Hugh L. McColl, Jr.

 The Echo Foundation Annual Event 

Keynote Address

“A Tale of Two Cities...Becoming One”

April 29, 2019

...introduction given by Gene Woods, president, and chief executive officer of Atrium Health...

"Thank you, Gene. I’m honored to be here tonight with you all.

I’m especially pleased to be here to help celebrate and honor two of our city’s most dedicated, creative and impactful leaders: Jesse Cureton and Ophelia Garmon-Brown. We are all so indebted to you both for all you have done and continue to do for our city

I’ll embarrass you with more praise shortly.

I’m always happy to spend an evening here at Spirit Square in this beautiful theater. This is one of the early redevelopment projects the city undertook starting in the ’70s. I used to refer to projects like this one as the “rocks in the pond” that would send out ripples of economic growth in all directions.

And that’s happened. Everywhere we look in Uptown Charlotte, we now see restaurants, businesses, museums, performance halls and sports facilities that did not exist 30 years ago. These civic assets are all here in the Center City for people in the greater Charlotte region to enjoy. That’s what we set out to do. And we succeeded.

But... it turns out, that’s only half the story. And this is what I’d like to talk about tonight

  • The city we built – and the city we didn’t build – where we still have so much work to do...
  • The kind of leadership that will help us walk the second half of our journey toward building a city that works for all of us.
  • And then I’ll close with a few thoughts on how Charlotte’s new generation of leaders can work toward making the lasting, positive changes our city needs.

I arrived in Charlotte in the summer of 1959. I had two major ambitions: one was to succeed in the training program at American Commercial Bank and build a career here in Charlotte. Another was to convince Jane Spratt to marry me. I’m pleased to say I succeeded on both counts.

Over the next 40 years, we did a lot of building. We built a big bank. Jane and I built a family and a strong, loving community of friends and neighbors. And we set about helping to build a city.

As a city, we accomplished a lot. We built businesses, hospitals, and schools. We brought in sports teams and nurtured a thriving arts and entertainment community. Charlotte became a fast-growing, prosperous city of vast opportunity for forward-looking, ambitious people. We became an admired and envied model of the “New South.”

This was our image of Charlotte when I retired from the bank in 2001. It was easy and fun to bask in the glow of our apparent accomplishments. Retirement was going so well!

What we’ve now learned is that we weren’t paying as close attention to our whole city as we should have been.

When the Harvard/Berkeley study came out, showing that Charlotte ranks 50thout of 50 large American cities for upward economic mobility – dead last – it was a shock to me personally, and I think too many of us. If nothing else, we thought we had built a city of economic opportunity... and a city of racial progress and reconciliation. This was the whole point of what we’d been working on for 50 years.

I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been very successful in Charlotte in important ways. But we’ve also learned some hard truths about where we’ve fallen short. And, so, it’s also fair to say our work is far from complete.

What we have not yet built is a city that shares opportunity equally for all its people. That’s the work that is yet to be done.

To do this work... as with all important endeavors... we will need strong and skilled leadership. But what kind of leaders? Our two honorees this evening give us an example of the style of leadership that will enable Charlotte to succeed in the years to come.

Jesse Cureton is the chief consumer officer for Novant Health and has been a leader with Novant since joining in 2013. But, of course, my relationship with Jesse dates to his 25-year career with NCNB and Bank of America, where we worked together closely.

Jesse’s career of leadership in the Charlotte business community has been broad and deep. He has not only helped grow our economy but also has served our institutions of higher learning... and nurtured our arts community. He is a leader who sees and cares about individuals... and the big picture... and helps others do the same.

Dr. and Reverend Ophelia Garmon-Brown’s career in Charlotte also has been incredibly successful and varied. She has been a builder of our medical community since she arrived here in 1980. She’s been a medical missionary, bringing care and representing the Charlotte community in many countries around the world. And she’s been a strong voice of moral clarity as a leader in our faith community as well.

I’ve known Jesse and Ophelia for a long time. They are creative and energetic leaders. They have a strong, clear vision for what they want our city to be. They are instinctively inclusive... and anything but indifferent. They care deeply about our city and broadening opportunity for all our neighbors.

This is why Jesse and Ophelia are such fitting recipients for the Echo Award... and why they are the kinds of leaders our city needs for the next leg of our journey.

In addition to strong and creative leadership, we also have to focus on the right priorities. And we have to work together in new ways.

After the Harvard/Berkeley report came out, leaders from across the city came together on a task force to study the causes of inequality in Charlotte, and to make recommendations to improve economic mobility for our people.

