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Reparations Commission proposes concept for a ‘one-stop shop’ for Black community resources

The 25-member Community Reparations Commission meets on a monthly basis.
Laura Hackett
The 25-member Community Reparations Commission meets on a monthly basis.

The vision for a new education resource campus, dedicated to serving the Asheville area’s Black community, was unveiled at this week’s Community Reparations Commission meeting.

The proposal builds on several years of work by the 25-member commission, a body supported by the City of Asheville and Buncombe County to make amends and repair the damage caused by public and private systemic racism.

In October, the commission released a draft of short, medium, and long term recommendations, which focus on five core topics: housing, economic development, criminal justice, education, and health and wellness. Over the next few months, the public will hear proposals related to each of these topics, which are referred to as Impact Focus Areas.

The education resource campus is a joint proposal from the education and economic development focus areas, led by facilitators Amieris Lavender and Tara Brown, respectively.

The goal of the campus is to become a “one-stop shop” for community members to get their needs met, “so that folks don’t have to run around town to access their resources,” explained Lavender.

The resources included at the campus would touch on everything from prenatal health services and universal early childhood education to adult education classes. Formerly incarcerated people would have access to reentry support, skill building, and employment referrals. Mental health counseling and other support systems would be available. For K-12 students, the campus would connect them with opportunities like travel, internships, and other extracurriculars.

And for adults, there would be continuing education courses in everything from financial literacy and GED diplomas to home ownership strategies. It would also include services for elders, such as healthcare and estate planning. Services would be free for all past and current Black residents of Asheville and Buncombe County.

“We want to make sure nobody is left out,” Lavender said.

As proposed, the campus will be community-owned and operated, serving past and current residents of Asheville and Buncombe County. The campus would be staffed by Black people “to the extent that it’s possible,” and overseen by an expert from each of the focus areas.

This center would address the harm caused by urban renewal and the displacement of Black people in the community, in part, by providing them with a space to gather, Lavender said. In listening sessions, she said she heard a lot about “the loss of places to meet” for the Black community, as well as “safe places where folks know they can access resources and community care.”

The campus would also help Black residents move towards a “more equal playing field” by facilitating job opportunities, free childcare and higher education, baby bonds, and child savings accounts, according to the proposal.

It’s unclear where the center would go and how much it would cost, for now. One idea, Brown said, could be to build it on a parcel of city or county-owned land that was taken from the Black community during urban renewal.

“Budget and money isn’t necessarily included in this presentation,” Lavender said. “It’s the idea, getting it on paper, ensuring there’s consensus.. And then we can move forward with ascertaining the cost.”

A map of historic Black neighborhoods impacted by urban renewal and other related redevelopment in Asheville.
Screenshot from City of Asheville
A map of historic Black neighborhoods impacted by urban renewal and other related redevelopment in Asheville.

An alternate idea focuses on neighborhood hubs and business corridors

An alternative proposal, or possibly a parallel option, to the resource campus would be a Black economic development center that is connected to neighborhood hubs and business corridors throughout the city.

The center would include commercial space for entrepreneurs, job training services, financial education, and a financial institution designed for and led by Black residents of Asheville and Buncombe County.

In connection with the center, a determined number of legacy neighborhood and public housing communities would get $250,000 to fund whatever services deemed most vital, which could include anything from small business incubators and childcare to other social infrastructure.

Funding would also support historic Black business corridors such as Charlotte Street, Ashland Avenue, Southside, and Valley Street.

Buncombe County approves a new timeline, with limited extension

At the December meeting, Noreal Armstrong, the county’s chief equity and human rights officer, shared that Buncombe has agreed to the Reparations Commission’s request for a timeline extension, but only through June 30, 2024. In October, the Reparations Commission had asked to extend its life through December 2024.

“We feel that it’s feasible you can reach your recommendations by that June 30 date,” Armstrong said.

The City of Asheville has not given a decision on the extension yet. At a Thursday briefing, the city’s equity and inclusion director, Brenda Mills, recommended that the city mirror the county’s choice to grant an extension until June 30, 2024.

Mills noted that in the original reparations resolution, there was no timeline, but that a two-year window was decided later to accommodate contracts with the various consultants who have supported the commission.

In the briefing, councilwoman Maggie Ullman asked city staff why they were proposing an extension through June, rather than the December 2024 deadline voted on by the Reparations Commission.

Assistant City Manager Rachael Wood said it was because there is already a “solid workable plan” to have recommendations finalized in June, and if the city needed to revisit the timeline in June they would.

A December deadline “seems a little premature given we are on such a positive trajectory,” Wood said.

Ullman replied that she felt “confused” as to why the city was “out of sync” with the recommendations made by the Reparations Commission.

“Is the plan our plan or their plan?“ she asked. “If we’re going to be establishing a pattern of trust and deference to their expertise and leadership… Why would we do something different than what they went through the process of recommending?”

The issue of the timeline will be addressed at the Asheville City Council meeting on Dec. 12, when Dwight Mullen, Reparations Commission Chair, will discuss the extension request directly with city council.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.
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