Are There Really No Things to Do for Young Black Professionals in North Carolina

We’ve all said it, that there’s nothing to do for black folks, certain black folks of a younger and more prosperous persuasion, in our  North Carolina cities. Lately, those fears were stroked by this article, by Jarvis Holliday, in this past week’s cover story of Creative Loafing Charlotte.

Dame's Chicken and Waffles in Greensboro, NC. Photo by Kristen E. Jeffers

Dame’s is pretty cool. Is it and “cool places like it” something we black young pros consider “something to do”? Photo by the author.

The article is a long read, but a worthy one. I’ll pull out this section that grabs its essence:

The phrase “young professionals” gets used frequently in the marketing of programs and events in Charlotte’s African-American community. It’s not simply a metric in the way it’s used in corporate lingo, to denote a person, generally between the ages of 21 and 40, who is college-educated and has a salaried position. When blacks use the term, that’s a part of it, but its intention is to further distinguish those young men and women who have “made it.” And that de facto badge of honor also implies that this group behaves a certain way.

Typically, a black professional wants it to be known that he or she defies whatever negative stereotypes other groups may have of African Americans. So within the social scene, you’ll find that they dress well, prefer upscale venues and have a taste for the finer things.

But the black professional social scene in Charlotte is often a source of angst for many within it, who lament the dearth of good or welcoming places to go to, or that the so-called hot spots never last. Newcomers quickly tire of not being able to identify where black professionals socialize after work or party after dark on a consistent basis.

Events that do get traction, for example, are Cufflinks & Cocktails, put on by the Charlotte alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and Charlotte’s Favorite Happy Hour, organized by prominent local couple Herb and Felicia Gray. Each takes place at posh venues and is well-attended by black professionals, drawing anywhere from 200 to 400 people, but what those events also have in common is that they only take place once a month (usually at rotating venues). In similar fashion, the Signature Saturdays event takes place twice a month at Vapiano, a trendy Italian restaurant and bar, where local party promoter Eddie Towner puts on an entertaining night featuring a live jazz band followed by a hip-hop DJ.

And what those events also have in common is that each essentially represents “black night” at the venues where they’re held. For that particular evening, night or the occasional day party, the African-American promoter has rented the facility and nearly all of the patrons who come out are black. But if one were to return to that same venue the following night or on the equivalent night a week later, they’d likely find few blacks in attendance. It’s a combination of the result of lack of ownership of these venues by African-Americans, and the segregation that’s common in Charlotte regardless of who owns the place.

When I googled Black Social Scene in North Carolina, before I could type the state name, Google’s autofill directed me to the black social scene in Washington, DC. Once I typed in North Carolina, I found this 2009 article from Ebony that highlights things to do in Charlotte, naming it as having:

…one of the most flourishing stylish and chic Black social scenes. Sure, you still have clubs where ladies have to worry whether about being bombarded by a million sweaty, overzealous guys, however, more and more sophisticated, grown and sexy individuals looking for a step up from that vibe, have found it in Charlotte.

Bonus: there’s an article about the Raleigh vs. Charlotte scene written by a white woman writer in 2007 who was then 39, married and with two children. She wrote the blog at the time with a 39-year-old single black woman. I assume that as of the end of that blog in 2009, none of that information has changed.

And one more cherry on top, by 2009, according to the Washington Post, the Washington social scene was completely integrated.

So what does one make of all of this? Do we have a real answer to the question if there are enough things for black young professionals to do? I’m going to attempt my own, recognizing that one, we are not all monolithic and two, I tend to enjoy a lot of things that aren’t necessarily tagged as black cultural activities, as well as plenty of things that are.

First, I believe that we as urban downtowns do a disservice when we don’t have restaurants, bars, and bookstores that regularly have a mix of different genres of music, as well as places where people can go and see each other’s faces and hear each other talking. Granted, all three major NC downtowns are getting better and a few of the smaller ones have nice bookstores. Yet, what makes DC, Chicago and New York different is that it’s not rare or unexpected. A place like Busboys and Poets can be named after Langston Hughes, sell books, sell passable catfish plates, host talks by known revolutionaries, be owned by an Iraqi-American and patronized by Americans of all shapes and sizes. It can even become a chain and a sign of gentrification. Could Dame’s Chicken and Waffles or Mertz’s do that one day? Who knows?

Second, we have to realize that thanks to the Great Migration, there’s still a not lot of black professional growth happening back down South, outside of Atlanta. If you walk places or use public transit, enjoy random, free jazz every night on every corner, make a higher salary and have a sense that you are 100% part of the civic and leadership picture, it’s harder to want to come South to a Southern city that doesn’t have those things. Now I love my home state. I believe that it can be just as vibrant and is as vibrant as some of the bigger places in certain quarters, but there are things, some that are out of our control as young black professionals, that keep us finding that vibrancy in North Carolina.

