Jul 7, 2021 26 min read

Achieving Economic Mobility for Charlotte - with Sherri Chisolm

Image of guest, Sherri Chisolm, and quote from transcript.

Episode 14, 38 min listen

In 2014, Charlotte faced a major wake-up call when they learned that they had the worst economic mobility amongst the fifty major cities in the country. The community responded by launching a community-wide, multi-year effort to help ensure that "within a generation, every child in Charlotte-Mecklenburg will have an equal chance to achieve social and economic success."  In this episode, we interview Sherri Chisolm, Director of Leading on Opportunity for Charlotte, NC and learn what it means for a community to commit to making the American Dream a reality.


Listen on Apple Podcasts   or    Listen on Spotify


Learn more about Leading on Opportunity

Read their most recent 2020 progress report.

Explore Charlotte's 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

Learn more about Foundation for the Carolinas, the parent organization of Leading on Opportunity.

Discover the great research and resources at Harvard University and Opportunity Insights and learn more about Raj Chetty and his team's groundbreaking research. They also make data and tools available for analysis.

Urban Institute at UNCC

Interview with Raj Chetty on his groundbreaking research on racism and inequality.

The New York Times has done some great reporting around economic mobility and also provided data tools to learn about economic mobility across the country and your own community. They have also published several opinion pieces on the subject.  Following are a links to a few of the articles that are particularly relevant to this discussion. Many of them have interactive data tools.

Upshot - The Best and Worst Places to Grow Up

Upshot - An Atlas of Upward Mobility Shows Paths Out of Poverty

Upshot - Income Mobility Charts

Opinion - A Conversation About Making Cities More Equitable

Opinion - What does Opportunity Look Like Where You Live?

Brookings Institute

Brooking Institute:  How We Rise - Social Networks in Charlotte - report

Brooking Institute:  How We Rise - Social Networks in Charlotte - Panel Discussion

Brooking Institute:  Additional insights on social networks and economic mobility - blog

Sherri and I talked about segregation in Charlotte.  The Othering and Belonging Institute just completed a project and published a report on the roots of structural racism and the role that segregation plays. Also, you can use their tools to learn more about segregation within your own community.

Purpose Built Communities


Sherri Chisholm joined Leading on Opportunity as its new director in September 2020, bringing nearly a decade of experience as an educational and nonprofit strategist to the role. She has worked in senior leadership at national nonprofits and major school districts across the country, where she drove transformation through strategic planning, organizational effectiveness, and leadership development. Prior to joining Leading on Opportunity, Sherri served as the founding Executive Director of Urban Alliance Detroit, a national youth workforce development nonprofit that aims to expand access to economic opportunity for youth from under-resourced neighborhoods through paid internships, job skills training, and mentoring. She is also the founder and CEO of FreeSpace Consulting Group where she has worked to guide and support districts and nonprofit organizations across the country seeking to effect positive change in public education.



Ame Sanders  00:11

This is the State of Inclusion podcast, where we explore topics at the intersection of equity, inclusion, and community. In each episode, we meet people who are changing their communities for the better and we discover actions that each of us can take to improve our own communities. I’m Ame Sanders. Welcome.  Today, we are happy to welcome Sherri Chisholm, the Director of Leading on Opportunity in Charlotte, North Carolina. Welcome, Sherri. I’ve followed the work of Leading on Opportunity for several years now, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with you and to learn more and share about the work that your team has been doing. You define your North Star as,  “Within a generation, every child in Charlotte-Mecklenburg will have an equal opportunity to achieve social and economic success.” Wow, that’s a big goal. That’s what we used to call it a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal or a BHAG. So tell us a little bit about that and about the work you’re doing.

-Leading On Opportunity - Our North Star

Sherri Chisholm  01:14

Thank you so much for having me. I consider it a true privilege to be able to share the work of Leading on Opportunity. Our North Star is a big one and it is really founded in the question, “Is the American Dream still alive?” Raj Chetty and his group of researchers out of Harvard issued a report in 2014 that ranked all large urban centers or cities according to a child’s ability to progress out of poverty economically within their community. Charlotte was ranked very last on that list. We were the 50th city, which is to say if a child is born into poverty in the Charlotte metropolitan area, they have about a 12% chance of their next generation not also being in poverty themselves.  That was pretty curious for Charlotte and quite honestly disappointing given the level of growth that’s happened in the city, given the level of economic opportunity, given the universities, jobs and industries that are available for children to grow into adults and to thrive in.

