City Life Critics’ Picks 2020

No one will ever forget 2020, that much we can be sure of. Throughout a pandemic, widespread protests and an election that damn near broke our democracy, there has been no shortage of Charlotteans who have stepped up to help those in need, light the way for others and push for a better society. This is for those folks and the movements they represent.

All categories

Local Hero:
Lucille Puckett

Perhaps more than anyone else, Lucille Puckett is filling the shoes left behind by Judy Williams. After running for school board in 2003 and mayor in 2013, Puckett had already started doing community work around violence when the issue quite literally came to her doorstep on March 22, 2016. That was the day her 26-year-old son Shawn Harbin Jr. was murdered in her front yard while she watched, helpless.

Lucille Puckett at a protest over the summer. (Photo by Lee Flythe)

Two weeks after Shawn’s murder, Puckett joined CMPD’s Homicide Support Group, and eventually founded Take Back Our H.O.O.D.S (TBOH). She can often be found at the scenes of murders, easy to spot with her red TBOH hoodie and red hair, supporting family and friends through what is often the worst night of their lives, while also documenting the tragic stories on Facebook Live.

“Ever since [Shawn died] I’ve been out here trying to make a change, trying to make a difference, trying to be a support for families and also trying to do something as far as prevention,” she said.

This year, she has begun to focus more on the prevention aspect, working to intervene on situations that have come to a head in the communities where she works, while continuing to help families of the deceased through the frustrating  process of justice. As the number of homicides in our city passes the 25-year high we saw in 2019, Puckett’s work is more important than ever.

A deputy informs Lucille Puckett and other protesters they need to leave the property of the Gaston County Courthouse in July. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Best Twitter:
Dion Beary, @hashtagdion

Ok, let’s address one thing up front. Yes, Inside 485 founder Dion Beary has been a major contributor to this issue, writing many of the Critics’ Picks in the Food & Drink section while picking up some others as well. However, this award was a decision made long before we hired him for his services, as Beary has spent the year being one of those things you just see all too rarely: a voice of reason on Twitter.

We don’t always agree with Dion’s takes, but we respect the fact that he doesn’t just fire them out there for engagement; he clearly thinks them through first.

Shamefully but not surprisingly, COVID-19 became politicized in America fairly quickly, and while most folks on Charlotte Twitter took sides and dug in with either the “shut it down and stay away” or “reopen and fuck ‘em all” points of view, Dion took a step back and tried to make sense of a landscape in which the only thing less consistent than the restrictions was the enforcement.

Oh, and he’s funny too. For the record, the tongue-in-cheek apology he issued after catching shit for a tweet that read, “Joe said, ‘I need a WAP: a woman and POC’” tweet was perhaps the best thing to happen on Charlotte Twitter all year.

Funniest Twitter:
CLT Updates, @clt_updates

No one in our organization is a fan of anonymous accounts on any social media platform, but CLT Updates often has us belly-laughing at the snide, satiric remarks they make about happenings in the Charlotte area. Sometimes the tweets are stabs at people for no good reason, but beyond that there is mostly just hilarity.

Our favorites include tweets about the false and untimely death of Panthers’ mascot, Sir Purr. I don’t know when all of Purr’s nine lives will be used up, but the potential for more funny, fake news like that has us hanging on the edge of our seats.

Maybe we just have a darker sense of humor than most and enjoy terrible takes and a little offensive humor. Maybe CLT Updates isn’t funny to you at all, but it has been one of our favorite accounts created this year. In fact, might we suggest this mystery satirist become a comic strip writer for Charlotte pop culture in print issues of Queen City Nerve?

Best Instagram:
The Bae Hive, @thebaehiveagency

Local lifestyle photographer Bae Hart specializes in “providing lifestyle imagery with unrehearsed action and genuine emotions,” and her talent for which shows full and well in the feed of work on her Instagram page, enveloped in the faces of young Black models from toddlers to teens.

Photo by Bae Hart.

We first came across The Bae Hive by chance after noticing one of these adorable little models was posed in front of a Queen City Nerve distribution box surrounded by Black Lives Matter balloons. After checking the page for more, we couldn’t pull away.

Hart does an incredible job of showcasing these children as fierce and talented, ready to take on the world and lead us in the future. The models are dressed in anything from formal wear to dance attire to boxing gloves. There is dancing and laughing and just straight chillin’. Not only is the photography top-notch, but she plays an important role in presenting powerful and positive images of Black children and we love it.