And finally, sometimes, we have to look for things ourselves. If I hadn’t checked my Gmail for this newsletter, I would not have seen this post that stated Raleigh as worthy of note as a place that appreciates black literature. Of course, the usual suspects are at the top, but somebody is checking for Raleigh when it comes to black literature. Literature is one of the great cultural arts and the Creative Loafing Charlotte article notes that there are several great places of cultural arts in Charlotte. I can vouch for the Triad and Triangle and say I’ve attended a lot of nice, black-oriented cultural events, both with and without a lot of black professionals, white professionals, and heck, a lot of people period. Also, sometimes, going skiing or to the Hoppers Game or being the only black person (at least in that hour) in Target isn’t a bad thing.

Looking forward to your thoughts on this one and look out tomorrow for me to drop some population stats on you, from the Census and their official records of who counts as an educated black young person.

2017 Editors Note: When I wrote this post two years ago, I was participating in #NaBloPoMo, the time of the year when bloggers come together to pump out daily content and connect. You can learn more about that project and how participated, here and here. Also, since this post gets a lot of traffic, I wanted to create something to go along with it, that would help you sort through your angst. If you sign up for my weekly newsletter, you’ll be one the first to receive it and the companion blog post when they come out on February 21st, 2017. You’ll also get job listings, interesting articles, links to future posts and more. 

Oh, and I’m Kristen. I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, Support my work on Patreon.


About Kristen Jeffers

I'm Kristen. Almost five years ago, I got tired of not seeing black women as nerded out about trains, better streets, riding bikes, walking not just out of necessity, tall buildings, old buildings and honestly a lot of other things. I was in grad school for community and economic development (ok, it’s actually an MPA), and I wanted to make sure people knew I existed and that I could help them do this thing called placemaking better. Five years later, I’m still doing that, although not from my hometown of Greensboro, NC, but from Kansas City, MO. I spend most of my time in Kansas City promoting better biking and walking infrastructure metro-wide with BikeWalk KC and the Kansas City B-cycle. But I also wrote a book A Black Urbanist (you can grab that over on the right) and sometimes I give speeches and help other communities tell their stories at design charrettes and public meetings. I’ve also written or appeared in all of the major “urbanist” publications, either as a subject or as a writer, as well as most of my hometown papers as subject or writer as well.

  • #NaBloPoMo that is a new one on me. I discovered this article through your link to the my article “The Top Cities for Readers of African American Literature.” Charlotte is considered by many the best city in the state, indeed the region, for Black folks. As far as literature is concerned the last remaining Black owned bookstore closed a couple of years ago with remaining inventory relegated to the corner of a hooka bar. Sadly, the lack of a Black owned Book store does not make Charlotte unique. Charlotte does host an annual book festival, which is organized by transplants from the north. The reality is there is not that much going on, strickly for young Black professionals, in much of the country. Many align themselves with churches, greek letter organizations and other institutions for a social life, or just entertain themselves in each others homes.

    • kristenej

      Thanks for stopping by Troy! And thanks for your site and emails! I feel like I’m always in my lane and don’t get to see what’s going on with Black novelists. And you are right that Charlotte and North Carolina are not unique in this problem. I think what we all seek is that feeling that we could stroll down a random entertainment district (like a U Street) and pop into any venue and hear music we like, eat food we love (even if it’s nontraditional or a fusion of other cultures), and most of all, be able to socialize and not be threatened by violence. Whether its violence amongst our community or violence from outside. Yet, the only places many can find this security and stability is in those organizations you mentioned above. Keep doing what you are doing and I’ll be reading!

      • @kristenej:disqus What you describe as an issue in the physical world is quickly becoming an issue in the virtual one, so you keep doing what you are doing and the WWW will remain an interesting place for Black professionals.

  • Anita Thompson

    My husband and I recently relocated from Cleveland to Charlotte and I must say that while we find Charlotte to be a beautiful place, as a professional African American woman in my 40’s, I have found it difficult to connect with others, or find venue’s that are suited to my age group to happy hours, or weekend events. But there appears to be a lot here for young people 20-30 years old.

    • I think the assumption in Charlotte is that you age out of those activities as an older professional or all your social life revolves around kids and marriage and what little social life happens, happens in church or in your neighborhood. I too want to see this change. I would keep checking Creative Loafing and also make a note of people who want to start older professional business social events.