Every once in a while, a leader emerges with the hopes of unifying a community, and a Charlotte group has identified just such a person with the passion to try. That leader is the founder of Queen City Unity, Jorge Millares.
A Miami native, born to Cuban refugee parents, Millares is a first-generation American, Millares says that the community he grew up in was made up of same-sex couples, black, white and Latino families who were not only encircled by the same street signs but spent authentic time together.
He attributes growing up in this type of environment as the reason why he has a heart for unity and a desire to guide communities toward the realization of their full potential.
Though the fruits of diversity in his small elementary school in “Little Havana” and lower-middle-class neighborhood were abundant, his journey to become the leader we see today did not come without its challenges.
Gangs and territorial protection were also a part of the fabric of his community. He notes that while he and his friends tried to stay away from gangs, the protection they were provided from rival gangs was more important, at least in the mind of teenagers, than the trouble that could come from associating with them. For Millares, the relationship he developed with them was one of necessity, not desire.
Though Millares says he values the smarts he learned from the streets, his discernment, new responsibilities at home, and coming close to death during a gang-related neighborhood dispute made him realize that he didn’t need to be in them.
When his mother and step-father divorced, Millares said, “I immediately became the man of the house because I needed to take care of my mom. Every decision I made became the right one for her.”
Millares moved his family to North Carolina to explore what Charlotte had to offer. In all the years he’s lived in the Queen City, he says that Charlotte gave him no reason to believe that it would ever be at the center of national attention, specifically with the focus being on civil unrest and police brutality.
On Sept. 20, 2016, Millares, Charlotte and the country watched the streets of Charlotte boil after the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Although that day will forever be in the soil of Charlotte, Millares, was in disbelief about what he was seeing.
“Charlotte was not the best it could be,” Millares said.
Caring deeply about what was happening in the city and knowing that he had friends and family who expected to live and thrive here, he began to personally unearth Charlotte’s history of division, racism and inequality, and made the decision to create an organization that would work to unify the city instead of dividing it.
Immediately following the civil unrest of September 2016, Millares invited six of his closest friend’s to his home to process the events that took place; Millares wanted to do something and so did six other people on a couch.
That grassroots meeting would be what gave birth to Queen City Unity, and the start of a mission to bring together people of all races, religions, genders, sexual orientations and socioeconomic statuses.
Millares was the first Latino to receive the city of Charlotte’s Martin Luther King Jr. “Keeper of the Dream Award,” and has made the decision to manage and expand Queen City Unity full time.
As Queen City Unity continues to expand its mission through awareness, community programs and volunteerism, Millares said it is up to the citizens to improve our city.
“Having conversations is a great initial step to the progress we seek,” Millares said. “It is an action-based approach as a result of those conversations that will keep us moving in the right direction.”
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Click this link to learn more about Queen City Unity.