Viewing life through a different lens


Chris Hailey, 2016 Lake Norman Chamber Diversity Chair and Chamber President Bill Russell

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am an avid football fan. On any given Saturday or Sunday, I’m usually sitting back watching games when I see a real bone-headed play that leaves me thinking, “What was that all about?”

Granted the play has been stopped, we know the result and, in many instances, we watch replays over and over from every angle. Knowing the outcome, many of us become sports geniuses — hence the term “armchair quarterbacks.”

Several years ago, I had the opportunity, through our Leadership Lake Norman program, to tour the Criminal Justice Center at the Central Piedmont Community College Merancas Campus in Huntersville. There I was allowed to participate in a firearms simulation on which our law enforcement officers are required to train. Participants are provided a firearm equipped with a laser that registers actual hits and misses in a simulated environment.

In some situations, subjects in the video are innocent bystanders. In others, in the blink of an eye, the bystander became an armed assailant. The actual time you as a law enforcement officer have to ascertain the threat and act are mere seconds. My simulation involved terrorists who had taken hostages on a passenger jet in flight. I laughed it off and went home after I hit an assailant, a bystander and the fuselage of the plane perhaps dooming all of the passengers. For me, in that room with that make-believe gun in a simulated environment, it was little more than a video game.

Out on the streets, it’s anything but.

The last few days in Charlotte, and last few months nationwide, have seen tensions between law enforcement and the public reach a precipice. As I personally struggle to understand why we have reached this point, my good friend and the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce Diversity Chairman Chris Hailey asked me to “step back away from my ‘whiteness’ and see the world through a different lens — that of an African-American man.”

What some of us may see as a single incident is for many a tipping point of years of frustration, anxiety and fear. While there can be no excuse for looting, violence and lawlessness, there must be a way to confront the feelings many minorities are experiencing.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, the Lake Norman Chamber Diversity Council will host a Lunch & Learn session at the CPCC Merancas Campus with Brandi Riggins from Charter Communications. She will discuss race relations and how we can continue to come together as a community. The Diversity Council will also host another community forum later in the month.

In the meantime, the Lake Norman Chamber will salute our public safety officers who put their lives on the line for us each and every day — our police, fire and EMS officers along with the Crime Stopper of the Year. That event takes place Thursday, Oct. 20, at NorthStone Country Club.

Unlike football, our police officers have no instant replay and no way to truly know what’s in the mind of the person they stop or try to apprehend. They have no ability to look back on what they could or should have done. They have only the moment. It’s real time.

One thing I do know for certain: none of our officers are out there looking for confrontation. They simply want to serve and go home safe at the end of the day to their families.

My friend Chris asked me to see life though a different lens. The reality is I’m not sure I ever really can. But I do know, I need to try. I pray to God that we all try.


Lake Norman Chamber teams up with local groups to host candidate forums

North Mecklenburg voters will get an opportunity to question candidates for office when the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce hosts two separate candidate forums in the coming weeks.  The first forum will take place Thursday, October 4 from 7-9:00 pm at the CPCC Merancus Campus (formerly North Campus) in Huntersville.  It will feature the North Carolina House District #92 with Robin Bradford and Charles Jeter.  The Mecklenburg County Commissioner race for the District 1 seat with incumbent Karen Bentley and challenger Keith Bradford will also be spotlighted. 

As this particular forum takes place in Huntersville, a brief program on the Huntersville Bond Package will give voters a chance to hear details on the three bond questions appearing on the ballot.  At stake is a $30 million dollar bond referendum. $17,850,000 of the bonds would be used to pay for the capital cost of transportation improvements. A second question on the ballot would be $7.15 million for public improvements in the town including firefighting and other public safety facilities. A third question on the ballot addresses $5 million for parks and recreation.

David Boraks

Huntersville Town Manager Greg Ferguson is expected to make a presentation on the bonds with Mayor Jill Swain speaking on why the bonds are important to the future of the town.  Those who attend will have the opportunity to ask question of both the candidates for office and about the bonds.

A second forum will take place a week later, Thursday, October 11th from 7-9 pm at Davidson College (Chambers Hance Auditorium Cham-4121) with the United States House of Representatives District #9 race.  Participating are Democratic candidate and current Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts along with Libertarian candidate Curtis Campbell.  Republican candidate Robert Pittenger is not expected to participate due to a scheduling conflict.  Also appearing that night are the candidates for Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners at large and the district one race.     

