Walter and Sharon Sanders at home
When Walter and Sharon Sanders moved to Charlotte four years ago, they did three things immediately: registered to vote, obtained CATS bus passes, and got their Library cards.
“We’re both lifelong readers and library supporters,” Walter explains. “Now that we’re retired, we still love learning, travelling and meeting people. The library connects us to so many touchpoints.”
In 2020, that connection was more critical than ever. “I volunteer at the Library, and at the height of the pandemic that wasn’t possible,” Sharon recalls. “The Library’s volunteer coordinator told me about Equity Impact Circles, and we thought it would be a way to connect at a time when we weren’t doing much else. It turned out to be an extraordinary experience.”
Equity Impact Circles are five-week workshops presented in partnership between Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Community Building Initiative, with funding from your Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation. The goal is to bring together people of diverse backgrounds to increase both understanding and advancement of equity in our community. Using TED Talks and other content as a jumping-off point, participants learn to exchange perspectives, ask questions, and articulate ideas.
“It’s so important for all of us to understand that our personal experiences aren’t all the same, and to learn from one another. The conversations can be messy, the topics are challenging – but we encourage participants to lean into these developing relationships and learn from each other. We all come out stronger,” says Megan Jones, CBI’s Community Engagement and Program Coordinator.
The partnership began with internal workshops for Library staff, and the value of the conversations was immediately apparent. This partnership brings Equity Impact Circles to the general public, for free. “I’ve been engaged with CBI for many years, and their work around equity is unparalleled. I’m proud and excited that we can underwrite this program and leverage the Library’s reach to make this opportunity accessible across our community,” says Jenni Gaisbauer, Library Foundation executive director.
Walter didn’t know what to expect at first. “I thought I was pretty enlightened. But then I got into the circle and realized there are so many perspectives different from mine. At first I was afraid to speak up, afraid I might say the wrong thing. But after a week or so I couldn’t wait for more. I loved the format and the content.”
Sharon welcomed the experience from the start. “It was right after George Floyd was murdered, and this was a healthy outlet for so much anger. 2020 could have been a year of withdrawing into myself, but I feel, thanks to the Library’s virtual Equity Impact Circles, this year afforded me the opportunity to focus instead on the larger community and how I can find a way to help create a better, more equitable one.”
Since completing the workshop, the Sanders’ have stayed in communication with other members of their Circle. They’ve also made an intentional decision to invest in Black startup businesses. “This is important and meaningful and it’s something we can do to help create equity. We received help when we were starting out, and we can pay it forward today and help someone else.”
Equity Impact Circles begin every other month, and run for five weeks.
View the full report as it aired June 21, 2021 on WBTV here.