The story below was originally published on my tumblr earlier of this year, but I thought I’d re-post it here since there will be another Date My City event this Friday, November 15.
The invite for Friday’s event states, “Asheville, DATE MY CITY proudly presents: Dinner and a Movie, featuring 12 Years A Slave, where Asheville native Chris Chalk plays the role of Clemens Ray, a fellow kidnapped slave brought to the South with main character, Solomon Northup. DETAILS: 7:00 pm at the Mellow Mushroom, 50 Broadway then, at 9:45 pm, 12 Years a Slave at the Fine Arts Theatre, 36 Biltmore Ave.”
Kudos to Sheneika Smith for her vision.
Date My City (6/22/13)
Last night my friends Sheneika Smith and Timmy Smith organized an event they called “Date My City,” part of their “New Asheville” movement. I was lucky to be a part of it.
According to the organizers, “Date My City is an initiative to encourage cultural diversity in downtown Asheville. Our city is evolving very rapidly before us and the African American presence will be appreciated! Just imagine the impression it’ll make if brothers and sisters of color come out in numbers, with purpose and unity.
Join the movement! DMC is an extension of the New Asheville movement. It is the avenue that will aide us in rediscovering beauty and potential of Asheville. Today, the hustle and bustle in the heart of our city resembles that of notable cities around the nation. The pulse of the metropolis is beating hard in our ‘hometown’ but we aren’t partaking in the liveliness and progressiveness of her….until now.”
I have often heard people complain about the lack of racial diversity in most areas of Asheville. My experience is that the races are segregated. Downtown and the River Arts District certainly tend to be primarily white. The same goes for the new businesses and restaurants in West Asheville. The reasons for this segregation are complicated, of course. But one thing I like about Date My City is that it is not focused on analyzing the issue, but on doing something about it.
The African American population in Asheville is small (around 12,000 people, I think) and getting smaller every year. Young black professionals are leaving town, looking for a place that has more to offer them. In my opinion, economic disparities caused by institutional racism are a primary cause of segregation in Asheville. I also believe that race relations in Asheville were seriously wounded by “Urban Renewal” in the 1950s/1960s, and the destruction of thriving black neighborhoods. As well as by a myriad of injustices, large and small.
And we can’t forget that, not so long ago, many more white people were vocal about their racial prejudice, telling people of color that they were not welcome places like downtown. Patterns of behavior have been formed as a result of such historical dynamics.
With Date My City, Sheneika and Timmy are offering an opportunity for their friends to explore parts of Asheville they may have steered clear of before. Combined with efforts across Asheville to combat disparities and institutional racism, we may very well start to see some real change and, as Sheneika puts it, “More color downtown.”
Note: I am still learning more about the Latino community in Asheville, and I looking forward to making connections there. Our city will be a way cooler place to live if we can embrace our cultural diversity rather than staying in our own demographic bubbles.