Buncombe County Steps Towards Solutions

Last night UNC Asheville’s Dr. Dwight Mullen gave a talk at Habitat Tavern & Commons about his decade-long research on “The State of Black Asheville.” While I am familiar with the numbers, having heard him present them on numerous occasions, the disparities still shock and appall me. They are horrific. Mullen talked of the vestiges of Jim Crow laws that still are manifested in institutional behavior that contributes to these disparities. He talked about mass incarceration (See: Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow) and the broken promises of urban renewal. He strongly suggested that efforts be targeted specifically to uplift African American women, who are impacted the most by the disparities. A fitting point to highlight today, International Women’s Day.

dr mullen
Dr. Dwight Mullen and the crowd at Habitat.

While the numbers are devastatingly heartbreaking, Mullen also shared some good news, specifically about a commitment of $3 million over three years that was passed unanimously by the Buncombe County Commissioners on February 21. The money will go towards a “Justice Resource Center diversion program for first-time, nonviolent offenders facing addiction and mental health problems…[and to the Isaac Coleman] Economic Community Investment Model that funds neighborhood projects and programs to create resilient, safe communities.” Click here to read the Citizen-Times article about these plans.

Word on the Street team speaking at the Commissioners’ meeting.

Before the commissioners voted, a presentation about the Isaac Coleman Community Investment Model was made by Dr. Mullen, Lisa Eby, J. Hackett, DeWayne Barton, Tamiko Ambrose-Murray, and teens from Word on the Street (who showed a video they made). They outlined the disparities and the vision behind this new model to address them. During the public comments, community members voiced support for the plan. You can watch this powerful presentation in the video of the Board meeting (starting at 44:18). You can also click here to see the slides from the presentation (which include stats from Dr. Mullen’s research).

In outlining the Community Investment Model, Lisa Eby of Buncombe County Health & Human Services explained, “We can pedal as hard as we want at an agency level, but until and unless we work with communities, and allow communities the resources to heal themselves from within, this work will never gain traction.” She described how HHS has learned that “health, safety and wellbeing are culturally created, not professionally prescribed – they need to grow from within communities.”

Call me a dreamer, but this step gives me hope. I look forward to similarly bold moves by the City of Asheville.

In other news, here are two upcoming events you may be interested in:

Tuesday, March 14, 10 pm
Fundraiser for the Center for Participatory Change (CPC)
Lazy Diamond, 4 Woodfin St.
Music by Coconut Cake (a band I’m a part of)

Saturday, March 25, 6 pm
Inaugural MLK, Jr. Black & Red Gala
On Broadway, 49 Broadway St.
Click here for more info.


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