Best TikTok:
APWHC Clinic Defenders

In one viral TikTok filmed outside of A Preferred Women’s Health Center this summer, a 19-year-old clinic defender nonchalantly reads the lyrics to the song “WAP,” which stands for Wet Ass Pussy. She talks calmly, but just loud enough to drown out Philip “Flip” Benham, a known religious extremist who has spent nearly 20 years protesting and harassing patients at the east Charlotte clinic.

While Benham is usually the loudest person on Latrobe Drive, he looks bewildered by the woman’s confident reading of Cardi B and Meg Thee Stallion’s gospel. He continues to read a Bible passage aloud just feet away from her.

The video, posted to TikTok on Aug. 25th, garnered millions of views and likes on the app and was shared around different social media platforms, making national headlines on sites like TMZ, Insider, and Daily Motion.

Clinic defenders like the woman in the clip, who goes by @alexthefeminist on TikTok, and the one who shot the video, @42069horndog, have gotten growing attention for the posts they’ve filmed in front of the clinic as things there have heated up over the summer.

Nicole Ash, board member with Charlotte for Choice, a nonprofit organization that for years has provided escort and defender services in front of the clinic, said the arrival of young defenders to A Preferred Women’s Health Center over the summer inspired her to start the @charlotteforchoice TikTok account.

Charlotte abortion clinic
Clinic defenders react as Love Life Charlotte protesters march by the clinic on a recent Saturday. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

“The TikTok has a huge presence,” Ash said. “The goal here is awareness; we want people to know what’s happening. We want them to know that it’s going to happen soon in your own city because [protesters are] not going to stop until they have people on the sidewalk across from every clinic.”

Other clinic defender accounts to check out include @violetcherrie, @loveurmother, @scalpgrease, @sapphicsirens and @mad.e.linne.

Best Reporter:
Joe Bruno

There was a time when people just relied on Joe Bruno to tell them what kind of crazy shit had spilled on the local highways. Oh, you’ve come a long way, Joe.

The proud Elon grad and Philly sports fan has hunkered down in Charlotte breaking huge stories and earning multiple Emmy nominations for them. And even while he’s carrying out all that hard-hitting work, he’s always keeping an eye on completely meaningless stories that he knows his fanbase will engage with on Twitter — hell, he’s still got the full thread of highway spills pinned to the top of this Twitter feed!

Listen to our Nooze Hounds episode with Joe Bruno from March. (Photo by Justin LaFrancois)

Only a couple reporters in town can match his live-tweeting of local government meetings, as well.

Bruno got married in November, smartly planning the low-key affair and honeymoon for the weeks around Thanksgiving when there was hardly any news going on around the city. We congratulate him on both the marriage and surprisingly staying off Twitter throughout the entire ceremony.

The perennial 30-Under-30 honoree (seriously, when are you turning 30?!) is only getting started in what promises to be a legendary career, and we’re hoping that he remains in Charlotte for at least a few more years before moving on to bigger things.

Best New Newsletter:
Jeremy Markovich, The North Carolina Rabbit Hole

Ok, this isn’t necessarily a Charlotte-based newsletter, but it’s from a former Charlotte reporter who just happens to be living in Greensboro at the moment, and his spanking new newsletter covers the whole state, so bear with us here.

Our State digital manager Jeremy Markovich has been so swept up in his great podcast and other tasks that he hasn’t been able to write much lately. Lucky for us, in November, he launched North Carolina Rabbit Hole, which in just a couple weeks has already shared engrossing stories about our state — the actual state, not the magazine — related to Hugo Chavez’s taste for barbecue and the short life spans of pardoned turkeys.

We’ve been stuck in a dreary news cycle for years, and Jeremy’s good humor and seemingly endless knowledge of North Carolina trivia is just what we needed.

Oh and if you’re such a damn Charlotte purist that a North Carolina newsletter isn’t good enough for you, we’re also psyched for local photographer Logan Cyrus’ new photo-heavy newsletter, which launched right around the same time.

Best Politician:
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams

When Alamance County law enforcement officers pepper sprayed children and the elderly to disperse a multiracial voter turnout rally last October,  U.S. Congresswoman Alma Adams condemned the attack on peaceful demonstrators. It wasn’t the first time Adams, a Democrat who represents North Carolina’s 12th congressional district, stood up for citizens who felt their government was abandoning then or turning against them.

