Kimberlee Archie came on board city staff as Asheville’s first equity and inclusion manager last July, with the goal of establishing the use of an equity lens in all city programs and policies. The city stated that her initial areas of focus would include hiring and human resource management, purchasing, public engagement, sustainability, public safety, and community and economic development.
In advance of Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 15, Xpress asked Archie to share her thoughts on King’s legacy and how it applies to the continuing effort to create equity in Asheville.
What does Martin Luther King Jr. mean to you personally? How do you see yourself as continuing his vision and work?
I celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. as the father of the civil rights movement, who engaged and involved young and old in the fight for civil rights. His commitment to undoing the inequalities of public policy for black people was unfaltering until the day of his assassination. The nonviolent organizing tactics used by Dr. King to change racial segregation and discriminatory policies and practices by local, state and federal government were effective for creating access to equal civil rights.
After civil rights were won through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Dr. King realized the need to change the direction of the movement. In addition to the need for the federal government to enforce the newly enacted policies, he understood that black people also needed access to opportunities economically, in housing and in education. I approach my work as the equity and inclusion manager as an extension of the direction Dr. King was preparing to move as written in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?
The racial disparities that exist in Asheville and small to large cities across the U.S. are due to generations of structural racism. In the 50 years since Dr. King’s final book, disparities have grown in every area of life for African-Americans from infant mortality, to cancer, chronic diseases and death rates, to education and incarceration rates as well as salaries, homeownership and wealth. Dr. King discussed the need for access to better jobs, higher salaries, safe and affordable housing, and quality education for black people.
The city of Asheville has decided to work toward undoing racial inequities and advancing equity for its residents through policies, practices, procedures and budget decisions. Equity is defined as recognizing that everyone doesn’t begin from the same place nor has the same obstacles; achieving equity is providing access and opportunities for all to succeed. The focus for the city, of course, is within the sphere of policymaking, implementation and operations as well as using the city government’s sphere of influence to partner and collaborate on advancing equity.
How have your first few months on the job been going? Do you feel as if you are seeing a way for Asheville to make improvements in this area?
My experience at the city of Asheville has been a positive one. All of the department directors and staff I have engaged have been open to my role and to participating in this institutional change management initiative. In the first five months in my position, the focus of the internal work has consisted of:
- Developing a shared understanding of key terminology and method of analysis.
- Learning about and discussing institutional and structural racism.
- Analyzing government’s role in creating and maintaining racial disparities.
- Organizing a working group of employees who represent each department within city government to grow institutional capacity.
- Testing pilot projects to develop a citywide equity action plan.
Although engaging all city employees in the equity and inclusion initiative is a goal, it takes time to accomplish. To get to the goal, I am working with city leadership and the employee working group to develop and implement a plan for citywide learning and capacity building. As employee awareness and knowledge increase, I am observing small wins and progress on a regular basis. In addition to project teams and department leaders requesting technical assistance in analyzing how policies, practices and procedures advance equity, I am also being asked to embed equity analyses in the budget process as well as at the beginning of projects versus an add-on or check-the-box activity at the end of a project. Just as the disparities grew over generations, progress on advancing equity will take time. The city of Asheville has begun the journey by taking the first step.
How can people get involved in this issue?
What increases the success of this work sticking is that Asheville as a city is already involved in learning about and advancing equity. There are a plethora of opportunities for individuals to engage in racial equity, racial justice and anti-racism activity in Asheville. I am aware of Building Bridges of Asheville and training by the Racial Equity Institute. I am also aware of organizations and groups of white people who are engaged in being anti-racist allies, although I have not engaged with them as of yet. There are existing opportunities to get engaged in advancing racial equity in Asheville.
Asheville City Council will hear recommendations in February from the blue ribbon committee on implementing a Human Relations Commission. If a Human Relations Commission is instituted as recommended, it will need members who are committed to working on advancing equity and inclusion in Asheville in an advisory capacity to the City Council. I also see the Human Relations Commission as the city’s equity, inclusion and anti-discrimination community engagement mechanism. Once the commission is up and running, it could be a powerful connection between community members most impacted by discrimination, racism and racial disparities and city government engaging in advancing equity across the city.
I appreciate that a holiday celebrating the work and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exists. It is necessary to acknowledge how far he led our country toward equal civil rights; however, an understanding that there is still more work to be done to get to fairness and engaging in that work keeps his memory alive and relevant on a daily basis versus one day a year.