Hood Huggers Green Book

AshevilleAction.com is here to amplify the positive in our community, like the Hood Huggers Green Book, which I wrote about for the the latest issue of the Urban News. You can see (and download) the print layout by clicking here, or you can pick up a copy of the paper around town (they have a box in front of the Pack Library). I’ve pasted the text below as well.

Hood Huggers Green Book:
A Resource Grid for Economic Development

Earlier this year, DeWayne Barton’s organization, Hood Huggers International, launched Hood Tours, tours of Asheville’s historically African American neighborhoods that highlight their resilient history and future. Everyone who takes a Hood Tour gets a copy of the Hood Huggers Green Book, a directory of African American businesses and organizations.

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DeWayne Barton, Hood Huggers International. Photo by Steve Mann.

The idea for the Hood Huggers Green Book was based on the Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook for African Americans which was published from 1936 to 1966, during the Jim Crow era. It was intended to provide African American tourists with the information necessary to board, dine, and sightsee comfortably and safely during the era of segregation (source: Wikipedia).

“The history of the Green Book is powerful and I wanted to educate people about it and then bring it up to date to 2016 to talk about how a concept like that could be used to support businesses and organizations whose missions are to improve the overall conditions of our African American community,” says DeWayne. “We feel that business owners have a role to play in helping to rebuild the capacity of neighborhoods.” Using the Green Book as an outline of the resource grid that exists in the African American community, it is a tool to support community success.

“Having worked in the community for a couple of decades, we have seen some of the gaps and a lack of the collaboration and connection that would allow businesses to be more successful,” DeWayne explains. “We also see the importance of creating the next generation of business owners to be sustained for the long term.”

“Like a power grid, the Green Book lays out power points within the community in terms of business and programming,” says DeWayne. “The goal now is for people to build out that power grid by supporting those businesses and connecting with those organizations so that the dots on the power grid are interlocked.” When this power or resource grid is activated, it can create a pipeline for economic development and opportunity.

hosea-jackson

Hosea Jackson, Haywood Lounge

Examples of this could be when a person refers to the Green Book to hire M.S. LEAN Landscaping to cut their lawn, then Stephen Smith (owner of MS LEAN) uses that money to pay a young person from the My Community Matters program to do landscaping work. Or if Hosea Jackson, owner of the Haywood Lounge, buys greens from a community garden in the Green Book and then promotes the garden at his restaurant. “The sale is not just me and you, the sale is me and you and then it goes to something else, and then to something else, and it continues to feed,” DeWayne explains.

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Stephen Smith, MS LEAN Landscaping. Photo by Steve Mann.

For Hood Huggers, Hood Tours and the Green Book are part of a larger community development effort that includes developing financial literacy and savings programs for youth, and helping them develop the skills needed to pursue entrepreneurship. Moreover, says DeWayne, “We put the Green Book into the hands of young people so they can see that these businesses exist and that these organizations are designed to support them. We use it to help encourage the next generation of leaders.”

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Shuvonda Harper, My Community Matters Empowerment Program. Photo by Steve Mann.

The current version of the Green Book and the resource grid it highlights is just a start. “We want it to grow. First it gets stronger, then as it gets stronger it would tend to expand.”

If you would like to have your business or organization included in the Hood Huggers Green Book, email info@hoodhuggers.com or call 275-5305.

For more information on Hood Huggers International, go to hoodhuggers.com.

 

Hearts in Motion

Hearts in Motion

First, I want to celebrate your dear tender heart, your warm heart shining with love and a vision for change. It lights the path.

For change must come. The status quo in terms of race in our country is not and has never been ok. The outcry against racism is increasing in volume. More white eyes (and hearts) are being opened to the extreme oppression faced by African-Americans in our country. How do we move in this moment?

Start Where You Are

This past week or so I have experienced a surge in white friends writing me, wondering what they can do to help heal this deep dysfunction. Not having much time to write, the response I wanted to pen for them has been swirling in my head. Then this appeared online:

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Amen, Jamila.

And let’s keep learning from and supporting black leaders.

