Steps Towards Possibility

Shuvonda Harper

Shuvonda Harper of the Residents’ Council

When visionary leaders describe the Asheville/WNC we could be, their visions become lights that illuminate my steps, and the steps of others in our community moving towards positive possibility. There are people with big hearts and bright minds making change happen and I listen to them as much as I can online and in person. Inspiration is key to warding off feelings of discouragement and overwhelm. I think of great work that has been done in the past and commit myself to being a part of the great work of today. While I am continually educating myself about the inequities, injustices and tragedies – I strive not to keep my focus on the problem. Despair will not repair.

You can hear from one such visionary leader, DeWayne Barton of Hood Huggers International, this Sunday, February 21 at 2 pm at the Ethical Humanist Society of Asheville meeting at the Friends Meeting House, 227 Edgewood Road. He will be speaking on “The Art of Resilience.” The presentation is free and open to the public. Click here for more details.

City Council Steps Towards Racial Equity

asheville city council 2016

Asheville City Council at its 2016 annual retreat. Left to right: Keith Young, Julie Mayfield, Gwen Wisler, Brian Haynes, Gordon Smith, Cecil Bothwell, Esther Manheimer. Photo by Virginia Daffron for Mountain Xpress.

At a recent City Council retreat, steps were taken towards a real commitment to implement measurable goals for racial equity, in line with the call to action Dr. Dwight Mullen made in his State of Black Asheville talk last month. Here is an excerpt from “Advance and retreat,” the Asheville Blade story about the retreat:

“City government declared racial equity a major focus — Council decided to make racial equity a major focus in their future plans, something brought up by Young, backed by Smith and acceded to by all of Council.

De facto segregation remains a major issue in Asheville, as racist policies like redlining hit particularly hard here, with impacts that still remain today. On a number of fronts, from health to education to minority-owned businesses, inequity continues. In some areas, like minority-owned businesses, Asheville lags badly behind state averages as well.

The past few years, however, have seen increased organizing from the local African-American community on a range of issues, with ensuing discussion and public demonstrations. There was also increased African-American voter turnout in the last election, which saw Young’s win end two years of an all-white Council.

Notably, the goal doesn’t just generally commit the city to pursuing racial equity. After Young expressed doubts about progress being made toward real racial equity without specific ways to measure and hold the city accountable, discussion turned towards using tools and standards developed by the Government Alliance on Racial Equity. Smith noted he’d seen GARE’s work featured at a recent government conference. Diversifying the city’s 44 boards and commissions, which often play a key role in crafting policy in the early stages, was also mentioned as a priority.

Notably, GARE’s standards don’t just measure equity within city government, but also in how city government deals with matters like contracting or allocating resources to neighborhoods. When those criteria are applied to Asheville, it will be interesting to see what insights they produce.”

Kudos to Keith Young for advocating for this.

Artful Steps Towards Social Justice

art by mark harmon

Here’s an announcement from the Center for Participatory Change:

“February’s art exhibit at Firestorm Cafe & Books supports CPC and Nuestro Centro! Asheville artist Mark Harmon is donating all proceeds from sales of his thought-provoking and moving oil paintings, on exhibit this month at Firestorm Cafe & Books, to CPC and Nuestro Centro’s community organizing work.

About the exhibit: Firestorm Cafe & Books presents a show of oil paintings by local artist Mark Harmon that eloquently advocate for social justice by juxtaposing images of social strife and harmony. Paintings of cheerful children in fraternal embrace form a sharp contrast with images of social upheaval from Ferguson, MO to Charleston, SC. The painter’s wife, Geny Hernández-López, volunteers teaching Spanish and Mexican Folk dance to children fluent in English but from a migratory background at Asheville’s ethnically diverse Emma Elementary.

Mark states that to him the images of children he observed at Emma represent the reality and potential of a harmonious embrace of multicultural enrichment. A powerful counter narrative to the xenophobia common in a public discourse that often treats migrants as potential threats to social harmony, rather than as neighbors that have undergone great hardships in search of a better life in this nation of immigrants.”

That’s it for today. Until next time!