Decreasing the Distance: Davidson and West Charlotte

Bethany Kirkpatrick-

Last week, West Charlotte High School students asked if we could do a Q&A about college and college readiness, and frankly I still wish we’d had more time for their questions. They asked about time management, choosing a major, changing cultures, and balancing the demands of being a student-athlete. As we were preparing to wrap up, Patricia raised her hand for one more question. “Here, I know how to advocate for myself and what I believe in, if I go to town hall meetings and stuff. What does raising your voice and speaking up look like in college?”

I first found West Charlotte High School the summer after my freshman year when I was working for Project LIFT, the chapter of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools that administered all schools in the West Charlotte region. Jonathan Sheperd-Smith ’18 (Shep) held the same internship the year before me, and while our technical responsibilities looked like using PivotTables on Excel to analyze end-of-year data or communicating with Project LIFT’s summer camp partners for its students, what we both took away was a sense of responsibility and investment in West Charlotte.

West Charlotte High School is incredible. Founded in 1938 as the second black high school in Charlotte, it became Charlotte’s gold standard for black education and teaching there became a badge of honor for black professionals. When a Supreme Court decision mandated school integration in 1971, West Charlotte emerged as America’s flagship integrated school; students visited from Boston to learn how to integrate well. West Charlotte’s marching band and dance team were legendary, they won a football state championship in the 90s, and they even had a nationally recognized debate team. Most importantly, West Charlotte made its neighbors believe that integration could work—and could work well.

That history of excellence fell apart when the Charlotte federal court stopped enforcing integration in 1999. In 2012, West Charlotte had a graduation rate of 56%, and its student body, like most schools in Charlotte, is once again segregated.

I focus on West Charlotte’s history because I believe that it matters, because it tells us that the Charlotte community succeeded when it worked together and that we can do it again. It was in that spirit that Shep created DuBoisian World Scholars Society, a mentorship organization that connects West Charlotte students to Davidson students and the larger Charlotte community. The premise is, in some ways, simple: we drive to West Charlotte every Friday afternoon, and once we get there we talk about whatever the students want to talk about until it’s time to leave.

The students we work with are brilliant, but they’re not that invested in school. They don’t see any application for their British literature class in their life, and if they continue on to college, they’ll be the first in their family to do so.

With DuBoisian, West Charlotte students take ownership of their education and learn what they want to learn, whether that means discussing government shutdowns, Common App personal statements, or homelessness and the housing-first model. At the end of the day, they’re the ones coming up with innovative solutions to change systems around them. We do some facilitating, frame some conversations, and provide snacks.

I write this to invite whoever is reading right now to be a part of what we’re doing. If you want to come to West Charlotte with us, we’re always looking for more mentors. We’re also looking for more lesson-planners, more people who are into development, and especially someone who can come up with a logo for our organization.

We’re looking for people who can connect our students to businesses or other leaders in Charlotte. And right now, we’re looking to fund a scholarship to help West Charlotte seniors transition to college–$500 for a student to pay a college deposit, buy textbooks, or otherwise prepare for post-graduation. West Charlotte is only 18.9 miles from Davidson, meaning that despite the difference in lived experiences, these two schools are part of the same community and share the same history. We’re trying to connect back to our city, and in whatever way you choose, we’re asking you to do the same.

DuBoisian keeps going back to West Charlotte because we’re invested in their futures, but also because we’re invested in our own. These are the students that are going to shape our country and change it; we need them to succeed. So while benevolent altruism didn’t stick in 1999 in the face of white parents trying to ensure the best education for their own children, fixing Charlotte’s or America’s school systems could happen if we stopped communally believing that unequal educational experiences benefit someone.

At least, we at DuBoisian believe it can be fixed. We believe that these are the kids who are going to fix it.

Bethany Kirkpatrick ’19 is a History major and Education Studies minor from Franklin, Tennessee.  Contact her at