As you may know, Asheville City Schools (ACS) has a deplorable academic achievement gap. (Visit the State of Black Asheville site for some frightening statistics. I can’t put my finger on a link to stats for Latinos, but they are similarly disturbing.) Some good news is that last Thursday I attended an event hosted by the Asheville City Schools Foundation (ACSF) and the ACS Parent U where reports were given on efforts that are underway “to break down the barriers that keep us from having courageous conversations around race,” and programs to improve the educational experience for minority students. There were about 100 people in attendance.
As ACS reported on their Facebook page, “Racial equity teams from Dickson, Claxton and Hall Fletcher Elementary Schools and Asheville Middle School presented highlights of their current efforts to break down barriers through racial equity grants from the Foundation. ‘This one is on us,’ said Asheville Middle School literacy coach Melissa Hedt, referring to the sincere desire of school staff to reshape the way curriculum is presented. The milestone meeting concluded with the division of attendees into four focus groups around the following four issues: school relationships with families; inequitable discipline; PTO inclusivity, and testing. That input will be shared widely with attendees and others. The event was described as the beginning of a renewed effort to create and share a vision of excellence with equity with the Asheville City Schools family.”
I was truly moved by the reports. One teacher said that in her 16 years in the city schools, this is the first time that issues related to race were being addressed directly. While the challenges are daunting, the fact that real action is being taken to address the significant inequities in the ACS gives me hope.
Community members can support this positive movement by letting ACS know that their work addressing disparities is important to us. As Tiece Ruffin stated in a recent Citizen-Times op-ed on the importance of parent advocacy around the academic achievement gap, “The continuous production of an underclass of people by the education system is a threat to the creation of a strong and prosperous country and an indictment to our collective consciousness as a caring society. As Marian Wright Edelman reminds us, ‘If we think we have ours and don’t owe any time or money or effort to help those left behind, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the fraying social fabric that threatens all Americans.'”
As part of this initiative, Hall Fletcher Elementary is offering racial equity trainings for their families and the community. There is a training this Thursday, January 29 at Hillcrest Community Center. Dinner will be served at 5 pm, the training will be held from 5:30 – 7:30 pm. Childcare and Spanish translation will be available. Transportation can be arranged by calling 350-6400. It is open to the public, and a great opportunity if you have never attended such a training.
The title of this blog is “Asheville Action,” and my goal here is to shine light on the actions of groups or individuals who are making a positive difference in our community, especially as related to equity and inclusion. Just Economics is all about action – and results. We are very fortunate to have them in WNC. I attended their recent year-end celebration and I learned more about this rockin’ organization.
Just Economics is primarily known for their Living Wage Employer Certification Program which is the largest of it’s kind in the nation. Groups from all over the country turn to Just Economics as a model for this work. That’s so impressive! Promoting Living Wages is a straightforward way to battle economic inequality. While we can get bogged down in the complex causes of social problems, setting the standard of a Living Wage is one clear strategy to address them. We don’t talk enough about how companies that do not pay a living wage are actually the ones being subsidized by the welfare system. If a person can work full-time but still not make enough to cover basics like housing, food, transportation and child care, that is plain wrong. Why does our culture stigmatize people who receive government subsidies, instead of directing outrage at the corporations that are benefiting from paying low wages? Makes me mad. So I’m glad the fine folks of Just Economics are not sitting around and complaining, but instead are actually tackling the problem.
Just Economics also is involved in policy advocacy, such as their successful campaigns to get Buncombe County and the City of Asheville to pass living wage policies for their employees.
Also impressive is Just Economics’ third program area, Community Education and Leadership Development. As their website states, “Just Economics aims to have a membership that reflects the diversity of our community, with an intentional focus on leadership from low-wage workers and others most affected by the issues we work on. Voices for Economic Justice is an 8-week workshop series that incorporates popular economics education and community organizing skill-building, with the aim to build leadership among low-wage workers and low-income persons.” A recent group from the Voices class organized around issues with public transportation in Asheville, and led a successful advocacy campaign to bring back Sunday bus service. Concrete results, there! Just Economics also educates “people of faith, policy-makers, business owners, and the general community about issues facing the working poor in our region, and proactive solutions to building a just and sustainable economy.”
