Law’s legacy


May 30, 2023

A YMCA leader retires after three decades of breaking barriers and helping others.

by Michelle Boudin

You might say Stan Law was born to run the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. “There are all these family connections that make it that much more special to me,” the 61-year old says from his office at the Dowd YMCA, which overlooks the rooftop track and workout space that showcases Charlotte’s skyline. Hanging just to the right of his giant office picture window is a framed photograph of Law’s grandfather, taken when the elder Law worked at the Johnson C. Smith campus branch of the YMCA from 1907-1911. 

On top of all the family history, it is Law who repeatedly has made history while working for the YMCA over the last three decades. He was the first African American to run a large YMCA in Alabama, then in Winston Salem and, since January 2022, the 17-branch YMCA of Greater Charlotte. 

“I think it’s important. I’m proud of that, and I’m sad that it took so long for [an African American] to have those roles. I also treat it as a responsibility to try to do my best, because there are tons of others who haven’t had the opportunity to follow — but I’ve got to pave that way.”

That’s why so many people were shocked this spring when Law suddenly announced his retirement as of June 2, citing decades of long hours that he says took a major toll on his physical and mental health.

“It has been difficult to have a work/life balance. At 61 years old, I feel like it’s time to focus on myself and address some of these health issues,” Law says. “Maybe this can help someone else pause and think about how they’re living their lives … that would mean a lot to me. I’ve been pushing myself for more than 33 years and I need to put my attention on myself so I can have a higher quality of life — spirit, mind and body.”

Law worked hard to honor his parents, who made sure he had opportunities growing up despite facing discrimination literally from birth. “I was born on the 30-yard line of Panthers stadium. If you’re going in the main entrance, there’s a historical marker because it was the only hospital for African Americans. We weren’t allowed to go to the other hospitals in Charlotte.”

Left: Stan Law. Right: A renovated fitness room at the Harris YMCA

Law was also among the first students in Charlotte bussed across town to help diversify schools. He grew up on the west side off Beatties Ford Road, but beginning in the third grade, he spent an hour and a half each way riding a bus to a school in southeast Charlotte. There, one of his teachers told his parents she believed “Black kids couldn’t learn,” Law recalls. 

“I remember it like it was yesterday.” Law says his father, a college professor who had master’s and doctorate degrees from Duke University, told Law’s teacher, “I can learn, so my son can learn. Every kid, no matter what they look like, can learn.”

After that experience, Law admits he became angry for a while, prompting his parents to get creative with his after-school activities. Instead of sending him to their neighborhood Y, they purposely sent him to the Dowd branch.

“They put me at Dowd, where I was going to be one of the few Black kids. But my parents trusted that the Y was going to have white people who were nice. My second week, I won camper of the week and I got a trophy that I still have to this day. It was basically what changed my life. I did see adults who were amazing who didn’t look like me.” 

Law learned to swim and later worked as a camp counselor at the very place where he now sits in the big office just a few stories above.

Law’s experience at elementary school wasn’t all bad, though. He met his wife there in the fifth grade. “We did recess together and she liked to play jacks. I liked to play sports, but two to three days a week I would come inside to play jacks. I never beat her!” The couple didn’t start dating until after college, when they ran into each other while Law was working at a jewelry store at SouthPark Mall. The couple just celebrated 30 years of marriage.

Law stepped into the CEO role at a difficult time — the Charlotte YMCA is slowly bouncing back after losing $40 million in revenue overnight during the pandemic, Law says. Shortly after his retirement was announced, the YMCA shared plans to sell the Johnston YMCA in NoDa to a developer.

Law spent 33 years working with the YMCA, if you don’t count the summer during high school when he worked at the Dowd as a camp counselor. As he walks away from the organization he’s served for so long, he’s hoping he’ll be remembered for helping people who were less fortunate — something he told his dad he wanted to do when he was in the fifth grade.  

“I don’t have biological kids, but I’ve always felt the Y kids were my kids. My legacy is that I have this unbelievable compassion and empathy for others, and I’ve tried to dedicate myself so that the programs and services the Y offered literally made a difference to every child, family and community we connected with.” SP

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