Your report on hunger, inequality and food [“Legacy of Loss,” July 19, Xpress] has motivated me to send Mountain Xpress this letter. Asheville has a long history of institutional racism, both in hiring and in city government. This has not changed very much since the city moved Stephens-Lee High School together with Asheville High in 1969 and we had a riot at Asheville High.
To point out that, for example, the Asheville Fire Department is all-white and that it is very hard to find or see anyone working or eating in all the downtown and most West Asheville businesses who is not white is not racist. It is just a fact that shows very little has changed here since I was co-captain of the first integrated Asheville High football team and learned much about how Asheville has stacked the deck against nonwhites, and frankly that has not changed nearly as much as it should have over the years.
If we ever want this to change, and if we ever want children who are growing up in Pisgah View Apartments or the other city housing projects, who are mostly nonwhite, to have a chance to get out of the projects and own their own homes and have an equal chance at getting jobs in all the new upscale hotels, restaurants, bars and the Asheville Fire Department, we have to talk about it and acknowledge it is a longtime problem and a fact based in historical reality here.
Because of Trump and Republican proposals to drastically cut funding for EBT (food stamps), hungry families, especially children, will be suffering a lot more next year.
— John Penley
Editor’s note: Xpress contacted the city, and Asheville Fire Department public information officer Kelley Klope provided statistics showing that 3.5 percent of the AFD’s 260 staff members are black (nationwide, that figure was 8.4 percent in 2015). In addition, Klope noted: “The city of Asheville Fire Department includes diversity as one of our core values and has worked aggressively to maximize inclusion in our workforce. We have actively engaged in five different diversity initiatives that have proven very successful. These initiatives have been used as a model in our region and have increased the percentage of nonwhite male applicants for AFD from 8 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2016. We are anticipating an even more diverse applicant pool in our current hiring process. We also have twice the percentage of nonwhite males in top leadership roles than in our entire department, which is helping our diversity and inclusion efforts tremendously.”