My Community Matters

This month’s issue of the Urban News has a piece I wrote for for Buncombe County about the My Community Matters Empowerment Program. 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 Pack Library). You can read the text below as well. This story is about their summer camp, My Community Matters has plans to convene during the school year as well.

My Community Matters Empowerment Program
Building Knowledge and Lifting Voices

This summer, 37 young people ages 12 – 17 participated in the Residents’ Council of Asheville Housing Authority, Inc.’s dynamic My Community Matters Empowerment Program. By providing supportive relationships and valuable skill-building opportunities, My Community Matters is helping to tip the scale towards positive outcomes for these youth.

According Shuvonda Harper, who led the program with Sir Charles Gardener, My Community Matters helped participants “become more aware of everything around them and how everything relates to them.” For Marcus Lewis, a rising sophomore at Asheville High School, the program was a place where he and his peers “learned a lot about managing ourselves and managing our lives.”

roy harris ymi
At the YMI Cultural Center with Roy Harris

My Community Matters participants were paid a stipend for attending and engaging in the learning activities that occurred each day. “We were building leadership and teaching money management,” says Shuvonda. “We also taught cultural literacy and black history – what used to be and still can be if we work together.”

Inspiring leaders from the community served as teachers and mentors. Dr. Joseph Fox and Gene Bell taught professional development. Sheneika Smith taught leadership development. Roy Harris taught the history of the YMI Cultural Center and The Block. Maceo Keeling taught money management. A visit to the Asheville Police Department provided a chance to learn about the responsibilities of law enforcement and to develop relationships. Artists Liana Ambrose-Murray and Jasmine Washington shared their experiences and insights. Liana talked about being a student at Yale, and spending six months in London. On hearing her story, Shuvonda said, participants learned that “anything’s possible, they could be just like her.”

my community matters - garden
At the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens with Sir Charles Gardener

DeWayne Barton offered hands on gardening experience and taught black history. “Learning about E.W. Pearson, who did things like starting the NAACP and a baseball team in Asheville, showed me what is possible to achieve,” says Marcus. Skills gained in My Community Matters were immediately put into practice by participants. Marcus and another participant spoke out at community meetings. Five successfully interviewed for jobs, including Marcus who will be working for the new Word on the Street online youth-led magazine.

Through the program, says Marcus, “I got a different view of the world. Usually I just watch stuff happen, I never react to it or try to support whatever is going on. My Community Matters taught me to share my point of view.”

When asked if he would recommend My Community Matters to others, Marcus said yes, “You want to do it because it opens your eyes up to new things that you probably didn’t know about. It teaches you that your future is important and that you matter.”

To find out more about the Residents’ Council of Asheville Housing Authority, Inc. and My Community Matters Empowerment Program, visit

Leadership Development with Sheneika Smith
burton street
At the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens with DeWayne Barton