a collection of public and private groups, including support from both Novant and Carolinas HealthCare. The group is led by Cureton; Brett Carter, chief operating officer of global technology for Bank of America; and Gene Woods, president and CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System. Carl Armato, CEO of Novant Health, also has been involved in the discussions, says Cureton.

Cureton says the group has approached 50 businesses in the city, looking at ways it can support initiatives in everything from housing to jobs to health care access.

"Our narrative as a city is we do a good job raising money and getting things done. Our next phase is focused on community activation, continuing the conversation."

Sunday's celebration was focused on unity and community healing. Just about every color, gender and age was represented by the time the group of about 1,000 marchers reached the park, where a stage and tent were set up for the afternoon celebration. The crowd quickly grew to about 2,000 as people unfolded chairs, spread out blankets and settled in with food-truck plates and picnics.

A large gospel choir from Friendship Missionary Baptist Church kicked off the celebration, along with a Puerto Rican drum group and folk dancers that echoed off the shiny buildings surrounding the park.

For the convocation, speakers representing different communities – Baptist, nondenominational Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Latino – took turns leading prayers, from Bishop Wade Ferguson of the Fifteenth Street Church of God to Rabbi Judith Schindler, former senior rabbi of Temple Beth El and now associate professor of Jewish studies at Queens University.

The Rev. Rusty Price of Camino Church started out in Spanish and got enthusiastic applause before his translator had spoken a word.

The prayers ended with Zianna Oliphant, the 9-year-old Charlotte girl whose tearful plea to Charlotte City Council to end racism brought worldwide attention. Wearing a bright pink and blue ribbon in her hair, Zianna's speech this time was simple:

"Love one another, help one another," she said, seeming to wrestle a little with stage fright but smiling all the while. "Love, peace and harmony."