A man of the cloth who pastors while striving for justice and equity, Bishop Claude Alexander is the 2020 Luminary for The Charlotte Post Foundation.
During three decades in Charlotte, Alexander has led and participated in many social improvement initiatives while ministering to a congregation of thousands at The Park.
"The fragility of a city requires the muscularity of the church," Alexander likes to say. That can be applied to the 2016 shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte policeman, he said. "Cities are very fragile," he explained. "The muscularity of the church is in its unity and collectiveness."
Gerald Johnson, publisher of The Charlotte Post and president of The Charlotte Post Foundation, praised Alexander's "oral eloquence" and his positive use of influence. "The Luminary award goes to individuals who have tirelessly given of themselves to help others obtain equal access, equity and inclusion," Johnson said. The Foundation will honor Alexander at a banquet on October 10 at the Hilton center city.
For years, often as co-chair, Alexander led in the Community Building Initiative's efforts to forge improved race relations. "You're always confident when Claude is in the room," said Dianne English, CBI executive director. "He's very wise; he's very human. He is great fun to be with. He's very lively."
Alexander's portrayal of racial bias impressed English. Like toxic waste, he said, prejudice is underground and not a problem until disturbed by a social crisis.
"People are able to see structural dynamics of race," Alexander said. "Literally what is in the ground -- Interstates 77 and 85 coming through what were intact communities of color. When we understand what's in the ground, the better able we are to understand what has popped up and to address it in a broader context."
To the degree that indifference to racial bias is giving way to a feeling of responsibility, he said, the community is moving forward. "There is still so much to do," he said.
Valecia McDowell, an attorney with Moore & Van Allen and chair of the Arts & Science Council, is impressed by Alexander's empathy.
"He's about seeing people for who they are, treating people with respect and kindness," said McDowell, who worked with Alexander at CBI. "In situations where people think there is no bridge, he can build a bridge with his words. I've seen him do that."
He couples that with ministry, she added. "Everywhere he goes, he's pastoring. I've never had a conversation with him when he wasn't pastoring."
Alexander, 56, arrived in Charlotte in 1990 to pastor University Park Baptist Church. Now The Park, it mushroomed from 600 communicants to roughly 9,000.
He grew up in Jackson, MS, in a "deeply religious" household. His mother, Dr. Otrie Hickerson Smith, was "a woman of faith" but also "a trialblazer." She was the first black psychiatrist in Mississippi. His step-father, Dr. Robert L. Smith, founded Jackson's Central Mississippi Health Services.
Alexander attended Catholic secondary schools. His first protest was with a nun in rural Mississippi. They marched to support workers in a chicken processing plant.
"Getting into civic affairs in Charlotte was second nature," Alexander said, offering two caveats. "I couldn't have done what I have if the church had not seen that as an extension of its mission," he said. "The same for my family." He and wife Kimberly have two daughters, Camryn and Carsyn.
"It's been a series of surprising invitations," he said. Besides CBI, he was instrumental in myriad initiatives. These include The Committee of 25, related to magnet schools; the NAACP; Arts & Science Council; Urban League; United Way and Charlotte Center City Partners. Mentors include English, Charlie Dannelly, Mac Everett, James Ferguson, Hugh McColl, Harvey Gantt, Leighton Ford and Erskine Bowles.
Regarding Charlotte's struggle with upward mobility, Alexander offered insights for those who face generational exclusion from economic prosperity.
"The place I start does not have to be the place I finish," is a beneficial attitude, he said.
"Take advantage of every opportunity, not just to do but to be." Accepting help makes a person better able to achieve, he added.
"Especially in Charlotte," he said, "the community is seeking to bring its resources to bear such that you should be the last generation to fear lack of mobility."
Former state senator Charlie Dannelly remembered Alexander's early days on the NAACP Education Committee. "Every assignment we gave him, he tackled with almost viciousness. He always came back with focused answers.
"I say to him, 'Godspeed.' He is one of God's people that He put here on purpose."