Where Are All the Black People?

20 Feb

Fellow 3 insideBy: Lexus Walker, Tzedek Mission Advancement Fellow

Asheville – a progressive city known for its beautiful mountain views, skilled artisans, vibrant food scene, and a large selection of craft breweries – has attracted many progressive thinking families and individuals over the years who have made Asheville their home. Our beloved city is now a tourist hotspot, drawing visitors from all over the country, and now – the world.  One question native Ashevillians often hear from both tourists and transplants alike is “where are all the Black people?”.

Born and raised in Asheville, with family roots dating back generations,  I’ve seen areas like Montford, East End and Southslope transform from Black neighborhoods, into gentrified, wealthy white neighborhoods. I’ve heard stories about Eagle Street and the Black business district before it was stripped to nothing. And, today I see gentrification continuing to reach its claws deeper into Asheville’s remaining Black neighborhoods. “There are no black people in Asheville,” is a lie I’ve heard  – and a lie I’ve told.

This language of erasure used to talk about Black Asheville is dangerous and damaging. Over time I’ve internalized the deceptive untruth that there are no Black people in Asheville. This very lie contributes to the shrinking of Black Asheville. This lie also keeps Black folks from moving to Asheville. This lie was enough to keep me disconnected from Black Asheville for many years.

It was not until I began my year as a Tzedek Social Justice Fellow that I was able to truly see the ways that this kind of language was harmful to me and my community. Internalized oppression happens when folks with marginalized identities begin to believe the negative messages they hear about their marginalized identity. In my case, internalizing the message that there are no Black people in Asheville kept me from seeking connection with other Black Ashevillians.

During my orientation with Tzedek, I was reconnected to Black Asheville. In meeting other Black fellows who were new to Asheville, I became aware of the importance of seeking connection with the Black community here.  As a group, we went on a Hood Huggers tour and my eyes were opened to even more of our history as we learned about the community building still happening through the Burton Street Community Garden, the Edington Center, and the Shiloh Community Garden. Through a connection with the Center for Participatory Change, I learned about Black Love Day, a monthly gathering at the Edington Center and a healing space for Asheville’s Black community. There is food, music, sometimes dancing, and sharing of what amazing work is being done by our community.

Black Love Day

Black Love Day – Hosted by Center for Participatory Change at the Edington Center

My fellowship placement with the YWCA has also taught me about the long history the YWCA of Asheville has in serving our Black community and I see every day the ways in which the YW has built and continues to build community. Through our Foster Grandparent program, I’ve met folks who have been involved with the YW for many years, who remain involved with the YW because of the strong connection they feel. As a child, I took swimming lessons at the YWCA of Asheville and as I walk through these halls today, as I work in my office, as I help our after school students with their homework, as I attend our Community Dinners, I am reassured that in fact there are Black people in Asheville. We are here and we are seen.

For 110 years the YWCA of Asheville has played a role in Asheville’s Black community, and we continue to shift to fit the communities needs. The YWCA of Asheville is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. Through our programming and advocacy, we work every day towards this mission, and we work every day to support rebuilding the truth of Black Asheville.

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