COVID-19 isn’t slowing conversations on justice, nor will the virus stop Pisgah Legal Services from hosting the Asheville-based nonprofit’s 10th Justice Forum on Thursday, Oct. 1. The annual event is the organization’s biggest fundraiser. In 2019, more than 1,000 people attended Jose Antonio Vargas’ speech at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. This year, the festivities will be held virtually.
Headlining the event is Clint Smith, a staff writer at The Atlantic and author of Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Smith was named to the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and his poems and essays have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and The New Republic.
“Over the course of the past several months, the world has watched as unarmed Black men and women have had their lives taken at the hands of police and vigilantes,” Smith said in a 2015 TED Talk about the realities of raising a Black son in America. Five years later, that message still resonates.
Smith was selected as the event’s keynote speaker in February, long before names like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor entered the national conversation on race. Some might call it prescient, but Ally Wilson, Pisgah Legal’s development director, says it attests to the importance of racial justice in the nonprofit’s work.
“We feel like his voice and perspectives will help us really understand the factors at play that brought us to this moment that we’re in, both in Western North Carolina and as a country,” Wilson says. “In this time of reckoning with race and structural racism, [Smith] really grapples with the question of understanding the historical perspective to bring us to the current moment.”
Tickets are on sale for a preevent virtual reception featuring a poetry reading by Smith and a musical performance by local blues singer Kat Williams; the free forum will begin at 7 p.m. Advance registration is required at avl.mx/8as.
Zoom fatigue is real, Wilson recognizes, but she think’s Smith’s “engaging personality” will draw viewers into the discussion.
“I think people will have an entertaining and thought-provoking evening,” she says. “Even while we’re all watching on our own screens, we’ll feel connected to our community in different ways.”