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Dwight Mullen, chair of the Community Reparations Commission, steps back from his role

Community Reparations Commission is made up of community members from Asheville and Buncombe County. This virtual meeting took place July 18, 2022.
Courtesy of Community Reparations Commission
Dwight Mullen heading the commission in a virtual meeting in 2022.

Asheville and Buncombe County Community Reparations Commission Chair Dwight Mullen announced Monday he will take a step back from his leadership role.

“The time and stress has taken its toll,” Mullen said. “You can hear it in my voice. That’s not emotion, it’s fatigue.”

Mullen, a retired professor who taught political science at UNC Asheville for 35 years, has served as chair since the commission formed in 2022.

Mullen emphasized it wasn’t the role as chair that exhausted him.

“It’s not the work. It’s not the politics. It’s not the fight that I’m stepping back from.”

Instead, Mullen said, it’s the national attention on the process of trying to address the effects of long-standing systemic racism that brought him fatigue.

“What you are doing is causing attention from across the nation, and those people are calling me,” he said. “I encourage you to look at what you're doing as setting the precedent for the nation. So this conversation about race and color, whether or not reparations or constitutional, those things are going to come. Don't be afraid to step up. I just can't lead it, but I am there to support you.”

Mullen said he plans to stay on as a commission member and do whatever he can to support the commission’s efforts, “short of chairing this committee.” His transition will be discussed in more detail at the June 10 meeting.

Three more recommendations move forward

On Monday, the commission approved three more recommendations for how the city and county can repair damage caused by systemic racism.

The body advanced a plan for universal early childhood education for Black children, regardless of income.

Some commission members expressed concern about whether or not it would be legal to create a program that specifies services for Black residents.

Vice Chair Dewana Little said legal concerns should not stop the commission from directly addressing harms done to Black people.

“See what I don’t want to happen is that we are making these recommendations and now we feel like we have to exclude the word Black, when that’s the whole point we even sitting at this table,” she said.

Even if the commission faces legal issues at the implementation stage, Little encouraged the group to push forward with creating “intentional” reparations for Asheville’s Black residents.

“Regardless of what that looks like and the challenges that the city and county have…they have funding—maybe that’s a recommendation—to make sure y’all got the legal support y’all need to get our Black recommendations through,” she said.

A plan that would improve post-secondary educational opportunities for Black residents also moved forward, along with an enhanced, more education-focused iteration of the previously approved plan for a Black resource center.

At a May 6 meeting, the commission also approved plans for a ‘one stop shop’ resource center, a guaranteed income pilot program for low-income residents and a funding program that would support public housing and historic Black neighborhoods with $250,000 grants.

The City of Asheville and Buncombe County will have the final say on the recommendations when they vote later this year. No meeting dates for votes have been announced.

City and county leaders have said community members will be involved in strategic plan development for approved recommendations.

The commission meets again on June 10.

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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