On Interstates and Initiatives

Last night was the public hearing on the NC DOT’s I-26 plans. It is really frightening what they want to do. Click here for information on how to express your concern, and demand alternatives. I personally wish they’d just leave it as it is.


On a more positive note, My Daddy Taught Me That is hosting a documentary screening this Thursday, November 19, at 9:30 pm at Asheville Pizza on Merrimon Avenue. Attend to find out more about this program and how you can support it. Click here to get your ticket.

my daddy taught me that

The Art of Resilience opening was a huge success! The momentum for Hood Huggers International is strong. The show is up until December 31, and you can stop by the YMI Cultural Center to see it Monday – Thursday between 11 am – 4 pm. DeWayne Barton will be there every Tuesday from noon until 3 pm, or by appointment, to talk about the show. Groups can email info@hoodhuggers.com to schedule a talk with the artist at the gallery. Lunch can be arranged as well.

art of resilience opening

ABIPA is having a fundraiser at the S&W this Saturday at 6 pm, I encourage you to support that great organization as well!

The Art of Resilience

DeWayne Barton’s “The Art of Resilience” art opening, book release and poetry reading is this Friday, November 13, starting at 7 pm at the YMI Cultural Center, 39 South Market Street. (Stop by after the Asheville High School debate if you have plans to attend that.) I hope to see you there!

As you may know, Barton’s visual art focuses on justice issues for people and the planet, as well as strategies for creating vibrant, healthy, sustainable communities. The show will feature new sculptures. In addition, the event will be a book release and poetry reading for Barton’s second book, Return to Burton Street, which just came out on Black Mountain Press.

Most importantly, “The Art of Resilience” will launch Hood Huggers International, Barton’s new initiative which o​ffers innovative strategies for building support pillars for systemically marginalized neighborhoods, providing a framework for community capacity building while increasing the effectiveness of existing service programs. These strategies incorporate the arts, environmental education and social enterprise.

For more information go to hoodhuggers.com.


Council Candidates on How to Address Asheville’s De Facto Racial Segregation

asheville city council candidates

If you read this blog and live in Asheville, I assume you have already decided who you are going to vote for in the City Council election, and perhaps you’ve already voted. While I did not make my city council voting choices based on a single issue, this blog focuses on racial equity in Asheville and I’d like to highlight that issue in this post. The Asheville Blade has an excellent election guide, which includes a questionnaire from the primary that happens to include a question I submitted, which is: “During the past year, we’ve seen an increasing numbers of concerns raised about de facto racial segregation in Asheville, an issue worsened by the impacts of redlining, racism, urban renewal and the state of public housing. If elected, what specifically would you do to help address this problem?”

Below are the answers the candidates gave to that question. I am posting these because we will want to hold the folks who win accountable to taking action towards addressing Asheville’s de facto racial segregation and racial disparities. And I expect the folks that aren’t elected to stay civically engaged, and therefore accountable to act on this issue as well.

Here you go, thanks again to the Asheville Blade for this:

Brian Haynes
Social equality is found in social justice and social justice is found in social opportunity. We cannot, as a predominantly white city with greater proportions of wealth, property and opportunity in the hands of some, say to the minority cultures that they should come on up. We own the ladders and the platforms, we control the government, the jobs the schools and the businesses. If social justice is to prevail then ladders, platforms and all levels of opportunity must be available and present in affirmative ways and manners.

Publicly-funded housing should be the top priority in our overall affordable housing efforts. Here we have the houses and tenants in place and their situations as tenants should be secured and the infrastructure should be maintained and improved.

The neighborhoods that have traditionally supported Asheville’s Black community need to be protected and maintained rather than encroaching on them with “special interest districts” that will raise property taxes and change the entire rhythm of life. Property taxes should be frozen on those homeowners who have lived in these neighborhoods for a generation or more.

Young Black and minority residents need to be encouraged to stay in our community by having access to education, as they are in some cases, but also access to jobs. When integration is a goal, we must integrate by actively recruiting minority participants in all organizations.

