There are three things going on next week that I’d like to highlight.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
There have been a few articles related to racial diparities and our collective historical memory that have come out recently that I believe are really worth your time to read. Two feature Dr. Dwight Mullen, two feature Dr. Darin Waters, and one features them both. I am grateful to these UNC Asheville professors for all they are doing to raise awareness and impact change in our community.
Here’s a list – click on the article titles to read:
Democracy and consequences
Asheville Blade, by David Forbes
Excerpt: “’It would be considered a state of emergency if you were seeing the same outcomes with white people,’ UNCA Professor Dwight Mullen says, sitting in his office. ‘It seems to me that all you have to do is take off racial blinders for people to see how serious it is in the African-American community in Asheville regarding public policy outcomes. The disparities are shocking, and they’re more shocking than they used to be. They used to be shocking, and now they’re beyond that.’”
The ‘unsettling’ of black Asheville
Asheville Citizen-Times, by Beth Walton
Excerpt: “I tell the students, ‘The stats you are looking at, these are the stats of my family, of my background. We are not specimens. We are people suffering from racial disparity.’ I want them to feel the personal effect, Mullen said.”
“By the numbers:
• 69 percent of black students nationally graduated from high school in 2012, while 86 percent of white students earned their diplomas
• 20 percent of black students in grades 3-8 at Asheville City Schools achieved proficiency in mathematics in the 2012-13 school year; more than 75 percent of white students reached that bar
• Blacks owned a mere 1.7 percent of businesses in Buncombe County in 2010—just 517 of some 29,500 firms
• Black mothers were three times more likely to deliver stillborn babies than white mothers in Buncombe County in 2012
• 3 percent of the student population at UNCA identified as black in January 2015; 87 percent identified as white”
Effort pushes for new monument recognizing WNC’s African Americans
Carolina Public Press, by David Forbes
Excerpt: “Rabbi Batsheva Meiri tied the effort to the necessity, in the Jewish tradition, of keeping memory alive and dealing with the reality of history. ‘Our memories reveal who we are and who we need to become,’ she said. ‘This endeavor is about more than setting history straight, it’s about making ourselves, citizens of this city now, more whole. Remembering that fellow human beings were ever treated as property, right here, by people just like us, is both a cautionary tale of conscience and the unfinished business of our own time.’”
America’s Interminable Identity Crisis
Urban News, by Darin Waters, Phd
Excerpt: “The only way to truly address and ultimately dismantle the white-supremacy narrative of our past is to first recognize the pain and trauma that the ideology of white supremacy has left on our individual and collective psyches. From there, we must be willing to have a real national conversation about how that shared narrative has been constructed.”
Kenilworth honors King’s legacy with discussion of civil rights and modern racism
Mountain Xpress, by Carrie Eidson
Note: article includes Dr. Water’s suggested reading list and recordings of the talks
Excerpt: “’The end of the Civil War, the Reconstruction era was marked with violence…you’re talking about chain gangs, incarceration, lynching,’” Mullen said. ‘And you say where’s the parallel with that? Excuse me. Excuse me! Let us talk about incarceration being higher than it ever was in this country’s history, let us talk about rates of poverty as forms of violence…You start putting it together and you say, ‘The police are killing more African American men and women than were lynched at the height of the lynching era.’”
Photo by Carrie Eidson for Mountain Xpress
Let me know what you think after reading these articles! And please share!
The news is this: Chiva, LLC, which was founded by Victor Palomino, Sarah Nuñez, and Carolina McCready, will be closing over the next month. The decision to dissolve the business was made after Sarah received a dream job offer from the University of Louisville – a position as the Assistant Director of Cultural Center in charge of the Latino/Hispanic initiatives. Sarah and Victor will be relocating by the end of February.
Chiva was started by the team in 2011 when they purchased a school bus from “a hippie couple living in the bus in West Asheville,” says Nuñez. “After so many years in the community, and knowing the access issues many people have to truly participate, we could not resist the opportunity to buy the bus and put our vision into action,” says Palomino. The vision of Chiva has been to overcome access challenges in WNC through creativity, arts and a bus. The bus or “community tool” brought educational opportunities, story collection, dialogue circles, and art to where people live, work, and play.
In 2013, Chiva, LLC launched with the help of funding from the Asheville Area Arts Council and many community volunteers. As McCready points out “the day we painted the bus was the highlight of this experience for me. We had over 30 volunteers help us to clean and paint the bus and create what the Chiva is today.”
The social enterprise model the Chiva utilized is a tool the partners can carry into all their work in the future. The Chiva vision will also live on with the partners as they continue their community work in Asheville and Louisville.
