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Our roundup of the week's top stories in the Charlotte area and across North Carolina. Sign up here to get it sent straight to your inbox.

1 Year Since George Floyd's Death; 1 Million COVID Cases In NC; 1st Holiday Weekend Without Big Restrictions

"A" by Matthew Clayburn (Nick de la Canal/WFAE)
Nick de la Canal
/
WFAE
A faded "A" is seen on Charlotte's Black Lives Matter mural on South Tryon Street in May 2021.

We marked several milestones this week — some somber, some reflective, some even hopeful.

We’ll start with the good.

Millions of Americans are doing something that almost seems novel today: enjoying a holiday weekend. In North Carolina, Memorial Day marks not just the unofficial start of summer but the first major holiday since the state eased nearly all coronavirus safety restrictions. Many people are celebrating without masks, gathering in crowds and traveling — things that seem, well, almost normal again.

But that rosy milestone came with a more sobering one: North Carolina this week passed 1 million confirmed COVID cases in a pandemic that’s claimed more than 13,000 lives in the state since March 2020.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools community passed a milestone this week, too — one that ran the gamut on emotions. The district wrapped its school year. And what a year it was, with teachers and students navigating hybrid learning, outbreak scares and the general disruption of the pandemic on life. WFAE education reporter Ann Doss Helms spent time documenting what the year meant for one northwest Charlotte elementary school in the three-part series Oakdale’s Pandemic Year.

Oakdale hybrid math g2.jpeg
Ann Doss Helms
Romona Matthews helps her Oakdale Elementary second-graders with a math lesson while Ryan Jenkins leads the lesson on screen.

In Part 1, Helms found out how teachers did their best to stay involved with students through all the changes. In Part 2, she examined the unique challenges of hybrid learning, and in Part 3, she looked at how anxiety swelled as end-of-grade exams approached at the end of a school year like no other.

We, of course, marked another emotion-riddled milestone this week. Tuesday marked one year since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. On this day in 2020, Charlotte — like many cities across the U.S. — woke up after a night of protesters taking to the streets demanding change, demanding justice for Floyd, demanding an end to systemic racism and police brutality. It was the beginning of another national reckoning on racism.

And in Charlotte, that reckoning beat in the heart of uptown. Protesters marched nightly for several weeks. And sometimes, during the protests, police and protesters clashed violently. As businesses boarded up on South Tryon Street, the city shut down traffic so artists could paint a giant “Black Lives Matter” mural on the pavement. A year later, long after cars were allowed back on Tryon, the letters are still visible but fading.

Charlotte's Black Lives Matter mural, photographed shortly after completion in June 2020.
Charlotte Star Room
Charlotte's Black Lives Matter mural is seen in June 2020.

"It's more like a conversation," artist Frankie Zombie told WFAE’s Nick de la Canal. "We came out, we say what we want to say, we get out feelings out through our art. That's really what matters. It's deeper than just the letters on the street."

While Floyd’s death was caught on video that was widely shared last year, the recording wasn’t bodycam footage. Video from police wasn’t even released until last the trial that led to former officer Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction. Rules around the public availability of police body camera footage vary from state to state. In North Carolina, someone has to petition the courts for footage to be released publicly — something that a judge can deny or delay, as seen recently in the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. by deputies in Elizabeth City. WFAE’s Sarah Delia took a look at why some advocates are calling for the law to change. And it’s something that could come up again soon, as Charlotte police just this week said an officer returned fire at a man, shooting and wounding him.

Last summer’s protests prompted shows of solidarity and pledges for change from many companies, governments and individuals. And it prompted some people to take things a step further and get more involved in shaping the future. That’s true of Curtis Hayes Jr. and Kendrick Cunningham, two Charlotte men who took to the streets last year and are now running for City Council.

“I can’t say, ‘Come up with a better way’ and not lead the charge in trying to find it,” Hayes told WFAE’s Claire Donnelly.

Lastly, there’s one more milestone Charlotte marked this past week — one that’s generating a good bit of talk. Mecklenburg County jumped up in the annual Trust for Public Land ranking of major city park systems, but it’s still near the bottom, clocking in at 91 out of 100.

There are a lot of reasons for that, like the accessibility of parks and how much money the county spends on parks per resident.

“We’re still near the bottom, but we have moved up several places, so it’s movement in the right direction,” the chair of the county Park and Recreation Commission said.

What do you think about parks in the Charlotte area? It’s as nice a weekend as any to explore them.

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David Boraks
A visitor at Reedy Creek Park in east Charlotte fishes in 2020.

ICYMI: MORE LOCAL NEWS

Mecklenburg Commissioners Vote 6-2 To Withhold Money From CMS

Mecklenburg County commissioners voted 6-2 on Wednesday in support of County Manager Dena Diorio's plan to withhold $56 million from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools until it presents a detailed plan on how to close achievement gaps among students.

Big Construction Continues At Airport As Summer Travel Season Begins

A massive $500 million renovation is underway at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and it's expected to be a busy travel season. Also in BizWorthy: We look at why Charlotte's a fintech boomtown and what's happening with a SouthPark movie theater.

CMS To Offer Virtual Learning For Grades 3-12 Next Year

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced it will provide virtual learning for students in grades 3 through 12 for the 2021-22 school year. Many families who responded to a survey said they would definitely prefer virtual learning next year.

Credit Karma To Create East Coast Hub In Charlotte

The personal finance company Credit Karma said Tuesday that it will create a new East Coast headquarters in Charlotte. The headquarters would bring 600 jobs to the area.

Signs Of Hope In Charlotte's Live Music Industry

It’s taken a GoFundMe, an auction, the formation of a local independent music venue alliance and some CARES Act funding, but the Neighborhood Theatre is still above water. Its first concert in 15 months is planned for June 17.

Neighborhood Theatre
Jodie Valade
The Neighborhood Theatre has not held a concert since March 7, 2020.

REBUILDING CHARLOTTE

During the pandemic, millions of dollars in aid have flowed to programs that fight homelessness. In Charlotte, the transitional housing program Gracious Hands didn't take a penny, yet it's continuing to grow and help women and children in need.

COMMENTARY

The battle over money for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system has gotten a little personal. But WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his On My Mind commentary, says the back-and-forth doesn’t address a much bigger problem with Charlotte as a whole.

BEST OF CHARLOTTE TALKS

UFOs have gone mainstream. What was once the realm of cooky, overnight radio and “Unsolved Mysteries” is now getting serious attention, from Congress to “60 Minutes” and The New York Times. Humans have looked skyward for millennia and wondered if intelligent life is out there.

STILL HERE

William McNeely had already survived a double lung transplant when the coronavirus pandemic began. The Charlotte native was extra-careful, got vaccinated for COVID-19 ... and still somehow contracted the disease. He survived that, too. He feels like it's his duty to make an impact in the lives of others for the person who donated their lungs to him. He tells his story in the latest Still Here.

SOUTHBOUND

Monique Truong came to America as a 7-year-old girl -- a Vietnamese refugee whose family landed in small-town North Carolina. She has written three novels, including one called “Bitter In the Mouth," that recalls her time in Boiling Springs, where she first learned English, where she first faced prejudice through fiction. Tommy Tomlinson talks to her in the latest SouthBound.

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