About the Project
The Optimist Park community is located on the northeast outskirts of uptown Charlotte stretching from I-277 to Matheson Ave, while running along North Davidson street. The pictures above are from Optimist Park and more can be learned about the photos under the 'Community History' tab. The community initially began as a residential area for Alpha Mill workers at the start of the 1900’s, but has seen a steady population decline since the 1950’s due to the loss of jobs around the area and the strict demand for housing in other popular Charlotte communities. Although small, this neighborhood has major historical significance to Charlotte. This website is dedicated to observing and documenting Optimist Park’s significance both on its own as well as in relation to the larger Charlotte context.
The goal of this project, “Optimist Park: Small but Significant,” entails preserving the rich history the community offers through oral histories from current residents. By bringing awareness to the history of Optimist Park, members of Charlotte will have the ability to learn about and help prevent the displacement of Optimist Park residents and their rich history. Since fall of 2015, the University Honors Program at UNC Charlotte has been working closely with the Optimist Park neighborhood and its residents to make these oral histories happen. The Atkins Library’s involvement in this project has been central, as the staff within the Special Collections department is essential in helping preserve the oral histories to make them publically accessible online. The preservation of Optimist Park would not be possible without the help of Charlotte Action Research Project (CHARP), who initially facilitated the connection with the neighborhood.
What is CHARP?
"The Charlotte Action Research Project (CHARP) forges partnerships between the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and marginalized communities in Charlotte. We take our starting point in recognizing a neighborhood's assets. We consistently and proactively seek to integrate teaching, research, and action to work towards a larger agenda of social justice, enable neighborhoods to advocate for themselves, and create sustainable neighborhood coalitions to implement structural change.” If you want to learn more about CHARP and all the neighborhoods they partner with, please click here.
UNC Charlotte Honors Community Service
CHARP began a connection with UNC Charlotte Honors Community Service students, as well as residents of Optimist Park to conduct oral histories, which serve to give the community a voice. Students enrolled in the semester-long community service course also participate in a service component to explore the relations of citizenship and public services within Charlotte neighborhoods. Students attend weekly seminar meetings, complete service in the community, and write reflective journals documenting their learning from readings and their experiences. For the service component, the UNCC students guided, recorded, and documented the oral histories in order to give the residents of the neighborhood an opportunity to voice their concerns, opinions, and share any past historical events about Optimist Park. The oral histories also serve as an outlet for the residents to discuss their individual understandings, which often help shed light on the more general experience of the community as a whole. More information about the Univeristy Honors Program can be found here.
Email Joe Howarth at if you have any questions regarding the project.
Information for this page came from www.charmeck.org, charp.uncc.edu, and uhp.uncc.edu