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Get to Know the Members of the Asheville-Buncombe Reparations Commission: Criminal Justice

More than 50 local residents applied for a seat on the Asheville-Buncombe Reparations Commission. Twenty-five were selected, along with several alternates. Who are they? Asheville Watchdog collected their applications, figuring that it’s best to let them introduce themselves in their own words.

The 25 commissioners divided into teams, each team focusing on one of five impact areas affected by generations of racial discrimination: Economic Development, Education, Criminal Justice, Healthcare, and Housing. The members of the Criminal Justice impact area are:

ROY HARRIS

Roy Harris // photo courtesy Mountain Xpress

Focus Area: Criminal Justice

Representing: Southside Neighborhood

Background: 

1. 38 year resident of Asheville. 2. Unofficial “Lion of the Southside.” 3. Historian. 4. Legacy Homeowner. 5. Working on various Neighborhood projects. 6. My family has a vested interest in this process — generational wealth.  7. I am willing to spend my time, talent and advocacy on the process.

Reason for Serving: 

I want to leave a legacy.

What do you hope to achieve by serving on the Reparations Commission? 

Reparations 

Have you been impacted personally by systemic racism in Asheville?

Only 5/14 homes on Bartlett Street still owned by African-Americans and we range in ages 65-85.

What do you believe your greatest contribution will be in serving on the Reparations Commission?

Legacy.


DEWANA LITTLE (Vice Chair)

Dewana Little

Focus Area: Criminal Justice

Representing: City of Asheville

Background: 

Experience in the following — financial management, business development, economic development, housing and home ownership, youth and education, environment, community engagement, organizational management, strategic planning.

Reason for Serving: 

I am a 4th generation native of Asheville and personally and professionally I have experienced, seen, and heard the wrong done to Black people. I want to serve on the Reparations Commission because I want to be a part of the solution to rectify the harm done to Black people, I want to bring all of my talents, knowledge, and skills to help in developing the solution to this historic problem.

What do you hope to achieve by serving on the Reparations Commission?

I hope to be able to work with other great minds and the community in creating what reparations really looks like, how it functions, and it is achieved in Asheville and Buncombe County.

Have you been impacted personally by systemic racism in Asheville?

I have been impacted by systematic racism my whole life, first through attending Asheville city schools and the unintentional or the intentional miseducation through curriculum and passive-aggressive behavior of faculty that was harmful. I have also felt the trauma imposed through working in unconscious white spaces and the lack of understanding or consideration for black culture and our beliefs as well as; the impacts of being tokenized as the “Exceptional Negro” and then positioned as the face of harm being done to Black people. The harm caused by struggling to overcome and remove barriers of systematic racism to open doors that the next generation can walk through. Asheville has struggled to change the existing state of affairs, especially regarding social and political issues.

Asheville is plagued with systemic racism that maintains the status quo of comfortability for the major and further minimizes or excludes the minority. It’s a system that was built at a time that black people were considered property so, it wasn’t built to include us. With all of the Good intentions of people here in Asheville, we have not been able to truly reach equity in a system that was not built to provide that. The Systems are broken therefore black people will keep experiencing some form of systemic racism.

What do you believe your greatest contribution will be in serving on the Reparations Commission?

I think that my greatest contribution will be my perspective, my knowledge, my skills, and my talents to be diverse in multiple areas.


DEE WILLIAMS

Dee Williams

Focus Area: Criminal Justice

Representing: Buncombe County

Background: 

1. Financial Management, quantitative analysis, construction of pro format, business plans, financing. 2. Construction estimating, quantity surveys, take-offs. 3. Business development — low wealth entrepreneurs. 4. SBA loan packaging/placement. 5. Construction management. 6. Social enterprise. 7. Led local regional “Ban the Box” implementation with Mission Health, City of Asheville, Buncombe County. 8. Led local implementation efforts and passing of “Written Consent to Search” by Asheville Police Department. 9. 501(c)3 incorporations — IRS. 10. Tax preparation — corporate, 1065’s, schedule “C”, 1990s. 11. Licensed NC real estate broker, candidate for SC license. 12. NCDOT/Section 3 — HUD certifications. 13. Certifications in Advanced Manufacturing, Supply Chain Management, and Logistics. 14. Degree in Accounting, Business Administration, and Political Economics, respectively.

Reason for Serving: 

It is time to tell the truth, the real truth to begin the healing process. It is time for people with real community credibility and real skills who produce results to help this community. It is time to stop processes which set the Black community up for failure by appropriately naming processes, involving Black people who are not “the usual suspects” to participate and to benefit who never do. It is time to stop talking and to deliver some tangible benefits with tangible outcomes, define processes, and timelines. It is time to properly “re-brand” this process, since there will be no direct payments to individuals and the city does not have the “economic” nor legal “bandwidth” to do so. This is divisive and will set the entire process up for failure via litigation a’la the Vance Monument, unless that is what is set up to do that. There can be no reconciliation without starting the process off with truth first.