Blacks and other minorities must be included in all conversations and organizations that address Black and minority issues. We must hear from them the solutions that they come to and we must empower minorities by helping them to start and maintain their own social support, non-profit organizations that are run internally rather than the current model of help from the outside.

Marc Hunt
There are two key challenges here. The first is geographic segregation, as a result of urban renewal and our public housing situation. Asheville has a higher proportion of its African-American residents living in public housing than other major cities in North Carolina. We must embark on a multi-decade effort to reshape our public housing neighborhoods into mixed-income and racially balanced neighborhoods. This cannot happen without significant effort on the part of local government. The second is related to the first, and it is that a higher proportion of African-Americans in Asheville are in poverty than in most other towns, and that is a result of the multi-generational cycle of poverty that predominates public housing. We must do more to create opportunity and pathways out of poverty, and I think that includes strengthened public education. Transformation of public housing will be fundamental here as well.

Rich Lee
There’s a lot we could do. Create housing affordable on local minority families’ typical wages, including opportunities for black homeownership. Use zoning to reduce the spread of high-end, above-market housing in Shiloh and S. French Broad neighborhoods. Create living-wage jobs near historically black neighborhoods and support black business ownership using grants and tax incentives. Consider forming a minority business committee to look at impediments to minority business ownership. Lobby the NC Department of Transportation and rally the community against expanding I-240 into Burton Street neighborhood and a majority-Latino area of Emma. Improve the relationship between Asheville Police and housing project residents, making Asheville a regional leader in fair policing with regular, ongoing anti-bias training. Integrate public housing more into mixed-income developments, reducing the physical and social isolation of public-housing residents.

In the end, I can’t blame black families and young people of color for leaving Asheville to pursue better opportunities in more supportive communities like Charlotte, Atlanta, or Winston Salem. Since I moved here in 1997, Asheville’s black population has shrunk by over 1,000, even as its white population has boomed. As a city that values fairness and diversity, Asheville needs to commit to supporting its minority residents. To me, affordable housing and living-wage jobs are also matters of racial justice, as well as social and economic justice.

Julie Mayfield
This is an important issue that needs a thoughtful strategy. There is no silver bullet and, in addition to your list, I would add that our transit system keeps many people of color from fully engaging in our community and finding a path to success. The City can support infrastructure improvements, such as expanding transit, building more sidewalks, and rebuilding our public housing developments so that poor communities of color have quality places to live and an easier time getting around. The City can also: encourage all of its employees, especially those who interact with the public, to go through Building Bridges; seek diversity in hiring and in recruiting citizen leaders for boards and commissions; hold public meetings in communities of color; support community efforts such as the Racial Justice Coalition and ABCRC; and launch a reconciliation initiative that would acknowledge African American history in Asheville, from pre-civil war to urban renewal, and create permanent reminders (markers, monuments, photographs) of those events.

Lindsey Simerly
Asheville’s history includes a lot of policies that were based in racism. It is important to acknowledge that fact. It’s up to City Council and staff to work collaboratively with our African-American communities and make decisions based on equity and fairness to create opportunity and begin to right the wrongs of our past.

We do this by building trust and prioritizing our African American neighborhoods.

Including residents every step of the way, we can partner with the Housing Authority to revitalize Lee Walker Heights – guaranteeing every family there a safe, affordable home.

Collaborating with Livingston, Southside, and Erskine-Walton neighbors, we can replace the Walton Street Pool as part of a broad process of neighborhood reinvestment.

Using the Shiloh Neighborhood Plan and the Burton Street Community Plan as templates to guide city efforts in those neighborhoods, we can be partners in good faith.

Partnering with the African American Heritage Committee, Buncombe County, UNC-Asheville, and other community institutions to build a monument at Pack Square commemorating the contributions and the history of African Americans in Asheville and Buncombe County.

We do it by building opportunity for young people and entrepreneurs.

