Reparations commission launches plan to increase engagement

FOLLOW-UP: Commission member MZ Yehudah, left, poses questions to representatives of the Carter Development Group after its preliminary presentation of the Cease the Harm Audit in January. Photo by Greg Parlier

As its deadline to submit final recommendations nears, the Community Reparations Commission is hitting the streets to gather input from Black voices in public housing, area churches and communities outside the City of Asheville who haven’t been heard.

Reparations commissioners unanimously approved a three-month public engagement plan to gather reactions and opinions from Black residents of Asheville and Buncombe County about the commission’s draft recommendations for local government leaders.

Vice Chair Dewana Little said the outreach plan, which will cost $65,000, is designed to make it as easy as possible for residents to provide suggestions for  the commission’s final recommendations.

“[When] some people go to a grocery store and approach us, they don’t understand what we’re doing and what this process is. That’s the issue, especially when it’s Black people, and that’s what this process is about,” she said.

Little said commissioners plan to develop flyers with QR codes to pass out and post on social media for residents to provide feedback.

“That way, if they cannot make it to an input session, they can still provide the input in a way [that] the full commission can see input from the community in real time,” Little said.

This month, commissioners and others involved in the process plan to go door to door in public housing communities and to Black History Month events to share details of the CRC’s work.

Over the next three months, there will be community public input sessions, door-to-door campaigns in various neighborhoods around the county and visits to churches and youth groups, according to the presentation.

The focused campaign comes after consistent criticism, especially from Rob Thomas, executive director of the Asheville-based Racial Justice Coalition, that not enough Black voices from Asheville’s public housing communities have been involved.

The RJC has been advocating for reparations since 2014 and proposed a partnership on increasing community engagement at the CRC’s January meeting. Little said she worked with Thomas and other stakeholders to develop the engagement plan.

While the plan is largely focused on the Black community, some commission members asked if they should widen the campaign.

“There are some areas throughout the [focus group meetings] that require outreach beyond the African American community,” suggested commission member Jesse Ray, citing the need for input from various industries, such as banking and housing.

Little said conversations about public-private partnerships have been underway with entities outside government. This plan is about engaging parts of the community that have not yet been involved. Commission member Osundu McPeters expressed concern that the same people have attended the events commissioners have held so far.

“What makes this different is that we are going to be on the ground. We’re not going to be sitting in our centers and where our [focus groups] meet, hoping people come to us and hoping different people show up. We are actually going to be out talking, really encouraging the community on the ground who have not been connected to this process,” Little said.

The engagement campaign is one of the last projects for the reparations commission, which is scheduled to wrap up the process by the end of June.

Facilitator Vernisha Crawford gave an updated timeline of the commission’s duties over the next several months. Commissioners will hear a final presentation on the Cease the Harm Audit from the Carter Development Group in March, review recommendations for criminal justice, housing and wellness focus areas in April, hold preliminary votes on recommendations in May and finalize recommendations in June, according to the schedule.

Several members said that is not enough time.

“None of this feels right. It feels so rushed,” said commission alternate Tiffany DeBellot. “I realize that we really fought tooth and nail to request and recommend more time. And that according to the city and county, it’s not feasible, as if we haven’t actually done any work.”

The reparations commission initially requested to extend its timeline through December and instead received an extension from April to June.

DeBellot recommended that the commission consider how it would carry the work forward beyond June and “hold accountable those entities that say they put us here but expect us to fail,” she added.

Noreal Armstrong, chief equity and human rights officer for Buncombe County, clarified that her office will continue to provide support to the commission, even after other county and city resources like legal, communications and data support decrease after June.

Carter Development Group fields questions

A month after the initial presentation of the Cease the Harm Audit, Adrian Carter, CEO of the Carter Development Group, answered the reparations commission’s questions about its audit of the City of Asheville and Buncombe County governments.

One theme of the questioning was how to hold the government agencies and the community accountable for Carter’s recommended changes.

Largely, Carter said that was up to the CRC, as his report was designed to simply review city and county processes and identify areas for improvement.

Commission Chair Dwight Mullen asked specifically about whether the city or county should be pressed to close the racial opportunity gap in education, as seen in exam scores and disciplinary actions.

Carter said legislative changes may need to be pursued for the county to hold school districts accountable for disparities.

“What can the county require that the faculty and staff ratio to Black students reflect properly? Can the county or should the county be able to say, ‘Hey, we require certain levels of sensitivity or cultural sensitivity training?’” Carter asked.

Ultimately, Carter said his group did not find the city or county was breaking any laws or violating any ordinances. Instead, the report suggested changes in training and processes to improve access to services for Black residents.

Carter is scheduled to present the finalized Cease the Harm Audit report at the March 18 CRC meeting.



Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

4 thoughts on “Reparations commission launches plan to increase engagement

  1. Tom Beatty

    Cash reparations is a useless gesture with no long-term benefits. I suggest that minority persons be provided fee education to whatever level they are capable of, i.e. BS, MS, PhD, Dental, electrician, janitor, cab driver, nurse, firefighter, etc.

  2. Bill

    Talk is cheap. Why does an outreach plan cost $65,000? Who is getting paid for this besides the staff and reparations commissioners who are already getting paid? Who will be going door-to-door – retired encyclopedia salesmen?

  3. indy499

    I wonder what % of the “community” comments will involve the phrase More Money?

  4. KW

    Reparations should focus on policy change and financial literacy for all. Then we can discuss what to do with the cash.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.