Callan Bryan

The forums are sponsored by the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, United Family Services, and the Lake Norman Political Association.  The public is invited to attend.  The event in Huntersville will be moderated by Callan Bryan, the Chamber’s Public Policy Chairman and an attorney with the Estate & Elder Law Firm – Vandiver and Bryan.  The Davidson College forum will be moderated by David Boraks, founder and editor of and

Bill Russell, president of the Lake Norman Chamber stated, “The chamber is pleased to provide a forum for our business members and the voters of our local communities to educate themselves on the candidates and issues impacting our local communities.  While the Chamber does not endorse candidates, we do believe in the principles of good government and it is very important voters know where candidates stand on spending and services.”

For more information on the forums, contact the Lake Norman Chamber at 704-892-1922 or visit

Decision 2009 – Vote Tuesday, November 3rd!

Vote flagIt’s that time of year when election signs are outnumbering the real estate, yard sale, and lose the weight placards which pop up around intersections. Incumbents smile at every thing you say and actually claim they’re glad you said it.   Newcomers to the political scene state they’re going to straighten things out and you can be pretty sure someone wants to stretch your budget just a little more with new taxes or fees. 

The electorate is a funny thing.  In most cases we will travel around the world to fight for democracy, but we sometimes will not take the time to vote in an election. Voters recognize a name on a ballot and cast their vote, sometimes without any real knowledge of those candidates’ views.

The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce has held three candidate forums to give our communities a chance to hear those views and the local papers have done a great job of focusing on their qualifications.  Now it’s up to the registered voters to decide who will lead their communities.  Some may ask, “Why bother to vote?” Our local government affects our homes and businesses directly. Local government provides the fire and police protection, takes up the trash, and sets the tax rates. Through zoning, they determine what type of business locates where, how they operate, and how they market that operation.   Perhaps no single election will impact your business and your life as much as this local election where you have the opportunity to elect town officials and school board members.Flag 2

On Tuesday November 3rd, please take the time to vote for the candidate of your choice. Make your own decision that best represents your views and interest in town and education matters. Weigh carefully how their election could impact your business and your family. Remember – the only bad decisions are made by those who don’t take the time to make them.

Our American Journey

A few months ago America witnessed more than an historical election.  Regardless of who you voted for, and shame on you if you didn’t, young and old were energized like no other election I have experienced in my lifetime or am likely to witness in the future. 

Most Chamber members know that I’m personally an unabashedly conservative Republican.  So much so that I once teased a U.S. Airways flight attendant I wouldn’t fly on their jet until they found me one with two right wings.  The day after the election one of my past Chamber Chairmen who will remain anonymous …oh, what the heck, let’s call him Charles, left a voice mail on my cell expressing his condolences on the grief he was sure I was experiencing.  I might add he had a touch of glee expressing his sincere regret between chuckles.  I suppose that’s the price you pay for being passionate about politics.

As partisan as I am, it may be a surprise for some to know I worked on the 1994 campaign for candidate Nick Theodore who was running for Governor of South Carolina.  Nick beat a popular Charleston Mayor in the primary and lost in a very close election to David Beasley.  Incidentally, Theodore was a Democrat.

That said, it will also come as no surprise to anyone that I did not vote for Barack Obama.  While we share the ultimate goals for Americans in terms of health care, education, commerce, and national defense we differ greatly in our approach. However, there was no prouder American than myself the day he was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.   

The election itself was just another act in a long play with the changing American landscape as the backdrop.  It began with the early settlers who braved the new world and the Native Americans who had already discovered it.  Paid for by the blood of Americans who died defending it and the immigrants, indentured servants, and slaves who toiled in unimaginable conditions building it. A democracy governed by the people for the people.  One nation, one republic, under God.

Our history is replete with human tragedy and shortcomings.  Yet it is the fire which forges our steel as a nation.  One which seeks to rise above discrimination.  To soar among the heavens where only eagles dare.  To speak boldly of our intentions and allowing our actions to speak louder than the words.      

President elect Obama will lead but he is not the answer.  The American people are the answer that unlocks our human potential. When we choose to practice personal accountability, work together for the common good, and treat others as we would expect to be treated we advance as a people and a country.

We hold in our hands, our hearts and our minds the destiny of a great nation. This is our moment to be a shining example for the world.  We have the opportunity to live out the beauty of our grandparent’s dreams and embark on a journey unrealized in the history of our great nation.  And we’ve come too far as a people to fail in that task.