Agent of change
Longtime university diversity leader retires
Charles “CC” Carter recalls the scenery surrounding Chico as he pulled into town more than 40 years ago reminding him of the set of a western movie. Having spent his formative years in San Francisco and the Monterey area, Carter—then an 18-year-old incoming student at Chico State—imagined wagon trains and cowboys riding through the valleys and rolling hills along Highway 99, and was surprised by the friendly greetings he received in the town he’s called home since.
“Back then, in 1975, the common saying wasn’t ‘Hello’; it was ‘Howdy!’” Carter, who is black and Japanese, said recently at the school’s Cross Cultural Leadership Center (CCLC). “I was like, ‘Wow, this is really strange,’ but at the same time I was struck by how engaging and approachable people were. I was embraced by the community in a way I’d never experienced before, and I knew Chico State was the place I wanted to be.”
And so he’s remained, until now. After graduating, Carter took a job, in 1980, as the school’s first coordinator of multicultural programs, and more recently has held two directorships—of the CCLC and the Student Life and Leadership program. Now he’s retiring, and his last day on campus is tomorrow (Dec. 22).
“Two things influenced my decision to retire,” Carter said. “You gotta know when to get out, and I have such great, young leadership working with me, that it’s their time to lead. I’ve led this charge, especially for social justice on this campus, for a long time. It’s time for the new generation to get involved and engaged and move us forward.”
Since he was hired at Chico State, Carter has been the person most responsible for efforts aimed at promoting cultural diversity and inclusivity on campus. That mission began in what Carter calls “a condemned building” (it’s long since been razed) on the 500 block of West Third Street that housed his and other fledgeling programs for women and people of color.
“Starting in the late ’70s and early ’80s, there was a movement to figure out how [people from different cultures] and women were going to be included in how we engage students in the university system,” he said. “Now it’s hard to imagine the university existing without those kinds of programs. Even though we still struggle with it, inclusivity is so important.”
Carter said that 12 years ago he was charged with creating a new base for those programs. That became the CCLC, which Carter said is “booming and thriving” and currently celebrating its 10th year.
Carter said he’s “hired well,” and that two people are expected to be hired early next year to fill the positions he leaves vacant.
His esteem for his employees is mutual: “He’s kind of a modern-day hero here,” said Krystle Tonga, a program coordinator at the CCLC. “His presence will be missed, but his legacy will last forever.”
Though Carter found acceptance in Chico, he said not all of his interactions have been so rosy; he’s also experienced some racial prejudice over the years, though he says that’s indicative of “pockets” of ignorance rather than the prevailing character of the community. He said he believes many students of color, despite strides made over the decades, have a harder time here today than he did in 1975, especially since the election of President Trump and increased prevalence of white nationalist views over the last year.
“I live through the eyes of my students now, and it’s not always a pretty sight,” he said. “I’m very, very scared about the new narratives playing out and the empowerment processes happening regarding race and culture. … I’m hopeful our community will respond the correct way.”
Carter is known for his affable nature and efforts to inspire students. “He’s a master of transformational leadership, and walks his talk,” said Tonga.
Carter said his role as an advocate for students facing various challenges comes from a personal place, as he’s overcome his share of adversity. Raised in San Francisco’s Western Addition by a single mother who spoke little English, he was orphaned at 13 and lived in a series of foster homes until he came to Chico State. His educational opportunities were enriched by his athletic ability (he participated in football and track at the college) and because he was “a poster boy” for the Educational Opportunity Program, which provides support for low-income and educationally disadvantaged students.
“My whole world is about improving the life chances of young people, because I am that … I am the product,” he said. “I was a disenfranchised, at-risk kid that needed to improve my life. I want to teach young people how to do that. I want them to have a voice, to feel they matter and to feel empowered to make a better life.”
Carter will continue with his efforts as executive director of the Sacramento-based nonprofit Alliance for Education Solutions (aesimpact.org), an organization he founded 25 years ago with friend and mentor Dr. Bernie Davitto. Carter plans to stay in Chico and make the drive to Sacramento several times weekly.
“I’ve put that on hold for a long time,” he said. “If we’re going to make an impact, we need to get into the fight right now. Our mission is to get young people engaged to drive change, because waiting for my generation to create change … that ship has sailed.
“The only thing that has ever made real change in this country is young people getting involved at the grassroots level, hitting the streets and doing what they need to do. I’m not necessarily talking about inciting a revolution, but we sure in the hell want to empower young people to say, ‘This isn’t working for us,’ and for them to engage and influence the process.”