Local News Roundup: Union County bans fluoride in their water; the Leandro saga continues; Charlotte FC kicks off season

Union County commissioners vote to ban fluoride in the county water supply. According to the CDC, putting fluoride in water is vital to keep teeth healthy, especially in young children. The practice has been done across the country for decades. Detractors claim the issue is about consent, personal freedom, and whether the board has the authority to add fluoride to the water.

Elsewhere, more signage is coming to uptown Charlotte as a display bearing the company’s name will be added to the Wells Fargo building. City Council noted this follows a precedent after signage was approved for the Truist building in 2020.

The saga of the Leandro lawsuit continues. This week, the North Carolina Supreme Court considers whether the state needs to pay around $700 million to fund education improvements as ordered by a trial court.

And coming off a playoff appearance last fall, Charlotte FC returns to the pitch this Saturday to kick off its third season. Will a new coach mean more success for the team?

Those stories and more on the Charlotte Talks local news roundup.

GUESTS:

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”
Ann Doss Helms, WFAE education reporter
Alexandria Sands, reporter with Axios Charlotte

How increased Black homeownership can put a dent in the racial wealth gap

Despite record-low Black unemployment and a higher labor force participation rate than white people, major barriers impede homeownership among Black Americans, a fact that contributes to a yawning racial wealth gap. The gap is so expansive that the 400 wealthiest Americans control the same amount of wealth as the 48 million Black people living in the United States. Importantly, however, there are solutions.

Courtney Johnson Rose serves as president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, or NAREB, the premier network of Black real estate professionals and one of the oldest minority trade associations in the country, with more than 100 chapters nationwide. The organization is sponsoring a Building Black Wealth Tour in cities around the country, featuring classes, workshops and one-on-one counseling to advise families on home buying, investing and careers in real estate.

With her background — both personal and professional — in the field, Rose is prepared to tackle this challenge. And she is my guest on this episode of Equal Time.

When it comes to political persuasion, why emotion matters

“The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation” might have been published in 2007, but its message is as relevant as ever, especially as the 2024 campaign ramps up. Author Drew Westen, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emory University, has for 20 years explored the role of emotions in how the brain processes information.

That’s true in life — and in politics. And that explains why Westen has advised or worked as a political consultant for Democratic candidates, progressive and labor organizations and Fortune 500 companies for 20 years. Equal Time speaks to Westen on how a better understanding of the mind and brain translates into more compelling political messaging. Who is doing it right, and who could most use his help right now?

To honor Dr. King, GOP should honor what he really believed in

It was fitting that as the world honored the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who would have turned 95 years old on the holiday commemorating his life and work, his daughter Bernice King set the record straight: “Many folks who use ‘woke’ with contempt today probably would have hated Daddy when he was alive,” she said. “He was very conscious and committed to eradicating what he called the ‘triple evils’ of racism, poverty and militarism. If you’re quoting him to stop truthful teaching about him…”

I wonder if anti-“woke” warrior Ron DeSantis’ ears were burning?

Bernice King has had to spend way too much of her time and energy correcting, scolding and rebuking not just the Florida governor and fading GOP presidential hopeful, but also all those who have never hesitated to co-opt King. And like her, I suspect even they know they would have been among the majority of white Americans who judged King a danger in 1968, the year he was assassinated at the age of 39.

It has become routine for many to lecture her about all the things her father would say or think were he alive today, which disrespects them both.

The real King is still deemed too dangerous for some who would ban books that honestly report the important American history

For history-challenged candidates, Civil War source material is nearby

Who would have thought so many of those competing to be president of the United States would have slept through American History 101? And I wonder why, if a working-class student at a modest Catholic school in Baltimore managed bus trips to museums in that city and neighboring Washington, D.C., folks who grew up with far more resources than I ever dreamed of never found the time to learn from the treasures such institutions contain?