So, that launched a community campaign that we called the Opportunity Task Force that was made up of a diversity of stakeholders–those from the business community, government, medical, healthcare (which was one of our largest industries), and the nonprofit and foundation space–to really investigate what in particular was happening in Charlotte and to put forward some recommendations that we as a community could rally around and also hold ourselves accountable to making better for the generations after us. After issuing that report, it was vital to the community that that work was continued and carried out. As a result, Leading on Opportunity was formed as an organization that I now have the privilege of leading to set some levels of accountability to chart a path forward and to make sure that the momentum continues.

Ame Sanders  03:20

What were some of the things that you guys discovered Charlotte really needed to do in order to make the American Dream a reality for your people that live in the city?

-Three Key Themes

Sherri Chisholm  03:31

We were able to organize our work around three key themes. When I say them, hopefully they’ll resonate with listeners and see where their lives are impacted by this work. So in order to achieve success and to grow and thrive as an adult, we are given some support along the way. The first, which our work is kind of grounded in, is family and child stability. Does a parent have what they need to nurture their child to their highest potential? Some things that fall into that bucket that folks can relate with is:  Are there daycare services or childcare services available to that parent? Is there  safe housing available to them? Are there opportunities around mental health and wellness for parents so that they can be there for the child? So that’s the first–family and child stability.

The second is early childhood or early child care. So this is something that is a huge initiative across the country right now, making sure that there is quality education starting as young as age three. What we know in Charlotte, and it’s very common in other cities, is that the level of quality early childhood education that’s available is oftentimes not free. So, in order to be able to access that you need to make a certain income. If you’re in poverty, oftentimes you’re not able to choose private education if you’re trying to figure out how to feed your family and make sure that they have a roof over their head. We wanted to get smarter around how we could provide that more equitably to parents and children who need it most.

The final bucket is college and career readiness. If you have had the family support, the early education support, the K-12 support that we were relying on the district for, how then do you prepare for your next step? So what does it look like to go from that transition from childhood to adulthood? We have all done this, but the level of transitions that are required to make that happen are quite significant. Everything from understanding that there’s a pathway there for you to having a workforce that’s ready to receive you. This is where I’m really proud to say that Charlotte’s one of the few places that I feel like addresses these issues head on. We have those three determinants of family and child stability, early childhood, and college and career readiness. How are we looking at social capital and segregation as primary conduits for how that work happens? Charlotte, like many other cities, particularly those in the South, have struggled with some issues around segregation, both in terms of our neighborhoods and still very much so felt in our schools. So, we wanted to make sure that as we approached the work that we took an equitable lens to how we were serving all children. For us, that meant differentiating how children of color were engaging in the system. And then finally, social capital. How did the deep relationships that you form help carry you through those stages? Those are the buckets.

Ame Sanders  06:41

When you talk about segregation, I just want to clarify, you’re talking about racial segregation.

Sherri Chisholm  06:46


-Importance of Social Capital

Ame Sanders  06:46

So it’s one of the challenges that you guys face in the community and you feel like it holds the children in your community back. The question of social capital is about the network that people have in order to help them move forward.

Sherri Chisholm  07:00


Ame Sanders  07:01

Can you talk a little bit about that? One of the things I was very impressed by, maybe a year or so ago, was the work that you guys did with the Brookings Institution. So you did a report that showed they had 30,000 interpersonal network configurations and over 177 individuals. So they actually analyzed social capital, which is such an important concept. But it’s not easy to measure. You had a lot of discoveries in that report and I was very impressed by it. Can you say a few things about your social capital work and what you’ve discovered and what you feel like is important?