Disarm the System

When I think of the police guns that killed Jerry, Alton, Philando and so many others, I cannot help but think of the myriad of weapons of racism. Weapons whose devastation is implemented day by day by a system that is designed to obscure their existence. The weapons of structural violence.

“Structural violence refers to harm that individuals, families and communities experience from the economic and social structure, social institutions, social relations of power, privilege and inequality and inequity that may harm people and communities by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Structural violence is a primary cause of the concentration of premature death and unnecessary disability in oppressed communities and is very closely linked to social injustice.” – Adverse Community Experiences and Resilience, The Prevention Institute

How are we inflicting structural violence on African-Americans (and other non-dominant groups) in Asheville? The answer is there if you look for it. This is our work. To name and destroy the weapons of structural violence. And to use our hearts to build something new in their place.

It is too late to stop the weapon that took Jerry Williams’ life. A case can be made that the weapons of structural violence have left his family in need of resources to fight for #justice4jerry. You can click here to donate to help the Williams family get a lawyer and an independent autopsy.

Become Human

I will close with an excerpt from a recent post by my (and many other people’s) favorite astrologer, Chani Nicholas, which she entitled Haunted by Our History (I encourage you to click the title to read the whole post).

“This must end with us. Not with our children’s children. Not with our children. This is ours. Ours to dedicate ourselves to eradicating. Ours to be consumed with. Ours to suffer with. Ours to wrestle with. Ours to sweat over. Ours to see all the time. Ours to uproot, understand and to dismantle. Ours to take up and to lay down for good. It is the only way to reclaim our humanity from a past and a present that is lacking so much.

We must become human…

None of us are free, safe or secure until all of us are.”

Listening

This past week has been a particularly heartbreaking one. There is much to be done, and I am committed to the struggle for justice. Right now I am deeply listening, feeling the pain and holding others in the light. In that spirit, here are some powerful words from a few of my beloved friends.

lucia“One of the most inappropriate things that white allies can do to black people during this time of fear, hurt and anger is try to silence them, or question the outcry. The truth is this: The fact that your reality doesn’t mirror our own is a privilege in and of itself, as fear of violence against us and our children due to our race exists within us very regularly, not just in recent years, and not just regarding interactions with law enforcement. Could you imagine facing this feeling? Would it not be all-consuming? Would it not be hard to focus and thrive as well as you could if you didn’t face such a reality? We have got to move away from the desensitization that exists, and toward viewing humans as humans again. Trivializing a young man bleeding to death is clear evidence of desensitization. I know people who would mourn the death of an animal, yet debate the significance of a human’s death. Something is so wrong with this picture. We can’t be willing to discuss dynamics like racial bias and inequity on one hand, but be afraid to discuss how those biases impact us all on a societal level, often leading to violence against non-dominate groups; just because the conversation makes us feel ‘icky.’ That would be a waste of time, resources, brain power and progress. We can affect change together, but it will require that you are honest with yourself and each other…as honest as possible. In fact, the more uncomfortable we feel in honest reflection and dialogue, the more it is likely that we are getting real work done.” – Lucia

tyrone“A couple of days ago I was messaging with a friend in another state, talking about the police shooting in Deaverview. His first words to me after expressing shock over the incident were ‘how are you holding up?’ I realized-sometime after the conversation ended-that he was the first person of European descent to ask me that question-and it made me think-about how I am and where I am. So tonight, I will be posting my words -not the words of others who I feel speak my feelings. How am I holding up ? I am afraid-all the time-for my life-in my car, in my church, on the streets-and afraid for all those who look like me. I am in constant horror over how a traffic stop can become a life or death situation-the kind of traffic stop I endured a few months ago. I am grieving-for my community, for this society, for the loss of life, for the families -across this nation and across town-who are engulfed in a sea of sorrow and pain at this very moment. I am worried-sick-about where this next presidential election will take us as a country. And I am without answers-without strategy-without platitudes-right now, I am grieving-and traumatized. It is fitting to ask how I’m holding up-and when I answer you probably won’t get this kind of in depth response-but just know-that I -we-as African Americans in America in July of 2016-need time-to grieve, mourn, lament, manage our anger, and do what we need to do to survive emotionally and psychologically day to day. That’s how I’m holding up-if you’re interested.” – Tyrone