Welcome to campaign 2024, when it seems each day’s headlines include at least one fractured history lesson, revealing just how much our leaders don’t know or don’t want to know about America’s past, and why that matters for our present and future.

A summer of reflection — and fears of history repeating itself

It is a striking image, a fearless visage staring at the camera while holding a sign with booking number “7053” chest high. “Beautiful rebel” are the words used to describe Rosa Parks on the coaster that I’ve decided will never cushion a bottle or glass.

Another mugshot has made the news this summer though I don’t think even his supporters would label the subject “beautiful.” “Defiant” is the better adjective for the Donald Trump that looks out from the photo taken when he was booked in Fulton County, Ga., the first mug shot of an American president. Controversial? Yes. But after being charged with a litany of felonies that stem from his and his allies’ alleged efforts to reverse Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia, was there a choice?

While it has been impossible to escape the image now gracing X, formerly known as Twitter, T-shirts and more, the first — the quiet, determined woman — has been stripped of its radical origins, if it’s remembered at all by those who praise the former president’s close-up.

When and if children learn about Rosa Parks and her role in the civil rights movement, the lesson is usually recounted through a gauzy lens that portrays her as a respectable seamstress who just got tired one day instead of the tireless NAACP activist whose refusal to move to the back of the bus was an inevitable and deliberate part of a movement, the continuing fight against the social order of segregation, white supremacy and police brutality that ruled the day.

It wasn’t only Parks in the fight. She has been elevated because of America’s tendency to flatten and simplify, to spoon-feed harsh historical truths in a narrative of happily-ever-afters. In fact, the famous Parks mugshot was taken, not in 1955 during her initial arrest, but in February 1956, when Parks and many other activists were targeted by the city in an attempt to break the back of a boycott that was getting results and making Montgomery leaders “uncomfortable.”

Discomfort, though, was part of the rebellion — the only way to change the status quo.

The ceramic square is a souvenir collected during my visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, one stop in my summer of visits to civil rights museums, the chance to broaden my own education about American history.

America’s future depends on a truthful reckoning with its past

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

It’s a quote that in some form has been attributed to many and uttered by many more, perhaps because it is so wise and has proven itself again and again.

Unfortunately, anyone who revived the slogan in 2023 would be labeled “woke” in a nanosecond by politicians looking to score points and their followers who prefer to live by another oft-used mantra — “ignorance is bliss.”

The truth is, all the folks attempting to bury the past or slather a cheery coat of Barbie pink over it, the better to hide any unpleasantness, need to go back to school — and fast. And I’m talking real school, not one with Florida’s “why torture, whippings and having your children sold away wasn’t all THAT bad” curriculum.

Taking a seat in the front row should be Republican Rep. Eli Crane of Arizona, who was not even original in his cluelessness during a debate over an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Insisting on the elimination of any kind of diversity training before authorizing the release of needed funding, Crane said: “The military was never intended to be, you know, inclusive. Its strength is not its diversity, its strength is its standards.”

Besides his racist assumption that diversity and standards are, you know, mutually exclusive, Crane, whether he realized it or not, also repeated the same argument used by those opposed to the integration of the military in 1948. At the time, Army Secretary Kenneth Royall said the Army was not meant to be “an instrument for social evolution,” and sympathized with the Southern white troops who would be forced to fight for democracy next to Americans of a different race.

That did not stop President Harry S. Truman from signing Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948, mandating the desegregation of the U.S. military. Truman was appalled by the treatment of members of the military who fought Nazis and fascism in World War II, only to face violence and discrimination in the country they served. The case of Sgt. Isaac Woodard, beaten and blinded by law enforcement in South Carolina in 1946, particularly moved Truman, a World War I veteran.

Then and now, Royall and Crane insulted Americans of every race who have served with distinction, patriotism and pride, even when the military constructed barriers to impede their ambitions.

Crane’s assignment — forgive the self-promotion — is to listen to the latest episode of my CQ Roll Call podcast “Equal Time,” an interview with retired Adm. Michelle Howard, the first woman to become a four-star officer in the U.S. Navy, the first Black woman to captain a U.S. naval ship and the first woman graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy to become an admiral.

