Asheville Daily Planet
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Monday, 01 July 2019 23:34

With gentrification, tourism, city’s black population feeling left out?

By JOHN NORTH

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UNC Ashevlle’s Leadership Asheville program hosted a lively panel discussion that covered many issues, but eventually drifted to what were characterized as the concerns of some — perhaps many — blacks and other minorities in Asheville that they not only feel completely left out of an otherwise “connected community” of whites, but, through gentrification, they are getting a clear signal that they are unwanted here and should move elsewhere.


 The first session of the 2019 Summer Buzz Breakfast Series, held June 20 at West Asheville’s Crowne Plaza Expo Center, drew a turnout of more than 160 people — predominately white.


The program’s topic was to be “How Do We Build a Connected Community?” Also discussed was the question of “What Is a Connected Community?” Future monthly Summer Buzz Breakfast programs in the series will continue to deal with the “Connected Community” theme.


The program, centered around a panel discussion, reached a point where the participants seemed to agree that the overwhelmingly white Asheville likes to entertain the notion that the city is “diverse” and features terrific community connections, when, in reality, according to panelist Kimberlee Archie, many African-American residents and other minorities “don’t feel a part of this place or of the people” — and the city’s “diversity” is a myth.


“They (many blacks) feel there is no unified community because ‘it (Asheville) is all about tourism,’” a sector that they feel displaces them.


Also, Archie, with others agreeing, said that, with gentrification — and blacks continuing to dwindle as a percentage of the population, “people of color” are feeling as if they are being “pushed out of Asheville.”


Panelist Kenyon Lake lamented that Asheville is “one of the (few) places in the United States that has a dwindling African-American community.” To that end, he said, “There’s nothing for African-American youths” (to do) in Asheville.”

Leadership Asheville “exists to enhance community leadership by developing, connecting, and mobilizing citizens throughout the region,” according to its website.


Among the elected officials attending — and recognized before the program — were Amanda Edwards, a member of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners; and Julie Mayfield, a member of Asheville City Council. 


The 80-minute program featured the four panelists answering several questions from the moderator, Dr. Darin J. Waters, an assistant professor of history and special assistant to the chancellor for community outreach and engagement at UNCA, where he teaches courses in American history, North Carolina history, Appalachian history, African-American and Brazilian history.  He also specializes in the history of race relations in both the United States and Latin America.


Of the two panelists mentioned earlier, Archie is equity and inclusion office director for the City of Asheville; while Lake is founder of My Daddy Taught Me That, which is a mentoring group. Lake also is a social worker for Buncombe County.


The other two panelists were the Rev. Amy Cantrell, co-director for BeLoved Asheville, a nonprofit for those living on the fringes of society.; and Stephanie Monson Dahl, interim assistant director of planning and urban design for the City of Asheville.


During the first 10 minutes of the program, those in attendance were asked to use their cellphones — by dialing a special code — to answer several questions pertaining to: “How connected do you feel to this community?”


After the information was collected and collated, Waters addressed the attendees, noting, “I’m glad Leadership Asheville is taking on this topic. This is the topic everyone is talking about.”


Waters added that a recent survey shows that North Carolinians “do feel disconnected and they’d like to find a way to reconnect with one another... And we don’t discuss issues, when (the issue of) race comes in, honestly. And we’d like to do that. Thirdly, we’d like to build bridges of understanding.”


The moderator then began the formal portion of the program by asking each panelist, “What does a connected community mean to you?”


Archie replied, “I feel like I came from a connected community” as she was growing up. “When I think about what ‘connected community’ is…. It’s relational. A connected community has truth. There’s reciprosity. There’s communication.”


Dahl said, “I think ‘connected community’ is a powerful community. I think it distributes power among itself fairly evenly…. They have to know themselves. We have to find common ground and shared values in order to build connected community…. The thing that really ‘lights my fire ‘was building public places, where people can make connections.”


To the same question, Lake began his answer by noting that “I’m a native of Asheville,” which, he said, makes him a rarity in the community and, as such, also was the only native among the panel members.


Lake added that, for the past several years, he has worked for the county as a social worker with children and then “community engagement.” 


In addition to his social worker job, Lake noted that he is the chief executive officer of My Daddy Taught That — an agency that mentors young men. Its website billed it as “a program designed to support the development, uplift and education of youth and young males.”


Lake asserted, “For me, on ‘connected community,’ the biggest word I can think of is ‘sacrifice.’ Also, ‘trust.’ And then my last word would be ‘inclusion’ We have to find a way to include everyone to have a connected community


Cantrell said,  “So ‘rootedness’ is one of the words I would put for connected community. I’m into ‘logistic community building.’ And so one of the things I’ve learned is — ask yourself two questions: ‘Where do you go?’ and ‘Who do you know?’