The good news is that Chiva bus will also continue on in WNC. To ensure this, the “Chivistas” have decided to donate the bus to a local nonprofit, El Centro in Hendersonville, NC. Nuñez points out, “El Centro has been working to serve the Latino populations of Henderson County for over 14 years. I am confident they will be able to utilize the Chiva as a ‘community tool’ like we did.”
El Centro provides space for Latinos to develop a sense of belonging, share problems and organize around issues that affect the community. Program areas focus on adult education in Spanish opportunities, immigration relief efforts, developing community leaders and cultural events. The presence of the center and its programs has contributed towards reaching their vision to create a welcoming and just community where everyone is treated with dignity, valued and respected.
In a statement by El Centro Board of Directors they show their excitement for this new opportunity coming their way. “The board of El Centro feels very fortunate for the gift of the bus from Chiva, LLC. The ability to have a mobile extension of the center will greatly impact the centro’s programming. We have a long history of collaborating with partners to increase access to community resources and information for the Latino community. We look forward to 2015 continuing to partner and utilizing the bus as a mobile community center! Thank you Chiva for your hard work getting the bus on the road, creating a beautiful community project and your generosity with the center! We will continue your dreams for the bus and working towards a more just community.”
The chavistas are equally excited and Victor Palomino said it best as “the bus will continue to transport opportunities to people and the dream lives on.”
You can continue to follow the bus through El Centro. Find them on Facebook – El Centro Hendersonville or at elcentrohvl.com.
It’s time to talk again about our collective historical memory.
The Center for Diversity Education is currently collecting signatures on a petition to Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commissioners regarding plans to repair the Vance Monument, thanks to fundraising efforts by 26th NC Regiment. The petition requests that “in conjunction with this major effort to repair and restore the Vance Monument, plans be made now to work with the newly created African American Heritage Commission to create in Pack Square an equally significant monument to recognize the enormous sacrifices of African Americans during the periods of Slavery and Segregation and also to celebrate the many contributions of African Americans to the physical, economic and cultural life of Asheville and Buncombe County since their arrival here in the 1700s.”
CLICK HERE TO PRINT AND SIGN THE PETITION. Mail completed petitions to: The Center for Diversity Education, One University Heights, 1200, Asheville, NC 28804.
This is your chance to take ACTION to improve Asheville’s collective memory!
Go to diversityed.org/monuments for more context (see excerpts below).
There are two upcoming presentations related to this campaign:
Under the title, History and its Burdens: The Place of African Americans in our Collective Historical Memory, “Dr. Darin Waters will share his research on slavery in Asheville while Ms. Deborah Miles will share its relationship to the current site of Vance Monument. This presentation is part of a project of the Center for Diversity Education to acknowledge the history of slave labor at the current site of the Vance Monument which is the former site of the Buncombe County Court House. On this site enslaved people were sold on the court house steps and their deeds recorded at the Register of Deeds.”
- Sunday, February 8, 3:00 pm at Congregation Beth Ha Tephila (43 Liberty St.) – a program of Carolina Jews for Justice
- Friday, February 20, 9:30 am, at UNC Asheville Osher Life Long Learning Center
Text from diversityed.org/monuments:
“There are five Confederate Markers in downtown Asheville including the Vance Monument. A monument to Col. Connelly (Gettysburg) and Genearl Robert E. Lee (The Dixie Highway) are right next to it, and often overlooked, on a large marble marker. Two blocks over at the County Courthouse is a monument for the Chickamauga Battle (Chattanooga) and a historical marker for the Confederate Armory (operated in part by slave labor) a few feet away. Still, there is no marker that shares the history of the African American community prior to 1865 even while the site of the Vance monument is the location of the Buncombe County Court House where people were sold and their bills of sale recorded.
Timeline of Pack Square:
Pre 1786- Cherokee Nation
1786- United States gives land grants of confiscated Cherokee lands to Revolutionary soldiers
1796- 1st Log Cabin Courthouse opens
1796 -1865- Enslaved people sold, imprisoned, and punished at courthouse, bills of sale of enslaved people recorded at Buncombe County the Register of Deeds
1865- Slavery is abolished
1896- Vance Monument on Pack Square dedicated
1905—Chickamauga Monument at Courthouse dedicated
1923—Monuments on Pack Square for the Dixie Highway, in memory of Robert E. Lee, and for Col. Connelly, wounded at Gettysburg, dedicated
1965—Historical marker for the Confederate Armory (operated, in part, on slave labor) dedicated.
2014— NC 26 Regiment fundraises to repair the Vance Monument.
‘If the house is to be set in order, one cannot begin with the present; [one] must begin with the past.’ – Dr. John Hope Franklin
‘A marker about African American History should be one of equal stature that commemorates the lasting and ongoing significance of the enslaved and segregated community that also lived and thrived in the Mountains.’ – Dr. Dwight Mullen“
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.