So, that’s the good news about Just Economics. Find out more at justeconomicswnc.org.
photo from the just economics celebration, of the visual aid to a presentation on intersectionality
Last week I was lucky to be able to attend the “History of Desegregation” panel hosted by the Asheville City Schools Foundation (ACSF) as a part of their Racial Equity Initiative. While I have heard stories of desegregation in Asheville numerous times over the years, this panel led me to think more deeply about connections between the way that desegregation was handled and current issues in our schools including our shameful academic achievement gap.
Desegregation is very recent history. Everyone on the panel lived through desegregation, and the memories and emotions are still strong. Panel members shared stories of their lives before desegregation. As a young girl, Jacquelyn Hallum only interacted with other blacks. She told a story of seeing two white girls playing and thinking they were baby dolls come to life. Jennie Eblen described only knowing whites prior to desegregation. Most of the stories that were told underscored the fact that segregation was very thorough.
Al Whitesides and Marvin Chambers spoke of the great pride blacks had in their schools before desegregation. Livingston Elementary and Stephens Lee High School were known for their strong academics, with many teachers possessing Master’s degrees. Students also excelled in extracurricular activities such as band. Chambers explained how organizers had to put the Stephens Lee band at the back of the annual Christmas parade because one year they were at the front, and everyone went home after they played. To underscore the depth of this school pride, Chambers assured the audience that, to this day, ask any graduate of Stephens Lee to sing you their school song and they will.
I am not going to go into a lot of detail here about the history here. An overview of desegregation of the schools, and the activism of the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equity (ASCORE) can be found in the Center For Diversity Education’s exhibit, “With All Deliberate Speed: Desegregation in Buncombe County.” Click here to read a PDF of this exhibit.
When the schools integrated, it was a very intense transition. Students with little to no experience interacting with people of different races were suddenly in classes and on teams together. As far as I can tell, the schools did not offer workshops or counseling or additional support to deal with the emotional challenges of this major change.
After desegregation, some things were gained by black students in terms of physical resources. Panel members also spoke of the value of new friendships and opportunities that would not have been possible before desegregation. However, much was lost, too. The loss of treasured school buildings, for one, and also there was a loss of the trophies that black high school sports teams had won over the years. I know the loss of trophies hurt greatly, as that is one of the stories of I have heard time and time again. Significantly, also lost in the years immediately following desegregation were many beloved African American teachers and administrators.
The tensions that were caused by desegregation led two two riots at Asheville High School – one in 1969 and a second in 1972. After the first riot, the high school was closed for a week and the there was a city-wide curfew for six months. That’s right, a city-wide curfew for six months! That speaks volumes to the magnitude of the tensions that must have been in place. After the 1972 riot, eight people were hospitalized. A third significant disruption occurred in 1975. Like I stated earlier, this is all very recent history.
Hearing the speakers on the panel, it is clear to me that there is still healing that needs to happen in regards to desegregation. I can see how the painful aspects of desegregation continue to hurt students today. Something is seriously wrong with our schools in relation to race, as is evidenced by statistics compiled by UNC Asheville students for the State of Black Asheville. It is understandable that the memory of the stress families experienced during desegregation still lingers. In fact, an ACSF handout shared at the panel affirmed the fact that this history has created a distrust of the Asheville City Schools in the black community that has been passed on from generation to generation and “has not created goodwill in relationships servicing students today.” In addition, with most of the teachers and administrators in our schools today being white, black students may not be supported in all of the ways needed for them to succeed. In short, we have to look at the institutional racism that has been built into our school system.