Funding more Pre-K, afterschool and summer education programs to address the achievement gap.

Connecting African American neighborhoods to schools, parks, and jobs with sidewalks, bike lanes, greenways, and transit.

Supporting job training and community building through Green Opportunities at the Edington Center.

Partnering with Mountain Bizworks and other programs to provide training and loans to African-American owned businesses.

We do it by making sure people are safe.

Continuing the Asheville Police Department’s Public Housing Unit.

Implementing the use of body cameras by the APD.

Keith Young
Opportunity is key. There is a deeper underbody to these questions. That underbody consists of education, culture and political action in the communities at the polls. Local government can only do so much but if we improve infrastructure, transit and work on density issues, while thinking out of the box to get real affordable housing stock on the market we can take some steps forward. Also working to improve the climate for a diverse job market will help. Attracting companies that pay living wage jobs and a workforce educated enough to have them will need to go hand in hand.

Photo of the candidates (and David Forbes of the Asheville Blade live tweeting!) at an Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council forum by Cindy Kunst for the Mountain Xpress. 

WNC Black History Matters

darin waters and dewayne barton

Conference organizer Dr. Darin Waters with DeWayne Barton of Hood Huggers International.

Last week’s African Americans in WNC conference was as informative, upsetting, inspiring and energizing as I had expected. From Sen. Floyd McKissick, Jr.’s educational and insightful keynote to the presentation of the incredible Isaiah Rice Photography Collection, the conference brought great value to all who attended. Luckily, David Forbes from the Asheville Blade was there live tweeting much of the event. Click here for a Storify of tweets and other coverage of the event, you can learn quite a bit from it.

The conference, with was sponsored by UNC Asheville, the YMI Cultural Center, and others, offered our community a potent antidote to the invisibility of African Americans in this region. The talks refuted myths and illuminated new perspectives. The power of this cannot be underestimated. In an area where racial disparities in economics, health, education, criminal justice, etc. are so extreme, the knowledge shared at the conference is a critical piece of the puzzle of how we move towards equity.

That said, Thursday night of the conference a proclamation from the City of Asheville declaring October 22, 2015 McKissick Family Day was presented. The McKissicks have contributed mightily to Asheville, North Carolina, and the United States through the Civil Rights Movement and much more. Unfortunately, no one from the City was there to read the proclamation, so Dr. Dwight Mullen read it in their stead.

sheneika and elder hayes

Date My City’s Sheneika Smith with Elder John Hayes of WRES FM.

I’d like to share a Facebook post from David Forbes about this: “I don’t weigh in directly on city government affairs often, but this is worth saying: the absence of any City of Asheville representative to present the proclamation at the opening of the African-Americans in WNC conference last Thursday was wrong. The conference was an important event that, in addition to scholarship and discussion, saw the unveiling of a major addition to local history (the Rice collection) and a keynote speaker (Floyd McKissick, Jr.) sharing direct experiences of major parts of our city, state and country’s civil rights struggles.

We have six City Council members and a mayor. Someone should have been there.”

I agree with David. While I understand that city leaders are busy people and this is election season, the conference was too significant to miss. The same goes for our county commissioners. If we as a city and region are going to address our racial divide, it takes more than giving lip service to the issues. The problems have to do in no small part with government and business leaders ignoring our African American community’s voices. Commitment to change this long standing pattern needs to be shown by action. Changing dynamics that have been in place for hundreds of years is a major challenge. Solutions are complicated and uncomfortable. But one thing about the solutions is not that complicated – solutions take showing up.

That goes for all of us.

african americans in wnc conference

Second Annual African Americans in WNC conference at UNC Asheville.

Second Annual African Americans in WNC Conference, Oct. 22 – 23

Not to be missed!

From UNC Asheville’s website:

The second annual African Americans in Western North Carolina Conference will be held Oct. 22-23, 2015 at the YMI Cultural Center and UNC Asheville’s Highsmith Union. The two-day conference is free and open to the public.

