City Racial Disparity Program Plan Raises Questions

$433,000 Asheville racial disparity programs advance.” Click that title to read an article that came out yesterday in the Citizen-Times about the City of Asheville’s plans. Below are comments about this that I’ve copied from Facebook. Important food for thought.

East End 1966

“Your opinion, please… from this article or what you know on the topic or about Asheville’s governing history. Does this look like a genuine move towards more equitable action and initiating needed change in Asheville, a step in the right direction? Or is it another way to act like they are doing something and help keep things exactly the way they are?

What I see: The article seems to outline plenty of disparities that we already know exist. And yet the city is spending $350,000 on a study? Could some of that instead be spent on addressing these issues? Are locals doing the study, will the contract go to a group of local minorities? And what will be the role and function of this new program manager position? The comments in the article are mostly about the money that will be spent (i.e. to set up an office), but not about the change, work or impact that this money will have. Having a budget line-item that says ‘equity program’ and spending all of that money does not impact change. Who and how is the city held accountable for this? I welcome insight helping me see this as a move forward to celebrate.” – Ashley Cooper

“I believe it is lip service, just like the gentrification study. Dr Dwight Mullen, Dr Darin Waters,Dr. Dolly Jenkins-Mullen etc, could quickly know how to put that money to good use. Every plan that I have spent hours upon hours donating my time to, just sits on a shelf until it is no longer “relevant” and then Council pays another out of town group to do another one.” – Brandee Boggs

“Many of us know how, too, but the City has stripped wealth and cognizance from the black community via policies and systemic racism. You and we elect palatable leaders who issue ‘top down’ mandates without accountability – many of who think they know what is better for us. I/we have spoken, sat, met with these Staff and written talked to Council, but they do not listen, nor do we hold them accountable. Most folks are ‘elitists’ who think only a few exceptional negroes ‘can do this work,’ but that group is concerned with only their own survival and will risk nothing. I saw them take the ‘Block,’ marched, picketed, and protested, and our community failed to rally. Until we stop it, it won’t stop! #stillfighting!” – Dee Williams

“I had a lot of concerns as I read the article. I serve on the African American Heritage Commission and I wasn’t aware of this plan at all, even though one of the goals of this Office of Equity and Diversity is very much in alignment with one of the goals of our commission. Their goal reads ‘In partnership w/others, participate in community dialogue and potential strategies to honor history and contributions of the African American community in Asheville, beginning with a community led effort to install a monument to African American heritage.’ I found it very odd that commission members were completely left out of even this preliminary discussion.

After reading the article I looked for numbers and left messages for several people who were quoted, hoping to find out more. Heather Dilliwshaw, the city’s community development manager who was quoted in the article called me back this afternoon, and I was a little comforted to have some additional information. This is just the beginning announcement, and the next steps all include community discussions and input. Another concern for me is the disparity study, but I admit I didn’t understand quite what it was. I couldn’t imagine why we would spend all of that money to study disparity when Dr. Mullen has been measuring disparities for years! But I learned this afternoon that a disparity study is very specifically about government contracting and minority-owned business. (The cost seems very high to me as well, but supposedly the number quoted was an estimate on the high side). I have to hope that at the same time we are beginning this particular discussion about these business and contracting disparities, we also find a way to bring focus to all of the other disparities: medical, policing, economic, education, etc. and how the community has been particularly impacted by past policies of the City of Asheville.” – Sasha Mitchell

“Sasha thank you so much for sharing all of this additional information. And a special thank you for your efforts to reach out and make connections between the AAHC and this effort (and I imagine the other ways you make connections and grow understanding in your life and work!). I’m glad to hear that you were somewhat comforted by your conversation with Heather. It really is a shame that they did not make efforts to connect with your group. I wonder if they involved others who are already doing this work locally? Unfortunately, hearing more about what the disparity study is feels even more icky to me, but I also do not know what an official disparity study is. Perhaps it is a place to start and if the city can recognize and attend to its own disparities internally, then perhaps it will be able to do so more broadly. It would be great if the study looked at how the cities policies have impacted disparities as you mention… but my guess is it will only looking at things like employment practices. It also seems like a statement from the city about what areas of life are important to them — business (the other part of the disparity study). That said, in this capitalistic society, growing business opportunities does at least create circulation of resources.

