UNCA to host second annual State of Black Asheville Forum

Last year, a group of students in a political science course at UNC-Asheville began researching socio-economic issues facing African-Americans in Buncombe County. Led by African Studies Professor Dwight Mullen, their work culminated in a forum that brought elected officials and community leaders to the table to talk about blacks’ experiences relating to health care, housing, education and law enforcement. That modest, student-led effort grew into the State of Black Asheville, an event that attracted some 400 participants and generated a great deal of attention. On Saturday, Feb. 16, it’s happening again.

This year, UNCA Special Assistant to the Chancellor Jesse Ray is organizing the event. “The main results of last year’s forum,” he says, “were that for the first time, it brought community leaders and the public together to talk about a variety of issues relating to the African-American community, and it presented an opportunity for everyone to become aware of the challenges both sides face.”

This year’s forum will feature four panels dealing with education, employment, law enforcement and health care. Mayor Terry Bellamy will speak, and Asheville City Council members are expected to attend, along with ministers from black churches and representatives from the health-care industry, law enforcement, education and other sectors. Students who have been researching topics for this forum will deliver some of the presentations.

“In the education session, for example, there will probably be discussion about mentoring students who need assistance, and improving the academic achievement of African-American students,” Ray says.

“There were no goals or benchmarks set” at last year’s forum, says Ray, “but that is one thing we are hoping to do this year. We want to look at options for making improvements in various areas.”

The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at UNCA’s Highsmith University Union Mountain Suites on Saturday, Feb. 16. It’s free and open to the public, and a box lunch will be provided at no cost. To register, visit www.unca.edu/news/SOBA_registration.html, or call 251-6634.

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