Voices for peace

Jim Brown of the Western North Carolina Peace Coalition believes that standing up for peace is patriotic. “Lots of people from all over the United States want to speak out about the craziness that is happening with our leaders in Washington,” he says. “But the message from conventional media makes them feel they are unpatriotic to speak out.”

To Brown, that attitude doesn’t make sense. “Our country is based on freedom of speech. It’s very patriotic to speak out,” he declares.

WNC residents wanting to make a public statement against the U.S. waging war on Iraq will have two opportunities to do so over the next week.

At least four chartered buses will leave Asheville at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 17 for Washington, D.C. — the site of a national anti-war rally and march the next day. A sister rally/march will happen concurrently in San Francisco. A seat on the bus costs $65, and there will be floor space available in a D.C. church for people needing a place to sleep. The buses will arrive back in Asheville at around 7 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 19. Travelers are asked to bring a water bottle, food (for Saturday), a sleeping bag and pad if needed, and a positive sign, banner or poster. The chartered buses are being arranged by the WNC Peace Coalition and other local peace groups, “including many faith-based organizations,” notes Brown.

“Most of the people who have signed up are from faith-based groups and peace groups and individuals and families who don’t want war,” he says. “Lots of the participants … are high-school kids — from all county high schools. It’s very encouraging for me to see so many young people speaking out for peace.”

Closer to home, this year’s edition of the annual Martin Luther King Peace March will give local folks another opportunity to stand up for peace (see “Honoring King’s legacy” below).

“Because of talk about war, the march will draw out lots more people this year,” predicts Brown. “Everyone should come join us. We want to send a message to our legislature and our leaders that we respect all human lives in all countries — and the Iraqis are our brothers and sisters.”

To reserve a seat on one of the chartered buses to Washington, D.C., call the WNC Peace Coalition at 271-0022. For more information about both the D.C. and San Francisco anti-war demonstrations, visit the International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Web site (

— Lisa Watters

Planning Board considers community-based planning

In its first meeting of the year, the Buncombe County Planning Board revisited familiar territory: an evolving proposal to launch community-based planning.

In a county that’s largely without zoning in the unincorporated areas, community-based planning is being floated as an option for folks who want to create some measure of land-use planning in their communities — similar to what has long been in place in Limestone and Beaverdam townships.

The discussion at the Planning Board’s Jan. 6 meeting once again centered on whether landowners’ wishes should carry more weight than those of community residents who don’t own property when it comes to signing the initial petition to create a planning district. On a 5-3 vote, board members agreed last week to limit their discussion to a proposal that did give landowners’ views more weight. But the board got bogged down on the question of exactly how much more weight.

Toward the end of the meeting, board members were debating setting certain requirements that community members would have to meet in gathering signatures for a petition to create a planning program in a township or fire-service area. An earlier draft of the proposal would have required that such petitions be signed by at least 20 percent of the area’s registered voters in order to be valid. But several Planning Board members also wanted to allow owners of local property who aren’t registered voters to sign these petitions. Also under debate is a requirement that the people signing the petition must collectively own at least 33 percent of the land in the proposed planning area.

During the discussion, board member Jay Marino observed, “We want to have community-based planning, but we’re making it really, really hard to do.”

But board member Karl Koon said he doesn’t want to make the requirements so easy that everyone will try it. At the same time, he wants those who attempt it to stand a good chance of success.

County Planner Jim Coman agreed to bring back a new proposal for the board to discuss. Planning Board meetings are open to the public; the next meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 27 in the County Training Room (199 College St. in downtown Asheville). If Planning Board members eventually agree on a recommendation, the proposal will then go to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

— Tracy Rose

Honoring King’s legacy

The 2003 Martin Luther King weekend happens Jan. 17-20. But the best way to remember the great civil-rights leader, says Oralene Simmons, is to continue his legacy of helping others.

“This is something Coretta Scott King speaks out on every year during this time,” notes Simmons, who chairs the Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville & Buncombe County. “About helping others — and how Martin helped other people. And she encourages people on this particular day to do something to help others.”

“Our theme this year, I think, is a very timely one: ‘Securing Our Future: A Community Commitment.’ And I think that goes along well with our choice of speaker [for this year’s Prayer Breakfast] — Dennis Rahiim Watson, executive director of the National Black Youth Leadership Council — because we feel that our youth are our future.”

Watson has lectured and led workshops at more than 200 high schools and colleges, ranging from the Ivy League (Yale, Columbia and Harvard) to such traditionally black schools as Morehouse College and Howard University. He has received numerous awards for his work with black youth, and Upscale magazine cited Watson as a “1991 Role Model for addressing problems of drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, gang warfare, self-esteem, empowerment and leadership training of young Black males.” He is also the author of the soon-to-be-released Black Love in the Afternoon, a book on African-American male/female relationships.

The annual Prayer Breakfast — scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 18 at 8:30 a.m. in the Grove Park Inn’s Grand Ballroom — brings together more than 1,200 area residents in one of the region’s most ecumenical, racially mixed events. Tickets are $18 for adults, $12 for children 12 and under. Besides an inspiring speaker, says Simmons, the event will include “a dynamite choir directed by Randy Western, a very tasty breakfast prepared by the staff at Grove Park Inn, a number of prayers by area ministers, [and] introduction of the recipient of the 2003 Martin Luther King Award.”

