Year in Review: Community members find hope amid uncertain times

YEAR-ROUND SMILES: Elle Erickson, center, and her Booth Fairy Project volunteers helped spread hope and positivity throughout 2021. Photo by Jaze Uries

What gave you hope in 2021? Xpress asked a variety of community members from a range of professions to tap into their optimistic sides and look to the future.


“It’s so easy to feel hopeless these days, but I do see little lights twinkling in the darkness. That sudden overwhelming interest in gardening that sprouted in spring 2020 seems to have dug in for the long haul. And pandemic supply chain problems have forced us into an awareness of how fragile our current corporate food system can be. Most of all, though, I feel hopeful when I see how pandemic response mutual aid efforts like the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council’s neighborhood outdoor pantry project have not withered over time but instead gained momentum and evolved toward the establishment of long-term networks and infrastructure for resilience.” — Gina Smith, coordinator, Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council

“Many risky behaviors among our youth (e.g., drugs, sexual activity and violence) continue to trend down. We innovated and rolled out vaccines faster than anyone anticipated; the costs of renewable fuels continue to fall; and the meteoric rise of telemedicine, outdoor dining, meatless burgers and alternative work models testify to our underlying resilience. The pace of change has been disorienting and sometimes overwhelming, but it has also freed us from a lot of tired traditions and assumptions. Locally, I have witnessed more collaboration across communities, organizations and interest groups than ever. This is a wonderful time to be a social entrepreneur.” — Tina Madison White, executive director, Blue Ridge Pride Center

“This year was amazing. We launched Asheville’s newest festival, GRINDfest — a celebration of Black business and entrepreneurship. We had such an amazing response hosting 4,000 people from 19 different states. We’re preparing for next year’s event to be even bigger and better. I have hope that more diversity is coming back to the River Arts District to the point that it will honor the history of its origins as Southside — before urban renewal. This means businesses and activities from people of color will participate in growth happening in our neighborhood.” — J Hackett, founder Black Wall Street AVL

“Societally, there wasn’t much that gave me “hope,” honestly. But the focus and commitment of people in my industry, like [Flat Rock Playhouse Producing Artistic Director] Lisa Bryant and [N.C. Stage Company Artistic Director] Charlie Flynn-McIver, gave me hope. They have been laser focused on protecting their theaters, their staff members, their facilities and the future of theater in Western North Carolina. It’s been hard, but they have worked their butts off to get through these weird, uncertain times and have probably made their theaters stronger for it in the long run. I appreciate how freaking hard they work. Their stewardship gives me hope.” — Scott Treadway, actor

“The great people who I know and see working to help people give me hope. Their selfless acts and kind gestures make such a big difference in folks’ lives, and it’s wonderful seeing the small guys get rewarded and not forgotten about.” — Keynon Lake, executive director, My Daddy Taught Me That

“In a very challenging year, I would highlight these remarkable local milestones: the opening of Maple Crest Apartments, 212 units of affordable housing in the former Lee Walker Heights development; the launch of a city reparations process in recognition of harms done to the African American community, including neighborhood destruction and displacement during urban renewal; and the use of peer specialists to support people in recovery.” — Holly Jones, WNC community outreach coordinator, N.C. Department of Justice

“All the people I see still hustling for the love of people and place have me hopeful.” — DeWayne Barton, owner, Hood Huggers International

“I’m blown away not only by the resiliency of our members but also by how committed our breweries and beverage producers have remained to their collaborative and philanthropic efforts. In particular, we had a brewery member and a couple of long-standing industry folks who were hit especially hard by [Tropical Storm] Fred back in August. Seeing our industry come together to contribute funds, resources and volunteer hours in support of fellow industry members in their time of need was incredible. I don’t know that I’d say it gives me hope about next year, but more that it gives me hope in general — and confidence that this industry is full of some pretty remarkable people.” — Leah Rainis, executive director, Asheville Brewers Alliance

