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Weighing race and the work cut out for Charlotte

The nation has broken the color barrier at the highest level of elected office. Still, the historic inauguration of Barack Obama has by no means resolved the issues surrounding race. Many people shared their ideas at a forum in Charlotte last night about how race affects our interactions - both personal and political - and what work still lies ahead for this community. The crowd that gathered for last night's forum hosted by WFAE was mostly African American and white. Only a few identified themselves as Republicans. The discussion ranged from how much race was a factor in last year's presidential election to the role racial and cultural differences should play in everyday interactions and local decision-making. Here's a sampling: "Will we look at each other either in a color blindor acknowledging our differences, but saying we have issues we need to work on together?" asked Maddy Baer. "Those of you who still believe in some abstract concept called race will not be so disappointed when you find out there is no such thing as race. That is mental construct that has no basis in reality," challenged James Ross. "The most important part is to not pretend we're all the same. It just seems silly to boast that you're color blind," said Patrick Rivenbark." Several people said Charlotte still has a long ways to go to be a truly integrated community and has lost some of its gains in recent years, especially in the city's schools. "If you're going to have neighborhood schools program in education and neighborhoods are segregated which of course they are in Charlotte. They are in most areas of the country," said Jonathan Wells, the Director of UNC Charlotte's Center for the Study of the New South. "It follows that you're going to end up with a segregated school system. That's exactly where we are once again." "When I left the classroom almost ten years ago, I said our issue now is not race. Our issue is economics. And our community seems to be working as hard as it can to re-segregate our schools not racially, but according to class," said Julie Dyson, a former CMS teacher. Dorothy Counts-Scoggins was one of the first black students to integrate Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools 51 years ago. "The problem is trust. We do not trust each other. And that's why these kinds of conversations need to happen more and more. And people need to be more honest about what's going on and how they feel," said Counts-Scoggins. Angeles Ortega Moore, the head of Charlotte's Latin American Coalition, said there are many things that get in the way of honest talk between people of different races. "Charlotte is so good about having those task forces and those committees. And we get together for town hall and we get together and we have lunches and we say, 'yes, we are now going to talk about race.' And we talk in a very shallow way. Cause after all we all go back to our neighborhoods and our neighborhoods don't look like the place we just came from," said Ortega Moore. "So until we personally go out of our box and stop going to other meetings with other like minds just to each other say the same thing," said LaWanna Mayfield. "If when we go home and look at our pictures there's nothing but representations of ourselves on our walls and in our friend circles, then nothing is going to change." Mayfield said making those lasting connections is Charlotte's biggest challenge in dealing with race.