Reality. Resilience. Roots.

State of Black Asheville
Dr. Dwight Mullen gave a talk on his “State of Black Asheville” course last week. The State of Black Asheville is a public policy course at UNC Asheville which Dr. Mullen has been teaching since 2006. Students pick a topic of interest and study the influence race has on local public policy. Afterward, they share their findings with the public. The disturbing statistics about racial disparities in Asheville collected by these students provide crucial insights as to the inequitable reality of our community faces. You can visit to see some of their findings. During his talk, Dr. Mullen gave the latest stats (2014-2015 school year) around disparities in academic outcomes. One example: for grades 3-8, only 26% of blacks are at or above grade level, compared to 83% of whites. Click here to read an article about the talk.

One point that Dr. Mullen made that night was that our city government does not have a formal plan in place to address racial disparities. He expressed the need for a plan with specific goals, timeline and BUDGET, with a system to assess progress annually. That certainly sounds like something to advocate for. He also talked about the Chamber of Commerce, their unwillingness to share stats related to race with his students, and their general failure to address issues of inclusion and equity. Another advocacy opportunity.

Hood Huggers Party!
Meanwhile, resilient African Americans in Asheville are, as DeWayne Barton puts it, “making the hustle happen.” His organization, Hood Huggers International, is active on many levels, running Hood Tours, convening grassroots/neighborhood leaders, and putting plans into action to support youth in academics and entrepreneurship. For Barton, “A Hood Hugger is anyone who restores themselves while helping to transform their communities for the good of all.” A party to support Hood Huggers is being held on Friday, February 5 from 7 to 11 pm at THE BLOCK off biltmore, 39 S. Market Street. DJ Supaman will provide great music, and Cooking With Comedy Catering will provide delicious food. Tickets for the party are $20 each. There is a matching challenge grant of $1500 for money raised by this event. So your ticket purchase will be matched! Space is limited, get your ticket today! Click here to purchase tickets.

hood huggers party

Sweethearts: Supper Songs & Silent Auction
Youth Transformed for Life (YTL) Training Programs is an organization, led by Libby Kyles, which focuses on “creating equity for disadvantaged teens, homeless teens, and young adult offenders reentering the workforce.” YTL is “committed to working outside of the classroom to close the achievement (opportunity) gap that exists within the Asheville City Schools. By creating positive summer experiences and opportunities to participate in activities that challenge them both physically and intellectually, YTL’s summer program, GRACE for Teens, seeks to be a change agent in the lives of program participants.”

A fundraiser for GRACE for Teens,“Sweethearts: Supper, Songs & Silent Auction,” will be held on Saturday, February 13 from 6 ­to 10 pm at the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center (133 Livingston St.). The five-course dinner will feature local chefs Liam Rowland of GO! Kitchen, Gene Ettison of J. Lee Catering & Wine Co., Sherri Davis of SD’s Home Cooking & Catering Services, and Clarence Robinson of Cooking With Comedy. Tickets are $35 for individuals and $65 for couples. Email for tickets.


Grow the Grassroots
Finally, I’d like to share this article, Trickle-Down Community Engagement, part 2: The infantilization of marginalized communities must stop, from Vu Le’s Nonprofit With Balls blog. His post is a reminder that it’s past time to critically examine funding structures and systems. Excerpt: “A major frustration—probably THE major frustration—that many of us grassroots organizations have is that there seems to be a disbelief among many funders and other people in power that communities actually have the solutions to our own problems. It is really ridiculous if you think about it. The people and communities who have personal experiences dealing with society’s entrenched problems should know more about it than those who have not. But there seems to be this weird paradox, where if you are too close to a problem, then people may assume that your judgement got harmed by it or something.” I encourage you to read the whole article, and Trickle-Down Community Engagement, part 1 as well.

Thank you!

Good News for the New Year

For my first Asheville Action post of 2016, I want to share some positive stories with you. As I thought about what to include, I happily discovered a plethora of things to celebrate. It reminded me of the power of looking for forward movement, even as injustices continue to pile up. So while this is not a comprehensive list, it’s an uplifting one. Enjoy the inspiration, and let’s keep shining light on the good stuff while we continue in the struggle.