What do you hope to achieve by serving on the Reparations Commission?

1. Provide realistic short, mid and long-term goals with timelines and appropriate sources and uses of funds which are identified, and a work program for delivery.

2. Answer the question about “What is the highest and best use of Urban Renewal Land?” and substantiate the answer with a work plan and resources (financial).

Have you been impacted personally by systemic racism in Asheville?

Lack of economical/professional opportunities — inability to work in areas of education. Discrimination in public contracting by municipal, state, local governments. Family removed by expressway and white church on Haywood street. Involvement with criminal justice system — without indictment grand jury cost me my business as consultant, construction contractor, helped denigrate health of husband. “Black-balled” for speaking up — no jobs, construction work or otherwise. Despite being first Valedictorian in Asheville HS, no scholarships and guidance counselors were told to “not help me to get into college.” I took report cards to an HBCU and the Alumni Association paid for my meals and housing until I could get enrolled and got funding/scholarships.

What do you believe your greatest contribution will be in serving on the Reparations Commission?

The ability to work with people and not sequester what I know, but cascade that level of knowledge and how to use it in a practical manner to derive results for the entire community. Most folks do not want others to know what they know. I do and that is why I lead the largest coalition of Black churches in WNC. With my community credibility and the back-up of this large group, we can finally get folks to the table who have been as “mad as hell” from Urban Renewal until now. We know a lot of these families. I know how to deliver real results, not just academic conversations, as this ability has been the only thing which has allowed me to survive and prosper, despite attempts to exclude me for telling the truth. I know how to make money and I know how to get results. My greatest contribution is getting the money — the resources to make this Community Reinvestment/Investment process happen.


MZ YEHUDAH

Focus Area: Criminal Justice

Representing: Burton Street Neighborhood

Background: 

Education: I have a terminal degree in Black Studies. I have spent my career critically analyzing moments in history upon which the roots and origins of the contemporary discussion around reparations emerges from. 

Experience: I’ve worked in some way, shape, or form with reparations focused organizations. Either serving as: a student leader in the Black Student Union at the State University of New York at Albany & Temple University, a faculty member teaching courses on African-American History, a leader and organizer as a historian/archivist/activist at the Charles L Blackson Afro-American collection; and as current Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Warren Wilson College. 

Reason for Serving: 

It is an obligation. We have to diligently seek out all methods and implement the best practices in order to repair old errors and bring about new equitable opportunities. 

What do you hope to achieve by serving on the Reparations Commission?

A reparations program that can make a significant effort to bridge the gap between the city (including its benefactors) and those citizens (and their progeny) that have been systematically and systemically historically exploited. 

Have you been impacted personally by systemic racism in Asheville?

Many examples, but just one is the opportunity for business ownership for Black people being so historically limited, not only here in Asheville but also in larger Buncombe County. We have so much potential and that will only be maximized and realized when Black residents of Asheville or larger Buncombe County step into more roles of ownership so that they may offer necessary guidance/mentorship to future business owners and developers. 

What do you believe your greatest contribution will be in serving on the Reparations Commission?

My love and commitment for creation. My passion for justice. Whatever I contribute will be towards what is determined that we all need. 


ALTERNATE

SHEKIKI JILES-BATEN

Shekiki Jiles-Baten // LinkedIn photo

Focus Area: Criminal Justice

Representing: Shiloh Neighborhood 

Background: 

1. Housing — I am a new real estate investor as well as have associates in the field. 2. Criminal Justice — I have an AAS in Paralegal Studies 3.Founder of Teyegar Academy Foundation Alternative Homeschool curriculum for POC High Schoolers.

Reason for Serving: 

My family and I are native to Asheville. We’ve been here for over 100 years. In my 38 years I have seen so many things change. I know a great deal about Asheville and Shiloh, including how POC were relocated to this area by the Vanderbilts when he purchased the Biltmore Estate. My family was awarded the first habitat home built in Asheville back in 1996. I know what home ownership has done for wealth building, and the mental, emotional, and financial stability our house provides us. I would like to see other POC families in our area have this same stability in their lives. I want to help ensure a portion of this money go to this vital effort. And as a working class family, I want to ensure that working class POC families are included in the discussions.

What do you hope to achieve by serving on the Reparations Commission?

I hope to ensure that working class POC receive a realistic path to home ownership in Asheville. This will ensure POC have a realistic opportunity to build generational wealth.

Have you been impacted personally by systemic racism in Asheville?

1.My great grandmother lost her longtime home to predatory lending andthe gentrification of Buchanan Avenue and McCormick Field.

2. In 2011 I owned and operated a small convenience store that the police raided because, “it looked like a drug house”. No drugs were found. My business never fully recovered.

What do you believe your greatest contribution will be in serving on the Reparations Commission?

Being good and actual representation for the Shiloh community on the commission. As previously mentioned being a native with such deep roots, I feel I can represent our community well. I have a diverse background and am capable of working with a team to get a job done. I understand that we must see and respect the past in order to most effectively prepare for our future.

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