By Natash Morris
Charlotte Observer

When LaWana Mayfield meets you, she flashes a radiant smile and hugs you warmly like an old college friend.

She’s eager to put on a bandana, a T-shirt and a pair of sneakers to pick up trash, build Kaboom parks and Habitat for Humanity houses.

She paints fences, plants trees and repairs homes on Realtor Care Day.

Those efforts are the part of the job she loves most.

She doesn’t care about accolades or being in front of the camera, saying instead that her greatest fear is forgetting she’s a public servant, a position she holds as the Charlotte City Council District 3 representative.

Mayfield’s vision for the Steele Creek community is simple, she said: Be active. Be engaged.

“What is our personal connection today with each other to work on creating a neighborhood?” Mayfield said. “I need us to exert a lot of ownership and recognize that it’s up to us individually and collectively to be as strong as we want it to be.”

Steele Creek is named after a small stream near the intersection of Shopton and Steele Creek roads, according to the Steele Creek Residents Association. The 46-square-mile southwest Charlotte neighborhood is bounded by the southern end of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Lake Wylie and Interstate 77 from Arrowood Road to Tega Cay, S.C.

“Steele Creek is like this hidden jewel,” said Mayfield, 44. “You have this quiet little quaint community that’s right outside, where you can hop on I-485 or I-77 and get into uptown.”

Despite being relatively unknown among its District 3 counterparts, west Charlotte and South End, Steele Creek gradually is evolving from an industrial hub to an interconnected community of 51,000 residents.

Mayfield says the Charlotte Premium Outlets, a 400,000-square-foot shopping center that will open this summer, presents the ideal opportunity for Steele Creek residents to get involved.

“I reached out to residents in the Berewick community. We got a van and drove to Mebane, North Carolina, because that was the closest Tanger Outlet,” Mayfield said. “I wanted the residents to ask whatever questions they have of the developers as well as the Tanger family to see is this is something that the community would embrace.”

Mayfield said she would like to see more residents become active in neighborhood and City Council meetings and public hearings, and build more relationships with potential developers and local businesses.

“I want my time to set a new bar of transparency for the community to do better and to expect better from your representative,” Mayfield said. “I want somebody from the community to step up and get on board and eventually run for office.”

For Mayfield, doing better starts with being accessible.

“Contact me,” she says: “My process has been an open-door process, because I don’t know what you want unless you reach out to me.”

She attends neighborhood meetings and community events as her schedule permits.

Mayfield, a Democrat, also recognizes that residents who belong to other political parties may be hesitant to contact her.

“I’m not looking you up to see what your party affiliation is,” she said. “I’m looking you up to see if you are a resident of District 3. Then I’m going to ask you in detail what exactly is the concern or the issue and to see if it’s something I can do.

“I try to give people very real answers to their questions. And I try to be honest and say, ‘That’s a great idea, but we can’t do that. Now, what else you got?’ ”

Mayfield is serving her second term after first being elected in 2011 and again in 2013. She said she’s not in the position to make a name for herself in politics but as an extension of her 25-plus years as a community activist.

“I’m really good at this because I really love people,” she said. “I’m now in the role where I get to connect people to the proper department, the proper channels in order for them to achieve what it is they want to achieve.”

Mayfield said she would like see the light rail extended into Steele Creek. As for her future, she says, she’s happy in her current position.

“I don’t know if my plan of service will be welcomed on higher levels,” she said. “This is my next level of service. Before, I was an organizer pushing for change. Now I’m sitting at the table helping to create and direct that change.”

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