The conference starts on Thursday, Oct. 22 at the YMI Cultural Center with a 6:30 p.m. reception and special presentation for community service followed by The Jesse and Julia Ray Lecture given by the Honorable Floyd McKissick Jr. The evening includes a special performance by the LEAF Delta House Jazz Band.

This photo is part of the Isaiah Rice Photography Collection.

This photo is part of the Isaiah Rice Photography Collection.

Friday, Oct. 23 will feature panel discussions in UNC Asheville’s Highsmith Union, as well as details about the unveiling of the Isaiah Rice Photography Collection. The photos have been donated to UNC Asheville by the family of Darin Waters, assistant professor of history and conference organizer.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to organize this conference for a second year,” said Waters.  “Developing a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the history of African Americans in this region of our state is an important part of our efforts to building mutual understanding among the diverse groups that make up our city, state, and region.  For too long the history of African Americans in this region has been hidden, and this conference represents an ongoing effort and commitment by the university to highlight and incorporate the experiences of this region’s African American communities into the larger narrative of our history.”

The morning panel begins at 9 a.m.:

  • “One Family, Black and White: The Saga of a Yancey County Family,” by Kevin Young, Ph.D. candidate at The University of Georgia
  • “When All God’s Children Get Together: A Celebration of the Lives and Music of African American People in Far Western North Carolina,” Ann Woodford, author
  • “Slave and Free: The Complex History of African Americans in a Western North Carolina County,” Barbara McRae, author

The afternoon panel starts at 2 p.m. and is followed by a closing reception at 5 p.m.:

  • “Ears to the Conch Shell, Feet to the Ancestors: Reimagining Asheville’s Goombay Festival” Marcus Harvey, assistant professor of religious studies at UNC Asheville
  • “Fulfilling the One Imperative by Any Means Necessary: Desegregation and Race Politics at the Asheville YWCA,” Sarah Judson, associate professor of history at UNC Asheville
  • “People and Place: The Isaiah Rice Photography Collection,” Gene Hyde, university archivist, and Darin Waters, assistant professor of history at UNC Asheville

The conference is sponsored by UNC Asheville, including the Deans of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Howerton Professor of Humanities, The Interdisciplinary Distinguished Professor of the Mountain South, NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities, History Department, Humanities Program, Africana Studies Program, Office of the Provost, and the Center for Diversity Education; The Wilma Dykeman Legacy; and The YMI Cultural Center.

Here is a PDF of the conference poster: African Americans in WNC

Nuestras Escuelas

You can support the Center for Participatory Change and Nuestro Centro in organizing for racial equity and language justice in Buncombe County Schools!  CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Details (from their Crowdrise page):

cpc and nuestro centroThe Center for Participatory Change and Nuestro Centro are organizing together to confront structural racism and language access barriers in Buncombe County public schools. Together, community members are building collective analysis and taking collective action to create change!

We are parents, students, and community members coming together to shine a light on structural racism in our schools. 

Working together with CPC and Nuestro Centro, we are building collective strategy and organizing for structural changes in our school system. Together we are demanding systemic change within Buncombe County Schools and equitable access to education for our children.

We are building on the momentum of the “movement moment” that emerged from the student and parent uprising at Erwin High School. (See The Today Show’s coverage here: Immigration assignment at North Carolina high school sparks racism debate).  

Working in partnership with community members, we are creating opportunities for dialogue among parents, students, educators, and administrators and documenting our work so that we can share tools with parents, students, and community groups organizing in school systems across Western North Carolina and nationally. 

CPC and Nuestro Centro have been doing this movement-building, organizing work together in the Emma community for over a year, before, during, and after the uprising at Erwin High School. Our work will continue, with your support!

We need your help to fund ongoing organizing work in our community to create positive change in our schools. 

Your donation will be used to pay for childcare and interpretation for community meetings.  Providing childcare and interpreters at all of our meetings and community forums allows everyone to participate fully and also gives us a chance to demonstrate to the Buncombe County School system how to create a multi-lingual space accessible to all families.