marisol“I go to sleep last night with three small stones I gathered and prayed over hoping their small weight might do magic and give me courage and vision to be present with the state sanctioned violence that has come to Asheville. To everywhere. I pray and smudge and ask for guidance from my ancestors, for the protection of my friends, their children, their loved ones. This burning and warring planet. I mine my heart for hope. I wake up this morning and open Facebook. My timeline is flooded with videos of dying men, crying women, shell shocked children. Friends and friends of friends grieving, organizing, reminding each other to breathe, to love, to fight. I shake. I reach out to say ‘I love you. I’m here. I’m with you.’ It is painfully not enough. I sit in a meeting and we talk about nothing else but this continuing genocide. What now? I too harshly scold my son when he asks to play a zombie game featuring soldiers and guns. He cries. I hug him. I try to explain. But I don’t really know how. I offer confused words about justice and violence and desensitization and love. Images of schools and movie theaters and churches forming a lump in my throat. A flash of an image hits my mind’s eye of snipers looking down and scanning the crowd that included my son and my community at a recent rally in Asheville. I fight the urge to isolate and avoid crowds. I fight the urge to pick my son up from out of school because it suddenly feels like a premonition of danger. I connect with local organizers about doing something. Anything. They are exhausted and traumatized by personal and collective violent oppression. They are meeting tonight. I watch the videos because it feels like I must. I cry again. I gather myself and my son to get to the meeting, the vigil, the police station. I fight the shaking feeling that makes me want to run. I remember fragile dreams of holding healing space on some mythical piece of land where we can sing and pray and dance and learn. I wonder where that safe space is where trucks with giant confederate flags don’t pull up to find us isolated on a mountainside. I look at my phone and computer suspiciously as tools of monitoring and manipulating us. I come on Facebook and ramble. I listen to the rain and think it would feel good to feel it sting my skin and cleanse me. I pray and I pray and I pray. And, I recommit to staying in it, to fighting along side the beautiful and brilliant black and brown people who have been my family, and to loving you and loving you and loving you.” – Marisol

I am scared to be a black woman

I am scared to one day die

At the hands of my oppressor

Who will relentlessly take my life

I am scared to be a black woman

A mother of three kids

To die before their grown

At the hands of a pig

I am scared to be a black woman

With an outstretched closed raised hand

To be buried six feet under

Due to hatred by “the man”

I am scared to be a black woman

One with dignity and pride

Through illusion of suicide

A coroner reports my life

I am scared to be a black woman

Standing fearless and tall

To be mistaken for aggression

Nine millimeter causes fall

Fuck that…..

I am proud to be a black woman

One of power and of might

Continuously standing

Through tribulations and strife

I am proud to be a black woman

The word fear does not exist

I know my driven purpose

I’m not scared..right now I’m pissed

I am proud to be a black woman

Injustice fuels my drive

My people are still degraded

While screaming,who matters? Black lives

I am proud to be a black woman

Mother that birthed three and claim all youth

I will not cease in my tireless efforts

To provide them with knowledge and truth

I am proud to be a black woman

Who loves the Creator of all

Who blessed me with mind, body , and soul

God is the name I do call

I am proud to be a black woman

From orangeyellow sunrise to blueblack sunset

I’ve decided to cast away those fears

Head up with no regrets

I am proud to be a black woman

Who loves everything about the black man

I understand your struggle

Not in front or behind, walk with I holding hands

I am proud to be a black woman

In the mirror I do stare

I love the voluptuous curves

And the nappy texture of my hair

I am proud to be a black woman

Never will I want to change

I’ll die a proud black woman

Knowing this proud Black woman remained the same.

I am proud to be a black woman

When my time comes you better shout

Don’t worry bout formalities

Say it loud…I’m black and I’m proud

– Angel

angel and tyler

Love. Loss. Love. Loss. Love.

