Buncombe announces new chief equity and human rights officer

Press release from Buncombe County:

In the effort to continue a commitment to equity and eliminating disparities, Buncombe County is excited to announce Dr. Noreal Armstrong will be its new Chief Equity & Human Rights Officer. The position, created in 2022, is vital for advancing the County’s Racial Equity Action Plan (REAP) and fostering important changes in everything from criminal justice to community health. Assistant County Manager DK Wesley notes Dr. Armstrong brings a robust and diverse set of skills to Buncombe County. “She demonstrates a clear understanding of local government’s role in equity work and how to use the skills and tools she possesses to help the organization operationalize our equity goals. Further, she has worked in Western North Carolina and Buncombe County since 2016 and exhibited an ability to build on community relationships,” says Wesley. “Dr. Armstrong has a passion for public service, social justice, and authentic connection. Those attributes coupled with her technical skills are exactly what is needed to lead this office.”

Dr. Armstrong says the chance to continue equity work where she lives is an amazing opportunity. “I am excited for the opportunity to work for the County to develop new initiatives, support the continued implementation of the REAP, and assess progress toward more equitable and inclusive practices,” explains Dr. Armstrong. “I strongly believe to see systematic change, you have to start within the system. We have to develop protocol and policies that others can follow therefore spreading awareness, change, and growth throughout Buncombe County.”

To that end, Dr. Armstrong plans to hit the ground running by becoming familiar with each department’s equity and inclusion practices, assessing the efficacy of evaluative tools, and engaging with the community. In regard to long-term goals, she wants to, “Develop equitable and inclusive countywide protocol and practices in collaboration with subject matter experts, utilize a systemwide reporting process to assess and evaluate the success of REAP, and see diversity, equity, and inclusion practices become connective tissue throughout the community through thoughtful programming, hiring processes, and the successful attainment of realistic goals.”

Ultimately, Dr. Armstrong says she wants to help adjust systemic and cultural imbalances with fair practices. She says that happens when you take a genuine interest in learning about others: “It could simply look like buying left- and right-handed scissors for a kindergarten art class so every student can use the scissors correctly and be successful. On a systems level, equity in community can look like explaining unconscious bias, how to recognize it, and how to change it so the statistically significant gap in the number of callbacks for resumes with distinctively Black sounding names versus traditionally white sounding names is decreased. This practice would increase the likelihood of an equitable hiring process.” 

Dr. Armstrong is slated to start her position on March 20. 

Professional bio 

Dr. Noreal F. Armstrong, originally from Texas, has made Asheville her home for seven years. She earned her doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. Armstrong is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor (LMHCS), a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC) serving as CEO and Executive Director of A Therapist Like Me, a nonprofit organization aiming to decrease mental health stigma. She has experience working in higher education, private practice, and counselor supervision, and has over 35 professional presentations. Dr. Armstrong was awarded the 2022 Don C. Locke Multicultural and Social Justice Award and the 2019 Administrator of the Year by the North Carolina Counseling Association. She received the 2022 Exemplary Leadership in Diversity Award from the Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD) and has written multiple book chapters, cowrote an anti-racist pedagogy manual, and published a lifespan development textbook, Counseling Through the Lifespan: A Humanistic Perspective. 

Dr. Armstrong is a former high school American Sign Language (ASL) teacher and used her knowledge of ASL and the deaf community to advocate for better mental health practices within that community. She worked as a counselor at Mars Hill University, teaches at Lenoir Rhyne University, and is a former Associate Professor at Montreat College. Dr. Armstrong is active in the community working with local churches, learning centers, and the YWCA. She is a member of Tried Stone Missionary Baptist and provides interpretation services for members who are deaf. Dr. Armstrong serves on the Resource for Resilience board and is a member the Asheville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. She enjoys the scenic drives, the variety of unique cuisines, the fresh mountain air, and the opportunities to meet and work with uniquely diverse individuals doing dynamic work in Asheville. She looks forward to continuing her dynamic work in her new role.

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