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 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.

“What is Systemic Racism?” Video Series

While my focus with this blog is to highlight WNC intiatives, Race Forward, a national organization, recently caught my attention with their “What is Systemic Racism?” video series. These short videos could be useful to share with people that are as of yet unaware of the institutionalized racism that perpetuates severe inequities in our country. They might be a starting place for greater understanding of these issues, an understanding that of course I hope would lead to action for change.

Click here to see the videos, and share away!

system racism videos

Asheville Slaves Liberated on April 26, 1865

Asheville: From Slavery to Freedom, April 26, 2015 from 5 – 6:30 pm at Pack Square, will commemorate a significant date in Asheville’s history, never before publicly recognized to my knowledge. Co-sponsored by the Center for Diversity Education and Date My City, this event is another opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of our history, so that deeper liberation can occur in our community.

Remembering April 26, 1865
A Teach-In with Story & Song

The Union Army of General George Stoneman, led by Brigadier General Alvan Gillem, approached Asheville on April 23, 1865. After signing a truce with the home guard, the General led 2,700 troops and hundreds of newly freed slaves along the Main Street of Asheville (now Biltmore Avenue). As they proceeded to leave town on April 26, they were joined by newly freed slaves from Asheville who sought safe passage out of the mountains to a new life elsewhere.

We’ll look back on this day 150 years later.

asheville from slavery to freedom

An Interview with Darin Waters

In case you missed it, the Asheville Blade recently posted a great interview with Dr. Darin Waters of UNC Asheville, full of valuable historical information and insights.

Click here to read it!


photo by max cooper for the asheville blade

Authenticity, Action and Art

There are three things going on next week that I’d like to highlight.

authentic communities summit asheville and wnc

Authentic Communities Summit (ACS)
This summit, which begins on Tuesday night March 24, is is “a multi-day convening aimed at advancing the local economies movement through innovation, collaboration + authenticity.” On Wednesday at 10:30 am I will be part of a panel entitled “Crafting Creative Communities: How partnerships, programs and promotion can support the Appalachian Arts.” On the panel, I will be talking about this blog and my intentions for it, as well as my work with Date My City. As you may expect, my focus will be on cultural inclusivity. Find out more and register at exploreyourauthenticity.com.

YWCA Stand Against Racism
A-B Tech Community College and the YWCA of Asheville are partnering to bring a community-wide Stand Against Racism event to the college from 1 to 4:30 pm, Thursday, March 26, in Ferguson Auditorium on A-B Tech’s Asheville campus. The event is free and open to the public. Jacquelyn Hallum, Director of Health Careers and Diversity Education at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC), will deliver a keynote speech on overcoming institutional racism. Following Hallum’s address, there will be a panel discussion on the history of racism in Asheville and a second panel on how employers in the region are recognizing and addressing institutional racism. The event is a part of the national YWCA Stand Against Racism campaign, which is designed to build community among those who work for racial justice and to raise awareness about the negative impact of institutional and structural racism. A reception will follow in the Ferguson Auditorium Lobby from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and members of the Racial Justice Coalition will have displays available for public viewing during the entire event. Child care will be available at the YWCA during this event, call 254-7206 ext. 219 to arrange.

From Hair to There – Artist Talk with Sonya Clark
On Friday, March 27 at 6 pm at The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, Chair of the Department of Craft/Material Studies at VCUarts and 2014 ArtPrize recipient Sonya Clark will discuss the use of human hair and combs in her artwork to address race, culture, class, and history. Clark begins with the premise that hairdressing is the first textile art. Hair is both her subject and medium. Combs as tools of hairdressing also become her subject and medium. She makes hair into cloth, cloth into hair, and combs into cloth and hair. Throughout her art practice she finds narratives.

This program is held in conjunction with the exhibition Loving After Lifetimes of All This on view at The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design’s Benchspace Gallery & Workshop through May 23, 2015. This exhibition explores the intersections of craft, (self-) care, apprenticeship, and survival within the practices of historically disadvantaged populations. “From Hair to There” receives support from Warren Wilson College with media sponsorship by Date My City and the Authentic Communities Summit.
from hair to there with sonya clark

On My Radar

Lately it feels to me like everything has sped up. I have been seeing an upsurge of action around equity and racial justice in Asheville, not to mention the signs of a cultural shift in the air. This gives me great hope, while also bringing to light how much work there is to done. All I can do is focus on using my energy and talents as strategically as I can, while accepting that I cannot be involved in every group or attend every event that I think is worthwhile.