Last Saturday evening I had the true pleasure of being at the Hood Huggers party at the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens. A caring and creative group of folks gathered to celebrate each other, DeWayne Barton’s birthday, and the work of Hood Huggers. (For an update on Hood Huggers’ current and pending projects, click here). My soul was fed that night. I wish I could stay in that kind of space, focused on love.

love

Sadly, around the same time we gathered at the garden, Jerry Williams was shot and killed by Asheville Police Department Sergeant Tyler Radford. I learned of this tragedy on Sunday morning, as I read a series of painful Facebook posts by friends of mine who were family members or friends of Jerry. Emotional words of despair and the ache of loss.

In the midst of processing the reality of this tragic news, I shared an article about Jerry’s death on my Facebook page, with the following text:

“Sending condolences to the family and friends of Jerry Williams in this time of grief, I know many who are hurting today.

I also want to share this from Julie Schneyer: ‘This article fails to mention that the person this officer killed was black. Perhaps they thought it was implied, because we are so accustomed to hearing about black people being killed by people who wear uniforms and carry badges. Those uniforms and badges are powerful tools of victimization, but they would be useless without a larger white supremacist system and culture there backing them up. In the days and weeks ahead everything about this incident will be scrutinized, and those on various sides will be sure their information is more accurate and meaningful; I want to say now, before the forest becomes the trees, that no information that comes out will change the cold hard facts that racist violence forms the fabric of our society and that the police are on the front lines of that violence. Strength and healing to all who knew this man and have had to face a day that should never have come.'”

There were a flood of responses to my post, including some adversarial comments using the speculative details about what did or did not happen that night to refute Julie’s statements. All from white people. Missing the point.

I realize that developing an understanding of systemic racism is a process, and that we are deeply socialized not to see it. Rather than engaging in a Facebook comment back and forth, I wanted to write here.

As we look at the context in which Jerry was killed, here are a few statistics pulled from UNC Asheville’s State of Black Asheville research, which students compiled from the NCDOJ and the U.S. Census:

On North Carolina’s death row, 82 of 159 men are black. 22% of them named Buncombe County as their county of residence. Black men comprise less than 4% of the Buncombe County’s population.

Less than 7% of Asheville’s total population are black men, yet 39% of men stopped by the APD are black, and 32% of men who are arrested are black.

And here’s a graph from mappingpoliceviolence.org, based on national statistics from 2015, which show that blacks are three times more likely to be killed by police:

blackpeoplemorelikelytobekilled

Also of note is that of 97% of all of these killings, the officer was not charged with any crime. Want to see more stats? Click here for statistics on racial disparities in criminal justice from the NAACP.

I do not have quick access to statistics on people killed by the police in Asheville. I do know of two young black men in addition to Jerry who were killed by the APD in the past few years (my neighbor’s grandson and the best friend of a friend of mine’s son). A friend just told me of a few others. I do not know of any whites that have been killed by police in Asheville in recent years.

The stereotypes that our culture perpetuates about black men paint them as dangerous criminals to fear. This causes bias within all of us, police officers being no exception. My black male friends talk about how exhausting it is to constantly be reacted to as someone to suspect – white people clutch their purses, lock car doors as they walk by, follow them in stores, etc, etc. I also have friends living in public housing in Asheville, which is mostly populated by blacks, who struggle with the nature of the police presence in their neighborhoods.

There is a great deal information out there about the history of the use of violence, the fear of violence, and incarceration to perpetuate the racist system we are operating in. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is essential reading for anyone who wants to learn more about this history and it’s current day manifestations.

The losses suffered by black communities due to disparities in the criminal justice system are compounded by other inequities… I’m sure most of you reading this know that. I also know that those of us with white skin cannot fully understand the devastating effects of generations of this kind of trauma.

Before closing this post, I must note that before he was killed, Jerry Williams was reported to have been beating a woman that was in the car with him. As we look at the myriad of ways our system fails, the violence against women encouraged and maintained by patriarchy must be addressed. As community organizers I admire say, we must advocate for change within the framework of the intersectionality of oppression if we are to achieve collective liberation.