Alma Adams attends President Trump’s impeachment trial in January 2020. (Photo courtesy of Office of Alma Adams)

Last June, Adams responded to a kettling incident in Uptown Charlotte in which police officers ambushed and encircled peaceful protestors and bombarded them with tear gas and pepper balls. She introduced The Right to PROTEST Act, which would criminalize the use of tear gas and other riot control agents nationwide.

“Weapons that are illegal in war should never be used on American soil,” Adams said, “especially against our own people.”

If there’s an issue in which ordinary citizens’ rights, well-being and safety are at stake, chances are Adams has been there to take a stand.

This year alone, she’s introduced the Kira Johnson Act, which supports Black maternal health. As Thanksgiving approached, Adams sponsored the Closing the Meal Gap Act, legislation that expands and strengthens Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for vulnerable community members.

Adams also authored and spearheaded the Local and Regional Farmer and Market Support Act (Local Farmer Act) to help save the farmers, farms, and families hardest hit by COVID-19. She’s called out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for undermining election integrity, too: “Facebook has become a super spreader of misleading viral and paid content.”

Adams has even pinpointed the root of America’s failure to contain COVID-19, tracing the weakest link to the Oval Office.

“Donald Trump hasn’t risen to the challenge,” Adams said over the summer. “The president spends his time tweeting and fanning the flames of racism from the White House.”

Best Speech:
Ray McKinnon, “The Fight for Hope”

“I’m supposed to talk about hope but, I have to make all of you white folks here a little uncomfortable”

On May 31, 2020, Ray McKinnon stood atop the “stairs” of First Ward Park in Uptown and gave a chilling, powerful speech that we still think about often. It was the third day of Charlotte protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd and tensions across the country were high regarding policing and racial issues. The gathering that day was organized by local religious leaders as an effort to call out the church on its historic silence on issues of racial injustice.

Ray was not silent, and his booming voice still resonates today. He began the speech by reading Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” He read the letter with allegro, crafting his amplification with each sentence perfectly.

The transition from MLK’s words to his own was flawless, as he crescendoed into “friends, hope comes when we the church stand up and speak out against the sin of white supremacy.”

The crowd of more than 1,000 attendees was overcome with Ray’s energy, as they cheered him on through the remainder of his speech. It seemed that everyone in attendance — either in person or through Facebook Live — was deeply affected by his words’ meaning and delivery. We sit with Ray’s words often as we do with many words and images from the protests in Charlotte between May and August.

Best Community Organizer:
Kass Ottley

One of Charlotte’s oldest and wealthiest neighborhoods, Myers Park was built in 1911 and was the first to implement widespread racial restrictions in property deeds, stating in many of the deeds, “This lot shall be owned and occupied by people of the Caucasian race only.”

John Nolen specifically designed Myers Park’s curved streets to disorient unwanted guests and send them right back from whence they came, but on June 1, Kass Ottley and about 1,500 of her supporters wouldn’t be turned away during their Justice Walk.

Kass Ottley of Seeking Justice CLT
Kass Ottley at a memorial gathering for George Floyd at Marshall Park (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Marching through the neighborhood for two-and-a-half hours to honor George Floyd, the crowd chanted loudly, stopping at the intersection of Queens Road and Selwyn Avenue to take a knee for nine minutes in memory of Floyd. Throughout the march, Myers Park residents looked on from their lawns, some showing passive support, others setting up water stations for passing protesters. As she later explained on our Nooze Hounds podcast, however, the threatening calls she received before the march showed that the neighborhood as a whole was far from friendly to her cause.

Her Justice Walk was just one example of the countless ways that, as the founder of Seeking Justice CLT, Ottley shows up in Charlotte. From vigils and protests to serving on the Safe Communities Committee community input group, Ottley has irons in many fires — all of them burning so that a better Charlotte can come from the ashes.

Best Long Game:
Robert Dawkins

On June 25, as nightly protests had begun to taper off, Robert Dawkins hit Twitter on his @SafeCoalitionNC account to rally the folks who were ready to get into the long fight. “Are the Charlotte Protest done? We still got work to do. If you are done with the streets, Join us on the tweets & at public forums [at Charlotte City Council] meetings & community safety meetings. We still need you if your feet tired. Defunding the police starts [July] 1st with the new budget.”

