By Fiona Stanton ‘23

On February 30th, the North Mecklenburg Economic Mobility Collaborative (NMEMC) hosted a launch party at Cornelius Town Hall. The collaborative’s goal is to adequately address the issue of insufficient upward economic mobility in the North Mecklenburg area, including the towns of Davidson, Huntersville, and Cornelius. Nearly two hundred residents from all across North Mecklenburg County attended, including local elected officials, health professionals, and community advocates. 

To begin the event, founding committee member Diane Means, Director of Impact and Engagement at the Ada Jenkins Center, asked attendees to raise their hands if they or someone they knew had been personally affected by common problems associated with low socioeconomic status — an inability to afford medicine or doctor visits, a lack of access to dependable transportation, or limited options for childcare and further education. 

When nearly every attendee raised their hand, Means stated: “We all know someone that’s impacted. And when one person is impacted, our whole community is impacted. So that’s why we’ve developed the North Mecklenburg Economic Mobility Collaborative, so we can do better.”

NMEMC began as a project of Ada Jenkins Center staff members Diane Means and Janice Hinton, and the two cite diversity and inclusivity as two main concerns they had in mind when initially forming the NMEMC. 

“We just started […] walking around in the neighborhoods, trying to come up with people who were key influencers, [people] that were impacted,” Means said of NMEMC’s origins. 

So far, NMEMC has partnered with Davidson College, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and nonprofits The United Way of Central Carolinas and Leading On Opportunity. 

Through their roles in the Center for Civic Engagement, Director of Civic Engagement Kristin Booher and Associate Dean of Students Stacey Riemer both serve on the advisory committee for the NMEMC. The partnership between Davidson College and NMEMC allows both Booher and Riemer to “contribute to a collective impact model and  match community opportunities for community engagement with the interests of our faculty, staff and students,” according to Riemer.

The collaborative emphasizes six different focus areas, based on known systemic issues: “Affordable Housing, Access to Affordable Healthcare, Adequate Transportation, Cradle to Grave Education, Availability of Quality Childcare, and Local Living Wage Employment Opportunities,” according to the NMEMC website.

 For each of these focus areas, the organization will assemble committees of community members; these groups will assess the effectiveness of current community resources and advocate for changes to policy and practice. These recommendations would help develop equitable solutions for all residents of North Mecklenburg County. 

“We want to make sure that those who are closest to the problem are the ones who help design the solution and are being heard,” said Reverend Alexis Coleman at the launch, Pastor of Missions at Davidson United Methodist Church and a founding member, as well as current steering committee member, of NMEMC.

Speakers at the launch party included Davidson Alum Darryl Bego ’88 , a 28-year veteran of education and youth development and the Executive Director of Youth Development Initiatives; Karina Runyan, Neighborhood Engagement Partner with Novant Health; and Don Thomas, the Community Impact Director for Leading on Opportunity—a task force dedicated to addressing systemic economic issues within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. 

All three touched on aspects of their work that intersect with the goals of the NMEMC, as well as spoke about  the need for a motivated community when pushing for systemic change.

“[T]o have three cities come together to say that we want to collaborate, we want to co-labor in transformation-oriented work, we want to put our hands to the plow collectively to shift the narrative, I think is profound,” said Thomas. 

Bego acknowledged the multi-generational effects poverty can have on families, saying, “A lot of friends in my neighborhood […] slipped between the cracks, not because their parents didn’t care, but [because] the stresses of poverty will weigh on you psychologically, emotionally, [and] socially.” 

He went on to emphasize the importance of providing pathways out of poverty for young adults, and how Youth Development Initiatives accomplishes this goal through education by developing adolescents’ self-worth as well as their life-skills. 

Runyan shared her personal experience as an immigrant in the United States, partially restricted from public assistance programs: “I didn’t have health insurance. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go.” 

She explained that it was only through the help of neighbors that she was eventually able to move beyond this state of need. 

Thomas also highlighted the significance of an involved community focused on cooperation:“Collaboration, especially at this magnitude we’re seeing today [in] Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson…the impact that that’s going to have for North Mecklenburg is going to be profound […] We don’t lack resources, we don’t lack opportunity. We lack a collective vision […] What we need to do is create a collective vision.”

At the event’s closing, attendees were urged to write their comments and questions down on notecards, which the steering members of the NMEMC would go through and read, as a way to engage further with members of the community who attended the launch party. 

Attendees who wished to become involved signed up to receive communication from the Collaborative. They, as well as current committee members, will work together in groups to address the different issues NMEMC cites as barriers to economic mobility, including inadequate transportation and unaffordable housing. 

Reflecting on  the launch of the NMEMC, founding member Janice Hinton said  “I had several people say thank you […]I hope that they take away that this is not going to be just another group that formed that doesn’t do anything. I feel like in their thank yous, they really felt that, that there’s going to be something that comes out of here.”