“For me, it’s: ‘Who are the people I know?’ So my community was always on the other side of the door and the other side of the street. So it was my responsibility” in her perception of her moral responsibility “to connect with them. I needed to go to the other side of the door and the other side of the street…. We have to be honest. Honesty gets us to connectedness. If we lie to ourselves, we’ll never get there.”


Before Waters asked the next question, results of the audience’s response to the question of “How connected do you feel to this community?” via the cellphone poll, showed the following result (which was shown on two big overhead screens):


• Not at all — 7 percent

• Very little — 9 percent

• Somewhat connected — 50 percent

• Very connected — 34 percent

• Totally connected — 6 percent


For the second question, Waters told the panelists, “I’d like you to respond to what you might say about these results?”


“ I’m actually glad to see these results,” Lake answered.  “The 6 percent who said they feel ‘totally connected’ — I’d question that.”


Lake then said, shaking his head, “Lee Walker Heights is the most expensive property in Asheville... Fifty yards from public housing — they built $600,000 condos” for wealthy people.


Further, he said, “The conditions people are living in now — there are shootings happening every day” in the various housing projects located around Asheville.


Lake added, “We’ve been talking heavily about the achievement gap,” but little progress has been recorded. “We all have to get out of our comfort zones. We (seem to) need to say, ‘I need to stay in my lane….’”


After a brief pause, Lake finished by saying, “I’m glad we have” such a large percentage of those in attendance” who said they feel ‘somewhat (connected)’ or ‘very connected.’”


Dahl said that “the question is how connected do you feel to our community?” which, she added, could mean to one’s own group — or to the majority white community of Asheville.


Archie added, “I also am not surprised by the numbers. I think we in Asheville think of ourselves better than we are behaving or acting.”


Cantrell asserted, “I think this is very powerful.” In a story she was hired to write recently about Asheville for the Huffington Post, (website), “I asked someone (of humble means) what they would do if they were (Asheville’s) mayor — and they answered that ‘I’d would be impeached (as mayor) because I would give away all of the money in the budget.’” Cantrell’s recollection triggered laughter from the audience.


.Cantrell added, “Another person said, ‘I would stop building these (condos) and start building houses for all of the people....’ They were connected to the people they wanted to serve, which is what I think is what a leader should be…. My mentor said, ‘Love requires proximity. And we’re not proximate.’”


For his third question, Waters, referring to the mainly white audience, asked, “If you look around the room, not everyone in our community is represented here today. How do you think some of the non-represented groups might respond to the question?”


Archie replied, “Some of the folks I’m connected to who are not in the room are black and African-American members of this community. I don’t speak for all of them.....


“However”, she added, “when I’m out talking to (black) folks,” she hears that, for them, “part of being disconnected from the community — they feel like the city, as in ‘the government,’ as well as the city as a location — it feels like it’s pushing people of color out, especially black people — because we’re building hotels and $600,000 condos,” making the city unaffordable to many African-Americans.


“There’s a presence in downtown Asheville that doesn’t feel connected to people of color...” Archie said the feeling likely stems from “the circumstances of our segregated community, from the legacy of redlining and racism —  that because of all of these things, (black) people don’t feel connected. They don’t feel a part of this place or of the people. They feel there is no unified community because it (Asheville) is all about tourism.”


Dahl said, “I mentioned building great places in our community… There is a lack of facilities for kids. Our community creates places for people to connect — breweries… We notice a huge gap of facilities for kids that are 12 to 18 or 21, who are not interested in the playgrounds at all.” She then asked Lake “to expand on that.”


Grinning, Lake told Dahl, “Thank you for that segue. The (recreation) facilities are not open on weekends for our youths to go — ages 12 to 25. Where is there, brick-and-mortar,” in the city that is open? he asked, rhetorically.


 To that end, Lake quoted the dictum, “‘An idle man will tempt the devil to tempt him.’”


After a pause, he added, “Where is there for our youths to go? We need a brick-and-mortar place for our youths to go, or we will continue to have the violence. 


“What we tell our youth (by having no recreation facilities for them) — ‘leave. When you graduate from high school, go get your degree and don’t come back. There are no jobs here (in Asheville). We are one of the (few) places in the United States that has a dwindling African-American community.”


Next, Cantrell began her answer by breaking into tears, as she lamented “that Lake,” through his answer to the question, was truthfully stating a fact — that Asheville “was telling our youth of color that they have to leave.”


Archie asserted, “Also, transportation is a problem. The only one (Asheville housing project) not centrally located was Shiloh (recereation center). There would have been a riot if we couldn’t have gotten into the gym” recently.


“With that being said, now those institutions (that served the community, especially minorities, so well) when I was coming up, are obsolete to our youths. You go to Montford Center now, and there’s a rock-climbing wall. Our (black) youths are rock-climbers, I don’t have anything against rock-climbing. Also wiffle ball ... Our (black) youth don’t play wiffle ball. There nothing for African-American youths” in Asheville.


