From Dec. 1-5, Xpress’ website will feature profiles of the eight people we selected as Asheville influentials for 2016. You can also view all eight in this week’s print issue.
Our area sees its fair share of awards and recognition ceremonies. And many dedicated individuals receive well-deserved attention for the work they do to make our community a great place to live.
But it often seems a small group of movers and shakers get all the glory, while the energy and talent of legions of other contributors remain hidden in plain sight.
So, in the spirit of our mission to build community and foster civic dialogue, Xpress set out to find some of those lesser-known folks who are quietly doing important work in the Asheville area. We put out a call for nominations and received a total of 41. From there, our editorial team conducted background research on the nominees, including interviews with colleagues and collaborators. Gradually, over a series of meetings, the list was narrowed to eight outstanding influencers.
The nominees, overall, embodied a high degree of the qualities we were hoping to celebrate. That’s the calling card of a committed community: We have an abundance of passionate citizens mobilized to make a difference in the Asheville area. We realized, through the course of this project, it only scratches the surface of all the active, influential people in our region. As such, Xpress hopes to revisit this concept in the future.
Xpress applauds the work of those profiled here, and we hope you will be as inspired as we have been to learn more about their motivations and contributions.
— Xpress editorial staff
There are two ways to view the Q&A: Either click the graphic below or scroll down to see text version of their answers (some text versions have more information than we could fit in the graphic).
- Director, Christians for a United Community
- Unites communities of faith with social justice projects
- Works to eliminate disparities caused by racism
- Mentors students at Francine Delany New School
“He unites generations as an educator, friend and neighbor, and works tirelessly on racial justice and the well-being of children in Asheville. Through his projects, he brings together communities of faith; works to build police-community relations and trust: teaches Asheville locals to identify and navigate systems of racism and oppression: supports organizations that provide job training and access to a living wage; and acts as role model and support for children at Francine Delaney.”
Tyrone Greenlee is a native of Asheville and currently works as director of Christians for a United Community, a nonprofit coalition of churches that mobilizes people of faith around issues of social justice, focusing on dismantling racism and the disparities caused by racism. He also works as a mentor/mediator at the Francine Delany New School for Children in West Asheville. Tyrone is a community activist, having served on the boards of Children First, the Center For Participatory Change and the WCQS Advisory Board. Tyrone currently serves on the boards of Just Economics, Green Opportunities and Hands and Feet of Asheville. In addition, Tyrone volunteers with the Building Bridges of Asheville anti-racism organization. Tyrone is a member of the New Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, where he serves on the sanctuary choir, the men’s choir, the youth ministry and where he was ordained as a deacon in January 2012. He is also a member of Circle of Mercy Congregation in Asheville.
What books, music or other media influenced you as a kid?
As a child/teenager, I was influenced by popular music of the time, music of my church and probably music of the movies.
Who were the three most influential people in your life as a kid?
Certainly, my mother and father, Myrtle and William Greenlee, my brother, Michael Greenlee, and the pastor of my church when I was younger, Rev. O.T. Tomes.
What books, music or other media influence you today?
Spiritual music, the hymns and anthems of the Baptist church, particularly spirituals, which touch me deeply and speak to our survival as African-Americans. I also love dance music, like Bruno Mars.
In terms of books, the Bible is a great influence on me and has great bearing on my life; Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution was a huge influence on my understanding of Christianity and the work of social justice. Facebook is probably more of an influence on my life than it should be. And cultural arts, particularly movies and stage plays, which not only entertain me but also help me to understand the human condition.
Who are the three most influential people in your life today?
I am influenced greatly by the ministry, life and teachings of Jesus Christ. I am influenced by the writings and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I would also have to note the Building Bridges of Asheville organization as one of my influencers today. I continue to deepen and grow my understanding of myself and how racism shapes my life through my volunteer work there. Also, Christians for a United Community is a huge part of my current journey as I continually seek to understand who and what I am called to in the work of justice and my faith.
What is your favorite quote?
“We are much more alike than we are different” — Maya Angelou
“Be the change you want to see”
How does Asheville influence you?
Asheville influences me daily with its beauty and eccentricity. Asheville also influences me daily to continue to work for justice and fairness for all because of the inequities in housing and income in our community.
What makes you passionate about Asheville?
What makes me passionate about Asheville is the fierce, ever-present, hardworking social justice community, the opportunity to become involved and make a real difference in the community and Asheville’s vibrant downtown.
Why is investing in your community important?
Investing in our community is important because I believe it is important for each of us to do all we can to make this world — our community— the best it can be. I believe we are all called to use our unique gifts and skills for the greater good. And, as creations of God, we are called to celebrate and nurture our oneness.
Is there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to be the community-spirited person you are today?
Probably my first experience as a participant in Building Bridges. I came to understand how important it is to be continually in conversation about racism and its current manifestations. I also came to realize that each of us can make a positive difference in this world and in our own individual spheres of influence.
If you had $50,000 to spend on your project, how would you spend it?
I would create a conference center focused on the work of dismantling racism with staff and full facilities, which would house several organizations in the community doing this work space enough for meetings, retreats and workshops all under one roof.
What’s your core advice for your fellow community members?
To find your voice; to use your power as a member of community; to work for justice; and to find places and spaces of sself-care
What keeps you awake at night?
Worry about the world, about the aftermath of the presidential election, the divisiveness that seems to have overtaken our country.
What helps ease your mind so you can sleep?
Belief in a God who knows all and sees all and holds each of us in his loving embrace.
If you hadn’t chosen your current path, what are some other ways your career or your interests might have evolved?
I might have been an actor, a professional singer, or a participant in the cultural arts in some way.
What is one thing about you that people would find surprising?
That I am an introvert and that I used to be a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. … That last one is a joke.
What can the community do to support your work and efforts?
The community can support my work by engaging in the work of dismantling racism and being honest about the racism that affects all of our lives, to work to educate themselves about where racism lives in our relationships and institutions, and to take concrete steps to address issues of racism and disparity.
What would you like your work’s lasting legacy to be?
That we as a nation and community understand how important it is to fight the evils of racism.