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.