Sure. When we think about our work and social capital there are a couple things that come to the top of the list. First, it is understanding that most of us have been successful, yes, because of our hard work and efforts, but also because we had someone in our life that we are calling at Leading on Opportunity as a “life navigator.” A “life navigator” is someone who you go to when you’re trying to figure out how to get something done. For example, we think about what our experience was like. I think it’s always helpful to make it personal. When you were trying to get a driver’s license there was someone in your life who took you to Driver’s Ed. There was someone in your life who took you to the DMV to get that license. There was someone who then worked with you to make sure that you could drive. These are things that we took for granted, potentially, as individuals with parents or a guardian in our life. lmagine if you are a young person and you don’t have that support.

I, as someone who used to work in K-12, was astounded by how many young people didn’t have jobs simply because they didn’t have a license. That is very complex if you don’t have a car, if you don’t have a parent, or if you don’t have a home address. That becomes very difficult. So, while this is a microcosm of what that issue could be, with a life navigator, it’s someone who could support you and make sure that that work happens. We found that in our Black and brown communities, while they were richly diverse, they were often very narrow in terms of reach. So oftentimes, when you’re born into poverty as a person of color, your neighborhood makes up who your life navigators or support systems are. Conversely, when you compare that with someone who is not a person of color, their reach is much wider. Your parents may work in a larger organization who has a friend that they played golf with, or maybe that they travel with, and they then increase your network. And so in Charlotte, we wanted to think through how we could begin to manufacture some of those same experiences for individuals who may be from different backgrounds.

-Importance of Housing Stability

Ame Sanders  09:43

One thing that you mentioned earlier is about housing stability. So being in a stable home over a period of time also allows you to build those relationships and if you’re in a family that has to move frequently, it’s difficult for you to stay establish some of those extended relationships and networks that people who live in a stable home in a stable neighborhood are able to secure pretty easily.

Sherri Chisholm  10:10

Yes. All of these issues are interconnected. When we think about economic mobility, and as you stated earlier how how big the work is, I’m proud to say that through the report we’re able to tackle multiple things at one time. So as you talk about housing stability being really important, many people don’t know that when you are living in poverty, oftentimes you’re renting and you’re following rent specials. To give some additional clarity for folks who may not be as versed in in this work, if you are a young mother and living in an apartment and at the end of your rent special comes up, you’re looking for your next place to live, which may be in a different part of the city or district than the current school that your child is attending. So that means you’re moving to a new area, you’re losing the relationship with the teacher, you’re losing their relationships with their friends and those families, which are critical to long term development. But you have to address the urgent need, which is housing. And so it’s constant trade-offs that are needed. So in Charlotte, when we thought about the work, we knew that we had to address both family and child stability, as well as increased housing opportunities at the same time.

-Challenges of Housing Segregation

Ame Sanders  11:26

So let’s talk a little bit about segregation as well. You talked about racial segregation. And in your report, it said basically that Charlotte was the 37th most segregated city and that segregation in your schools had increased. Can you talk a minute about what you guys are doing on this important topic of segregation?


As much as I am thankful and proud of the work that we’ve done, I believe segregation has probably been the area where we still need to make a lot of progress. We were intentional about putting segregation in the report because we knew that we had to look at some not so great things about our paths in order to make improvements moving forward. And one of those is really understanding how racial segregation or racism was very pervasive in our past. It still shows up today in how we operate. Most recently, the Charlotte city council approved what we’re calling our 2040 comprehensive plan. That means that Charlotte’s taken an approach over the course of the next 20 years to deeply look at what affordable housing looks like to eradicate some of the structural systems that were in place to uphold that. Part of that work with  affordable housing is making sure there’s more affordable housing available and that affordable housing is available in neighborhoods that historically were not able to be accessed by people of color. I can say that that are starting to put some structures in place. Folks are starting to take action based on some hard information we shared in the report. We’re still not there yet.

-Time Horizon: "In a Generation"

Ame Sanders  13:04

That’s probably a good segue to talk about this time horizon. It’s a long effort. We didn’t get here overnight and we don’t move out of this and into a better place overnight either. Let’s talk about your time horizon and the planning. You mentioned the 2040 comprehensive plan. We talked earlier about North Star objectives and some intermediate objectives. Talk a little bit about the time horizon.