N.C. Rep John Autry
Listen to Robert Dawkins join N.C. Rep. John Autry on our Nooze Hounds podcast in October. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Robert is the most active activist you’ll never catch at a protest. He prefers to do the work behind the scenes, or in Zoom at one of the above-mentioned city council public forums, pushing city leaders to reimagine the way policing, violence prevention and all-around safe communities might look.

This year, he’s seen some of the reforms he and others have promoted for years come to fruition. In 2021, expect to see him continue to push for an independent audit of CMPD, and in an election year for council, the pressure will be on.

Best Protest Leader:
Wilfred Nagbe

A good protest can be long and daunting. Sure, when you introduce police violence into the mix you get a little more energy to keep going out of anger or the fact that it is counteractive to what you may be marching for. The other thing that can keep you going is a high-energy leader.

After the June 2 kettling incident by CMPD, our local protests became a little more organized, and a lot more peaceful. In collaboration with the Million Youth March of Charlotte and Salisbury, Wilfred Nagbe, also known as Shaka, took over the megaphone to keep chants like “If we don’t get no justice, then you don’t get no peace,” and “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” going for hours and hours and miles and miles. We noticed a slight decrease in his energy around the twentieth day of marching, but after one night off, he was right back to it.

Wilfred Nagbe. (Photo by Lee Flythe)

Shaka led protesters through the streets of Uptown, South End, Cherry, NoDa, Reedy Creek and moreover the course of two months, screaming at the top of his lungs and forming the front line for unified peaceful disobedience.

Nagbe is not shy about his feelings or beliefs and is very in your face about how the world should turn. While leading marches, he spoke of troubles he witnessed growing up in Liberia and compared them to the state of America. Nagbe was who people looked to for direction; he showed leadership in the face of adversity night after night and mended quarrels among different sets of people.

In remembering the Charlotte protests of 2020, his name will stick out just like the image of a swaying group of protesters following his lead, chanting, “We ready, we ready, we ready for y’all.”

Best Rabble Rouser:
Kristie Puckett-Williams

“You ain’t ready for my Black ass!” If you hear these seven words and you’re police, pro-life, Proud Boys or anything of the sort, you better tuck tail and run. We can count on Kristie to be live-streaming damn near every weekend from a protest or counter-protest of some sort, and we’ve heard the aforementioned expression so many times this year it wouldn’t be far-fetched to call it a catchphrase.

Kristie Puckett-Williams at a protest in June. (Photo by Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.)

As an ACLU campaign manager, Kristie does her share of grassroots community organizing, but she’s at her best when she is face-to-face with some clown-like Joshua Flores at one of his Trump rallies or an anti-abortion protester who’s used to harassing medical patients in peace. Don’t be caught off guard when you see her coming, because she’s always ready for a fight.

Check out our Nooze Hounds episode with Kristie from June.

Best Activist/Advocate Organization:
Jail Support

Originally created on May 29 by core members of Charlotte Uprising as a bail fund for arrested protesters, the original Jail Support space on East 4th Street also became something more: a pit stop for protesters, a space where marchers could stop and rest or find a friend before walking into Uptown to find where the bigger group was marching. It also became a support hub for folks being released from jail, regardless of how they got there.

Charlotte Jail Support
A Jail Support volunteer offers first aid as protesters march by the site in June. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

As protests tapered off, Jail Support continued to operate as a hub for those leaving the Mecklenburg County Detention Center, offering food, cigarettes, clothing, rides, phone calls or whatever they could help with.

The group soon caught the ire of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, and multiple times Sheriff Garry McFadden’s deputies made arrests in attempts to clear the area of their presence. The group persisted for months, even hanging out in tiny subgroups near the jail to continue their work after multiple mass arrests.

In early November, the group held an event at Marshall Park — renaming it Abolition Park for the occasion — to raise money and collect supplies for incarcerated folks, making it clear that Jail Support isn’t dead.

jail support
Anthony Ferguson is arrested outside of the jail support site in June. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Best Protectors:
Wheels for Equality

Greg Martinez formed Bike Squad in 2016 as a way to help during the Charlotte Uprising protests that arose in response to the killing of Keith Lamont Scott. In 2020, he began showing up to protests on foot early on, watching the unorganized aggression between police and protesters on Beatties Ford Road and then Uptown.

He watched as officers would cut protesters off from one another, forming many small groups that were easier for them to quell as compared to one large mass.

