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In the beginning of 2019, Free Press’ News Voices: North Carolina project teamed up with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library on a series of workshops for local residents. People moved from visioning the future of local media to developing tactics for transforming the current local-news ecosystem into the dreams we believe are possible.

On June 1, we had the opportunity to test one of those tactics.

Workshop-series participants — who were already community leaders in a myriad of ways — are now emerging leaders in local-news transformation. After our workshop series concluded, they decided to convene local residents with Black journalists to engage in conversation about ways news can build and strengthen Black community in Charlotte.

So, on the first of June, at Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church in North Charlotte, about 30 people gathered to do just that.

Folks who’d gone through the library series played all of the roles in making this possible. Evan helped set up, Tina & Genna anchored the registration table, Frederick took photos, Nakisa helped with break-down and I co-facilitated the gathering with Phil.

Together, we led participants through a series of exercises to encourage discussion. Our time together began over food. We partnered with MuuRaw Vegan, a local Black-owned catering company, to provide some of the best pizza in Charlotte. With a little funk and disco playing in the background, this set the foundation for informal conversation and people in the room getting to know each other.

After telling people more about News Voices and the library cohort that co-organized the convening, we transitioned into a story circle.

The prompt was: Tell a story about being in and around Black folks in Charlotte. Tables held about five–six people apiece and each person had three minutes to share their stories. This helped build the community we hope to see more of in the future: communities that can share stories, engage in some level of vulnerability and feel relatively safe while doing so.

This process for getting to know each other helped the next portion of the discussion get deep quicker than it usually does when you’re together for only about 90 minutes. During this next section, we talked about themes that arose from the story circles and we guided the discussion with these questions:

  • For local news to better build & strengthen Black community:

    • What stories need to be told?

    • What questions do you have? And what questions need to be asked?

Perennial story topics like education and gentrification arose alongside some other ideas.

People in the room are interested in stories about:

  • Regular folks changing our communities for the better

  • Black movement, exercise and fitness leaders

  • How Charlotte has changed over the years

  • Black people in the parks

  • Building generational wealth

  • Land as community wealth

  • The changing Black experience

And people want more information on:

  • Black businesses

  • How to fight gentrification and hostile neighborhood takeovers

  • How to get more involved in the community

Questions arose like: How can more people support Black-led newsrooms? How can community storytellers collaborate with journalists? And who makes decisions about what’s covered in our local news?

And for us, the organizers, folks asked questions like: How do we get more people involved in these kinds of conversations? And is this something that can happen more often?

Since the people we’re in community with guide our work, the answer to the latter is yes. We always hope to bring more people into these conversations that serve as stepping stones to transforming our community’s role in the news that’s created about us.

Outside of co-facilitating these kinds of events, the community members comprising the emerging local News Voices leadership have other ideas up their sleeves about how to transform the community’s role in local news. And people also want more library workshops, which will lead to the cultivation of more local leaders.

All of these are things that will help build and strengthen Black community — and truly all communities — as we move collectively toward the creation of a news-and-information ecosystem in Charlotte that’s rich with collaboration between journalists and the people building the city alongside them.

Check out some photos from our gathering below:

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