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In Memoriam 2023: Charlotte Community Leaders Who Have Passed on This Year

For those we lost along the way

We lost many great people in Charlotte this year. Here are memorials to just a few.

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Cozzie Watkins (1951 – 2023)

Though she’ll always be remembered for her international success as everyone’s favorite convention delegate during 2020’s COVID-virtual Democratic National Convention, Alista “Cozzie” Watkins was so much more than a sound byte.

She was a registered nurse who dedicated her life to caring for others. She was a community leader who served her church and her sorority; one of her proudest moments was becoming a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha near the end of her life. She was of course a proud Democrat, serving as chair of the 12th Congressional District and the local Democratic Women, as well as a member of the executive council and committee for the state Democratic Party.

However, her most lasting impact may have been on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Commission, where she was a strong advocate for equity and the commission’s affordable housing efforts. Even after her health began to fail, she showed up in person to cast her vote for Charlotte’s first-ever comprehensive plan.
On March 2, the day Cozzie passed, the North Carolina House and Senate finally agreed to a deal on Medicaid expansion, something Cozzie had worked for for years. It’s hard not to think she was looking down on us that day.

Steve Crump (1957 – 2023)

If you’ve spend any time working in the Charlotte area’s television news industry over the past four decades, you will have certainly lost count of the number of colleagues who have praised Steve Crump’s warmth, dedication and professionalism.

The beloved journalist died on Aug. 31, 2023, after a five-year struggle with colon cancer. Crump was lauded for his work as a reporter for WBTV for 39 years, but he truly excelled in the field of documentary filmmaking.

Steve Crump smiling in a suit and tie, official portrait
Steve Crump.

As a documentarian, Crump covered stories including jazz, South African apartheid, American civil rights struggles and the transatlantic slave trade.

Standouts in his filmography include Carolina Be-Bop Kings, which delves into the North Carolina roots of Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk; Before Rosa: The Unsung Contribution of Sarah Mae Flemming, which shares the story of an unsung civil rights heroine from Columbia, South Carolina; and 9/4/57, which recounts Dorothy Counts’ struggle to cross the color line at Charlotte’s Harding High School in 1957.

Anton Walkes (1997 – 2023)

When a professional athlete in peak physical form dies in a freak accident, it is a cruel reminder of our fragile mortality. When it’s someone like Anton Walkes, it becomes a tragedy for the entire community.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber told Queen City Nerve in March, “[Anton Walkes] wasn’t just another player.” In the time Nerve was able to spend with the English footballer, he demonstrated immense kindness and character, both as a team leader and a supporter of diversity and LGBTQ equality within the sport.

A fan takes a knee in front of a shrine to Charlotte FC player Anton Walkes outside of Bank of America Stadium.
Charlotte FC fans paid tribute to Anton Walkes outside of Bank of America Stadium on Jan. 20. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

His loss was represented by a black “AW 5” patch that players (and fans) wore all season long, but the void he left was even more visible on the field as Charlotte’s defense struggled for the first half of their 2023 campaign, and as the pain of the loss reverberated off the pitch.

Anton left behind a partner, Alexis, and a daughter, Ayla. In the team’s final tribute to Walkes this season, Ayla walked out with Charlotte FC captain Ashley Westwood prior to the team’s final home game against Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami squad.

After the match, goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina said seeing her filled him with a “higher power;” he went on to keep a clean sheet in Charlotte’s 1-0 win that sent the club to the playoffs for the first time.

Sarah Stevenson (1925-2023)

Charlotte lost one of its strongest civil rights icons on Tuesday, as news broke that longtime educator and community leader Sarah Stevenson passed away at 97 years old.

The first of 14 children, Sarah Mingo was born in Heath Springs, South Carolina, on Oct. 26, 1925. Forced to leave high school without a diploma, she moved to Charlotte and worked as a housekeeper in Charlotte Memorial Hospital, where she met her husband, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Sarah Stevenson smiles while sitting on a bus with others
Sarah Stevenson on her way to tour the Stevenson Apartments at Brightwalk, named in her honor in 2017. (Video still)

In 1970, she moved from Cherry to the Beatties Ford Road corridor, where she taught at a day-care center, worked at the Charlotte Area Fund and established a mediation program for the city, now known as the Community Relations Committee. Her activism to acquire uniforms for a son’s school band led to her role in merging the Black and white PTAs within CMS before courts forced the school district to desegregate.

Sarah Stevenson served on the CMS Board of Education from 1980-1988. In 1980, she co-founded the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, and has since helped launch the Sarah and Samuel Stevenson Scholarship Fund in honor of her youngest son who passed away in 2006 as well as the South African Students Scholarships, which helps two students from South Africa attend Johnson C. Smith University every year.

Michael Shortino (1966-2023)

Chef Michael Shortino’s culinary legacy lives on in Charlotte at the tables of Futo Buta; the concept that will replace his other South End eatery, Lincoln’s Haberdashery; and through his daughter, Chef Cassie Shortino.

Shortino was a “culinary trailblazer,” according to his family. His unique vision brought creative menus and unique flavors to each of his restaurants. Shortino died at age 57 in September.

Michael Shortino (left) with his daughter, Cassie. (Photo courtesy of Black Wednesday)

Shortino was a third generation chef and “was not only a culinary trailblazer but also a beloved member of the hospitality community,” his family said after his death. “His passion for food, creativity, and dedication to providing exceptional experiences influenced the teams, friends and patrons of his restaurants and beyond.”
Lincoln’s Haberdashery has closed since Shortino’s passing, but will reportedly open as a new concept run by his daughter Cassie in 2024.

Francis Wabibi (1990-2022)

Beloved Charlotte artist Francis Wabibi, best known as Francesko the Artist, once took a gamble on his passion when he quit his day job in retail to pursue his art full time.

“I was inspired,” he told the Charlotte Observer in a profile published in February 2021. “I had the money. I had the means. I said, ‘Why don’t I invest in myself?’”

A black and white photo of a young black man holding up a peace sign
Francis Wabibi (Courtesy of Shana Wabibi)

It paid off — he did a mural at Oso Skate Park and had his own online web comic and began to build his art career in Charlotte. Unfortunately, his dreams were short-lived. On Nov. 23, 2022, Wabibi was found dead in a Fulton County jail cell where he had been held for two months on a loitering charge.

His death had many reeling, especially his sister, Shana, who was left seeking answers. Despite her brother’s tragic demise, she wanted to remember the best of him.

“The thing that really touches me is hearing different stories from people about my brother, like how they got to experience them and all the good memories that he’s given them,” she said. “That part makes me smile — it makes me smile to know that’s going to live on forever.”

Jade X. Jackson (1965-2022)

Jala McKenzie-Burns, better known to Charlotte as Jade X. Jackson, was a co-chair with Rev. William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign in North Carolina and well-known activist.

Jackson was a biracial trans woman in the South who took the existential threats against LGBTQ North Carolinians seriously, while always putting equality and equity for others ahead of her own liberation. She was a lead organizer of the “Tuesdays with Tillis” protests, a union member, and an author.

The former foster child and US Marine from Michigan was unafraid to travel to any corner of the state to advocate for social justice and solutions to poverty. Her message to exurban Waxhaw? “Our long term goals are to end poverty, systemic racism, ecological devastation, the war economy, and mass incarceration.”

The joyful warrior passed on Dec. 3, 2022, at the age of 57.

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