Social justice through food: The legacy of Hanan Shabazz
Click here to read this Mountain Xpress feature about Ms. Hanan’s fascinating life and inspiring work with the GO! Kitchen Ready program.
“These days, Shabazz focuses on what she calls ‘social justice through food: Help somebody, feed somebody, share your knowledge, share your understanding.'”


Person of the Week: Mirian Porras
Click here to watch this WLOS TV13 feature about Marian Porras’ work with the Latino community in Asheville, including her work with the Raíces program for elementary school students. Click here to follow her organization, Nuestro Centro, on Facebook – that page is a great place to learn about the latest issues and actions related to immigration rights and more.
“‘They have a right to know their background,'” Porras said. “They have a right to be proud of it and from their they can share and they can live with other communities.'”


The Bigger Picture
Click here to read the Asheville Blade story about the Isaiah Rice Photography collection, a “recently-unveiled collection of photos [which] reveals a new look at black and working class Asheville in the 20th century, and adds a major chapter to the city’s history.”
“’What’s revealed is how vibrant and alive the African-American middle-class was,’ [Gene] Hyde says of the ‘chasm’ in the historical record Rice’s photos help to fill. ‘Largely when we view Appalachia in the 20th century we don’t think about the fact that there was a thriving, urban African-American middle class. That’s off the radar. This brings it up in beautiful detail with lots of humanity.’”
from isiah rice photography collection

Crime and employment: Asheville ‘banning the box’
Click here to read the Citizen-Times story about the City of Asheville’s decision to eliminate any question about criminal convictions from most job applications. This decision by one of Asheville’s biggest employers is a step in the right direction towards addressing racial disparities in criminal justice and economics.
“[City Council member Keith] Young sees the issue as one of fairness, pointing out that African-Americans make up a disproportionately large segment of the prison population. Even if the city hasn’t discriminated through the criminal history question, the question is discriminatory, he said. ‘It hurts a lot of young people. It hurts a lot of people of color.'”

Successful December Events
Bringing some December goodness into the new year, I want to share photos from two great events that happened in December, Date My City‘s “Who’s Who & Who’s New in Black Asheville” and Hood Huggers International‘s Kwanzaa celebration: Click here to see photos from Date My City’s “Who’s Who & Who’s New in Black Asheville” event. And click here for photos of Hood Huggers International’s The Art of Resilience Kwanzaa celebration.
grassroots leaders

Let it Be Yours
And last but not least, Let It Be Yours is a brand new blog launched by a hip collection of creatives, including photographer/writer Makeda Sandford (pictured below). Go to to check it out.

Thanks for reading!


Awareness –> Action

My most recent post, “Asheville, Invest in Black-led Solutions,” generated a strong response. Many of you, with a greater understanding of how systemic racism operates in our community, have asked, “What can I do?

Since that post was primarily a case for the redistribution of wealth, today I’ll share four local projects that deserve financial support. Two of these projects are social enterprises – businesses that are being built to create jobs, wealth, and power in the black community. With that in mind, I encourage you to think outside of the “tax-deductible donation” framework. There are benefits that can be reaped that hold a value above and beyond a tax deduction. Contributing to new, positive patterns of equity and enterprise in Asheville will pay off in a myriad of ways.

sheneika-smith-date-my-cityDate My City
Founded by Sheneika Smith in 2013, “Date My City” is a social organization that seeks to enhance the cultural identity of black communities in Western North Carolina. As a motivation of hope, a community advocate, and a source of empowerment through cultural and civic engagement, Date My City has the overall purpose of fostering social cohesion, increasing civic participation and igniting pride through unity and self-determination. Date My City works primarily through organizing special events that promote inclusion and cultural advancement.

