Deepening the Stand Against Racism

23 Apr

Asheville, NC has significant racial disparities. Our population is 17.6% African American and about 3.8% Latino.  However, our public school system is about 38% African American and 5% Latino. Walking around in the downtown area or going to restaurants and entertainment venues, one hardly ever sees any people of color. Often newcomers to the area ask “where are all the black people?” People who have lived in other cities are often shocked by the inequality here.

Like many other cities during the 50s and 60s, Asheville experience urban renewal. During this process, historically African American neighborhoods were dismantled, and many blacks were moved into public housing developments, essentially creating ghettos of poverty. This was deeply traumatic to the communities it affected. The process of integrating the schools in the late 60s and early 70s was also traumatic.  Today there is not much of a black middle class – 57% of African Americans in our community live in poverty. With this in mind, the programs we have established as part of the Stand Against Racism have focused on making the community more welcoming to people of color, looking at the issues facing the remaining middle class black neighborhoods, and raising awareness about the challenges faced in the educational system.

Asheville has been an active participant in the YWCA’s nationwide Stand Against Racism, having the largest number of participating groups of any community in the U.S. last year.  Each group participated in its own way.  Some businesses put up signs and had staff wear buttons, youth serving organizations involved their young people in activities to raise awareness of racism and non-profits held meetings with staff where they discussed how racism impacts their work. The City of Asheville led on a tour of downtown sites of historic importance to people of color. There were public forums and video screenings and tabling from organizations which provide services to address racial disparities.  We had a gathering of people in one of the remaining middle class African-American neighborhoods to bring together the new young white homeowners with the long term black homeowners.

This year the Asheville YWCA stepped up its efforts. Not only did we make additions to what we were doing for April 27, but we also held events throughout the year to address specific issues. In October we supported a forum for the candidates for city council to share their perspectives on how issues being faced by the African American community could be better addressed. In February we supported a panel discussion of race and the church.  And, as part of this year’s events, we are supporting a forum on the challenges facing Latino students in the educational system.

In addition, we added an action component: workshops on how to assess common spaces. This investigation into what makes a space welcoming (or not) brought together people from a wide range of organizations. There will be a survey to determine what changes participants are making in their buildings as a result of the workshop.  We hope to be able to report to the community significant changes in the common spaces in our community.

The Stand Against Racism in Asheville has been able to do all of these things because it is a coalition of groups in the community which address the common issue of racism.  As these groups work together to bring forward the concerns we each have we have been able to coordinate our efforts and combine our resources to involve the most participants possible.  By using various modalities, theater, videos, forums, marches, speak outs, etc. we have been able to provide a multitude of ways that awareness can be raised and changes take place, as well as providing a variety of opportunities for people to continue their involvement throughout the year.

The author of this post, Kathryn Liss, is the volunteer coordinator for the Asheville Stand Against Racism.  She is formerly the Director of Training for The Mediation Center of Asheville and a former member of the board of Building Bridges of Asheville.

One Response to “Deepening the Stand Against Racism”


  1. Deepening the Stand Against Racism | YWCA USA Blog - April 26, 2012

    […] This article was originally published on the YWCA of Asheville blog. […]

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