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Asheville, Buncombe reparations effort has two months to wrap up recommendations

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 historic, first-of-its-kind Community Reparations Commission is barreling toward a deadline for making recommendations to repair damage caused by public and private systemic racism.

At last night’s meeting, the 25-member commission was split on the best way to move forward – and whether or not the looming June deadline was realistic for its scope of work.

A little over two years ago, Asheville and Buncombe County formed the commission with an original deadline for recommendations of this month. Last December, the commission asked for an eight-month extension, but the city and county only agreed to extend it through June.

Several commission members, including Vice Chair Dewana Little, said the timeline is unreasonable.

“It’s not realistic,” Little said. “It's a part of the systemic oppression, this scarcity mindset and this crunch for time to rectify situations that took years to create, to fix problems and make recommendations about something that took hundreds of years to create… it's not fair to the process.”

Little said the majority of the commission’s recommendations had not yet been vetted by the city and county’s legal team.

“That’s a process in itself,” she said. “We need more time. We need to see what that looks like. And those who can't stay on longer. That's fine. But how do we keep moving this work forward to get to a place where we actually got community-vetted recommendations and actually doing something that is really going to be impactful?”

Little said other commissions and advisory committees are year-round and permanent. "If this is a priority," she said, "I think we as a commission need to say, 'Look, we need more time.'”

The commission released draft recommendations centering on its five focus areas: criminal justice, economic development, education, health and wellness and housing.

The recommendations include a ‘one stop shop’ resource center, land and funding for housing and economic development, increased oversight on school resource officers and a variety of health programs, including an Asheville Black Mental Health Network and “no cost insurance,” which would provide a $1 million local health care subsidy fund for Black residents.

The commission also conducted a ‘Cease Harm’ audit, a collection of more than 100 recommendations on how the city and county can end racism in local government. The audit results were presented to city and county elected officials last month.

Three options for how the Community Reparations Commission's work may continue when its work ends.
Screenshot from Community Reparations Commission
Three options for how the Community Reparations Commission's work may continue when its work ends.

Three options for a future accountability body 

Facilitator Vernisha Crawford also asked commission members to decide on three possible accountability structures to help ensure their recommendations are carried out by local government once the Community Reparations Commission dissolves. The body would provide oversight, manage additional fundraising and reparations efforts and provide progress reports.

The options are:

  1. A new 501(c)3 nonprofit 
  2. An advisory council 
  3. An existing 501(c)3 nonprofit

Commission member Dwayne Richardson spoke in favor of an accountability body that is a new nonprofit rather than an existing one.
“If we work all this time to create recommendations and to create direction for the future but then we don't take control of that destiny, that seems like a true waste of time for us to work this hard, struggle to come forward with our own ideas and then turn them over to someone else. I don't see the value,” he said.

Richardson said an advisory council “could have a place” in the commission’s work moving forward, but that he’s worried an existing nonprofit partner would “have an agenda of their own already in mind.”

A decision on which body to pursue will be made at a future, undetermined meeting. The commission will vote on final recommendations in May, with a virtual meeting on May 6 and an in-person meeting on May 13. See the updated schedule and past meeting materials.

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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