I understand that the academic achievement gap is a complex problem, and that the legacy of desegregation is just one piece of the puzzle. It is a significant piece, however, and I applaud the Asheville City Schools Foundation for taking on this important topic.
Panel photo, pictured left to right: Lewis Isaac (moderator), Al Whitesides, Marvin Chambers, Jacquelyn Hallum, Jennie Eblen, Tyrone Greenlee, Larry Grant, Dena Parker Gettleman. Black and white photo of Asheville High School riot from the Asheville Citizen-Times, September 30, 1970.
In October, I posted about the first every African Americans in WNC history conference, which was held at the YMI Cultural Center and UNC Asheville. This event was extremely educational and important. The conference was introduced as being created in part to address the “invisibility” of African Americans in WNC. Bringing the history of African Americans in WNC to light will go a long way towards creating a more inclusive community. As one speaker at the conference pointed out, history is usually told by the “winners,” and the stories of those who have been oppressed by our institutions are often overlooked. You can click here for Mountain Xpress recordings from the conference.
Dr. Darin Waters highlights the value of “democratizing our collective historical memory” in this powerful column. An excerpt: “Evidence of the lack of African-American involvement in constructing our collective public memory is readily visible. One need only consider the monuments that dominate our landscape. In the heart of downtown Asheville stands the Vance Monument, which pays homage to Civil War Gov. Zebulon Vance, Buncombe County’s native son. Major thoroughfares around town bear the names of prominent white citizens, but there are no comparable monuments commemorating the African-Americans who called this city home, other than a few rec centers tucked away in historically black neighborhoods.” (I encourage you to click here to read the whole column).
Luckily, Dr. Waters is working hard to make more stories available to us. He and fellow UNC Asheville professor Dr. Marcus Harvey have launched a radio show on WRES FM 100.7, The Waters & Harvey Show. Airing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon, this show features stimulating discussions about African American history in this area. If you aren’t able to tune in to the show when it airs, archives of the show are posted on the Waters & Harvey Show Facebook page.
If you are interested in learning more about African American history in WNC, I encourage you to check out the Center for Diversity Education’s exhibit “The Unmarked Trail” – you can click here to see a PDF of the exhibit. Also valuable is the Buncombe County Slave Deeds project – click here for more information. And the Color of Asheville website has an interactive history timeline – click here to view.
Of course, this is just a starting place. Stay tuned for more.
“Intersectionality: looks at the intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.
Inequality based on race, gender, class, ability, orientation are deeply connected! For example, we know that racism impacts economics when you do not get hired for the job or are turned down to rent an apartment because of your race.
Come explore these intersections through interactive activities and dialogue! Help Just Economics create a performance about intersectionality and our work for justice for our Annual Celebration in December!
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Dinner, New Friends, and Action
UNITED WAY, 3rd Floor conference room
50 South French Broad Ave., downtown Asheville
Guest Facilitator: Lucia Daugherty, Program Director
Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council
For more information: 828-505-7466 or justeconomicswnc.org.
Nicole Hinebaugh, a wonderful person and a true asset to our community, has started a GoFundMe page for a documentary about people living in Asheville Public Housing. It reads:
“This is a project in collaboration with students from Mars Hill College to tell the stories of people living in Asheville’s public housing neighborhoods. Over 6,000 people live in these communities, and yet many of the public housing neighborhoods experience isolation from the rest of the city, resulting in a lack of knowledge and understanding from the general public about their lives and experiences. This is an attempt to capture those stories along with a look at the work being done in these communities with residents to create positive change in their lives.
This GoFundMe campaign seeks to raise funds to provide a stipend to a public housing resident narrator/interviewer and provide incentives to the interviewees to tell their stories as well as some small ancillary expenses.”
I am so glad that Nicole has undertaken this endeavor – these stories need to be told.
