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Charlotte Food & Social Mobility Summit

Published: July 2019
Authors: Jennifer Zuckerman

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Summit Purpose

In May 2019, The Duke Endowment, Novant Health and the Winer Family Foundation co-sponsored the Charlotte Food & Social Mobility Summit. The event was facilitated by the World Food Policy Center at Duke. The purpose of the event was to start conversations to bridge economic mobility and food in Charlotte, building on the momentum and on-the ground action already taking place in the Charlotte Metro Area. This one-day event was intended to spur new conversations, catalyze new relationships, and begin to drive the conversation to efforts that build community ownership and generational wealth through food-aligning food sovereignty and economic mobility. The presentations grounded attendees in a historic perspective, to explain how the policies and practices that have created the racial wealth gap are still affecting Charlotte communities today.

Goals for the Summit

  1. Understand the complexity of the wicked problems around food issues and social mobility, and how those two are interrelated
  2. Align funding and activity strategies to move Charlotte and North Carolina forward
  3. Take steps to move towards a community ownership model food community


A number of recommendations follow logically from the summit. These recommendations are based on subject matter expertise, presentations and discussions from the summit, participant evaluations and recommendations, and lessons learned from similar work in Durham, NC.

Deepen shared race equity

To move towards equitable community development, it would be helpful in Charlotte to move toward a deeper shared understanding of race and equity at both the individual levels and the institutional levels.

  • Funders could continue to invest in organizations such as Race Matters for Juvenile Justice and the Mecklenburg County Health Department to continue to offer racial equity groundwater trainings to establish a common understanding of inequities and race across the food and community development space. Organizations working in the food and community development space could commit that staff and leadership attend at least one racial equity groundwater training by December 2021.
  • Nonprofit, philanthropic, and government institutions could invest in organizational race equity development efforts. Contract with Biwa | Emergent Equity to develop and implement individual institutional race equity analyses and action plans for their organizations working in the Charlotte metro area in order to create institutional depth in operating from a race equity perspective.
  • Individuals could expand their own individual education through key readings such as To Right These Wrongs by Robert Korstad, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, Decolonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva, and Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Joy DeGruy.

Create shared understanding of the national, state, and local history that has contributed to the inequities in food, business ownership, and land ownership in the Charlotte Metro Area

Establish a deeper understanding of the intended and unintended impacts of policy and practice throughout history so that future policy recommendations can avoid continued displacement of black and brown communities and focus on equitable community development.

  • Contract with Tom Hanchett, Community Historian, to develop/expand a comprehensive history of land and food and its racial implications in Charlotte.
  • Partner with UNC-Charlotte and the Levine Museum of the New South to create an educational display and presentation that can be shared broadly across community.
  • Develop video and other multimedia outreach strategies that can be used by government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), corporations, philanthropy, faith communities, neighborhood organizations, etc. to extend education as broadly as possible.

Establish/expand a coordinating body for existing activities in the food system space.

There is significant activity taking place in the Charlotte Metro area in every aspect of the food system. However, like most large metro areas, this work often takes place in silos or in groups of 2-3 organizations working collectively. An assessment of current activity and establishment or expansion of a coordinating body can help connect disparate activities and avoid duplication of efforts.

  • Conduct a stakeholder mapping of existing entities in the food system space, looking at each component of the food system including agriculture, processing and distribution, retail/institutional procurement, consumption, and food waste. This work would ideally include community-rooted and volunteer-led organizations working most closely in community.
  • Conduct key stakeholder interviews, centering neighborhood and non-traditional leaders, to identify key elements for connecting grassroots and institutional organizations in authentic and collaborative ways.
  • Based on the mapping and interviews, either build the capacity of an existing entity, such as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council to become a comprehensive coordinating body, or create a new structure to fit the specific needs and requests of the food system stakeholders.

Explore existing and develop new mechanisms for accessing capital for entrepreneurs of color

Historically disinvested communities want opportunity and the ability to control their destiny. Focusing on increasing access to capital for entrepreneurs of color can open opportunities to begin building wealth.

  • Conduct interviews with entrepreneurs of color in the Charlotte Metro area to assess their experiences with accessing capital to understand key needs and barriers.
  • Identify potential funding mechanisms-grants, angel investors, Community Development Financial Institutions, traditional banks, and federal, state, and local programs.
  • Convene a conversation with entrepreneurs and funding institutions.

Collaborate as institutions and funders to support a community-led initiative

This work moves at the speed of trust, and trust can be built by joint action. While many collaborative efforts have taken place in the Charlotte Metro Area, they are typically planned and coordinated by institutional leadership, engaging community as outreach. True listening to community leadership and identifying the institutional role of support can lead to new and promising ways forward. There is interest in the Charlotte Metro area to understand more deeply a community-led approach, such as the Seeds of Change project on West Boulevard.

  • Funders should jointly invest in an initial Phase of the Seeds of Change project, with a focus on both collaboration and capacity building, allowing the flexibility in the work to fail forward and celebrate learning.