Following the teachings of Jesus and believing in the power of Love, we work to dismantle systemic racism and to advocate for racial equity in our congregation and the community. If you are interested in joining with RJT in our work, please email Alice Martin-Adkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. All are welcome!
COMMUNITY AND CONNECTION by Penny Silverman January 2022
Leaders of Asheville’s Black community are working across racial lines to reclaim their history and to benefit us all. Here are some of their stories:
Black Wall Street AVL
J. Hackett and Bruce Waller, owners of Grind Asheville coffee shop, in competition with other organizations, applied for the lease of a historic building at 8 River Arts Place for Black Wall Street AVL. The city loved their proposal and expects the space to be a tourist destination and business success. It will be home to 58 Black businesses and will include interactive digital displays of Asheville’s Black business history. There will be space for retail, art shows, and events. The city Council has expressed an interest in adjusting the rental rate for the 4-year lease to $1 annually.
These leaders have enjoyed previous success in their business on Depot Street and with the launch of GRINDfest on the weekend of Juneteenth in 2021. This festival attracted 4,000 people from 19 different states.
Michael Hayes, the founder and Executive Director of Umoja, has spoken more than once at FCUCC. The word Umoja, pronounced You-moja, is Swahili for unity. The organization is a health, wellness, and justice collective. It is dedicated to healing, especially from generational trauma. Programs under the Umoja umbrella include the Urban Arts Institute, racial re-awakening, re-entry, programming for foster children, acupuncture, massage, and yoga.
Umoja began with 4 men at Mr. Hayes’ house, and by August of 2020 had expanded to 47 people, with a resource center and consignment shop at 73 Hansel Avenue in West Asheville.
YMI Cultural Center
As a downtown church we have been able to connect with this long-time Asheville institution, located at 39 South Market Street. Church member Mandy Kjellstrom has worked with the YMI’s alexandria ravenel to bring wonderful events involving art and artists from the YMI’s large gallery to FCUCC. This winter art works from their permanent collection grace the small gallery at the front of our church while the YMI building, designed in 1893 by Biltmore architect Richard Sharpe Smith, is undergoing renovation.
The YMI is best known for its very popular West African festival, Goombay, held each year in early September. The center has an impressive staff. Its programs include economic and workplace development, re-entry, youth programming, and cultural preservation. Membership starts at $40, and event space is available for rent.
Public Housing Renovations
White leaders in our city are also working across racial lines on improvements. In an effort to reduce crime in public housing, the Asheville Housing Authority has increased police presence there. Since 2017, under Executive Director David Nash, the Housing Authority has also been developing a long-term solution that has worked wonders in several large cities: renovating housing to restore safety and community to low-income neighborhoods.
Mixed-income communities are planned in the housing projects. Lee Walker Heights, renamed Maple Crest, now has new security cameras, better lighting, and very attractive apartments. A long-term resident there, Henry Butch, is quoted in the Mountain Express as saying “there is a new feeling of safety and calm.”
We Give a Share
And our last story, featuring a very diverse downtown-based organization, is about food.
When the pandemic began in 2020 and restaurants closed, farmers who supplied the local restaurants found themselves with plenty of produce and no one to buy it. Local farmer Aaron Grier spoke with his friend chef John Fleer, owner of Rhubarb and Benne on Eagle. They contacted other well-known local chefs Mark Rosenstein and Hanan Shabazz, as well as David Nash from the Housing Authority.
The group founded We Give a Share to produce healthy and delicious meals and deliver them to older residents in Asheville’s housing projects, who could not get out safely to buy food. Ms. Shabazz, who grew up in Asheville’s Black community, re-opened Southside Kitchen at Edlington Community Center.
They solicited donations and volunteers, and farmers sold their products to We Give a Share at a discount. The organization is now connected to the Eagle Street Development Corporation on the non-profit side. Southside Kitchens developed ties to other organizations including AB Tech’s Culinary Arts Program and is working to become a co-operative self-sustaining enterprise. We Give a Share has recently hired a well-qualified Executive Director, J. P. Chalarca, born in Columbia South America and educated in the U.S. and Italy. The group hopes to serve as a model for other communities. They now deliver 4,000 meals a week.
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