UNCA Prof. Dwight Mullen gives “State of Black Asheville” address

UNCA political science Professor Dwight Mullen spoke tonight at MAHEC, giving the annual State of Black Asheville address. Xpress Contributing Reporter Michael Muller provided live coverage via Twitter. What follows is a compilation of his tweets.

I’m at “The State of Black Asheville,” hosted by the YWCA as part of its “Stand Against Racism” initiative.

Dr. Mullen is reportedly fearless and outspoken in his beliefs, which should make for a lively evening.

There are approximately 100 people in the audience; 90 percent are white. NOTE: Official sources indicate that the percentage of African Americans in the audience was ultimately higher, closer to 40%. I don’t dispute this, mine was an initial observation early in the evening -MM

The welcoming statement is given by the lovely Jackie Hallum of MAHEC. Hallum is talking about the role of Katherine Lynne (sp?) in making the local “Stand Against Racism” project a success. Asheville is number-two in the country in participation, eclipsing many larger cities. The movement started two years ago in Trenton, N.J., and spread to the Northeast in its second year; this year the project went national, Hallum says.

Hallum is talking about tomorrow’s event in Black Mountain, in which Darcel Grimes will be moderating. The link to other events over the next few days is http://bit.ly/budBLv

Hallum is leading the Pledge Against Racism. People are all standing, reciting the pledge, whose words can be found here: http://bit.ly/bkDKOJ

Dr. Mullen is being introduced by Halum as, among other things, a “progressive and proud hooligan.”

Mullen wants to “talk about the numbers and what we should do about the numbers,” and to hear from everyone. Mullen wants to talk about nonpublic policy areas.

The “State of Black Asheville” (SOBA) started out as a small lunch among students and faculty, but immediately blossomed into a bigger thing, he says. SOBA quickly grew to 400 participants in first year, patterned after Tavis Smiley’s Covenant. February 2007 was the first SOBA, and was an outcrop of other efforts for the last 30 years here in Asheville.

Mullen says he applied to UNCA to be a professor and stayed there. Mullen lived most of his life in Los Angeles and Atlanta; he saw HIV and crack-use devastate those cities.

He talks about the links between “old Asheville” and “new Asheville” and how, here, we tend to work together; he cites the YMI as an example. He says increased quality and access to health care for people of color is another good example.

Don’t downplay our successes, says Mullen. Integration of the Asheville City School Board is a good example.

Mullen talks about the U.S. president eulogizing Dorothy Height today, who died recently at 98.

Mullen is talking about the tremendous but unsung mentoring that goes on in the African-American community. Mullen tells stories of successful SOBA students who are now in top-level graduate programs, and law students.

Geometry is the number-one predictor of how well you will do in college, says Mullen. Black students lag far behind.

Mullen is frustrated dealing with the Asheville Police Department; he says they refuse him access to data and are rude.

The seeds we planted in the “Law & Order Years” of Reagan-Bush-Bush are coming home. He talks about high recidivism rate after incarceration due to poor support structures and that about 700,000 former ex-convicts will be released into U.S. society in the next few years.

Educational, sociological disparities have effects on lifetyles and lifespan (average lifespan is 70 years for black men; 78 for white men).

Public housing was not meant to be permanent, says Mullen. What happened when we “urban renewed”? asks Mullen. Neighborhood schools were turned into rec centers; neighborhoods were disrupted. History shapes our present says Mullen.

Mullen is charming and funny. He’s sporting a gray goatee, wire-frame glasses and a bowtie.

Why do we have city employees who can’t afford to live in the city?

He’s talking about how blacks and whites have a common cause in their efforts to improve neighborhoods.

Mullen asks, “Where do we go from here? Chaos or Community?” citing the title of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s last book.

Mullen is talking about leadership training among the African-American community. Among blacks, “The personal is political” says Mullen. “The numbers we are looking at are our neighbors and our friends.”

Mullen is talking about initiatives in Asheville, such as the urban-gardening project.

Mullen is asked to expand on his comments with his experiences with the Asheville Police Department, and his views on the Citizens Advisory Board.

Mullen: [First we must address the] hiring of black police officers and poor retention, recruitment. He says only one black is in the officer corp.

The APD would not release data when he requested stats on “driving while black” crime, he says.

The police cannot become an occupying army. An empowered Citizens Review Board was never put into place.

Black unemployment is 50 percent in Asheville says Mullen.

An audience member says there’s no economic development here for minorities, no reason for graduates to stay. Members of the audience are talking about lack of infrastructure to keep black people here.

Mullen is talking about employers who are willing to hire ex-offenders, hundreds of whom are about to be released in Buncombe County.

Mullen just pointed at me and smiled, said, “Twitter … I can’t believe technology.”

— photo by Michael Muller


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2 thoughts on “UNCA Prof. Dwight Mullen gives “State of Black Asheville” address

  1. Fawnie

    “Dr. Mullen is reportedly fearless and outspoken in his beliefs, which should make for a lively evening.”

    It’s to the discredit of the MountainXpress and their coverage via twitter that Michael Muller chooses to introduce Dr. Mullen with the above statement.

    As disparities between racial lines continue to deepen, the factual assertions(not opinions) of Dr. Mullen and his contemporaries are too often viewed as bothersome, secondary, or–as in this case–“lively” and entertaining.

    I remind the MountainXpress that, in Asheville, the bodies of Black Americans who were owned as property, were terrorized during the Jim Crow era, and who fought for Civil Rights lie buried in the soil. And yet there remains a stunning silence from the community at large to the direct needs and disenfranchisement that the legacy of slavery in Buncombe County–and indeed, across the country–has produced.

    In the future, I ask that due diligence on the part of the journalist be relied on. Our town and our people have a story. Listen.

  2. Barry Summers

    I’m surprised that XPress is giving Michael Muller yet another chance after the vulgar and inappropriate things he has tried to pass off as “reporting” in the past.

    Are there really no actual reporters left in this town?

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