We believe fully in the capacity of our community to resource the campaign because it is vital to our collective future. Contribute today to support organizing in the Erwin district and building a movement for systemic change in Buncombe County Schools!

How your donation will be used:

  • Interpretation: $25 pays 1 interpreter for 1 hour so that everyone can participate in their own language. Funding pays for interpretation so people can organize across lines of language.  At least 2 interpreters are needed at each meeting. Meetings are weekly and average 3 hours each. Total minimum needed from now til the end of 2015: $1800.
  • Childcare: $15 pays 1 child care provider for 1 hour, allowing 1, 2, or 3 parents of young children to participate.  Having childcare available means that mothers and fathers have the opportunity to participate, make their voices heard, and advocate for their children. Our child care providers are also people within our communities who offer their support by caring for our children so that parents and older youth can focus on organizing. This is critical to our campaign and we believe people should be paid decent wages for this invaluable contribution to the work. At least 4 child care providers are needed at each meeting. Meetings are weekly and average 3 hours each. Total minimum needed from now til the end of 2015: $2160.
  • Equipment, Materials, and Organizers: CPC and Nuestro Centro are working hard to cover expenses for the campaign, including paying organizers and buying materials and equipment. We are seeking funding from foundations, individuals, faith-based congregations, and YOU to help cover these costs! Minimum needed from now until the end of 2015: $1040.

I encourage you to support this important effort!

Happening Soon

Here are a few things coming up:


Photo of Asheville Goombay founders being honored in 2004. (The festival started in 1982.)

Asheville Goombay Festival – this weekend, Sept. 11 -12.
I recently had the honor of meeting Lady Gloria Free, the founder of Goombay, and I wrote about her history in Asheville with the YMI and Goombay: Click here to read about her story.

Minority Enterprise Development Week – next week, Sept. 15 – 17.
Free classes for entrepreneurs – please share the schedule.
Awards Event on Thursday, Sept. 17 at 6 pm at Homewood – come out!

WNC Diversity Engagement Coalition Social – Sept. 25, 5:30 pm
At the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center


What’s Up With Asheville?

Here’s a a song I wrote and then recorded with Jason Krekel and Sheneika Smith at my house. Click here or use the player below to listen and download for free if you’d like. I look forward to conversations about these questions, there are some links below with food for thought, and a video of us performing this song at Sherwood’s Music for Mountain Xpress.

What’s Up With Asheville?

What’s Up With Asheville?
What’s going down in Asheville town?
What’s up with Asheville?
Who’s getting rich, who’s being left out?

Stumbling through a drunken haze
Throwing plastic cups away
Who’s staying poor? Who’s getting paid?
Who’s orchestrating the charade?
It could be us….

Our streets were built by slavery
History we refuse to see
Perpetuating inequality
Who shapes our memory?
It could be us…

Tourist dollars fall like rain
Who will lose? Who will gain?
Who makes the rules of the game?
It could be us…
How does the money flow?
Where do you live? Who do you know?
Somebody runs the show
It could be us….

*       *          *        *           *           *

Here are a few recent opinion pieces that struck a chord:
Asheville is a boomtown, but for whom?
The Hotel Hustle
Has Asheville wasted the chance to be really special?

And in case you missed this one last year…
Whose story? Democratizing America’s collective historical memory


Click here for the Xpress post about the video.



Grieve. Act.

My intention with this blog is to focus on positive local action towards a more equitable and vibrant community. But tragedy in Charleston last week has been overwhelming my thoughts. I feel such grief for the families and community that lost such bright spirits. And I feel despair about living a world where such a horrendous crime can occur. As someone committed to being a part of the struggle to dismantle our racist systems, I am once again reminded how far there is to go. The murders of those 9 innocent people was the act of a white supremacist terrorist, now a part of our country’s ongoing history of violence being used to maintain racial injustice. It has to stop.

