Member DeLores Venable drew nods of approval from around the room as she summed up her reasons for joining the Human Relations Commission of Asheville at the group’s first meeting, held on June 14 at the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center. “One of the reasons that I came home is because Asheville is one of the greatest places that I know on earth,” she said. “I want my people to live just as beautifully as their surroundings.”
The 14 members of the HRCA hope to bring about that beauty through their work on human relations and equity throughout Asheville’s government. As laid out by a special Council-appointed Blue Ribbon Committee (see “Human Relations Commission holds first meeting on Thursday,” avl.mx/51r), the group will serve as a bridge between the community and city leadership, as well as recommend policies for Council to adopt.
The group’s diverse composition, shaped by BRC recommendations, was specifically chosen to represent African-American, Latinx, LGTBQ, youth, public housing resident, disabled and community leader perspectives. Its current members include Venable, Mychal Bacoate, Michael Carter, John B. Christensen, Patrick Conant, Ashley Cooper, Pearl DeBellott, Tiffany DeBellott, Gabrielle Fricke, Anne Greene, Davidson Jones, Christine Longoria, Sarah Williams and Chris Winebrenner. Council is still accepting applications for a 15th and final member.
Moving forward, the group will meet on the the third Thursday of every month at a location yet to be determined. Equity and Inclusion Manager Kimberlee Archie will serve as the commission’s staff liaison, while Council member Keith Young will act as Council’s liaison. Unique among city boards and commissions, the HRCA will have the dedicated support of a city staffer from Archie’s office beginning early next year, pending approval of the city’s 2018-19 budget.
HRCA members decided not to choose officers at their first meeting, agreeing that they needed more time to become familiar with each other and make informed decisions. They also did not set a date for the commission retreat, at which they hope to hash out their rules and procedures, priorities and first-year workplan.
That cautious beginning matched Young’s advice to the group as the meeting drew to a close. While he called the HRCA “the most important citizen board that we have as of this moment,” he encouraged the members to consider its work one step at a time. “Don’t feel like you have to conquer the world in one sitting, because you will burn yourself out.”