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The Art of Public Discourse

Learning to dialogue about issues was a formative Queens experience for Charlotte City Councilwoman Vi Alexander Lyles '73

Vi Alexander LylesVi Alexander Lyles '73 attended Queens at a tumultuous time. Racial integration had started, and she was one of only five African- American students beginning their studies at the college. The country was also embroiled in the Vietnam War.

Nevertheless, her state of mind wasn't all that different from college students today. "When I was at Queens I didn't know how I would fit," she remembers. A high school guidance counselor suggested she become a secretary; instead, she applied and was accepted at prestigious women's colleges in the Northeast. Her father didn't want her so far away. Queens was the compromise, one she's glad she made.

"At Queens I learned how much fun you could have learning," Vi says. "It was interesting to me to be around women who were talented, smart and engaged."

She marched on Queens Road and Selwyn Avenue against the war and participated in an Angela Davis appearance on campus, yet Vi didn't think of herself as an activist. "I was just making friends and doing things that were challenging all of us at that time."

As a student she also worked on two political campaigns and spent a semester at American University in D.C., where her interest in political science was solidified.

"When you work in local government at any level, you see the results of what you do every day, and that was significant for me" Her course was set, and shortly after graduation she was hired as an analyst in the City of Charlotte's budget department. Her work for the city has spanned almost 30 years, including a position as assistant city manager from 1996 to 2004. She became involved in community programs, especially those tied to housing, and also launched a consulting firm that advises government and nonprofit organizations. In 2013, she was elected to the Charlotte City Council as an at-large member.

"Vi has a powerful combination of smarts, wisdom, empathy, generosity and courage. She is tirelessly committed to seeing equity in how people are treated," says leadership consultant Karen Geiger. "She has a way of being honest, respectful and sharing from her heart that invites others to do the same so that differences can be surfaced and negotiated."

Vi credits her undergraduate years at Queens for providing her with a foundation for what she chose to do with her life. "I learned how to participate in dialogue and to reach out."

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