“Generally everyone leaves the breakfast with a very good feeling,” she reports. “Our speakers always bring us a very inspiring message.”

The breakfast will be followed by community dialogues at 10:30 p.m. in the Grove Park Inn’s Coolidge Room. Says Simmons: “So many times, people have things on their mind that they would like to talk about — particularly something the speaker might have said that reminds them of some issue that they would like to discuss, or something that they would like to see happen in Asheville. … Some of the community leaders will be on hand to talk with them. … Or if they want to sit in a circle and just dialogue, we will afford them the opportunity to do this.”

Other scheduled events during the weekend include the Youth Celebration and King Birthday Party in Pack Place’s Diana Wortham Theatre on Friday, Jan. 17, beginning at 4:30 p.m. The event will include dance, poetry by participants in Project S.T.E.A.M., music (including a special appearance by the award-winning Pine Forge Academy Student Choir from Pennsylvania), and the presentation of the 2003 Martin Luther King Youth Award. The award is given annually to a youth nominated by peers, teachers or community leaders for exemplary community service.

The presentation of the annual Martin Luther King Award to both an adult and a youth “exemplifies the philosophies and ideals of Martin Luther King,” Simmons explains. “We think it is important that we let people know what people are doing in our community to help others — and to honor them. And we have honored so many people over the years.”

Then on Monday, Jan. 20 comes the Peace March. The marchers will assemble at the St. James AME Church (at the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and Hildebrand Street in Asheville) at 11:30 a.m., accompanied by inspirational music and prayer. At noon, they’ll proceed to City/County Plaza for a rally featuring assorted speakers.

That evening, there will be a 6 p.m. candlelight service at the Nazareth First Baptist Church (146 Pine St.) where the adult winner and nominees for the 2003 Martin Luther King Award will be honored.

“It will be a beautiful candlelight service,” promises Simmons. “We will light candles of hope — and we will also make our commitment to our community.”

Tickets for the Prayer Breakfast are available at the YMI Cultural Center (39 S. Market St.), International Link (87 Patton Ave.), or by calling 667-1733. For more information about the breakfast or related events, call Simmons at 281-1624, or Andy Reed at 667-1733. For more information about the Youth Celebration, call Cassandra Ingram at 255-5305.

— Lisa Watters

County parks alive with possibilities

Where can you learn about exciting activities such as sightseeing tours for seniors, affordable gymnastics classes, and the Special Olympics? How do you determine the cost of naming a community venue after yourself or your business? Is there an easy way to find out about opportunities for renting such popular facilities as McCormick Field, Recreation Park and the Skyland Recreation Center’s pool or activity room?

No longer must you make a dozen phone calls or search countless Web sites to get the latest on recreational events and opportunities. Buncombe County Parks and Recreation Services now distributes Parks Alive, a semiannual magazine that serves as information central for local parks-and-recreation news.

“We just want to make sure that people are aware of all that we have to offer,” says Parks & Rec Administrative Officer Rhett Langston. “Check out the information on “partnership packages,” described in detail in the current issue (which covers Jan.1-June 30, 2003).

The packages are mutually beneficial agreements in which, after an employer pays a small sum, the entire staff of the business can receive free admission to Skyland Recreation Center (which offers a pool, tennis courts and activity rooms), the Nature Center (with walking trails and wildlife tours), and Lake Julian (including paddle-boat rentals) for the season, after there’s been one paid admission per employee.

“The names of all program participants will be on display on a panel at each Parks and Recreation facility,” notes Langston. “With all the facilities we’ve established, over 750,000 people see those in any given year, with more on the way.”

Parks Alive also gives mileage counts and directions to featured facilities and events. Facility rental and naming costs are detailed in each issue.

The magazine can be obtained at any Asheville-Buncombe library location, outside the Buncombe County Courthouse and Health Department, the Nature Center, the Department of Social Services, or by subscription.

For more information, contact Buncombe County Parks and Recreation at 298-6118.

— Larisa Harrill

Teens take charge

Laura Shiver believes that what a person learns and experiences during the teenage years can have a critical impact on the course of his or her adult life.

For that reason, the Youth Engaged in Service ambassador is seeking ninth, 10th- and 11th-graders who want to learn leadership skills or enhance the ones they already have. Inspired by the undiscovered potential of Buncombe County’s youth, Shiver coordinates Youth Leadership Asheville, in which five students from every high school in the county interactively develop and share ideas on local issues. After that, YLA provides training on what to do with those ideas to make a difference in the community.

Each monthly meeting lasts six hours. Half of that time is devoted to a specific issue that affects teens (education, local government, etc.); participants are encouraged to freely express their own views. During the remaining time, speakers from A-B Tech, UNCA, The Mediation Center, Buncombe County Parks and Recreation Services, the United Way, the YMCA and other relevant organizations discuss ways to translate those ideas into action through volunteer projects.

After six months, each student becomes a board member for the volunteer organization of his or her choice — a chance to put those newly acquired leadership skills to work.

YLA is funded by Points of Light, a Washington, D.C.-based group providing training and opportunities for youth nationwide.

“We’re not looking for people who are class president or otherwise serve on the school council,” says Shiver. “Nor do candidates have to have 4.0 GPAs. We’re not about that. Our goal is to access high-schoolers’ as-of-yet-undiscovered potential and teach them how to utilize that to the fullest.”

For more information, call Laura Shiver at 259-9717.

— Larisa Harrill

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