So I turn back to love.

This morning there was a rally with the family of Jerry Williams. Amidst the anger and grief, there was the beauty of community standing together. In addition to family members, folks from a variety of groups including Asheville Black Lives Matter, Center for Participatory Change, the Residents Council of HACA, Nuestro Centro, Firestorm Books, and many others, gathered together in front of the courthouse, calling for justice. May these voices continue to ring and be heard. May healing happen.

prayer

rally photo by beth walton

Invisibility and Accountability

“…invisibility is a form of misinformation because invisibility denies the minoritized groups’ experience. To see virtually nothing testifying to an alternate experience from that of the dominant group is a form of misinformation. In other words, the group’s history, interests, needs, perspectives – their voices – are minimized or absent from history books, medical journals, media, movies – virtually nothing in dominant culture attests to the (positive) experience or value of the group.” – Robin DiAngelo, from the book What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy

Invisibility

Accountability While Addressing Invisibility 

I am a writer. In addition to writing on this site, I take freelance writing gigs to help pay my bills. Over my career, many if not most of the pieces I’ve written have been about wonderful African-American and Latino people, organizations, and businesses in Asheville. These stories are important because they highlight positive people and action, and because they help to chip away at the invisibility of people of color’s stories in the majority narratives of our city. That invisibility is real and wrong and dangerous and needs to be dismantled. With this in mind, I have been committed to using opportunities I’m given to shine light on the important work of leaders in our community that the system wants to keep hidden.

That said, as I continue to take writing gigs, I will also continue to ask for accountability from others on this antiracist journey. I own the inherent issues with me, a white person, making money writing about African-American and Latinos. I’m walking a delicate line and I want to do it with as much integrity as possible.

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With this context, there are three commitments I have that I’d like to share here. One: The stories I write about African-Americans and Latinos will always be interviews, putting the subject of the story’s voice in the forefront. Two: When I meet freelance writers of color in Asheville, if they are interested, I will connect them with any writing gigs I currently have that would be a good fit for them, even if that means I need to give up a gig. Three: I will continue to donate significant pro bono services to grassroots organizations working for racial equity in Asheville.

My life circumstances have led me to be in this position. My social network is more diverse than many (most?) people in the local media, giving me access to stories that have the potential of being overlooked due to our city’s de facto segregation. My interest in Asheville’s African-American history has led me to study that topic extensively. I am active on social media and I see the windows where the stories I care about can fit.

Asheville has a rich diversity of culture and its cultural identity can be more inclusive. I have a part to play in that. In the end, my intention is to help bring more voices into the conversation, and then to get out of the way.

Thank you for witnessing this.

 

 

 

CoThinkk

This month’s issue of the Urban News has a piece I wrote for for Buncombe County about CoThinkk. You can see (and download) the print layout by clicking here, or by picking up a copy of the paper around town (they have a box in front of the Pack Library). You can read the text below as well.

CoThinkk: Tipping the Scale Towards Positive Outcomes
One of the many examples of community resilience in Buncombe County.

Cothinkk2What is CoThinkk?
“CoThinkk is a giving circle that uses its 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 NC.” (Source: CoThinkk)

Tracey and Jasmine WashingtonTracey Greene-Washington, the founder of CoThinkk, is the board chair of The Center for Leadership Innovation, and leads an investment portfolio of statewide investments focused on community economic development across North Carolina. She has over 16 years of experience in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector and is a native of Asheville. (L: Tracey, R: Jasmine Washington)


A Conversation with Tracey Greene-Washington, Founder of CoThinkk

First Steps
“What I was seeing in WNC, and Asheville in particular, was that there was a dynamic cohort of leaders of color doing extraordinary work with an explicit social change agenda focused on yielding positive, collaborative, and equitable outcomes for disenfranchised communities, but they didn’t have access to critical resources,” explains CoThinkk founder Tracey Greene-Washington. “When I began to look at my own grant making from a statewide institutional perspective, much of the work they were doing was not well- aligned with our giving. When I also talked to the local community foundation, many of the efforts of these leaders fit outside of the box in terms of what the foundation was mandated to support or had the ability to support.”