Sherri Chisholm 13:38

I appreciate the question. You measure economic mobility over a generation. So we won’t truly understand if this work has had the impact that we hoped it would have until 35 to 40 years from now. We are committed in the long run, but we recognize that we need to be able to measure our impact now. So language that we often use is what does it look like to make generational change versus incremental change? My team now is in the midst of working on this with Urban Institute here at UNCC. I think it’s important for us to have some shared accountability around what success looks like. I know that folks who may be listening are eager to make that long term change. We’ve had to make sure that we’re focused on some foundational things first.

So over the next year, what success for us looks like are shared measures of equity. So how can we as a community say we know what we’re driving towards together–the city, the county, businesses, or nonprofits–and all have the same goals around this work? The next piece is a common language. Are we all speaking the same language to ensure that we have the same goals? That’s our next big bucket of work. Third, what are we applying our work towards? We’re going to start with college and career readiness. I know that that may feel different than the big, hairy, audacious goals that we aspire to achieve, but in order to get there we need to make sure we’re all singing from the same songbook.  That’s been a lesson learned for us in the first almost five years of us being here. People were hit so hard by the information that came out from Chetty and started acting right away. People got really excited. They changed their strategic plans. They set out goals. And now the work is not very connected. So folks that said, “We’ve done all this work, we’re committed, but it’s still hard for me to see if I’m making any change.” We see our work at Leading on Opportunity as coordinating that and making sure that the data is driving what we’re doing and that the actions underneath that are coordinated.  Change agents use language often that can be interpreted very differently. So what is equity mean? What is economic mobility? Thank you for helping me clarify what segregation means.

We’re taking the time to step back and as a community define what it looks like for us to tackle those issues specifically for Charlotte. That’s also one of our early goals. It’s something that I would encourage others to do–really take a moment to pause and get very clear on what is your theory of change? How will that be lived out the next 5 years, 10 years, and so on? So that’s where our focus is right now.

Ame Sanders 16:36

That’s great because that really helps communities who are thinking about making this kind of change understand how important this foundational work is. It’s one of the reasons that I wanted to talk to you guys specifically because you have invested quite a lot in analysis and research to drive your actions and to empower your work. That is really fundamental because otherwise you’re making a stab in the dark and you’re not  after the things that are really important to your community. So, it’s this analysis of where you need to make a difference that’s important, and using data and people to help you with that. Then, as you’re talking about now, being very focused and purposeful about aligning the groups that are working on this. You talked about shared measures of equity, and accountability, alignment of your partners and the people that are helping you move this forward, common language, and then applying this all towards your work. That’s really important. It’s probably a good time to talk about the who. So let’s talk about who is part of the work with you.

-Who is the Who You Serve?

Sherri Chisholm  17:48

I will start with who we’re doing this work for or have the privilege of advocating for. I would say it’s all children in Charlotte, with a particular focus on Black and brown children. It is not lost on us that all children deserve the opportunity to achieve at their very highest potential. When we talk about issues of equity, Black and brown children don’t have the opportunity to do that at the same rate. So we’re putting increased focus on children from those communities, but also understanding that all children in Charlotte need the opportunity to progress. We have the honor of doing that work in partnership with really great folks across the community. I will say that this is what makes Charlotte very unique. Leading on Opportunity brought everyone to the table. Not nonprofits, not government, not corporate, but all of us work together to map out improvements for our very great city.  My board is chaired by one of the most senior leaders from Bank of America and a community leader in housing. Two very different places they sit within the community, and we make decisions together.

-Their Partners

In addition to those great folks, leaders from the county and the city are also sitting on the Leading on Opportunity board. As we think about what improvements could be, we see policy as a critical piece of that. Their voice, their support, and their resources are aligned to that as well. Another part that we thought was really important to the structure of the board is making sure community voice is the loudest. So we are intentionally built such that 60% of our board is made up of community members. The language that I like to use and is true for me, are an embodiment of this work. So we live it out who we are as individuals. I can speak to it from a data and academic perspective, but more importantly can speak to it through the stories of our lives. That was really important to us. It’s really great that the way that Leading on Opportunity is situated in the city is that we’re strong partners of Foundation for the Carolinas. Through that partnership we’re able to work with really great world renowned data experts including Richard Reeves from Brookings and David Williams and Raj Chetty from Harvard. They continue to serve as a resource that focuses us on the data. What is the data telling us about our city that will inform what we need to do next? That’s been really helpful in that sometimes when you love your city and you want the best for it, it’s hard to see the specifics of what’s happening. So through their partnership, they’ve helped us to highlight some things most recently around social capital, that helps inform the work of Leading on Opportunity. We regularly engage with them for external assessments, direction, and oversight.