As you determine how you will engage, here are some things on my radar:

Petition to Create a Monument at Pack Square to Recognize and
Honor the Contributions of African Americans to Buncombe County
This petition that I shared with you the other day now has an option to sign online. So if you haven’t printed out and signed a petition (and gotten signatures) yet, please click here to sign. Then share widely, please! Yesterday the Center for Diversity Education had this post on Facebook: “Thanks to everyone who is sharing the petition for the monument at Pack Square to honor the contributions of African Americans. There are some 380 signatures on the online petition as well as over 1,000 hand written signatures. We are close to 1,500 total!” We can at least double that, right?

Event: An Exchange of Memory: Oral Tradition & Storytelling
“On Saturday, March 7th, between 5 to 7 pm, Date My City will connect the city to the rich local history of African Americans in Western North Carolina through oral tradition, a remarkable legacy exchanged to our generation through storytelling. We dare to remember and allow this memory to be the catalyst that shapes the visions we erect for the future of Black Asheville. Join us at Cork & Keg (part of The Weinhaus), 86 Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville, as elder storytellers unveil their experiences and give voice to mighty leaders of our past, bringing passion and relevance to the cultural upsurge that is upon us now! Complimentary hors d’oeuvres, music and networking.
stephens lee 1951

AND…… immediately following, we will be attending Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collective‘s production of “From Ashes to Angel Dust: A Journey through Womanhood.” Showtime is 7:30 pm at the BeBe Theater just around the corner from the Cork & Keg. Secure your ticket in advance at differentstrokesavl.com.” (Note: the Saturday show is sold out, but there still are other nights/weekend available. Different Strokes! is a wonderful theater company, and there is a great cast for this play.)

Housing Residents and Advocates Speak Up at Citizen’s Police Advisory Council Meeting
My last post about the breakfast I attended in Hillcrest mentioned the residents’ concern about the Asheville Police Department’s Public Housing Unit, and questions around the continuation and potential expansion of units in housing. There was a meeting yesterday of the Citizen’s Police Advisory Council, and this topic was discussed.

Below are a selection of tweets that David Forbes of the Asheville Blade made during the meeting, quoting some of the speakers. The speakers make important points.

Tweets by @DavidForbes, March 4, 2015:

At Citizens Police Advisory Committee, discussion of continuing or ending public housing unit.

Sir Charles Gardner, Resident Council President: a lot of ppl don’t feel safe when police present, need changes if it continues.

Iindia Pearson, vp of Residents Council: don’t need special public housing unit, need $ for training, jobs, improvements in area

Calvin Allen, Hillcrest resident: patrolling already part of police’s job, don’t see ned for special unit, don’t think effective.

Kimberly Latham, sec Residents Council: Crime happens in Candler, don’t have special unit for trailer parks. Use $ for improvements.

Keith DeBlasio, acting pres Hillcrest Assoc: many at Hillcrest already help resolve disputes. Last shooting in area was by outsider.

Speakers agreeing on reallocating funds, say better uses preventative.

James Lee: officers need to understand what badge represents, “history of oppression and mistrust” not that far removed here.

Lee: “the past is our community’s reality,” until that’s recognized, will continue to have this disconnect.

Lee: not anything against them as individual, but what badge represents. Have to own, understand that. Ready to bridge gap.

Lee: appreciate local law enforcement leaders being at table w Racial Justice Coalition, but need more, have to understand reality.

Beth Walton of the Citizen-Times tweeted this during the meeting:

A separate public housing unit further segregates communities and depresses communities, another resident says.

Click here for the Citizen-Times coverage of this meeting, which highlights the speakers’ frustration.

As I stated in my last post, I stand with the residents on this issue.

*     *     *

Bringing it Home: Building a New Economy for Everyone
On Wednesday, March 18 there is going to be an exciting conference about our local economy. The Mountain Xpress has given this conference significant coverage as the cover story with several features in this week’s issue. I am impressed with the speaker line up and intentions. Find out more and register at bringingithomewnc.org. Scholarships are available.

Loving After Lifetimes of All This
I will write more about these later, but for now, click here for info on two events being hosted by the Center for Creativity, Craft & Design that you’ll want to save the dates for.

Ok, that’s it for now, and I feel like I’m only scratching the surface!

