Activists, political leaders and people around the country are demanding reparations for Black residents. But what do reparations look like? And how do Asheville’s reparations efforts measure up to those of other cities?
The eighth annual African Americans in Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia Conference, presented by UNC Asheville, will examine both local and national reparations Saturday, Nov. 6. The free event takes place virtually 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and is open to the public.
This year’s theme, Reparations, Revelations and Racial Justice: The Path Forward, will explore reparations efforts through a panel discussion and keynote speakers. Participants include former Asheville City Council member Keith Young; Rob Thomas of the Racial Justice Coalition; Dwight Mullen, UNCA professor emeritus and creator of The State of Black Asheville, an undergraduate research project that provides data about and analysis of racial disparities in Asheville; and Gholdy Muhammad, author of Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy.
“When I think of reparations, I think of giving children and people in general what they need to thrive and to fill those gaps of what was not provided for them in terms of equity for all,” says Muhammad, a professor of language and literacy at Georgia State University who specializes in education equity. “We can have all of what our children need. We don’t have to have an either/or dilemma. We can have the skills and the state standards, but also the identity, the equity and the joy.”
The event will also feature presentations from UNCA faculty and students on initial findings from the Urban Renewal Archival Database and the Lost Black Wealth Study. A virtual exhibit, Black in Black on Black, will explore the lives and contributions of African American communities in Western North Carolina.
Asheville made national headlines in July 2020 after becoming one of the first cities in the country to pass a reparations resolution. The language charged the city with establishing a new commission to make short-, medium- and long-term recommendations to “address the creation of generational wealth” in the Black community and to “make significant progress toward repairing the damage caused by public and private systemic racism.” At a June 8 meeting, Asheville City Council voted to appropriate $2.1 million from the sale of city-owned land to establish initial funding for the program.
“Resolutions are great beginnings,” says Tiece Ruffin, one of the event’s organizers and the interim director of Africana Studies at UNC Asheville. “It’s wonderful to have a legal document moving forward to say, ‘This is what we’re committed to, and we apologize.’ However, what do we do next? How do we actualize this so that it moves beyond promises and things we think are great ideas to actually moving the needle to have a paradigm for justice?”
Asheville’s resolution supporting reparations had called for a joint city and county Community Reparations Commission to be established by July. The city has failed to meet that and other deadlines related to reparations, causing some community members to criticize the process.
City Manager Debra Campbell hired consulting firm TEQuity for $366,000 to manage the program in September. The consulting fee will come out of the $2.1 million already set aside for reparations.
Applications for the commission opened Oct. 18 and will be accepted through Monday, Nov. 15.
Debra Clark Jones, president of TEQuity, told Council on Oct. 12 that appointments will be finalized by January. An Oct. 20 city press release also acknowledges community calls for the selection to be an “inclusive process that engages our Black community members” and linked to an online survey that asks for feedback on the application and nomination methods.
“I am aware that there are some community members that believe that the process has not fully engaged the community,” says Ruffin. “I appreciate community members that have questioned the process because I believe that the community should engage as critical thinkers.”
Young, who helped develop the reparations resolution but has been critical of Ashevile’s progress on racial equity since losing reelection in 2020, adds that the city should take unprecedented efforts to reach Asheville’s roughly 11,000 Black residents. He suggests that a door-to-door campaign similar to that used during the U.S. census should be considered to ensure as much participation as possible.
“Every Black voice needs to be heard in some way, shape or form. We only have a small percentage of Black folks in Asheville. There needs to be an effort like nothing before for community engagement,” Young maintains.
“Everybody can’t be a city manager. Everyone can’t be mayor or sit on Council. … Only a handful are going to be picked to represent their communities on [the Reparations Commission],” he continues. “But what everybody can do is lend their voice.”
More information and registration for the event are available at avl.mx/apk.