Wheels for Equality
Greg Martinez manages traffic during an NAACP rally in Uptown. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

After June 2, when police trapped protesters with gas and shot pepper balls at them in Uptown, Martinez decided to get back in the Bike Squad game. He got a group of fellow cyclists together, some of whom had helped bicycle supplies to protesters during the Charlotte Uprising, and they got to work on a two-pronged mission to “support and defend,” their answer to the police’s serve and protect motto.

That mission included not only running supplies such as water bottles and snacks to protesters, but also acting as a buffer between police and protesters. Later, as police began to fall back, the Bike Squad acted as a buffer between protesters and traffic, oftentimes the only ones between vulnerable marchers and pissed-off drivers.

At some point in June, Bike Squad evolved into Wheels for Equality, with Martinez hoping to turn this scrappy group of skateboarders, cyclists and bikers into a nonprofit group that serves the community, providing free food delivery for elders and similar services.

“That accomplishment of doing the right thing and continuing to do it and having people in your corner and being there for people, too, it just makes you want to do it more,” Martinez said.

[Publisher’s note: The category of Best Officer Engagement has been removed after multiple conversations with community members of Charlotte. While many may agree with what was published, many do not, and the removal of this category in our online publishing is to decrease the potential of experiencing unwanted trauma by community members. The Best in the Nest critics’ picks are curated by staff and contributors of Queen City Nerve and we take full responsibility for what is published here. At times our judgement can be clouded as to the potential harm we may project and for that we apologize. Our mission is to tell stories, and this story has been told.]

Best Nonprofit:
Block Love CLT

Deborah Woolard and her organization Block Love Charlotte have been serving dinners on Sunday nights on Phifer Avenue, which she deemed The Block, for two years now. But when Woolard and her team saw what was happening in the homeless community amid the COVID-19 crisis, as meal services began to shut down or scale back, she started going out to The Block every single evening to make sure nobody went hungry.

Deborah Woolard, founder of Block Love CLT, appeared on our Nooze Hounds podcast in July. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Folks like Woolard and fellow Block Love volunteer Terri Karam have dedicated themselves to making sure people’s needs are met every night. They don’t just provide food, either, they offer whatever they can: shoes, tents, blankets, hygiene products.

Once the Phifer Avenue dinners wrap up around 7 p.m., the team hits the streets, driving to the myriad encampments surrounding Uptown handing out to-go boxes of food. In October, the team began bringing plates and supplies to the Beatties Ford Road corridor after delivering to the encampments, extending their reach to serve more people.

Charlotte newcomer's guide
Volunteers with Block Love Charlotte visit encampments with food and provisions for residents every day. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

As of the end of November, Woolard and her team had been feeding folks on The Block for 268 consecutive nights. In April, when that number was still under 30, Woolard told Queen City Nerve she was frustrated with the lack of help from city officials and others who pay lip service to helping their homeless neighbors.

“It’s a shame,” she said. “We shouldn’t have had to do it, but it’s our family and we’ll do whatever we can.”

And she’s been doing quite literally whatever she can since.

Best Pop Up For a Cause:
Da Village Pop Up Shop Free Food Fridge

It all began with a Facebook post. In July, Shamelle Jackson of Da Village Pop-Up Shop started putting feelers out for a free community fridge — the first of its kind for Charlotte. In the 24 hours after the post, she received her first donation: the fridge itself. That initial donation set off a chain reaction of other donations.

Da Village Pop Up shop now runs four food fridges offering fresh food and cold water, free for anyone walking the streets of Charlotte. It allows folks in need to get food as they need without the stigma of waiting in line at a pantry.

free food fridge
Shamelle Jackson with the first free food fridge on East 7th Street. (Courtesy of Da Village/Instagram)

Charlotte’s on its way to joining the ranks of other major cities, but one category it’s lacking is community resources. Don’t get us wrong, there are hundreds of organizations in Charlotte providing food and housing for underprivileged people. At no fault of their own, the teams behind these organizations don’t have the manpower, time or resources to care for everyone in need.

Jackson’s community fridge aims to fill one of the most important gaps in resources. The community fridge offers a perspective in which we lean on each other for support rather than prioritizing individualism. It goes to show what the power of one Facebook post can do for the community.

Best Cause on Wheels:
Hope Vibes CLT Hope Tank

Adrienne Threatt co-founded Hope Vibes CLT in 2016 after sharing a video that documented the challenges women who struggle with homelessness face related to their menstrual cycle. She, her husband Emmanuel and a group of others began collecting hygiene products for their homeless neighbors, building on such humble beginnings to serve hundreds of folks in our city over the last four years.

