Not long ago, a young boy was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. Many probably considered him another statistic, raised by a single mother, and fatherless at an early age. Unfortunately, during his childhood, his father was murdered. Patrick Cannon spent his formative years in Fairview Homes and Double Oaks Apartments, both public housing projects in Charlotte. During his elementary schooling, he was required to participate in school integration, which forced him to attend predominately white schools. When he returned home from school, he was teased for “sounding white”. In his neighborhood, the prevailing belief was that the deck was stacked against them. But, as the young boy became a young man, he began to develop his own ideas. He learned that he was not a victim of his own circumstances and that he had a burning desire to alter his situation. Cannon relied heavily on his mother’s wisdom, remembering her words, “You can be anything you wanna be, Baby”. His mother’s words of inspiration, coupled with his drive for personal excellence, would help him become to a leader.
The name of this young man is Patrick De’Angelo Cannon. In 1993, he made history by becoming the youngest person to hold an elected office in Charlotte. Currently, he serves as the City of Charlotte’s Mayor Pro Tem (Deputy Mayor). Recently, Patrick Cannon was ranked as one of “The Top 50 Most Powerful People” by Charlotte Magazine. Our team thought he was the ideal person to interview as Charlotte prepares to host the Democratic National Convention.
Phillips: At 26 years old, you were elected to Charlotte City Council. What influenced your decision to run for office?
Cannon: I graduated from North Carolina A&T University with a degree in communications. After graduation, I was focused on developing my skills so that I could excel in radio or television broadcasting. I had no interest in politics or becoming an elected official. But I was afforded opportunities and found myself in environments that were not available to many in my community. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I become aware of a variety of issues in my community and I felt like I had a choice to make. I could look out for myself, use my education, experiences, and talents for my own benefit. The alternative was to put my degree and experience to use for my community. A variety of people from within my community told me that I could become a community voice and speak for those who may not have the gift of speech. After hearing similar comments from different people within my community, I made the decision to become a voice for the voiceless.
But I still had no real interest in running for an elected office. I was aware of grass-roots community leaders who performed great works without a formal title or holding an elected office. At the time, I thought bearing a title doesn’t hurt but it’s not required to create change. I had a drive to make a difference within my community and my city without running for office. But I guess the word was spreading about my community involvement and I caught the attention of several elected officials. After speaking at a neighborhood meeting, I was approached by Ella Scarborough, former Charlotte City Councilwoman. She was considering running for an At-Large seat (city-wide) and was looking for a replacement. Ella Scarborough inquired about my interest in becoming an elected official. My initial response was “Thanks but no thanks. I don’t feel like I need a title to be a community voice”. That night, after reflecting on my response to Councilwoman Scarborough, I had trouble sleeping. I wondered if I made the right decision and I questioned myself: “Was saying ‘No Thanks’ the right choice? Can I be a grass-roots community advocate while serving as an elected official?” The following morning, I called Councilwoman Scarborough. After a series of long conversations, I felt confident that I could find a balance between my community leadership and serving as an elected official. I am extremely grateful for Councilwoman Scarborough’s guidance; she was influential in my decision to run for city council.
Phillips: In 1993, the Nation’s economic and social climate shared some similarities to our current situation. What advice can you share with recent high school and college graduates?
Cannon: In the early 90’s many parts of the United States were dealing with high unemployment, slow economic growth, and rising government debt. But in Charlotte, the recession of the early 90’s had less of an impact. We were one of the few U.S. cities that experienced growth due to our banking sector. In the 90’s, our city experienced population growth because people moved here to find employment opportunities.
For our city, the current economic situation is quite different. The Recession and Credit Crunch of 2008 has impacted our city; the current unemployment rate is twice as high as the early 90’s, we are in a slow growth phase of the business cycle, and new technologies require worker retraining.
My advice to recent high school and college graduates is to continue to pursue higher education; seek all possible opportunities to get hands on training while you are in school. Also, don’t allow the current economic environment to discourage you. The economic picture is looking better and after the Democratic National Convention, we anticipate new employment opportunities in our city. I want to encourage young people to prepare themselves for the coming opportunities by making use of programs at our public library system, attending networking events, and seminars like the Mastermind Event that your magazine (New Growth Hair Magazine) is hosting.
Phillips: What was your most challenging public policy issue?