Cantrell said, “They (black youths) are being pushed out” of Asheville. She then recounted the saying, of a mentor “You are my other self.” She then briefly referenced a recent raid by immigration enforcement officials, which caused panic in the Latino community.


Before asking the last question, Waters noted that, as a historian, he recommended three books to those in the audience who would like to learn more about the topic of community connectedness.


His first suggestion was the two-volume set titled “Democracy in America” by Alexis de Tocqueville, which Waters said, reinforces his belief that “you can learn somehting from the past.”


A second book recommendation was Robert Penn Warren’s “The Legacies of the Civil War,” in which, Waters said, “he (Warren) tells us how we construct false stories for ourselves.”


Lastly, he urged reading Dr. John Hope Franklin’s autobiography, “Mirror to America.,” in which, Waters said, Franklin makes the case that “we need to look at ourselves.”


He then posed the final question: “Why is having a connected community important?”


Lake replied, “Inclusion... Trust.” He then quoted the dictum, “The child that is not embraced by the village will burn it down to fill its warmth”


Regarding his quotation, Lake said, “If that doesn’t talk about ‘connected community,’ I don’t know what will. For me, dealing with youth every day, it let’s me know we’re not dealing with connected community at all.


“I know we’re ‘Beer City’ and the housing is ‘off the chain’ (in soaring values.) If we (Asheville) don’t stop focusing only on money, we’re going to be in trouble.”


Archie asserted, “I agree with that prophetic saying - ‘Four things — be proximate, change the narrative, hold on to hope, be uncomfortable and inconvenienced.’”


She added, “We have to get proximate. We have to see each other. We have to see perspectives. We have to change the narrative…. This goes back to the legacy of institutional racism. We have to get back to getting close to one another. We must change the narrative — of the past and of the current narrative. 


“If you see people, you can change what you think about people. You can then change the narrative. We must hold onto hope. The power of connection is palpable. We must hold onto the idea of connected community. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and inconvenience. Because being in community with other people is not always convenient.”


Dahl said, “Disparities hurt everybody. There’s this term, ‘the soft Civil War.’ It’s the idea that our community is being ripped apart. We’re being polarized. One in four or five jobs in North Carolina will be lost in the next 20 years. Hey, AI (artificial intelligence) and technology are awesome things, but there are going to be some massive losses. Disparities hurt everybody and that’s why having a ‘connected community’ matters.”


Cantrell noted, “One of my mentors says: ‘Truth moves at 3 miles per hour…. We’re missing so much.’ With those of us with white skin, we’re not here to be the saviors. We’ve actually cut ourselves off. ‘Community-oriented’ is one of the great pillars. We all have gifts and we all need each other to change the story.”


Following the discussion but before the program ended, Archie told the audience, “We have people who are leaders in the community. Find out how you can partner with ... how you can hitch your wagon with what they’ve got going on.”


Cantrell told the audience, “Keep showing up. To create community, you’ve got to show up. As you spend lots and lots of time with people,” community is built.


Cantrell also asked, “How can the city effectively acknowledge the truth about our past and repair the breeches of trust that occurred during the urban renewal (era) and continue to happen in gentrification?”


Archie said that, just as, “after apartheid ended in South Africa, we (in Asheville) need to tell the truth about what has happened and what continues to happen. A lot of people don’t know the history of urban renewal. If you look at the census, black people are declining, as far as numbers, in this area. 


“We need to begin to heal — and we can’t begin to heal till the process begins. Reconciliation – not only have I, as an entity, made decisions that harm people. We can never go back in time and take it away. But we can do it in a way that recognizes equity. We need to harness the forgiveness that we are asking for… We are working with some groups in the community to hear the truth. We want to work on this place of healing.”


Dahl said, “I would add to that the City of Asheville can do all of that and they can invest actual dollars in communities and community organizations — and address things actually affected by urban renewal,” which was a period in Asheville’s history, she said, when “families and neighborhoods were basically destroyed — businesses and relationships were torn asunder.”


Lake triggered laughter when he said. “I work for the county (Buncombe),” which he jokingly called “the better institution,” in a playful jab at the City of Asheville, for which his co-panelists (and friends) Archie and Dahl work.


“Being a native, I’m going to take a shot at this.,” Lake continued. “Asheville has a great way of hiding things beneath the veneer. Growing up, I thought we were way more connected with more brotherly love and camaraderie than we are now. When we talk about the truth (in Ashevlle) — we need to talk about what happened in the past and what is happening now.”


To that end, he lamented, “We’re No. 2 in the country in gentrification — only behind Charleston, South Carolina. So things are getting worse” for the African-American community” in Asheville. Lake contended that blacks are hurt more by gentrification than anyone else.


The program ended with another question for audience: “What is one thing you will do in the next week to strengthen our community connections?”


Leadership Asheville also announced that it has plans to hold a winter Buzz Breakfast Series, with a schedule to be released later.




 



 


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