Women making a difference in the Charlotte community

Powered by Opera Carolina

 By Shirley Griffith 

January 15, 2019

Opera Carolina continues its 2018/2019 spotlight on revolutionary heroines, bringing to life what’s been hailed as the most famous opera of all time, Carmen, beginning January 19. Carmen is a four-act romantic tragedy from the 1800s composed by Parisian George Bizet based on the 1845 novella by French dramatist Prosper Merimee. Set in circa 1830 Seville, Carmen, is a fiery Spanish gypsy who drinks, smokes, and gets what she wants. She lives her life as carefree as she pleases, paying little to no mind to trivialities of the law or the heart.

Within our own community there are women who follow the beat of their own drum and improve our neighborhoods with their own vibrant visions, and we would like to highlight a few.  

Hope Nicholls

Speaking of beating drums, this outlaw gem is, among many things, the singer and drummer for local indie rock/funk band, It’s Snakes. The Charlotte champion, who has been dubbed the Godmother of Charlotte Rock, is also the owner of eclectic Plaza Midwood apparel and accessory store, Boris + Natasha, whose pieces reflect the initial lust for life she found in the 1980s DIY punk scene. After having a go as a successful touring musician for bands Fetchin’ Bones and Sugarsmack, she opened the shop in 1999 to sell thrifted items she had found while out on the road. Once stabilized in Charlotte, Nicholls helped form the sensational dance-punk band Snagglepuss. Nicholls is an avid fan of the music scene and encourages everyone to support local, have pride in their city, and show up where and when it matters. She vibrates with electricity and her creative flair seems to propel and manifest her success no matter what activity she tries but Nicholls says: “I’m only doing what I want to do.”

Hope Nicholls. Photo by Daniel Coston

Janelle Dunlap

Volleying between south Chicago and Spartanburg in her younger years, Janelle Dunlap first came to Charlotte in 2011 to work with AmeriCorps– a voluntary civil society program with the goal of helping people meet critical needs in their communities. For over nine years, Dunlap has devoted her time to working with at-risk youth in several capacities: through AmeriCorps as a community organizer via Hands On Charlotte; a Youth Development Specialist with Communities In Schools, a drop-out prevention organization; and as a Prevention Specialist with a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Through these programs, she’s worked with over 3,000 students.

Janelle Dunlap

On Sunday, April 7 from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m., Dunlap will introduce the Reclaim 37 Part II at Johnson C. Smith University. Reclaim 37 is an interactive digital mapping effort that documents an historic and vibrant 150-year-old African American community on the west side of Charlotte. Dunlaps’ primary goal as the creative director, Reclaim 37 Part II is, in her own words, “to highlight the cultural and historic narrative of the Beatties Ford Rd Corridor by raising consciousness around what it might mean for African American communities and their allies to reclaim space through ethical redevelopment.” In this time of rapid and often reckless gentrification of the neighborhoods surrounding Charlotte, this project brings a woven heart to the west side to dignify, preserve, and uphold the community that is already there rather than pave over centuries of history.

Dimple Ajmera

In January 2017, Ajmera became the youngest and also the first ever Asian-American to be selected, unanimously at that, to serve on the Charlotte City Council. Ajmera represents District 5, which covers the east side of Charlotte including the defunct Eastland Mall. In 2018, she won a successful at-large campaign and is now a sitting member on the Charlotte City Council. Ajmera came to the United States from India for high school before a series of events and her father’s passing led her to Charlotte eight years ago where she began working on affordable housing issues and joined the board of the Charlotte Housing Authority. Widely known for leading Charlotte in sustainability, she has pledged to lower carbon emissions, and also fights for affordable housing. 

Dimple Ajmera

Ajmera was also listed in Longleaf Politics’ 54 Top Young Political Stars in North Carolina. She’s also been recognized as one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Mecklenburg County by the Mecklenburg Times. Most recently she was given the 2018 Global Service Award by Rotary International.

Deborah Triplett

A day before the Democratic National Convention nearly seven years ago, over 400 people participated in the very first Yard Art Day, an effort to draw the crowds out of Uptown and see the more creative side of the Queen City. Accomplished Charlotte photographer Deborah Triplett‘s vision for Yard Art Day has since become an annual event where Charlotte residents showcase original and creative works on their very own front lawns. Throughout the years, the art has gotten more innovative and features anything from performance art, ornate designs, and interactive dance choreography. Yard Art Day is special in that it decimates the feeling of walls or ownership within the neighborhood, as Triplett calls it, it’s “the democracy of art.” The yard art exhibitions also stand to spark conversation about social issues. For example, in 2017 Triplett’s own yard art was based off Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale with herself and about 50 other women donning long red robes and handmade bonnets while holding signs that reflected current political uproar over women’s healthcare and agency over their own bodies.

Deborah Triplett

Yard Art Day is free and comes with a map to direct participants and audiences throughout the community-wide art installation. After taking a respite for the 2018 year, Yard Art Day is back in swing for 2019, complete with a ticking countdown on their website excitedly awaiting the upcoming Labor Day weekend. Triplett’s innovative and inclusive approach to art makes the event a refreshing time to stroll down local sidewalks to get inspired and acquainted with your neighbors and strengthen our community one yard at a time.  

Lesa Kastanas

Another Plaza Midwood staple, Lesa Kastanas has spent years striving to bring the best in business to her community. Kastanas is a writer, entrepreneur, and local institution. Not only does she run the social marketing for the highly successful Soul Gastrolounge, she’s also one of three owners of the chic Central Avenue boutique, CLTCH. In 2010, Kastanas founded the Plaza Midwood Merchants Association to foster, maintain and promote an eclectic business environment in Charlotte’s most diverse and vibrant neighborhood. This queen of Plaza Midwood has also spent the last five years as Event Committee Chair of Condom Couture, an annual fashion show and auction where local designers create gorgeous outfits and accessories entirely out of condoms and raise money for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. The sold out 2018 Condom Couture raised over $100,000 to help PPSAT increase awareness about women’s health and safer sex. This year, Condom Couture will be held at The Fillmore on February 9 for its grand finale, a dazzling bon voyage will a vivacious Carnivale theme. Although this is Condom Couture’s last hurrah, Kastanas remains a constant, vigilant voice for women’s equality and rights, with a devotion and commitment to her community.

Lesa Kastanas

Opera Carolina’s season of celebrating women in the community continues with Carmen at Belk Theater January 19, 20, and 24.

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