Opportunities to support Date My City include: 1) being an event sponsor (either as an individual or as a business or organization); 2) advertising on the Date My City website; or 3) hiring Sheneika Smith as a consultant, event planner, or speaker. Find out more at

Hood Huggers International
Artist, poeDeWayne-Barton-HHIt and activist DeWayne Barton founded Hood Huggers International, LLC (HHI) this year, using insights gained from his 20+ years of successful community organizing. HHI “offers sustainable 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.” One component of HHI is Hood Tours, an interactive tour focusing on Asheville’s African American history and future in the arts, environmentalism, and entrepreneurship. The tour will visit neighborhoods with existing and active green spaces, art, and grassroots initiatives that showcase neighborhood resilience.

The Art of Resilience” show at the YMI Cultural Center (39 South Market), is up through the end of the month. The show reflects both the issues that Hood Huggers is addressing, and the solutions HHI is designed to enact. You can stop by the YMI gallery Monday – Thursday between 11 am and 4 pm. Note that DeWayne is there every Tuesday from noon until 3 pm to talk with people who stop by. You can also make an appointment to see the show with the artist by emailing

Opportunities to support Hood Huggers include contributing to the Hood Tours GoFundMe campaign, sponsoring Barton’s traveling art exhibits, sponsoring a youth group’s visits to the outdoor classroom at the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens, renting the Peace Gardens space for events, using HHI transportation services, and hiring Barton as a consultant, speaker or performer. Find out more at

tracey dorsettFounded by Tracey Dorsett and a committed group of community leaders, “CoThinkk is a ‘giving circle’ that uses our collective time, talent, and treasure towards investment strategies that address education, economic mobility/opportunity, and leadership development towards impacting some of the most critical social issues facing African-American and Latino communities in Asheville and Western North Carolina.”

The group will hold their formal launch in April 2016. Find out more and make a donation at

Center for Participatory Change
center-for-participatory changeThe mission of the Center for Participatory Change is “to strengthen grassroots capacity, build collective power, and create equity in western North Carolina.” They have a number of powerful initiatives, I encourage you to explore their website for details. Of particular note is the fact that CPC is “a democratically run, non-hierarchical organization, with all staff and board sharing in decision making…CPC’s governing board is representative of the communities with whom we organize and work….The board uses consensus decision-making and we strive to ensure that all members have an equal voice by actively considering issues of privilege and oppression, dominance and marginalization, and working to equalize power.”

You can support CPC by making a donation. You can sign up to be a CPC “Agent of Change” by committing to regular monthly gifts. Find out more at

It’s Up to You Now!

Feel free to share this post with your friends! Let me know if you need help connecting with any of these groups. Also, please consider subscribing to Asheville Action, as I will continue to highlight initiatives and information related to issues of equity, inclusion, and justice in Asheville and WNC.

p.s. We’ll Also Need to Lobby Local Government
Going forward, as we look at our community’s investments, I hope to use this blog to discuss policies or decisions that our local government can enact to support equity. In the meantime, we all need to look at how our tax money is being used. For example, I read recently that the City of Asheville spent over $840,000 on consultants last year. Were any of those consultants local people of color? We need to get into the habit of looking at all of our institutions with an equity lens.

p.p.s. In full disclosure, I am working actively (and proudly) with Date My City and Hood Huggers International, and I’m a founding member of CoThinkk. I can honestly and enthusiastically endorse each them, as well as being a close observer/admirer of CPC.

Asheville, Invest in Black-led Solutions

The Game is Rigged

The devastating cumulative impact of centuries of systemic racism on blacks in this country cannot be underestimated. It is way past time to face the fact that whites have been benefiting from a game that is rigged in our favor. In his seminal Atlantic Monthly essay, The Case for Reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates reminds us, “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

In Asheville, our moral debts are real. From slavery through Jim Crow and segregation, the exploitation and marginalization of blacks in ouHOLCMapsAsheviller city has been thorough. When we learn about the redlining that occurred here, and the subsequent leverage of the consequences of redlining to virtually destroy black neighborhoods during “urban renewal,” it is undeniable that our racist policies have prevented blacks from building wealth here.  

“What you see in Asheville is stunning: the urban renewal projects coincide precisely with the redlined areas from the 1930s…There’s absolutely no room for speculation here: it’s one policy seeping into another. Those neighborhoods that were singled out under redlining — and labelled as areas that should not be reinvested in — come out in the 1960s and ’70s policies selected as candidates for putting highways through them or for eminent domain” (Red lines, The Asheville Blade).