Cannon: The social climate of the early 90’s was very turbulent. As a nation, we were dealing with the crack-cocaine epidemic, racial tensions, and an economic recession. Charlotte wasn’t dealing with the economic challenges, but we were dealing with racial tensions. In 1992, the city of Los Angeles was turned upside down after the Rodney King verdict (an unarmed African-American who was beaten by local police). After I was elected, we experienced several instances when Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) officers shot and, in a few cases, killed unarmed African-American drivers. In 1996, during a traffic stop, James Willie Cooper, an unarmed African-American was shot and killed by CMPD officers. About six months after Mr. Cooper was buried, Carolyn Sue Boetticher, an unarmed African-American passenger was shot by CMPD officers. The African-American community was up in arms and demanded justice. At the time, (CMPD)’s Internal Affairs Department was responsible for investigating police misconduct. The African-American community wasn’t comfortable with CMPD exclusively investigating its own officers. The tension was very high in our city and I felt like the climate was conducive for a “LA Riot” to happen here in Charlotte.
In an attempt to resolve the highly charged environment, I proposed a Citizen Review Board (CRB) to oversee complaints brought against CMPD. I was confident that the CRB would bring some credibility to the investigation process and prevent riots from happening in our city. When the CRB was brought up for a vote, it failed with a 9 to 2 vote. After the vote failed, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me and that I let the African-American community down. I took some time to regroup; attended lots of community meetings, met with the CMPD top brass, and worked on a revised CRB plan. The following year, the CRB was brought up for a vote and passed with majority support (10 to 1 vote).
The CRB issue was my most challenging public policy battle because I put my neck on the line. I felt like I was carrying the entire community on my back. And after the CRB vote initially failed, some people advised me to give up the issue or I risked losing my city council seat. But I knew that the CRB Plan was bigger than my city council seat; the entire safety of the city was at stake. My experience with the CRB transformed me from a politician to a servant-leader. My most important lesson was that I shouldn’t do what is required to keep my position; the voters cast their vote for me to serve their best interest. Leadership is about doing what is in the best interest of the city and what benefits the citizens.
Phillips: In addition to being an elected official, you are an entrepreneur. What role does entrepreneurship play in the economic recovery of our city and our nation?
Cannon: Entrepreneurs are a vital part of our economy and play an important role in our economic recovery. While major corporations were cutting back hours and downsizing workers, small businesses maintained their staff and some even hired additional workers. I strongly encourage people to consider the entrepreneurial path; find a niche and develop new ideas that you can convert into profits. Going back to the recent graduates, you all have a niche in all of these new technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. When I started in business, I didn’t have all of these technological options at my fingertips. The recent graduates have a technological advantage that can assist them if they decide to enter the small business arena. Developing more entrepreneurs is one way that we can begin to heal our economy on the national, state, and local levels.
Before we move on to the next question, I want to make your readers aware of CharlotteBusinessResources.com, an online resource for people interested in starting a business, growing a business, or relocating their business. Also, I encourage aspiring business owners to visit The Business Resource Center in the Main Library in Uptown Charlotte (2nd Floor), which is another place for hands-on information about starting a business.
Phillips: How do you balance your responsibilities to the City of Charlotte, your family, your businesses, and yourself?
Cannon: Initially, when I began to serve the community, finding balance was a challenge. After experiencing burn-out, I learned the importance of maintaining balance. In my life, my family comes first. I know that my family will be with me to celebrate my achievements and support me when I’m dealing with challenging situations. I make time in my schedule to attend recitals, sporting events, and other special occasions for my children.
While other people are sleeping, I’m up early in the morning focused on my businesses. As a business owner, I must constantly find new innovative ideas to maintain a competitive edge. In my role as Mayor Pro Tem, I am required to tackle a variety of issues as soon as they hit my door. The Mayor Pro Tem position doesn’t allow for a 9AM – 5PM work schedule. On a daily basis, I receive countless emails and phone calls for assistance or appearances.
I’m an early bird, I wake up early so that I can make my daily morning devotion to God. I ask for God’s assistance to create positive results out of challenging situations. Morning Prayer is a way that I seek refuge and align myself with God. After my morning prayer, I usually go to the YMCA to preserve my body through exercise. If my schedule doesn’t allow me to go to the Y, I have a home work-out that consist of push-ups, sit-ups, curls, leg lunges, and stretching exercises. My morning devotion and workout regiment provide me with the required energy to deal with the variety of situations that I encounter.
