I commend Explore Asheville and LaZoom Tours owners Jim and Jennifer Lauzon for their work to “attract diverse visitors to a mostly white city” [“Change of Face: Working to Attract Diverse Visitors to a Mostly White City,” Nov. 14, Xpress]. Someone noticed? Explore Asheville CEO Stephanie Brown’s comments that the organization intends to consciously increase the diversity of the people it portrays and her caution on knowing when not to “use” the content, are likewise commendable. I applaud the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s recent financial support of the YMI Cultural Center and the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center.
But does the Asheville Visitor Center reflect diversity? If you are white, let me suggest walking into the center and imagining that you are black. Do you see yourself in it? I recently walked around the whole area and found only one African-American face, and that was on one brochure, of what seemed like hundreds, for a county assistance agency. What does that say to a black resident or visitor?
Or reverse it, and say you went to some other city as a white person and walked into their visitor center and saw only African-American faces on the walls and on the brochures of businesses, galleries, restaurants and tours. My guess is that you would turn around and walk out at not seeing yourself there and not feeling comfortable, just as I assume many black residents and visitors do here.
If you want to celebrate Asheville’s diversity, go around the block and take a photograph of the kids at the Tempie Avery Montford Center or drive down South French Broad to the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center and photograph kids doing some incredible dance steps. Or drop by the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center and take some photos of the kids in the gym, or people working in the garden or in the kitchen. Blow those up and display on your walls. I would certainly feel more welcome.
I believe that if the city hadn’t leveled Stephens-Lee, the high school that for over 60 years was the center of education, life and culture for the black community, and hadn’t eradicated much of Eagle and Valley streets, Stumptown cuddled up at the side of the Montford Historic District, and the large Southside area of homes, hotels, markets, theaters and other businesses, then residents would still have something to be proud of. And the city would have the “tourist destination” it’s trying so hard to re-create, instead of only historical markers of what used to be.
— Zoe Rhine
Editor’s note: Xpress contacted the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and received the following response from Erin Leonard, the chamber’s director of communications: “The Asheville Visitor Center is part of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. Our staff and volunteers welcome more than 200,000 visitors each year and connect them to local companies and services. We provide opportunities for member businesses and organizations to display their brochures or posters in the Visitor Center. We strive for our membership to represent a broad cross section of Asheville businesses. We appreciate this feedback and agree that creating a welcoming environment is important.”