Press release from UNC Asheville:
Deborah Miles, founding director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Diversity Education, has been named to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the governor of North Carolina. The award, begun in 1963 and presented in recognition of extraordinary service to the state, was bestowed by Gov. Roy Cooper.
Miles created the Center for Diversity Education 23 years ago as a project of the Asheville Jewish Community Center; the center became part of UNC Asheville in 2013. Providing workshops in schools, training for teachers, staging exhibitions and more, the center has brought learning about inclusion and equity to communities, schools and organizations throughout Western North Carolina, seeking to foster conversation and respect among cultures.
N.C. Senator Terry Van Duyn nominated Miles for the award, but with the legislature still in session and Van Duyn in Raleigh, Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides presented the award to Miles at a June 14, 2018 celebration for the Center for Diversity Education and for Miles, who will retire at the end of July.
Whitesides, the first African-American to take office as a Buncombe County commissioner, was joined at the celebration in UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center by many community leaders, including civil rights attorney James Ferguson, who like Whitesides, grew up in Asheville. Both were both part of ASCORE – the group of local high school students who desegregated Asheville public facilities and businesses during the 1960s.
Gathering and sharing the stories of ASCORE with today’s young people became an important project for Miles and the Center for Diversity Education. “I want to express my gratitude to Deborah,” said Ferguson. “Were it not for Deborah, ASCORE would be an even-more-distant memory than it is. But because she learned about it, and cared about it, ASCORE lives today.
“ASCORE stands for the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality,” said Ferguson. “Those of us who were around in the 1960s when ASCORE emerged from the protests that engulfed North Carolina and the South, we know that as high school students, we were able to bring about a racial transformation of Asheville.”
Miles has worked to continue that transformational progress, and although she is retiring as director of the Center for Diversity Education, she plans to continue promoting equity and inclusion. “It’s as James Ferguson said about how he felt in the 1960s – if we want Asheville to change, we have to be the people to make that change – there’s no waiting around,” said Miles. “I want everyone to feel a sense of urgency about what is happening in our community, what is happening in our nation, in the world, and go out with full force with everything we do – this is not a time for slow motion.”
Miles said she felt honored to be in the company of other local recipients of the Long Leaf Pine Award, including Oralene Simmons, also a member of ASCORE and now president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, and attorney Jim Barrett, executive director of Pisgah Legal Services. Others from UNC Asheville to have received this award include Chancellor Emerita Anne Ponder and Professor Emeritus William Yearout.