The key action areas in the task force’s report are spot on. They recommend a strong focus on education and career training... child and family stability... affordable housing... and social capital. These are all areas in which we must improve to secure a better and more equitable future for our city.

And I should note that Ophelia was one of the co-chairs for the task force – so, once again, thank you, Ophelia!

There is one area of the report, though, that really sticks out for me – and that’s race. Sadly, I think race continues to be our most challenging issue and a barrier to progress.

This is not the way we thought it would be. When we were building this city over the past 50 years, we often said Charlotte is “too busy doing business to allow race to divide us.” We desegregated our schools. We worked together across racial lines in our companies, and in government, and on community boards.

And yet... if you read the Echo Foundation’s “Tale of Two Cities” curriculum, you’ll learn that Charlotte is more segregated by race today than it was in the late 19thcentury. In the period between the Civil War and the turn of the 20thcentury, segregation had not yet been imposed in the South. Divisions of race and class existed, but white and black people lived in the same neighborhoods... ate in the same restaurants... worked side by side in their businesses.

We all know the history from there. Jim Crow laws rose as a way for white people to take back power... and decades later, the Civil Rights Movement helped swing the pendulum back in the other direction towards equality and justice.

In Charlotte, we thought we were doing pretty well in building a city that would be equal... and just.

These recent reports show us that this really hasn’t been the case. And, to drive the point home, I saw an article in the Charlotte Observer just a couple weeks ago on this topic. The article reported on how life-long black residents have become discouraged after living through years of the city’s failure to close gaps in access to education, healthcare, housing and more.

I have to admit, this is a challenge that I have struggled with my entire life. I’ve always thought that if we all tried to live personal lives as free from prejudice as possible, that social progress would naturally follow.

Someone once asked me if white and black kids played ball together in Bennettsville when I was growing up. I said that we did – not out of a sense of racial justice, but because otherwise, we wouldn’t have enough kids to get up teams.

But what we learned was that it wasn’t a problem – if no one made it a problem.

I had a similar experience in the Marine Corps – people putting teamwork and decency – just doing the right thing – above prejudice. And also in business. And also in helping to build this city.

So why is it that we can build friendships and work together in our companies and in civic organizations... on our sports fields and on the battlefield... but patterns of racial division and inequality persist in our neighborhoods and in our city?

This is a painful question to ask after all these years holding ourselves up as a model for racial reconciliation in the South.

I suppose we are learning a hard lesson about pride. And we are learning that it is well past time for a new humility... for deep listening... for sustained and intentional actions that will spread opportunity throughout this city, to all our neighbors.

When we fail to bring opportunity to all our citizens... our entire city suffers. When we fail to develop the talents, skills and leadership potential of all our citizens, we neglect our most vital resource as a community...our people.

To put it in terms appropriate to our city’s past... it’s like we’re sitting on a goldmine and no one remembered to bring a shovel.

I remember about 20 years ago, Joe Martin – I know you all remember Joe – received the Whitney M. Young Award from the Urban League. In his remarks at the award event, he challenged everyone in the room to start a new Charlotte tradition called “Race Day.”

Do you all remember that? It wasn’t about NASCAR. It was about committing to having lunch one day a week with someone from a different background than yourself. To build bridges – not walls. To reach out with an open hand – not a clenched fist.

That was a good idea – and it did good for our city.

My question to all of you is this: What is your idea? What actions will you take to inspire greater understanding, stronger relationships and racial healing to this community? What will you do to help us move forward together?

To succeed in building a more equal city – to avoid the pitfalls of the past, and truly make it different this time – we need a new way of working together.

We need to change how we plan and manage our city... how we make decisions about investing and allocating resources. Geographic and socio-economic inclusion must be baked into all our decisions from the start.

We must include young people in our processes for planning and decision-making, from students to young professionals. The world is changing so fast, and they have ideas and perspectives that are different from ours. They will inherit the city we build, and should have a say in how it is shaped.

I’ll be honest... I can’t stand here tonight and give us an answer to this challenge. This is something that a new generation of Charlotte leaders will have to create together.

But I believe we need a new governance model that forces every decision about our future as a city – public decisions and private decisions – to run through the filter of this question: “How will this decision help spread opportunity to the areas and people of our city who need it most?”

When we can truly look one another in the eye and believe and trust that we are doing this... bringing all our neighbors into our story of growth and prosperity... only then will we know that our “Tale of Two Cities” is becoming a tale of one city, one community, united in purpose and spirit...

We’ve been at this work of building a city and a community for a long time...and we’ve come a long way. For my part, I worked with Charlotte leaders who will always be legends in this town – John Belk, Bill Lee, Rolfe Neill, Ed Crutchfield, Harvey Gantt (who is here with us tonight)...and many of you here in this room.

