As community members wait for city leaders to make good on their commitment to reparations, residents of Asheville’s historically Black neighborhoods are taking matters into their own hands. On Thursday, Feb. 25, the E.W. Pearson Project Collaborative will host its first Racial Equity and Healing event to discuss meaningful solutions for historic racial inequities.
“We’re basing this on two things,” says Renée White, one of the event’s organizers. “One, there’s been no reparations. And secondly, it’s time for us to attempt to bring back some unity, some camaraderie within our neighborhoods and try to look at racial disparities and injustice from a different perspective.”
It’s the first event planned by the E.W. Pearson Project Collaborative, the formalized coalition of the Burton Street, East End/Valley Street and Shiloh Community neighborhood associations and the nonprofit Project Lighten Up. The free virtual program will share strategies for working with elected leaders to create and implement sustainable policy changes; a panel discussion will focus on effective ways to address inequity in public policy, education and the justice system.
Panelists include Seth L. Bellamy, the student body president at the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville and a youth activist; Rima Vesely-Flad, a Warren Wilson College professor who studies Black liberation in the context of the justice system; and Richard White III, Asheville’s assistant city manager and interim director of the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.
The team wanted to amplify community members who are doing important work but who aren’t the “usual suspects” who tend to dominate racial equity conversations, Renée White notes.
As Vesely-Flad thinks about reparations, she sees both lofty ideals that are vital to building strong movements and practical steps to advance the cause. In her portion of the discussion, she plans to focus on legislative advocacy and how reparations can directly impact families affected by the justice system. “I’m thinking about the people for whom work on reparations really matters,” she says.
The hope, Renée White says, is to educate people from different sectors and walks of life on the “large topics” of racial inequity, opportunity gaps and what constitutes reparations. If everyone’s on the same page, she suggests, neighborhoods are more likely to see positive results.
“I think in a time when the city, state and country are so divided, it’s important that we come together,” she says. “Whether you’re Black, white, purple or green, we need some unity.”
More information and online registration for the event are available at avl.mx/8zt.