Ame Sanders  20:52

So that gives you sort of an outside player to come in and assess this without any of the emotional baggage that comes from living in a city and being part of the work and your optimism and excitement that you get or maybe pressure that you get for that. It’s very interesting that you’ve set up external partnerships. One, they are quite strong and really impressive groups. As you said they’re world class. But also, they are in service to your work but separate from your work.

Sherri Chisholm  21:26

Right. Incredibly well said. I think the word that comes to mind for me is “expert.” As much as we’re doing this work in Charlotte, many other communities are grappling with the same challenges. So working with Harvard and Brookings, we are able to benefit from what they’ve learned in other cities. They have done similar research in other places and can bring it to us and say, “You know, it looks like you’re trying to solve something around affordable housing. It might be worth trying option A, B, or C from another city.” Your point is well made around when you are deeply rooted in a community, sometimes it’s hard to lift up and see things with fresh eyes. So, working with folks externally, both gives us kind of the credibility to make some risky, yet impactful changes, and brings innovation as well.

-Partnership with Purpose Built Communities

Ame Sanders  22:20

I’d like to extend that conversation to talk a little bit about approaches that you’ve learned from other communities. I saw in one of your reports that you guys are working with the Purpose Built Communities. I’m guessing that you also look out and find methods of working or policy approaches, as you’re saying, that help you that have been used and implemented in other communities.

Sherri Chisholm  22:42

Yeah. We certainly have looked at other communities, for example, like Dallas, Miami, and Atlanta. Purpose Built I think has been most successful in Atlanta. We also have looked externally to other countries that are doing this work incredibly well in innovative ways. In particular, we’ve looked to Finland and how they approach relationships with work and mothers and the systems that have been put in place to make that work more feasible. What does it look like to be a working mother, whether you be in poverty or not, to be able to maintain your job to make sure that you have the resources available to your child? So taking a different look at that. And then in South Africa, South Africa also approaches college and career readiness starting at the middle school level very intensely. So, as we thought about what college and career looked like here, at least in my circle, it often starts with high school. We have really rethought what that could look like in Charlotte in terms of large organizations building relationships with students from grade six or seven through high school. That for us came not from within the US, but looking at innovative approaches in other countries that we could bring here.

Ame Sanders  23:57

That’s really encouraging that you guys are looking outside yourself, outside the country even, to find the best models that you can to apply to the work that you need to do. I think that’s really important for people to think about. For work this large and this impactful and important, it is critical to find the best outside partners, to find the best examples that you can learn from, and then to be grounded in the voices of the people of the community so that they are always at the center of what you’re doing and they’re part of your process and part of your decision making. That is so, so important. So I really applaud you for that and I am impressed with the work that you guys have done around that. Surely this is expensive to pull off, right? So you must have funders and people who underwrite the efforts that you’re doing.


Sherri Chisholm  24:55

We have been fortunate in Charlotte to have investment both in terms of time and in terms of financial resources very significantly from the very beginning. Our primary funder right now is Bank of America that contributed multi-year funding. Those of us who have worked in nonprofits before understand the benefit and really necessity of multi-year funding. Because as an organization, you are learning, growing and adapting, and you need that backbone to continue the work. I don’t want to leave that out of the conversation. Part of the reason that we’ve been able to have years worth of change and progress is because we have the support of funders who are committed to being with us on that journey. And then of course, Foundation for the Carolinas has also been able to contribute support in terms of all of the reports that have been mentioned on this call were coordinated through their partnership and the partnership of other foundations in the community here as well. It’s vital. As much as we’re passionate about the work, it requires resources. So the multi-year funding that’s been granted to us has been incredibly beneficial.

