“This is our moment, this is our chance.”
Jamal Tate, self-identified youth advocate and Charlotte millennial, was looking for his opportunity to take an active role in civil rights and expand on his personal ability to positively impact other local youth.
He recounts his struggles after moving to Charlotte, due to a lack of support and knowledge about resources. While living elsewhere he had a strong support system.
“In Charlotte, I felt a sense of isolation and being disconnected because I was from another place and not like everybody else. I believe I was overlooked in school and seen as a “gifted” student so resources were diverted to other students with a perceived “higher need.”
Jamal was charged with four felonies and two misdemeanors, but turned things around and seeks to pay it forward.
“I didn’t just want to be a feel-good organization. I actually wanted to make long-term change in the lives of young people. In addition, I noticed Charlotte had a lot of life coaches for adults and almost none for youth.”
He started his youth coaching organization to establish community partnerships with youth-serving organizations that will consistently develop high-achieving young people.
Last September, on the way back from a trip from a Columbus, Georgia, youth conference, Jamal found another opportunity to get involved.
“I heard about the shooting and the protests, and knew I wanted to be part of going out and showing my support – uniting for a greater purpose,” said Jamal.
Jamal says his family tried to talk him out of making his way toward the Epicentre on the night of Sept. 21.
“Many thought it was more dangerous than it really was,” he said. “It was not as bad as television made it out to be. People looked out for each other. Among the protestors, if someone became agitated, we tried to check behavior as soon as possible.”
Jamal remembered seeing a helicopter flying around over uptown, and remembered that as midnight approached protestors felt uneasy, not knowing how police officers might enforce a curfew.
“We just wanted to be part of this movement of our time.”
Looking forward, he acknowledges that events of last year have forced the city to confront its challenges.
“I think Charlotte has a history of sweeping things under the rug,” he said. “That rug was lifted last year and we had to deal with all of the dirt. I think we’re moving in the right direction, but we still aren’t where we need to be.”
He discussed how efforts such as increased funding for United Way programming and the Opportunity Task Force report are a step in the right direction, and said he’s also pleased that among activists, protestors and advocates, Charlotteans are recognizing the importance of government. Some, he said, are even running for office as a way to make real change.
“We’d be angry, but for a while there was no real consistency for our message or impact,” Jamal said. “From a structural standpoint it was business as usual. Now, we won’t ever forget. We know how to use the unrest to move toward change. People are a lot more conscious now.”
Since last year, Jamal has taken an active role in improving police-community relations in his own service and partnership involvement within various CMPD programs. He works with the CMPD Reach Out Program and serves on Chief Putney’s External Advisory Board.
“This has been a great experience as I am able to bring a young person’s voice to the table and advocate for the rights of young people and millennials,” Jamal said. “I am also able to offer insight into how policy and procedures may be received from community members such as myself.”
Through his efforts, Jamal is also able to spread the message to young Charlotteans about the importance of mentorship and good choices.
“Mentorship has not only helped to elevate me from extreme criminal circumstances, but it also allowed me a safe space in which I could express and discover my identity.”