On the heels of the Winter Solstice, celebrating the return of the light, I’ll share my December Buncombe County Urban News article (click here for a PDF of the print version). It is all about light. Here’s to you and your light as well. 

Community Celebrations Highlight Community Resilience

“Bringing people together creates synergy and momentum to seed innovation, promote healing and understanding, while creating strategic opportunities to align all our efforts towards addressing some of the most vexing social issues facing our communities,” says Tracey Greene-Washington, founder of the CoThinkk giving circle.

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CoThinkk members Tracey Greene-Washington, Stephanie Swepson-Twitty, Carolina McCready. Photo by TY MO.

This fall, people came together for two dynamic events, both of which celebrated African American and Latinx leaders, music, and dance. CoThinkk’s Connecting Through the Roots event, featured community leadership awards and the presentation of their first round of grants. The Unsung Heroes event, sponsored by Buncombe County Health and Human Services, Date My City, and UNC Asheville, was a celebration of “unsung” community heroes.

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Miss Asheville Kahlani Jackson, Sheneika Smith, Alejandro Padron at Unsung Heroes. Photo by Emmanuel Figaro.

Unsung Heroes characterized Date My City’s mission to celebrate African American heritage and community successes in a fashion that fascinates young spirits and honors the traditional values of our elders,” says event producer Sheneika Smith, “In addition, we were ecstatic about partnering with our Latinx family on this event – a goal we’ve had since day one.”

Greene-Washington agrees, “These events created an opportunity to continue to create strong bridges and connections between and among African American and Latinx communities, while celebrating the unique cultural roots of communities of color.”

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Nuestro Centro’s RAICES. Photo by Emmanuel Figaro.

“These events are so important because they bring us together and shine a light on the incredibly important contributions of African Americans and Latinos in our community – past and present,” says UNC Asheville Chancellor Mary K. Grant. “They also remind us of our shared history – and our shared future. Prejudice and distrust thrive in an environment where communities are fractured and people don’t know those that live around them. The Unsung Heroes event – and events like it – help break down those barriers and bring us together to know one another as friends and neighbors.”

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Interpreter Andrea Golden with Community Legacy award recipients Lucia Hinojosa Hernandez  and John R. Hayes. Photo by Emmanual Figaro.

The support of anchor institutions like UNC Asheville and Buncombe County Health and Human Services is key to giving lift to self-organizing efforts in our community.

Unsung Heroes recognized that no agency alone can safeguard the health, safety and well-being of a community,” explains Amanda Stone, Assistant County Manager & Health and Human Services Director. “Each of the individuals recognized is working to improve their neighborhoods and schools, building out a stronger community resource grid. We are glad to shed light on these individuals and their vital work.”

For Doriyan Johnson, who is 15 years old, a member of Word Of Street, and the owner of D Designs, “Unsung Heroes shed a light on the people who are truly trying to change and improve our community. It also fueled my fire to continue to make things better.”

Grant concurs, “The Unsung Heroes event was a joyous and energizing gathering and a wonderful opportunity to recognize those who work behind the scenes to make a lasting difference in their communities. In addition to the work they are doing, their stories and journeys inspire us all to do better, to never give up, and to know that we can all make a difference.”

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Project Negus. Photo by Emmanuel Figaro.

An important aspect of Connecting Through the Roots and Unsung Heroes is how they reflected community resilience. Resilience is “a critical component to the long-term ability of communities of color to thrive and to shift the significant impact of pervasive trauma as a result of inequity and poverty,” explains Greene-Washington.

Through events like these, we bring people together to celebrate the contributions and talents of communities of color, building on the existing momentum for positive change in our community.

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CoThinkk Leadership Award winner Dewana Little. Photo by TY MO.

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CoThinkk Leadership Award winner Joe Greene. Photo by TY MO.