The theme for Black History Month 2023 is “Resistance”, a single word that encompasses so much.
Through the centuries, a long line of brave and committed Black Americans have battled injustice, some on the public stage and others behind the scenes. Think of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee. Or the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when more than 200,000 demonstrators joined forces at the National Mall.
But for every high-profile or large-scale act of resistance, countless others go unnoticed. At Crisis Assistance Ministry, every day, we see brave and committed Black Charlotteans struggling to resist the forces of an unjust society right here in Mecklenburg County. The existence of systemic racism and the legacy of segregation created by deliberate public policies are evident in the fact that more than 8 out of 10 people seeking assistance at Crisis Assistance identify as Black or African American, despite comprising only a third of the population in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
While personal responsibility and decision-making play a role in each person’s life circumstances, there are larger forces at work that shape and limit the options of many members of historically disadvantaged groups.
Consider the hardworking mother of three who recently turned to Crisis Assistance for help paying her rent after being out of work for three days with the flu. As a home health care worker with no paid sick leave, time off means a smaller paycheck. That reduction in income can quickly spiral into falling behind on bills, which in turn can result in increased late fees, disconnection of utilities, and even eviction. Home health care is one of the lowest-paid industries, as are childcare and housekeeping. Black Americans, specifically Black women, are overrepresented in this type of low-wage job, due to complicated and intertwined factors that go far beyond an individual’s life choices.
As a community and a nation, we are past due for a reckoning. No one individual is responsible for the inequitable system we have inherited, but each of us has a responsibility to address it. At Crisis Assistance Ministry, where we see firsthand how centuries of systemic racism affect our Black neighbors, we will continue to speak up and resist the misconception that poverty is a personal failing.
In the words of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), founder of Black History Month, “African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings, since our arrival upon these shores. These efforts have been to advocate for a dignified self-determined life in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond the United States’ political jurisdiction.”
As the late great John Lewis advised, “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Want to learn more about the documented impact of systemic racism in Mecklenburg County?
- Read The Charlotte Observer’s article: 154 Years of Harm
- Download the report: “Systemic Racism in Mecklenburg County Government” by Kathleen Greer, Dr. Tom Cole, and John O’Connor (Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, 2021).
- Explore the Community Conversation Guide created by QC Family Tree.