In 2020, Threatt and Co. unveiled the Hope Tank, a large truck outfitted to serve as a mobile shower and laundry center for people living through homelessness in Charlotte.

The truck provides people with showers, sinks, toilets and the like, all with a degree of privacy one should expect in their own home. The truck also holds three washers and three dryers, each to be operated with help from a Hope Vibes volunteer.

The Hope Tank currently serves once a week at different locations, with a goal “to create an environment that promotes dignity and hope, giving guests a renewed sense of purpose.”

Best Pivot:

When Gov. Cooper issued an executive order on March 14 closing all public schools, Sil Ganzó and her staff needed to plan their next move — and fast. As founder and executive director of ourBRIDGE for KIDS, an afterschool program for immigrant and refugee children, Ganzo knew she couldn’t just go home and wait for the crisis to pass.

Organizers with ourBRIDGE for KIDS and the Migrant Assistance Project hand out food in east Charlotte in April. (Photo by Lisa Stockton Howell)

Four days after Cooper’s announcement, Ganzo found herself driving around the east Charlotte neighborhoods where many of her ourBRIDGE students live, delivering free meals to families as part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) meal-distribution program that launched on March 17. She started with 40 breakfasts and 40 lunches on March 18, and quickly built that up to deliver 1,000 of each every day.

Issues that many struggled with during the pandemic were magnified for ourBRIDGE families. Due to job loss, language barriers and fears around eviction, Ganzo and her staff lost track of entire families who would pick up and move in the middle of the night. Still, they kept their heads down, determined to feed as many children as they could. As of Thanksgiving, they had served 134,564 meals, along with 791 CMS meal boxes.

“What I’m most proud of is that we were dynamic enough and we have been resourceful enough to not miss a beat,” Ganzó told Queen City Nerve in April. “How much worse than a pandemic could it get? And we still figured out within 48 hours how to make this happen.”

Best Lost Cause:
Eastland DIY Skate Park

Feeling ignored by city and county leaders, members of the local skate scene have taken it upon themselves to build up Eastland DIY skate park at the old Eastland Mall site over the last five years, pouring about $15,000 worth of concrete and steel onto the foundation of an old Hollywood Video. The skaters have built quarter pipes, skate ledges and kicker ramps that often attract between 50 and 100 skaters over the course of a given day.

A couple of Eastland DIY’s founders joined us on an episode of Nooze Hounds in March. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Since construction on Eastland DIY began in August 2015, the folks involved have kept their heads down and tried to stay inconspicuous. They started with the centerpiece, a concrete box, and waited to see if someone would stop them. Nobody did, so they kept going.

Later, after Tepper Sports and Major League Soccer announced the first real plans for redevelopment of the site since Eastland Mall was demolished in 2013, skaters worried all their hard work would be erased.

Hitting a quarter pipe at Eastland DIY.(Photo by Grant Baldwin)

As meetings continued throughout the year, the skate park looked all but doomed, but with October’s news that Tepper Sports would no longer be building the MLS headquarters at the site, hope returned. A new petition sprang up in November asking that developers include the skate park in their plans, and garnered more than 5,000 signatures. It’s a very cautious optimism, but we’re all for keeping that dream alive.

Best Investment in our Future:
Heal Charlotte Affordable Housing Campus

In August, Heal Charlotte founder Greg Jackson announced the launch of a $10 million capital campaign to acquire and renovate a motel on Reagan Drive and transform it into a mixed-use transitional living complex.

The future Heal Charlotte campus will be located where an Economy Inn now sits on the 5500 block of Reagan Drive. The current 31,000-square-foot, 132-room property on 2.69 acres will undergo a major upfit to create affordable one- and two-bedroom units leased to families in need.

A rendering of the planned Heal Charlotte housing site on Reagan Drive. (Courtesy of Heal Charlotte)

In addition to housing, the Heal Charlotte campus will provide residents with food, ongoing mentorship and case managers to assist in transitioning out of the facility.

“We are showing Charlotte what can be done if we are willing to invest in its people,” Jackson said in a statement. “This campus will provide a safe space for youth, affordable housing, job training, and supportive services. Our families will not merely survive here but really thrive.”