I still wonder… who and how do we hold the city accountable for this?”

“Putting in a staff position for equity and inclusion, with a budget and senior staff buy-in, is a researched based best practice for effective diversity initiatives. Great to see the City of Asheville also acting strategically by including the funding for a much needed Disparity Study.” – Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville

I encourage you to share your thoughts on this with the City Council via the email that goes to all of the members,

Photo: “A 1966 photo of one of the historic African-American neighborhoods around downtown. Urban renewal programs put roads through some of these neighborhoods, displacing residents and, critic say, weakening Asheville’s black communities.” KENT WASHBURN PHOTO – JOHN FLETCHER PHOTGRAPHED PRINT


5 thoughts on “City Racial Disparity Program Plan Raises Questions

  1. It is helpful to look at other communities Disparity Studies to maybe better understand why the city is conducting one now. I think I’ve heard that the last one done for the City of Asheville over 20 years ago. Legally, without proving the disparity in contracts offered to Minority Business Enterprises (MBE’s) or Historically Underrepresented Businesses (HUB’s), the city can not stray from a race or gender neutral selection process – at least in federal contracts. Here are the Frequently Asked Questions from the Port of Seattle DS.

    On the 2nd page it states:

    In addition, the port is currently race and gender neutral in its contracting practices, which means we do not consider the race or gender of the business owner when awarding contracts.
    These findings will allow us to consider some race- and gender-
    conscious practices to reduce disparities among contracts receiving federal funds.

    I think there has to be a Disparity Study (for legal purposes) to prove this in a quantifiable way, even when the evidence, as proven by the findings of The State of Black Asheville, are all around us. Mostly the Disparity Study tracks the HUB’s and MBE’s that are in operation in the region and how many have won contracts. Why consulting companies charge $350,000 to do that, I do not know. Maybe bids for the contract will come in way lower as there don’t seem to be too many HUB’s or MBE’s anyway!

    Does anyone else have information on Disparity Studies?


    1. Deborah, thank you for the additional information. Do you know more about the process for how they came to the conclusion to use this path as the path of investment for this position and study? Who will be supporting and overseeing this staff position?


  2. I know that there have been folks in the City Offices who have advocated for a Disparity Study for at least 10 years – but don’t know what finally put it at the top of priorities.

    I heard about the consideration for the position a couple of weeks ago though no other details than what was in the paper.

    Hiring a person does not automatically do away with disparities. Folks are wise to hold some criticism of any plan.

    Hiring someone/s is a researched based best practice. Other best practices include accountability measures, for every sector of an organization, and mentoring support. That is from a study of federal agencies looking at Affirmative Action programs authored by Kalev, Dobbins, and Kelly (though the gains are not equal in all segments of the population). Lots of other studies confirm that finding.

    The study also found that the most common activity was “one and done” professional development. That had the least effective outcome – unless it was tied to accountability or mentoring training with intentional follow through.

    Lately, I’ve been referring to an accountability tool called the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks by O’Mara and Richter. It includes strategies for Leadership, Human Resources, Marketing, Supply Side, and more. Thank you to Michele Ashley for sharing the GDIB tool with the community.

    Here is a link to The National League of Cities with other excellent recommendations:

    I hope that as the position’s job description and qualifications are thoughtfully written with all that in mind. One person and one disparity study will not fix Asheville. Each of us, individually and as a whole, are responsible for generations to come.


    1. Deborah, Thank you soooooo much for all of this insight. I appreciate your optimism of watching a path being laid that has potential to follow best practices to invite sincere shifts… and also your pointing to the importance of elements like accountability and mentoring. Places to start are everything. And as you said, each of us individually and as a whole are responsible… how might we work together even more in service to these generations to come and those alive here now?

      Thank you also for all the resource mentions. I will be checking them out.

      With much gratitude,


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