In August, the City of Asheville hosted four equity leaders from four southern jurisdictions for the day. The visit was an opportunity for learning, sharing and getting up close and personal with the Office of Equity and Inclusion to experience first hand how we advance racial equity in Western North Carolina.
The Office of Equity & Inclusion welcomed Melia Gordon, from the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, operated by the City of Charlotte, NC; Amber Johnson, the new hired Diversity, Racial Reconciliation and Tolerance Manager with the City of Charleston, SC; Tony Patillo, with the Charlotte-Mecklenberg MEDIC Core Team in Charlotte, NC; and Darris Upton, Knox County, TN Diversity Development Manager. Each of the jurisdictions at the varying early stages of working to advance racial equity.
The Asheville Equity and Inclusion Team spoke to each person before the visit to ask what they wanted to know more about and their questions. This information was used, along with some guidance from Shawna Davie, GARE South Region Manager to create a full-day agenda beginning with how the Office of Equity & Inclusion is organized, each team member’s role, and the infrastructure developed to advance racial equity using our Equity Action Plan.
The morning continued with setting the context for equity-focused work and a budget for an equity and inclusion manager position by Councilperson Keith Young. Additionally, Keynon Lake, an Asheville native, on Buncombe County Community Engagement Team and founder and Executive Director of My Daddy Taught Me That provided a native’s perspective on why a focus on racial equity is critical to change the conditions for people of color, especially African Americans in the greater Asheville area. He also talked about his experience of partnering with the Asheville Equity & Inclusion Team. The final community partner to share her perspective on the power of community was Marta Alcala-Williams, a racial equity organizer, Asheville City Schools Social Worker, and a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee appointed in 2017 to develop recommendations to City Council for the formation of a new Human Relations Commission with the purpose to advise and make policy recommendations to Asheville City Council.
Our guests joined us for the quarterly Professionals of Color in Public Service Resource Group session, where code-switching in the workplace was the hot topic. They joined in the discussion, networked with other public employees and contractors, and enjoyed a hearty lunch. One guest reflected “The Professional of Color Resource Group was also a great part of the visit. I really enjoyed the discussion and the environment felt safe and supportive.”
Asheville’s City Manager, Debra Campbell, kicked off the afternoon by greeting the guests and stating how important sharing and learning across jurisdictions is to the national work. The afternoon roundtable highlighted internal partner experiences and perspectives on using GARE’s Racial Equity Toolkit. The toolkit is being used to develop Using City-owned Property for Affordable Housing and to revise the City’s Noise Ordinance. Real Estate Manager Nikki Reid and Development Services Department Director Ben Woody shared their experiences using the Toolkit, their perspective on the power of going deeper, and how the use of the tool can change one’s understanding of community impact. The importance of data was lifted up and connected to the Toolkit, the Results-Based Accountability model, and the processes employed to identify and resolve our collection and access/sharing data gaps, by Eric Jackson, Data & Analytics Program Manager. Christen McNamara, our IT Services GIS guru shared about the gold-mine of data that she converted to GIS mapping, which has allowed us to understand how people and place have been impacted by government decisions.
Asheville’s Office of Equity & Inclusion Team (Yashika Smith, Paulina Mendez, Nia Davis, and Kimberlee Archie) were honored to host racial equity leaders from other southern jurisdictions. We agree that “it was an amazing, full-day experience!” At times the steps jurisdictions make toward progress feel very small, while others may see them as big steps. We are encouraged by the requests for visits and calls to learn how we are advancing racial equity in Asheville and look forward to more opportunities to share and learn across the network.