Ame Sanders  26:10

The other piece that I wanted to ask about funding, when you talk about alignment within your community, one of the things that I’ve been encouraged by looking at some of your reports, is how existing nonprofits have reoriented their funding to align with the goals that you have. So whether that’s the United Way, or the city or the county funding affordable housing initiatives. Can you say a little bit about the role that that plays in your work?

Sherri Chisholm 26:36

For sure. As someone who used to work in the strategy or internal workings of an organization, I understand the importance of having clear goals and objectives to communicate externally. One of those external audiences that are really important would be your funding group. When the taskforce report came out, nonprofit organizations, corporate responsibility departments within many of the businesses here in Charlotte, and government organizations all shifted their strategies to align to the task force recommendations. That was game changing in the city. As much as we are working to make improvements, we were able to start at a common place four years ago. It was clear that as a city we were all moving in the same direction. It created coherence. As foundations or funders were thinking about what to fund, it was clear that the city was moving in the same direction and that by funding one initiative that would benefit others. And so it just created coordination.

Ame Sanders  27:38

That alignment is so important. I love the phrase that you use–game changer–because the power of the whole community is behind what you’re doing, which is so important. So that alignment, again, is key. One of the things we haven’t talked about is where your organization sits in the community and a little bit about your team that does this work. So tell us a little bit about that.

-Their Team

Sherri Chisholm 28:02

My goal in coming on was to build a team that was reflective of the community, both in terms of demographic makeup and the level of expertise that exists within the community. Oftentimes when we talk about doing community work it’s either done top-down or bottom-up. Our approach here in Charlotte with Leading on Opportunity is that we wanted equitable representation. This means that we had to have folks from both communities. While we have folks who are from more under-resourced areas like myself, I also think it’s important that we have data experts, strategists who come from environments with people who we were raised in environments that may be less proximate to the work. In order for us to do this work together, we need to be able to communicate to everyone. What I would say to you is that we need people who are privileged and those who are not of privilege to do this work together, because we speak to each other in ways that resonate most with our communities. I would encourage other communities to also think about who do you need to get the work done? Who do you need to carry the message? It may not be you. Thinking about your team through that lens will help create a team that is sustainable and well-informed to bring folks together.

-Their Structure

Ame Sanders  29:25

Where does your organization sit within the community? Are you part of the foundation world? Part of the city? Part of the United Way?

Sherri Chisholm 29:35

We are part of Foundation for the Carolinas. They serve as our backbone of support both in terms of helping us with fundraising as well as with HR and operational needs. For those of us who work in nonprofits, we know that that can easily take over your life. So knowing that I have their support is great. And we are located in the community. So while we were supported by Foundation for the Carolinas, we thought it important that we have an identity that is very representative and rooted in the richness of the community. So we sit in our community in one of our more diverse areas.

Ame Sanders  30:08

You join this project, as you mentioned, after it had already started. So you’re the newest leader for this work. That gives you a pretty unique perspective to share your view of this work and how things are going. So if you look back at what you guys have done before you arrived and since you arrived, and if there’s a community out there that’s listening to this podcast and interested in trying to figure out how they can make this difference in their community, what would you recommend to them? What are two or three or four of the key things that you think they should do to get started and to move their work forward?

-Advice: Center Community Voices

Sherri Chisholm 30:51

I always come back to community voice. It is what makes the difference. I would center community voices from the very beginning. What that looks like is making sure that they are not only at the table to provide perspective, but at the table to make decisions. That is something that we started from the beginning and have gotten better at. We’ve had to learn over time what it looks like to do that. I would say that that is very much so number one. You have to have those who not only are in proximity to this work, but sit dead center informing what change and progress looks like for them.

-Advice: Shared Goals

Next, I would say that shared goals are really important. I think we were really smart about using external experts to help us analyze how we would do the work. We have learned along the way how important it is to take time to bring in experts in implementation and execution as well. You have to be just as thoughtful in uncovering the problem as you are in solving the problem. So, taking some time to get really clear about what the goals are, how you will approach that work would be number two.