Here’s an announcement about an upcoming educational event that I don’t plan on missing:
The UNC Asheville History Department is proud to host the first ever conference on the History of African Americans in Western North Carolina. The conference challenges widely held assumptions that the African American presence in Western North Carolina has been negligible at best. Presentations, by respected scholars in the fields of North Carolina History, Southern History, and Southern Appalachian History, will reveal the rich and vibrant African American past in the Southern Appalachian region. The conference is free and open to the general public.
Thursday, October 23, 6:30 – 8:30
YMI Cultural Center (43 Market Street, Asheville, NC)
* Reception and Keynote address by James Ferguson, Esquire
* Mrs. Julia Ray will be recognized for the may ways her dedication to family and community has graced our mountain home for 100 years
Friday, October 24, 9 – 5
UNC Asheville Sherrill Center (1 University Heights, Asheville, NC)
Morning Session: 9 – 12
Slavery and Emancipation in Western North Carolina
-Dr. John Inscoe, University of Georgia – Slavery and WNC
-Dr. Steven Nash – Emancipation and WNC
-Dr. LaGarret King – Teaching American History with All American Youth
Afternoon Session 2 – 5
Segregation and Civil Rights in Western North Carolina
-Dr. Darin J. Waters – Racial Uplift in the Era of Jim Crow Segregation in WNC
-Dr. Sarah Judson – The Civil Rights Movement in WNC
-Andrea Clark – “Twilight of a Neighborhood” Photography Project
Closing Evening Reception at 5:00
Dean of Humanities Howerton Professor of Humanities, UNC Asheville Humanities Program, Dr. Sophie Mills, NEH Distinguied Teaching Professor in the Humanities, The Wilma Dykeman Legacy, The Dean of Social Sciences, Office of the Provost, UNC Asheville Department of History, UNC Asheville Center for Diversity Education, The Interdisciplinary Distinguished Professorship of the Mountain South
There are two events coming up that I’d like to share with you.
The first is this Thursday, October 2, from 5 to 7 pm at the Dr. Wesley Grant Southside Center, 285 Livingston Street. The event, hosted by Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council and UNCA’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, is “Multi-Generational Conversations on Race, Pt. 1.” The invite reads: “Join us for our two-part series — a diverse group of panelists will participate in community conversations on race, age, and generational differences in perspectives.”
The second event, “Everybody’s Environment: Voices for Conservation and Community,” will be held on Friday, October 10, also at the at the Dr. Wesley Grant Southside Center. This conference will look at diversity and environmental movements.* The Keynote Speaker will be Melanie Allen, Diversity Director for Conservation Trust for North Carolina. To attend, you must register by this Friday October 3 at http://www.diversityed.org/everybodysenvironment
*Deborah Miles of the Center for Diversity Education shared this via email:
“Why a conference on Diversity and the Environment?
Here is a highlight from the recently published “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations” study which surveyed three types of environmental institutions across the US: 191 conservation and preservation organizations, 74 government environmental agencies, and 28 environmental grant making foundations:
The current state of racial diversity in environmental organizations is troubling, and lags far behind gender diversity.
- The percentage of ethnic minorities working in environmental organizations has increased over time.
- Despite the growth in the ethnic minority population in the U.S., the percentage of minorities on the boards or general staff of environmental organizations does not exceed 16% in the three types of institutions studied.
- Once hired in environmental organizations, ethnic minorities are concentrated in the lower ranks. As a result, ethnic minorities occupy less than 12% of the leadership positions in the environmental organizations studied.
- Yet ethnic minorities and people of multi-racial backgrounds comprise about 38% of the U.S. population.
- The diversity manager’s position is the only position that minorities are more likely to hold than Whites in environmental organizations. However, relatively few of the organizations had such a position.
WNC is a hub of activity for governmental and non-profit organizations with a focus on the air, water, and land that sustains us. Through intentional collaboration we can broaden best practices to improve these statistics in the staff, board members, vendors, and visitors of regional organizations.”
I’m very glad these events taking place! Kudos to the organizers!