And that’s just for starters.

Truman’s order and subsequent policies opened a path for the talented and dedicated, like Howard. She is part of a program marking the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9981 this week in Washington at the Truman Library Institute.

Extra credit for attendance, Congressman Crane.

GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis continues to earn a failing grade for his support of his state’s revisionist Black history standards. There were echoes of South Carolinian and fellow Yale alum (class of 1804) John C. Calhoun’s defense of slavery as a “positive good” in the Florida governor, whose words judged enslavement as a chance for building character and a resume. Actually, as Gillian Brockell pointed out in The Washington Post, the enslaved weren’t looking for an unpaid internship, but instead, were human beings living full lives before being kidnapped by enslavers anxious to exploit those very skills DeSantis seems to believe they lacked.

Now that he sees doubling down on racism isn’t shoring up his crumbling presidential hopes, DeSantis is dodging accountability, playing the “who, me?” game.

Country singer Jason Aldean picks and chooses when he wants to play that same game, defiant in front of fans when defending his song “Try That in a Small Town,” but playing the innocent when it comes to the backdrop for its incendiary video, Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tenn., site of a notorious lynching of a Black 18-year-old, Henry Choate, in 1927.

If you take them at their word, the millionaire and his team simply didn’t do their homework.

I have to give them credit, though. They along with the songwriters — a bunch of folks not named Aldean — have certainly learned how to make a mediocre song a hit in a divided America.

What has been deemed legal is not always right

Sometimes, the court gets it right.

It did in the case of Bridget “Biddy” Mason, who eventually walked more than 2,000 miles before her journey ended in California, where her enslavers, Robert and Rebecca Smith, held Mason and her children captive in the supposedly “free state.” When she learned of the Smiths’ plan to haul them all to the slave state of Texas, Mason sued. And in 1856, after listening to her testimony in chambers, because Blacks could not testify against whites in court, Judge Benjamin Hayes decided in her favor.

Lucky for her, and for California, since Mason went on to success as a midwife, entrepreneur and philanthropist, establishing day-care centers and the First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) Church in Los Angeles, which is still in operation.

I was spurred to learn more about her story after reading a tribute in the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati during a recent trip there. Hers is a true-life tale that displays strategic intelligence and agency, and the countless ways society benefits when barriers are removed and innovation and imagination allowed to flourish.

The current U.S. Supreme Court, unlike Judge Hayes, in my opinion, got it terribly wrong in a flurry of decisions it issued last week. Each one, delivered in turn like staccato body blows, punctuated the court majority’s agenda to halt progress and move the country backward.

At the Freedom Center, I spent hours studying the exhibits, repelled by the lengths those in power would go to possess human beings they viewed as property, yet inspired by stories of brave patriots of every race who traveled on all sides of the “law” but always on the path of justice.

What has been deemed legal is not always right.

This country’s highest court has acted ignobly, as in the 1857 Dred Scott decision, in which Chief Justice Roger Taney declared that Black people had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

And it has been the prodding guide for a recalcitrant nation, as in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, in which it unanimously stated: “The doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Pushback has come from those who call out injustice, as Frederick Douglass did after Dred Scott, when he noted: “The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only power in this world. It is very great, but the Supreme Court of the Almighty is greater.”

And negative resistance has persisted, as well, the hallmark of those who would stand in the way, yelling “stop,” as segregationists proved when they used every tool, including violence, to fight Brown.

It wasn’t a surprise when the Supreme Court knocked down the use of race, but nothing else, as one factor among many for colleges and universities deciding which students to admit. Their reasoning ignores how the Harvard of today chooses a class, saving spaces for children of alumni, faculty and donors, those with talents in music or athletics, or from a state with paltry representation, and with a sprinkling of celebrity names moving to the front of the line.

