A hearty welcome to visitors and newcomers. The Forum shares with all present "information of importance to the African American community in particular and the rest of Charlotte in general." Come in, have a cup of coffee and make yourself comfortable. Look around. Among those around you on any given day will be wage earners and business owners; civic activists and nonprofit executives; and a variety elected officials of this community -- judges and members of Charlotte City Council, the county commission, school board and state legislature.
The brief history below suggests why you will find such a variety of people at the Forum, but we'd suggest you find out for yourself by being present. If you do, we think you'll be back.
A bit of history
Leonard R. Jones
Co-founder Sarah Stevenson continues to lead the Forum.
The following Oct. 14, 2005 excerpt from a column by Charlotte Business Journal writer David Mildenberg will give readers a sense of the Forum. The column was headlined: "A get-with-it response to apathy: For decades, Sarah Stevenson has set the standard for public discourse."
"The declining interest in local and state affairs, reflected in low voter turnout and reduced membership in civic groups, is disappointing.... Fortunately, Sarah Stevenson is among those who have bucked those trends in Charlotte for 25 years -- for which she deserves praise.
"In 1980, she and now-deceased Mecklenburg County
Commissioners Bob Walton and Phillip Berry started the Tuesday Morning Breakfast
Forum at the old YWCA on Trade Street.
It was an outgrowth of the Black Political Caucus.... Now meeting at a recreation center next to West Charlotte High School, it's a rare sounding board for Charlotte's African-American community to communicate with the mostly white, southeast Charlotte leadership -- and vice versa.
"Speakers and questions are timed precisely to avoid excessive rants. That's important because the cadre of regular attendees, including Richard McElrath, the Rev. Thomas Moore and Gyasi Foluke, do not lack for strong opinions about inequities in Charlotte.
"We want to inform people and let them air their concerns and their complaints to the right folks," says Stevenson, who moderates the meetings.
Much of the group's longevity clearly stems from widespread respect for Stevenson's gracious yet firm style....
"It does seem to be getting harder to keep people interested, and a lot of people are pessimistic," she says. "But that's a reason for those of us who are optimistic to try to convert some of those folks. I just feel it is better to be optimistic and just push and work as hard as you can."
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One other historical note. Longtime Forum participant Jackie Edwards Walton says she attended the Forum for the first time in January of 1978, rather than the 1980 referred to in Mildenberg's story above. As we can nail more of the Forum's history, we will post it here.
The ground rules
Here are the Forum's "operating agreements." The Forum has settled on these rules after years of discussing controversial and emotionallly charged issues. The text:
The Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum provides an opportunity for all in
attendance to learn information of importance to the African American community
in particular and the rest of Charlotte in general. In order for the Forum to
operate as smoothly and effectively as possible, it is asked that all attendees
adhere, at the very least, to the following rules of conduct:
1) Raise your hand when you desire to speak and you will be called upon in the order acknowledged.
2) A variety of input is greatly valued so an attempt will be made to hear from those who have yet to speak before acknowledging those who desire to speak again.
3) In that this is a forum, a public meeting place for open discussion, it is expected that all attendees will dialogue (the understanding of self and others) in lieu of debating (the successful argument of one's position over that of others). It is asked that your questions be succinct and precise so that others may also have an opportunity to participate in the topic of the day. It is further asked that attendees engage in non-threatening, non-name-calling, non-finger-pointing dialogue and conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the very best the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum has to offer.
4) While it is evident the Forum attracts some of Charlotte's brightest and most eloquent, the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum apologizes for not having ample time for such intellectuals to showcase their talents at length and reserve the right to remind those who may forget.
5) Have a wonderful learning experience!
Since July 2007, the Forum has reported its attendance numbers to the West Charlotte Recreation Center, which asked for the information for its records on use of its facilities. Those records are here.
The Herron Coffee Fund
In July 2009, the Parks & Recreation Department asked that the only food served at Forum meetings in its West Charlotte Recreation Center facility be prepared by a kitchen inspected by the Health Department. That meant either catering the breakfast, or bringing in packaged food prepared, say, at a grocery deli counter. On occasion, Forum participants have volunteered to do one of those. But no reliable source of funding has been found for weekly catering, so the offerings at the Forum have generally been limited to coffee since August 2009.
The Forum is open to the public. All food and beverage is offered free to participants. Nothing is for sale. Donations are accepted toward the cost of buying the coffee and supplies. Click here for a record of those donations and purchases and something about the man for whom the Fund is named.
The Four-Fold Franciscan Blessing
From the June 14, 2005 Announcements:
There was a request that the announcements include the text of the Four-Fold Franciscan Blessing that Steve Johnston recites when called on to open the Forum. Truth to tell, the original has been altered to use the pronoun "us" instead of "you." The text:
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts. Amen.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace. Amen.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. Amen.
May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.
-- A Four-Fold Franciscan Blessing
The Forum welcomes all persons to its meetings beginning at 8 a.m. most Tuesdays of the year
at the West Charlotte Recreation Center, 2222 Kendall Drive, Charlotte, NC
down the hill from West Charlotte High School.