We must not ignore the fact that blacks have contributed mightily to the prospering city we live in today. The Buncombe Turnpike, which changed the future of Asheville, was built by slaves. Slave labor was crucial to developing our tourism industry, as slaves worked as waiters, maids, cooks, porters, grooms and trail guides. People are often shocked when I point out that many of our streets, such as Charlotte, Merrimon, Woodfin and Patton, were built by slaves and named for slave owners. What is the effect of knowing the names of the oppressors, while being unaware of the people who actually built much of our city? I would posit that this is one of the reasons we suffer from extreme racial disparities today. How can a group that is unseen be effectively engaged in the greater body politic?

After slavery, many black men were thrown in jail for minor infractions or made up charges and then were “enlisted for such projects as the [Western North Carolina Railroad] Swannanoa Tunnel in 1879. Nearly 200 convicts died in local cave-ins and mudslides and from disease and prosecution of escapees” (Asheville Citizen-Times). Once again, the construction of the railroad was critical to the growth of Asheville, not mention leading to great wealth for men like Zebulon Vance.

building the railroad in wnc

The fact that historically black neighborhoods in Asheville (East End, Shiloh, Burton Street, Southside, Hill Street) had periods of time when they were full of flourishing businesses, shows the great resiliency of those communities despite living under an unfair system. However, the devastation of poorly handled desegregation and urban renewal has brought us to a point where today only 1.7% of businesses in Asheville are black-owned (State of Black Asheville).

When we look at any indicator – health, education, criminal justice, economics – we see extreme racial disparities. “The Pew Research Center estimates that white households are worth roughly 20 times as much as black households, and that whereas only 15 percent of whites have zero or negative wealth, more than a third of African Americans do. Effectively, the black family in America is working without a safety net” (Ta-Nehisi Coates). In Asheville, the median white household income is $42,333, while the median black household income is $30,000 (2010 United States Census).

So my question is, what actions can we take to change our course?

The Reasonableness of the Redistribution of Wealth

I feel strongly that we must be bold when addressing racial disparities. I’ve heard too many white people bemoan the fact that the black population in Asheville is suffering and dwindling, without investing in significant measures to address the issues.

“Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans” (Ta-Nehisi Coates).

Coates’ “intoxication” metaphor seems particularly apt in a town that subsidizes the beer industry while black neighborhoods are being gentrified out of existence. We must sober up and do what is right.

Invest in Black-led Organizations and Enterprises

While solutions to repairing the wreckage of systemic racism are complicated, I can suggest one crucial action, which is in investing significant money in black-led organizations and enterprises.

Asheville has an extensive network of nonprofit and governmental agencies, many with missions to address disparities. However, over the past eight or so years that UNC Asheville professor Dr. Dwight Mullen has been teaching his State of Black Asheville course, which tracks statistics related to racial disparities, those disparities have consistently gotten worse. Why?

Clearly, the strategies we have been using to address this issues are insufficient and/or ineffective. We can change our course by dedicating more resources to supporting leaders who have been directly limited and harmed by systemic racism. 

The Voices Project, led by Leroy Barber, points out that 97% of all charitable giving goes to organizations led by white leaders, while only 3% of charitable giving goes to organizations led by people of color. People of color account for over half of those the poverty in the U.S. The reality is that white-led nonprofits receive the majority of funding to serve mostly people of color. This creates a dynamic that I believe prevents real change. Barber highlights “leaders of color who are making a difference in their communities. They are bringing hope, building movements, and serving in under-resourced communities. At the same time, they themselves are under-resourced.”

With this awareness, we have a responsibility to look at how funding is flowing in Asheville.

Justice Heals

“What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal” (Ta-Nehisi Coates).

When we sincerely move towards an inclusive, equitable Asheville, we are changing historical patterns that truly harm everyone. Join me in envisioning a place where everyone’s lives are richer. The healing that can happen will lift us all.

Members of CoThinkk. Photo by GO DIVA!

NOTE: I wrote another post with some suggestions of projects to support, click here to read it.



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 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


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!


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