This awareness led her to think about how to tip the scales in a positive direction for these leaders finding a way to connect these emerging leaders to our community’s resource grid. “I wanted to support these leaders of color doing innovative work to address current pressing issues, while also seeding initiatives for the future in a way that they could really do their best work and not feel paralyzed by the fact that they did not have access to important resources,” says Tracey.

Through her work, Tracey had experienced giving circles nationally. “I remembered that giving circles could be very powerful both as a complementary philanthropic tool and as a way for people to garner their own time, talent, and treasure together in a way that really addressed their issues and accelerated impact in their own communities.” With this in mind, Tracey presented a proposition to leaders to support a new strategy to solve this challenging issue. That resulted in her starting a giving circle here.

CoThinkk was born at a launch event in September 2014 which was attended by about 50 people. At that event, “we gave people an opportunity to talk about what were the most pressing issues, and what they wanted to see work differently,” says Tracey. The launch set the stage for “mobilizing the community in a way that if they could own their own time, talent, and treasure they could support what was most needed in the community – because they had identified it, not because someone else had identified it. And they could lead it as well.”

Gaining Clarity and Direction
Since the launch event, CoThinkk has held monthly meetings and a day-long planning retreat, as well as hosting two free “Catching Dreams” grant writing workshops to help take the mystique out of the grant process, create access to grant dollars, build confidence, and build community. “The first part of our process was helping people know what a giving circle is and the potential of it,” states Tracey. “Within that, building trust. One of the most important parts of the giving circle process is that people have to trust each other.”

Another piece of the process was strengthening connections between African-American and Latino leaders. According to Tracey, “We talked about how we could get to know each other in a way that creates the necessary space for us to have a really shared, collaborative, and collective agenda.” Using an interpreter, discussions were held comparing the Latino and African-American experience in WNC. “People began to break down their assumptions about each other and have real conversations,” Tracey shared. “Historically, our issues show up differently, but many of them are the same in terms of being disenfranchised and disempowered.” From this, CoThinkk will continue to do “the healing work that we need between each other, shore up our collective work, and come together as one.”

CoThinkk went through a process to prioritize their focus areas, landing on economic opportunity/mobility, education, and leadership development.

What’s Next for CoThinkk?
When asked what’s next for CoThinkk, Tracey says, “The next thing we are doing is our big strategic planning retreat on Saturday, June 11. We will use that time to spell out what we want our work to be over the next two – three years and to refine our process around grant-making. This is leading up to a big event in October where we’ll give away our first grants. The grants will be monetary, and accompanied with volunteer time and access to the resource of the skill sets of the membership.”

Looking forward, Tracey is confident that, “by using a community-driven model that leverages the collective time, talent, and treasure of engaged individuals toward a collective impact agenda, CoThinkk can create new systems, processes, and relationships that have the potential to yield equitable outcomes and to support a leadership pipeline of African-American and Latino members in our community poised to impact future generations in our region.”

CoThinkk Values
Collective Work/Responsibility/Purpose: We value collective action and shared power that bridges silos and taps into underutilized human, social, political and institutional capital;
Create Safe Community Gathering: We value trust building that creates non-judgmental spaces that are inclusive and equitable that lead to active and long-term engagement for greater impact;
Resource Development for Groups and Individuals: We value connecting people of color to resources that accelerates equitable outcomes;
Local: We value and support local economic mobility for communities of color;
Education (Children and Youth): We value cultivating the energy, passion, and talents of the next generation to create an essential pipeline of leaders; and
Systems and Policy Change: We value and promote civic education and seek to create strategies to help change the patterns of local/regional institutional practices that impede equitable outcomes.

