It’s the what, but also the who and how


Valaida Fullwood is a writer and project consultant. She is the award-winning author of “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists,” co-creator of The Soul of Philanthropy touring exhibit, and a founding member of NGAAP, Charlotte’s Black philanthropic collective. She can be reached on LinkedIn and at

For decades, I and many longtime Charlotteans have observed a familiar pattern among corporate and civic leadership when national research or disturbing headlines shine unflattering light on our city.

 Back in 2001, it was the Putman social capital study that ranked Charlotte at the bottom — 39th out of 40 major cities — in interracial trust. Around 2009, school re-segregation and dismal achievement data were the catalysts. Then, in 2014, the Chetty upward-mobility study ranked Charlotte 50th out of 50 as the worst American metropolis for climbing out of poverty when growing up poor. On the heels of that report, the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott in 2016 sparked a social uprising, giving further credence to both the Putnam and Chetty research.

At these pivotal moments over decades, like clockwork, the usual suspects rush in to “fix the problem” and rally impressively to raise millions. While well-intended, they prove themselves ill-equipped.

Fund-raising does not equate to community-building. This has long been evident as past initiatives routinely fell short in producing meaningful change at scale. Civic and corporate leaders appear to sidestep opportunities to be reflective, inclusive and transparent and thus condemn themselves to the blind spots, pitfalls and errors of the past. As residents, we find ourselves grappling with the same issues and root problems again and again, further seeding distrust and deepening inequities.

Now, racial inequities illuminated in the wake of the global pandemic and George Floyd’s murder have spurred civic leaders and corporations to act again by announcing big-dollar initiatives. No doubt a commendable impulse, yet I’m compelled to wonder whether they ever pause to reflect on the trail of past big-dollar initiatives.


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