Jackson joined us and Judge Kimberly Best on an episode of Nooze Hounds in August.

Best Historian:
Dr. Willie Griffin

Last fall, Levine Museum of the New South historian Dr. Willie Griffin helped bring Brooklyn to life for museumgoers through the Brooklyn: Once a City Within a City exhibit, which implements augmented reality technology to let museum goers hear the stories of former Brooklyn residents and view the way displacement has changed the face of Charlotte.

Dr. Willie Griffin (left) and Eric Scott at the Levine Brooklyn exhibit they helped develop. (Photo by Jayme Johnson)

While museums have had a rough go of it in 2020, there may be a silver lining for Griffin, who we hope has used his time wisely to work on the book he’s been writing about Charlotte civil rights journalist Trezzvant Anderson.

But that’s just our own excitement for the book talking, Anderson has stayed plenty busy at the museum. Upon reopening, Griffin and fellow Levine staff introduced new augmented reality additions to the long-running exhibit Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers, allowing museumgoers to interact with Harvey Gantt, Hugh McColl and Dorothy Counts-Scoggins.

Listen to Dr. Willie Griffin with Dr. Pamela Grundy on our Nooze Hounds podcast in July. (Photo by Jeremy Davis)

He’s also brought us new exhibits such as It Happened Here: Lynching and Remembrance; #HomeCLT: People. Places. Promises.; and CountingUP: What’s On Your Ballot.

Best Podcast:
The Black Guy Who Tips

Everybody’s got a podcast these days, but nobody’s doing it like Rod and Karen Morrow. The couple, who have been married since 2002, broadcasts five times a week. That’s hustle … and it’s paying off. The pair has grown a huge following for The Black Guy Who Tips over the years, garnering mentions in publications like Huffington Post, New York Times, Washington Post and Ebony. Judging by the attention alone, this is not your average local podcast. But the fun part about this show is that Rod and Karen still just kick it like only 10 people are listening. They cover race, politics, relationships and any topic that comes to mind with a laid-back air that makes them hard to hate. We’re sure plenty of people do, because America, we’re just not them.

Best Development:
New Statesville Road Emergency Shelter

In May, when Roof Above announced construction had begun on a new state-of-the-art emergency shelter on Statesville Road through a $1-million donation from the Howard R. Levine Foundation, the existing Lucille Giles Center on the same property had already reduced bed capacity from 180 beds to 132 to achieve proper social distancing. The location ceased operations in July as Roof Above began operating shelter services out of a motel to serve guests with COVID risk factors, later partnering with Salvation Army Center of Hope to operate another emergency shelter, highlighting the precarious nature of providing services to Charlotte’s homeless residents during a pandemic.

The new shelter will be designed not just to meet the basic needs of its guests, but also to help the men staying there to emerge from homelessness by utilizing office space for on-site case management for housing and employment services, according to Roof Above. It will be around 15,000 square feet, nearly double the current 8,500-square-foot building, and will add a cooking kitchen, guest laundry services, a group room for classes and a mobile computer lab. It’s scheduled to open early in 2021.

emergency homeless shelter
Construction began on the updated Men’s Shelter facility this week. The current facility can be seen in the background. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

“It’s very important to meet people’s basic needs, but one of the things we’ve learned in this pandemic: There’s just no substitute for home,” said Liz Clasen-Kelly, CEO of Roof Above. “So a lot of what we’re adding here are things that help us get folks out of homelessness and into housing — the one-on-one support that allows people to make that transition.”

Local Issue That Needs More Attention:
Abuse During COVID-19

In October, officials with CMPD and Safe Alliance discussed a rise in domestic violence calls locally since COVID-19 led to restrictions and shutdowns in March. According to Lt. Stephen Fischbach, officers had seen a 6% rise in domestic violence-related calls to that point. There have been at least 15 murders in Charlotte related to domestic violence this year, six of which involved victims killed by an intimate partner.

The concerns don’t stop with intimate partner violence. With children out of school and people spending more time at home, there is a higher chance for child abuse and a lower chance that someone outside the family will recognize and report it.

In October, Safe Alliance announced the launch of a Survivor Resource Center (SRC), a stopgap effort to help survivors of domestic violence while city and county officials continue to work toward developing a more comprehensive Family Justice Center.

The SRC will focus on the highest-risk abuse cases locally to provide wraparound support, though more resources will be needed throughout the community to identify how and where abuse victims are suffering silently.

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