BY PAT KELLY
Like lots of Ashevilleans, this weekend I’ve got lots of choices for places to go and people to meet.
On Friday, I’m volunteering at the Asheville Wine & Food Festival at U.S. Cellular Center —and getting a head start on all the delicious samples that local chefs and restaurants will be offering all day Saturday — before I head out in the afternoon to feed my soul at the Montreat Conference Center in Black Mountain for the Martin Luther King Jr. Unfinished Agenda Conference.
But there’s a deeper hunger gnawing away at my consciousness about being a proud Ashevillean. There’s a critical need to get out and show support and civic pride for the Asheville Wine & Food Festival. The festival showcases the hard work, the products and people that are driving economic growth and pushing us to the top of all the “Best Of” lists for retirement destination, craft beer, bluegrass music, local food and wine.
But what’s eating away at many locals is the other group of Ashevilleans hitting rock bottom on the kinds of lists no one wants to volunteer for.
· In Buncombe County, one in four children live in poverty and more than half of students attending Asheville City and Buncombe County schools are eligible for free and reduced-rate lunch.
· In a recent study, Buncombe County ranked 92nd out of more than 2,400 counties nationwide when it came to the inability of children to move out of poverty.
· Buncombe County ranked at the bottom in Western North Carolina for childhood upward mobility.
· We have one of the country’s fastest-rising poverty rates.
· A decade ago, North Carolina had the 26th-highest rate among the states. Now we’re 10th, speeding past the competition.
· Over the last decade, North Carolina experienced the country’s steepest rise in concentrated poverty.
· Children of color, the fastest-growing segment of North Carolina’s child population, are two to three times as likely to live in poverty as their non-Hispanic white peers.
· The 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranks North Carolina 35th in the country for overall child well-being.
As I join the Wine & Food Festival volunteers at U.S. Cellular Center downtown and the 700 other social justice advocates to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s address to the Christian Action Conference in Montreat, I will be thinking about our kids and looking to the future.
In the city of Asheville, with its wealth of social capital and talent, a mecca for aging boomers looking to be relevant and to leave a legacy of social change, we are also a community struggling to build bridges between races and heal divisions of poverty generations old.
I will be thinking about the question being asked of all of us at the conference — how can we come together to answer the challenges King posed in Anderson Auditorium in 1965?
My intention this weekend is to make a contribution to the Asheville Wine & Food Festival as a showcase for profiling our local talents and gastronomic delights — and to engage an intergenerational community in embracing and lifting up Dr. King’s unfulfilled dream as our very own: a legacy of standing up against what he persistently labeled as the horrible scourges of our national and world orders: racism, poverty, war and materialism.
Pat Kelly is a healthcare advocate with a consulting practice in Asheville and Toronto, Canada.