Hearts in Hillcrest

There are hearts beating strong with love and power that grace my life. The hearts of friends and neighbors who face challenges I can never fully understand. Visionaries calling for a paradigm shift that will lift us all up, especially those who the system is designed to keep down. I am humbled to be in community with them.

My Saturday morning was spent amongst such hearts at Hillcrest Apartments, volunteering for the Women’s Wellbeing & Development Foundation’s (WWDF)‘s annual February free breakfast program. On that dramatically cold day, my own heart was warmed beyond my expectations.

“This program is in celebration of Black History Month and honors the original Free Breakfast Program that was begun by the Black Panthers during the height of the Civil Rights era,” explains WWDF,  “They offered a free hot meal to the children of their communities in the morning, preparing them for the day nutritionally, and empowering their minds and spirits through education while they ate. The community leaders educated the children about their true rights and history, and taught them how to stand up for what they believed in, and for fair and equal treatment. At one point the head of the FBI at the time, J. Edgar Hoover, declared that the Free Breakfast Program was the single largest threat to national security.”

The WWDF breakfast truly had the spirit of a happening that is making things happen.

Arriving early, volunteers prepared the big breakfast and decorated the room in red, gold, green and black. Some of the volunteers were members of UNC Asheville’s very active Black Student Association (including contributors to Shades of Color, an online publication run by UNCA students of color). I was impressed with them. I also want to shout out to my friend Angel Redmond and her children. Angel is a dedicated community leader and part of the Asheville Freedom School, an exciting group which I will be writing more about soon. There was a great collection of folks there to pitch in for the breakfast.
unca bsa

After a crowd had gathered to eat, Olufemi Lewis (of Ujamaa Freedom Market) welcomed everyone and, following an African tradition, offered libations and prayers for the ancestors who have gone before. Then the food line opened up and plates were piled with delicious food that had been prepared with great care.

During breakfast, we heard from officers of the Residents’ Council of the Asheville Housing Authority (click here to like their FB page).  I will try and capture some of the topics discussed here, though I did not catch quite everything because as folks were talking I was busy putting syrup on kids’ pancakes.
children at hillcrest breakfast

Olufemi read a powerful piece written by Carl E. Johnson, the man who the Hillcrest Community Center is named after. While I need to learn a lot more about him, I do know that he was a great leader that did important things for his community. One of Johnson’s accomplishments was helping to establish the Residents’ Council, and each neighborhood’s Association, as entities separate from the Housing Authority administration, and not under their direction. The current leadership of the Residents’ Council is using this autonomy to advocate for jobs and education for residents. I was impressed by the remarks made by the officers: Sir Charles Gardner (of Pisgah View Peace Gardens), Iindia Pearson, and Keith DeBlasio. Olufemi is also an officer.
hillcrest breakfast

One announcement that was made is that on Tuesday, March 3 City Council will be discussing a proposal to placepolice officers in all of the housing communities in 24-hours-a-day stations. Residents will be at that meeting expressing their opposition to this idea. I stand in support of them and will share more about this issue as I learn.

Also discussed was the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD) and highway building plans. Speakers questioned what the future of their neighborhoods will be, and what will happen to current residents when redevelopment occurs. (Want to know more about RAD? The Asheville Blade provides an overview in this article: “Different roads: the future of public housing”).

We also heard briefly from Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, a long-time activist from Chattanooga, TN who is reaching out to folks in Asheville. Ash-Lee is a  member and organizer with Concerned Citizens for Justice, and is a board member of the Highlander Education and Research Center. I look forward to hearing more from her.

The speakers were moving in their passion and willingness to stand up for justice.

When I finally sat down to eat, I thoroughly enjoyed my food and the company at my table.
wwdf breakfast

One thing that continually troubles me is how the majority culture in Asheville is, for the most part, extremely uninformed about the realities of their neighbors that live in public housing. Many people do not even know where Asheville’s public housing developments are located. Ignoring this population perpetuates systemic inequities in every area – health, economics, academics, etc. This can change. We live in a wonderful place with great abundance. Asheville can open it’s eyes to everyone who lives here. Manifesting this change will not be easy. Institutional racism is real. However, those of us that benefit from it are responsible from dismantling it and for supporting those the system has left behind.

There will be another free breakfast program next Saturday, February 28th. If you’d like to volunteer, show up at the Carl E. Johnson Center, 100 Atkinson Street in Hillcrest Community, between 7:30 and 8:00 am, ready to serve and to break bread with beautiful people.

photos by me. editor’s note: there are some great links in the post, click away!


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