It ignores that any applicant who makes it past review is qualified, and that no school has ever chosen a class based on test scores alone, lest it leave out too many children of the rich and powerful.

But most of all, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the majority on the court ignore America, where race matters — and has always mattered. Instead, as Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote in brilliant dissent: “With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat.”

Two visions of America’s past — and future

“I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.” And just to make sure everyone in the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference and those watching at home got the message, former president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump repeated that last line: “I am your retribution.”

Trump revisited his “American carnage” 2017 inauguration speech to again paint a picture of an angry and divided America — with a promise to lead a charge into battle if elected.

On the same weekend, President Joe Biden traveled to Selma, Ala., to commemorate the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, that day on March 7, 1965, when marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge heading to the capital city of Montgomery for voting rights and for justice in the name of civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson — who was killed by an Alabama state trooper — were met with violence from law enforcement as the world watched.

The result of the marchers’ resolve and sacrifice was the Voting Rights Act, signed by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson on Aug. 6, 1965.

“No matter how hard some people try, we can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know,” Biden said Sunday. “We should learn everything — the good, the bad, the truth — of who we are as a nation.”

And, after renewing his call to strengthen those same voting rights citizens had demanded that day in 1965, Biden concluded: “My fellow Americans, on this Sunday of our time, we know where we’ve been and we know, more importantly, where we have to go: forward together.”

At CPAC at National Harbor, Md., last week, the speaker’s list included Jair Bolsonaro, the former president of Brazil, whose followers attacked his country’s capital city after his loss; and Kari Lake, still in election denial about her own November defeat in Arizona’s gubernatorial race. Notice the theme?

Attendees could choose between sessions on “Finish the Wall, Build the Dome” or “No Chinese Balloon Above Tennessee,” but there was no room for a lesson on the American history made on that Selma bridge 58 years ago.

It’s about more than one dinner and a man named Trump

A now 19-year-old white man who targeted shoppers in a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket in May simply because they were Black, according to authorities, this week pleaded guilty to murder charges and one charge of domestic terrorism motivated by hate. In his not even 20 years on this earth, this gunman, who casts serious doubt on the onetime hope of optimists that young people would save us, was nurtured by racist lies and fueled by conspiracies of “replacement.”

The white supremacist (and I won’t say his name), who murdered 10 human beings and wounded three others, was on a mission, and he seemed proud to livestream his heinous actions. He can live his life, something he denied his victims, and if spared the death penalty on federal charges, he will spend the rest of it in prison.

His beliefs, however, are not going anywhere. In fact, they are having a moment.

White supremacy, antisemitism, misogyny and all kinds of hate are being lifted up by some of those who want to lead the country and ignored or dismissed by others who, at the very least, are afraid of alienating the haters — people who would destroy everything America is supposed to stand for. After all, they could be voters.

It’s not a shock that former president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump welcomed Kanye West, Nick Fuentes and a dude named Jamal to his Mar-a-Lago dinner table. Nor is it surprising that the few Republicans who have spoken out, at times tepidly, against Trump’s supper are being praised as heroes, proving the definition of that word has diminished over time.

In a dreary reminder that there is no bottom to GOP delusions, the usual suspects have continued to infantilize a 76-year-old man, blaming those around Trump rather than the man himself, as though what transpired at his Florida compound was a lapse in judgment, just a faux pas.

I know white guys are given the benefit of the doubt well past their sell-by date; they pretty much originated the term “youthful indiscretion” as a ready-made excuse. But to ask anyone to ignore Trump’s well-documented history, his both-sides wink at the deadly Charlottesville, Va., “Unite the Right” rally and his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol (both of which were graced with Fuentes’ presence), should be a step too far, even for the former president’s No. 1 apologist, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Remember, once upon a time, Trump also claimed he didn’t know who former Klan grand wizard David Duke was.

Knowing all that, it’s not that hard to imagine the conversation at Trump’s dinner from hell.