The city we helped build is very good. But we now know to get this far was only the first step. And we know that an even more important chapter in Charlotte’s history is yet to be written.

The good news is that we have a new generation of leadership to do this work. Many are here with us tonight. They are you.

And we have many leaders in Charlotte – some are newcomers to our community – who are already taking the kinds of actions we need.

For example...

  • Albemarle Corporation, led by Luke Kissam, got everyone’s attention when they gave 0 million to 17 non-profits that focus on early childhood education, career readiness, and family stability...
  • Luke’s wife, Kathryn, started the Carolina Student Coalition to support under-resourced but motivated students in their pursuit of a college education...
  • One of the organizations supported by Albemarle is Communities in Schools. Molly Shaw is doing great work with our students... I encourage you to talk to Molly and learn more about her team.
  • Marvin Ellison, the new CEO of Lowe’s, just announced their “Tracks to Trades” initiative which helps employees pursue innovative career paths. Nothing provides opportunity better than a good paying profession. Hats off to Lowe’s.
  • Finally, I have to mention three others who are helping our city address our most critical issues. They are Tom Finke of Barings... Jeff Brown of Ally... and Malcomb Coley of E&Y. They are taking action to expand access to housing, education, and jobs for people across our city.

These are just a few examples of the creative and innovative approaches we need to close the opportunity gap in our city. I know there are many of you who are already taking actions of your own... and many more who will do so in the months and years to come.

As leaders of our city of Charlotte, we’ll do this because it’s our responsibility to do it... and because it’s the only way Charlotte can be a great city for all its citizens.

Now... far be it from me to preach. But when I think of our responsibility to act, I always remember two lessons my mother and grandmother told me again and again.

The first was, “We reap from fields we did not sow.” The prosperity we enjoy today was made possible by the care, responsibility and hard work of those who came before us.

And that lesson leads directly to another: “To whom much is given, much is expected in return.” Every one of us in this room owes a tremendous debt to those who have made our successful, prosperous lives possible.

These are debts that will never be repaid. And we must never stop trying.

It’s up to all of us to answer this call to responsibility.

How we do so will determine how we are remembered as leaders by future generations of Charlotteans... and how successful we will be as we write the next chapter in Charlotte’s history together.

Thank you."


Host Chairs: Sally & Russell Robinson and Andrea & Sean Smith

Stephanie & Tony Ansaldo, Kim & John Belk, Aditi Sharma & Raj BharadwajAmy & Robert Brinkley, Jan & Ed Brown, Lorine & Ray Edwards, Sharyn & Marvin Ellison,  Joan & Mark Erwin, Dana & Tom Joseph, Candice & Dan KnezevicJulie & Howard LevineMelanie & Steve Luquire, A’Laina M. LyonsElizabeth Nelson & Joe O'Connor, Robbin & Tom Palmer, Susie & John Papadopulos, David Taylor, Eric & Amy Teal, Rita & Bill Vandiver, Martha Ann & Craig Wardlaw


Chair: Gail Brinn Wilkins

Susan Cybulski, Ronnie Fairclough, Sandy Hamilton, Karen Kropp, Alexandra Myrick, Sally Okoniewski, Diane Lumpkin Peery, Taylor Purser, Dania Randall, Lauri Dewhurst-Summer, Stacey Schanzlin, Faye Tate, Jewel Warlick 


Elie Wiesel†LifetimeHonorary Chairperson

Nobel Laureate for Peace, 1986

Dr. Aaron Ciechanover

Dr. Paul Farmer

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Kerry Kennedy

Dr. Bernard Kouchner

Jonathan Kozol

Samantha Power

Jeffrey D. Sachs


Mary Lou & James Babb

Robert Bertges

Clarice Cato Goodyear

Ambassador Mark Erwin

The Honorable James Martin

Sally D. Robinson

F. William Vandiver

The Honorable Kurt Waldthausen

The Honorable Melvin L. Watt

Dr. Clayton M. Wilcox

Dr. James H. Woodward 


Rajnish Bharadwaj, Chair

Stephanie G. Ansaldo, President

Thomas Palmer, Vice Chair

John B. Stedman, Treasurer

Dr. Joan F. Lorden, Secretary

Frank L. Bryant

Lorine Edwards

Tom Jackson

Thomas Joseph

Candice Knezevic

Kenneth Levine

Thomas D. Pollan

Eric M. Teal


For more information, please contact The Echo Foundation at 704.347.3844 or [email protected] 


Interested in supporting The Echo Foundation with a corporate sponsorship?  

Contact Stephanie Ansaldo, President, by emailing [email protected] or by calling 704.347.3844.