-Advice: Community Will

The third, we’ve highlighted a bit already, but making sure as much as possible that there is community will and building that support from all areas. I could not do this work solely as a nonprofit. I need the help of government and corporate and investment of them as well. I just have one more: to be in it for the long haul. We often get distracted by the shiny penny and you have to stay the course. When it comes to making societal or ecosystem wide change, it takes several years to do that. Give yourself grace and understand that it’ll change and evolve along the way.

Ame Sanders  32:47

Those are really incredible ideas. So let me just restate them to make sure I can share with my audience. Center in the community voice, shared goals informed by external experts who help you diagnose the problem and also decide an approach that help you clarify your goals, building community will so that the community is behind you and supporting you, and then staying the course for the long haul. Those are great. Thank you for sharing that. So one question, we talked about your goals and you talked about the areas of focus that you have for the moment. Family and child stability, early childcare quality education, and college and career readiness. How have your goals evolved over time? Or have they evolved over time? Were those the ones you started with? Or have you evolved your mission and your focus over time?

Sherri Chisholm 33:40

We remain committed to those three. As we begin to execute the work we’re getting more detailed on what it looks like to tackle college and career readiness, but those three things remain in terms of what influences life outcomes most. So yeah, we’re committed to those same three goals.

Ame Sanders  34:00

That’s great. That’s amazing, actually. Let’s say that I was in Charlotte and I stopped people on the street and I wanted to talk to them about how their city is changing. Maybe not about Leading on Opportunity, specifically because they might not know your organization, but what would they tell me about how Charlotte is changing?

-How This Appears to Their Community

Sherri Chisholm  34:23

I think folks will say that Charlotte is growing really quickly and that creates a lot of opportunities for those who live here. And they want to be a part of that. And I would say that they understand Leading on Opportunity is trying to make that possible. And I feel like that’s enough for me. I don’t think folks can speak to the details of exactly how we’re doing our work or who’s doing the work or that I’m doing the work, but they know that Leading on Opportunity is present in the midst of change to make sure that the folks who have been here are considered and prioritized in any improvements or advancements in the city.

Ame Sanders  35:02

That does sound like a lot to me as well. That would be a great testament for your community to feel that. So thank you, Sherri Chisholm for talking with us today. I’m so excited by what you guys are doing. You used this wake up call that Charlotte had with Raj Chetty’s work to really make a difference in your community. Not all the communities who had that same wake up call have found the wherewithal to do that. I wish you the very best in your work. All the folks that live in Charlotte are certainly counting on you being successful.

Sherri Chisholm  35:34

Thank you so much.


Ame Sanders  35:38

In this episode, we learned about the journey that Charlotte, the Queen City, has been on to give everyone in their community an equal opportunity to achieve social and economic success. For those of us interested in making our communities more inclusive and equitable, there were so many lessons packed into this discussion. Let’s just take a minute and unpack a few. The work of Leading on Opportunity started with a big wake-up call based on the work from Raj Chetty and Harvard University. Their measure of economic mobility, or in their case a lack of economic mobility, catalyzed the community and helped them establish community will. I’ll include a link in the show notes so you can learn more about this groundbreaking work and links to help you find out where your community ranks. Their data, research, and analysis have guided Charlotte throughout their work and continues to do so today. Sherri also gave us five essential recommendations for anyone embarking on this kind of work. First, centering community voices from the very beginning in everything you do–not just including folks who are affected by your work for their perspective, but in the decision making and oversight in everything you do. Second, creating shared goals and alignment of stakeholders and participants across the community. Be equally thoughtful about uncovering the problems that your community faces as well as solving those problems. Be willing to look outside yourself for help and bring in experts as needed. Then, building and sustaining community will across stakeholder groups. Finally, she reminded us to be in this for the long haul and not let ourselves be distracted. For those of you who are on this journey to make your communities more inclusive and equitable, there’s also a section of my website where I’ve mapped out a framework for change. The things we’ve discussed today are great examples of how communities commit to and make both generational and incremental change.

This has been the State of Inclusion podcast. Join us again next time. If you enjoyed this episode, the best compliment for our work is your willingness to share these ideas with others. Leave us a review. We’d love your comments. Thanks so much for listening


Guest: Sherri Chisolm

Host: Ame Sanders

Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson

Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski

Sound: FAROUT Media

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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