CoThinkk Members
Carolina and Stephanie high res.jpg“I am involved in CoThinkk because I believe it is an innovative and authentic approach to
addressing common issues in the African-American and Latino communities. Personally, I am excited about the opportunity to be part of projects that are creative, colorful, will positively impact where we live, and are developed at the grassroots level. CoThinkk inspires relationship building and connection. I think this is the first step to meaningful social change.” – Carolina McCready (L, pictured with Stephanie Swepson-Twitty)

sheneika smith and lesley gaspar“Historically, churches, mutual aid societies, educational institutions, fraternal and civil rights groups provided economic support to help resolve social and economic inequities within communities of color. Cothinkk brings light to a powerful philanthropic history. Moreover, it has emerged at a critical time, when there are many new leaders surfacing, community organizing and coalition building, and a need for a philanthropic model that engages people of color and benefits initiatives led by them. This is legacy work with city-wide support!” – Sheneika Smith (L, pictured with Lesley Gaspar)

Want to Get Involved with CoThinkk?
Join the CoThinkk Facebook group or email Tracey Greene-Washington at cothinkk@gmail.com for details on upcoming meetings and events. Visit cothinkk.org to make a donation. Follow CoThinkk on twitter at @MsCoThinkk.

Inclusive Invitations

All-white spaces dominate Asheville’s culture. Oftentimes the white people in these spaces do not even notice the lack of diversity, which is troubling to say the least. Sometimes they do, then shrug it off as an unchangeable reality. Occasionally white people actually have taken a step or two to invite people of color to an event or opportunity. However, these invitations may not have been accepted, at which point I see more shrugs, and a dismissing the situation with “Oh well, I tried, they must not be interested.” I challenge that assumption.

I believe that conscious effort can help to shift Asheville’s deep-seated patterns of “de facto segregation” (a phrase coined by Dr. Dwight Mullen). We all benefit from authentic, diverse cultural and economic engagement. The shift has to happen on many levels, of course. Today I am thinking particularly about who gets invited to participate in the countless cultural happenings around town and how.

A study done by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that three quarters of whites do not have any black friends (click here for an article about this study). That certainly seems to be the reality in Asheville, in fact that percent might be even higher here. One thing I have observed is that white people who make an effort to include people of color are all often reaching out to the same handful of more “visible” leaders in town. I’ll hear, “I sent an email to so-and-such about our event, I don’t know what else to do.”

My challenge to those that want to change patterns of de facto segregation is to actually change their patterns of behavior.

you-are-invited

Here are a few thoughts about steps towards more inclusive invitations:

1.) Expand your social network. White people can make an effort to attend events where there will be a diverse crowd. Look into calendars and announcements from the WNC Diversity Engagement Coalition, Asheville411.com, Date My City, The Urban News, Hola Carolina, Nuestro Centro, WRES, and The Color of Asheville for starters.

2.) Be intentional about promotion. If you are holding an event, look at where you advertise and post flyers, who you are giving handbills to, how you are using social media, what language you are using. Over and over I see people promoting in the same ways as they always have yet expecting different results. It could be time to try new outlets and formats for your invitations.

3.) Partner with other groups or individuals. This is a great way to enhance what you have to offer and expand your reach. An example of this was the “Bringing it Home” conference earlier this year. The planning committee worked with diverse groups to create their event. The turn out at the conference reflected those efforts. Collaboration is powerful.

4.) Ask how you can do better. If your events or business only attract a limited demographic, there are reasons for that. Seek out input on why.

5.) Keep trying. I can’t emphasize this enough. This stuff takes time. Years of no invitations and outright exclusion can contribute to reluctance to accept an invitation. Show you mean it.

This is an important issue that I’m sure I’ll return to.

the mountaintop

To close today’s post, here is an announcement from reader Kathryn Liss:
“Last Friday evening we saw this outstanding play, [The Mountaintop, put on by Different Strokes]. It is performed by local actors in a small venue, the BeBe Theater downtown. Both the acting and the production as a whole are outstanding. And a portion of the proceeds are being donated to Building Bridges. I highly recommend that everyone go see it. It is only here till June 18.” Click here for details and tickets!