There is so much to be done, and the important thing is to keep at it. Please continue educating yourself about the way oppression and white supremacy function. Please share what you learn with others.

I understand that there are many aspects to this work. One place to turn is staywoke.org where you can connect with activists working to end racism and police violence in America.

There is a petition many have signed that calls for the removal of the Confederate flag from all government places. There’s no argument in my mind about the importance of this. I realize there are a myriad of issues related to the perpetuation of white supremacy that we have to address. As I’ve written before, what historical markers we find our don’t find in our public spaces is certainly one of those issues. Click here for the petition.

Students at UNC Asheville have started a petition asking to remove Confederate General Vance’s name from their police station. Excerpt: “To take down Vance’s name and replace it with an African American figure of resilience would still allow us to remember the horrors of the antebellum era. However, it reminds us, even when this nation seems it has hit the worst of times, we are constantly charging towards the final defeat of injustice. These are the individuals that students should be reminded of daily. We wish to not see the names that remind us of the consequences of white supremacy as it continues to leave a path of pain and inequality. Instead, we want to immortalize the names of those who have tirelessly worked to show, in the end, intolerance can be defeated.” Click here for the petition.


A statue memorializing the Confederacy is spray-painted with the message

A statue memorializing the Confederacy is spray-painted with the message “Black Lives Matter” several days after a shooting at a historic black church Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/WCSC-TV, Philip Weiss)

Summer Programs to Support

Summer is here, and there are a few grassroots, community-based summer programs that I’d like to highlight, and encourage you to support. The importance of positive, enriching activities for youth cannot be overemphasized.

G.R.A.C.E. for teensG.R.A.C.E. For Teens Summer Program
A program of Youth Transformed for Life (YTL)
YTL was founded by Libby Kyles, who has years of experience teaching in the public schools. She and her staff have strong community roots and big hearts. The mission of G.R.A.C.E. is “to equip disadvantaged teens with the skills needed to be successful in all walks of life. We will meet participants where they are and aid in the development of their self-esteem and their ability to improve their academic, social and life skills with a goal of graduating from high school, college or career ready.” There is no charge for teens who participate. Find out more about G.R.A.C.E. here: Grace For Teens Brochure. From their Facebook page: “If you want to volunteer and tutor once a week please let me know (especially my teaching family)! It’s not too late to donate and invest in the lives of 22 youths of Asheville. Thus far we have partnered with HorseSense for four trips to the farm working with and riding horses, working in the garden with Joan at Isaac Dickson, cooking with Gene Ettison, partnering with Odyssey in the River Arts District and HeartCross – a changing the world through service organization. It is never too late to make a difference!” Make a donation here: gofundme.com/nj96dw

christine w avery programChristine W. Avery Learning Center
Founded by CiCi Weston, former director of the YWCA’s school age program, in honor of her mother, the Christine W. Avery Learning Center offers a “unique educational experience that is culturally specific and serviced-based.” Held in the Hill Street Baptist Church, the mission of the program is “to provide students of all backgrounds with access to a quality education rooted in social-cultural theory and ministry; assisting in the growth and development of our students academically, socially, and spiritually; producing the next generation of leaders!” Find out more about the program and volunteer opportunities on their website: cwalearningcenter.com. They will be holding a benefit concert fundraiser on Sunday, June 28 from 4 – 7 pm at the Social, 1078 Tunnel Road. Click here for more details.

wwdf trailblazersTrailblazer Outdoor Adventure Club
“The Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation empowers women and children in communities experiencing poverty through a diversity of programs and community organizing. Our most popular program is the Trail Blazer Outdoor Adventure Club for children from a local public housing neighborhood.
Most of these kids had never before had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful hiking trails, streams and waterfalls of the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround Asheville. Our program creates that opportunity by taking youth living in public housing neighborhoods on 32 hikes during the summer to the most amazing trails of Western North Carolina.” You can make a donation here.

Thanks for reading! I have not been posting as often as I’d like, but I hope to change that.


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