“Actually, a lot of things give me hope about 2022. This is a time that, as a culture, we have finally made space for language to talk publicly about issues of equity and inclusion. We can recognize institutional racism and policies that keep certain people marginalized so that we can change the hurt and damage they have caused for generations. It doesn’t have to be the way we live forever.” — Shannon Cornelius, health justice program director, Pisgah Legal Services

“Millions of people visited the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2021, many of whom spent time in our neighboring communities. … The fact that park visitors are drawn to these treasured spaces gives me hope that no matter what is going on in the world, people value their national parks — and need them now more than ever.” — Tracy Swartout, superintendent, Blue Ridge Parkway

“Working with students gives me hope. This generation is full of fearless, creative thinkers who are much more inclusive in many ways that I remain hopeful in our shared futures.” — Trey Adcock, executive director, The Center for Native Health

“Now that North Carolina has raised the age of marriage to 16, I’m hopeful that more teens will be protected from the harm of child marriage (and I hope that soon that age will be raised to 18, where it should be). It was encouraging to see this bipartisan effort to protect children. In addition, I’m hopeful that after our Cherokee Land Acknowledgement project, Buncombe County will continue its ongoing dialogue with our Native American neighbors, and we can start to build a relationship that can achieve something substantial.” — Drew Reisinger, Register of Deeds, Buncombe County

“Buncombe Emergency Services employees inspire me daily with the level of care and customer service they provide to this community. In the wake of the Tropical Storm Fred flooding, my hope was also reinforced to see so many neighbors helping neighbors, and our emergency service teams responding and providing lifesaving services. Lastly, the Board of Commissioners has shown strong support for our community and emergency services. When EMS was experiencing a major increase in call volume, commissioners voted to provide an extra ambulance and staff to improve response times, and have awarded American Rescue Plan Act funds toward expanding our Community Paramedic Program and incident response capabilities.” — Taylor Jones, Emergency Medical Services director, Buncombe County

“The union between people — the unity in the community; the sibling-hood created by this tragic time; the love and mutual support; the solidarity from children to older adults — gives me hope. The people I have met joining hands and lifting each other up have become heroes in their own communities.” — Ponkho Bermejo, co-director, BeLoved Asheville

“I’m optimistic from Asheville continuing its growth as a “music city,” which will continue to draw music lovers from all over the region, plus the amazing people moving here and continuing to bring new, cool businesses to the area, including Citizen Vinyl, Harvest Pizza and so many more. Also, city of Asheville and Buncombe County staff helped small businesses by allowing outdoor tables in parking spaces, having the mandatory mask mandate and providing aid with grants. Kudos to our elected officials for being proactive.” — Mike Rangel, president, Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co.

“The actual community that pulled together to get the jobs done when the government wouldn’t or simply just didn’t has me hopeful.” — Cliff B. Worsham, musician

“Several of the ways that our City Council and County Commission are spending the COVID recovery funding from the federal government are giving me some hope for the future. Investing in housing the homeless, improving internet access, digital literacy, early education and many other projects should bring longer-term benefits to our community. That, combined with the steps our community is taking toward reparations, are all giving me hope that we are moving in the right direction.” — Andrew Celwyn, owner, Herbiary; member, Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority

“What happened this year that gives me hope is witnessing leaders in faith institutions who, before the COVID-19 pandemic, were silent and complicit about state-sanctioned violence and structural racism but are now pushing to the forefront of justice issues, explicitly naming white supremacy in themselves, their churches and their denominations, and supporting the strategies of Black-bodied leaders to experience reparations and collective liberation.” — Rev. Tami Forte Logan, founder, Faith 4 Justice Asheville

“I am most hopeful about all the work that equity advocates are doing to shift policy, practice and procedural changes across the region. It’s unlikely we will solve all the issues surrounding racism, homophobia or anti-Semitism in this lifetime, but I’m excited by the leaders that are getting educated, asking tough questions and leading the change. Daily, I’m inspired by community activists and teachers starting new initiatives and sharing new solutions. We have a lot of work to do, but I feel good about doing the work together.” — Aisha Adams, program developer, Lenoir-Rhyne Equity & Diversity Institute


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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