Phillips: What impact will the Democratic National Convention (DNC) have on our city?
Cannon: We are expecting the DNC to have a net positive economic impact in the revenue range of 150-200 million dollars. Charlotte will be on the world’s stage when 15,000 media outlets descend on our city. We will be in the spotlight and this will be an opportunity to show the world what Charlotte has to offer. After the previous DNC in Denver, CO, their city experienced a population surge of nearly 17,000 residents.
If Charlotte experiences a similar population increase, we can expect an increase in new business start-ups, business relocations, and new job opportunities. The city of Charlotte hosting the DNC will put our city on the map and cause people across the country to consider Charlotte as a viable option for employment, corporate relocation, and a variety of other new opportunities.
Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, we should band together as a community to showcase our city during this once-in-a-lifetime event. The DNC’s economic benefits will provide all of us with new opportunities regardless of our party affiliation.
Phillips: In the current political environment, a growing number of people are unhappy with elected officials. On the local level, how can citizens make their elected officials accountable?
Cannon: We are in a challenging economic and social environment. Usually when people experience change, they begin to ask lots of questions that were previously overlooked.
The process of governing is a two-way street that requires active involvement from the general public and the elected officials. Oftentimes, people go to the polls to cast their vote and then expect their elected officials to take care of everything else.
As I mentioned to your earlier, I grew up in public housing and I remain connected to what’s going on at a grass-roots level. But most of my counterparts don’t share my background or experiences. So I may bring an issue to the floor that my counterparts are totally clueless about. After I educate my counterparts about the issue, their typical response is “Where are these people that you claim are affected?” “Why do we only hear from you about these unacceptable conditions?” “This issue can’t be that serious because we don’t hear any complaints.”
The voters must hold the elected official accountable, but the voters must also be accountable. I want to make this very clear to my voters, “I have your back and I need you to have my back!” When I’m in the trenches on an important issue, I need the chambers filled with my supporters. We can accomplish much more when we band together, than when you leave me in the room to fend for myself. I’m not afraid of going into battle alone, but the victory is much sweeter when my supporters are in the trenches with me.
Phillips: How did you become a radio show host on My92.7FM?
Cannon: I’ve always had passion for the broadcast industry. In the 4th grade, at Irwin Avenue Elementary School, we had radio and television quarters. At a young age, I was exposed to many of the roles in the radio and TV industry. My experiences at Irwin Avenue led me to pursue a degree in the communication field. But most people know me as a City Councilman and are not familiar with my background. I graduated from North Carolina A&T State University with a Communication degree, with a concentration in Business Marketing.
In 2007, I received a call from Debbie Kwei-Cook, former General Manager of My92.7 and PRAISE 100.9 about hosting a community affairs radio show. I felt like this opportunity was the perfect fit! This would be another outlet for me to connect with the community and pursue my passion for radio. On October 20, 2007, I took Debbie Kwei-Cook up on her offer and became part of the Radio-One/My92.7 FM family! My radio show is called “Aiming with Cannon Live” and it airs every Saturday morning from 9 AM to 10 AM. The show is approaching its five-year anniversary. Tune in to the show for details about our Five-Year Anniversary Celebration.
Phillips: Do you have a message that you want to communicate to our readers?
Cannon: Yes. I would like to let your readers know that we are living in challenging times, but we are still living in the land of opportunity. Charlotte is definitely a city filled with opportunities and President Barack Obama’s presence at the DNC confirms our city’s greatness. As people, we can achieve anything that we focus our hearts and mind on. Think positive thoughts and seek God for answers when you are unsure of where to turn. Do not allow others to define or limit your potential. Within all of us is greatness, we just have to take the time to find it.
Phillips: Any closing comments?
Cannon: First, I would like to express my love and appreciation to my beautiful wife and my children, my mother (Carmen V.), and the rest of the Cannon, Odom, White-Harrington family. I must express my gratitude to Council Woman Ella Scarborough and Ron Leeper, my political mentors for believing in my ability to serve the public. I thank the voters for their continued support over the years. I am also appreciative of the My92.7 listeners for providing me with an outlet to express my passion for radio broadcasting. Last, but not least, I would like to thank New Growth Hair Magazine for sharing my experiences with your readers.