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

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 Education impact focus group are:

ALEESHA BALLARD

Aleesha Ballard // photo courtesy The Urban News

Focus Area: Education

Representing: Asheville Housing Authority Communities

Background: I have lived experiences in each of the areas, which often times is more relevant. 

Reason for Serving: If I want to see change in the Asheville black community I have to start showing up even when it’s uncomfortable. 

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

Better opportunities for my children and my community to not just survive, but to thrive in Asheville and do so in culturally safe spaces. 

Have you been impacted personally by systemic racism in Asheville?

I have three children currently attending Asheville city schools and the education system is not only failing our children academically, but socially. My children don’t have teachers that look like them, and many of the ones that come around are not relatable to me or my children. Working in Asheville is also difficult because often times you’re the only black person on staff and it’s not very welcoming or friendly. 

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

I’ve lived in other cities and Asheville by far suffers from the most racism. I hope to bring thoughts and ideas that enhanced strong black communities.


SHAUNDA JACKSON

Focus Area: Education

Representing: Asheville Housing Authority Communities

Background: Management skills, public housing programming, community engagement and organizing. 

Reason for Serving: It’s rare that we hear from those most impacted by racism in Asheville; the oppression has silenced them. With the support of my team and the resident associations, I hope to be able to get the information to them and get their perspectives to the committee.

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

Hear fully from the most impacted by racism in Asheville; direct communication with resident associations and have their voice heard in consideration of recommendations to City Council. 

Have you been impacted personally by systemic racism in Asheville?

Seen and experienced systematic racism as an African American woman throughout my life and career. That is why I am passionate about the kids and their education, activities, etc.

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

Bringing the voice of the housing residents to this discussion and sharing that back with them.


THOMAS PRIESTER

Thomas Priester // LinkedIn photo

Focus Area: Education

Representing: Stumptown Neighborhood

Background:  Education: Currently mentoring in both the local school districts, mentoring in schools and after-school programming with youth in the schools. 

Economic Development — I sat in on meeting and boards related to but not my expertise. Conducted community sessions to encourage community to be involved. 

Health and Wellness — Experienced in the mental health field, support staff in schools and community, 

Housing — Currently Family Self Sufficiency Coordinator for the Housing Authority. Assistance with people affected by COVID. Encouraging them to go back to school, getting jobs. Pushing for affordable housing.

Reason for Serving: Continuing to be that community advocate for those who live here and those who are no longer here. People need to know the history/be reminded of the history. There is no real equity here in Asheville. I aminterested in making changes and feel like with this process that our voices will finally be heard

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

It it my hope that we actually begin to see equity among people of color.Barriers and hurdles are eliminated. Ability to help build generational wealth. Want to advocate for those who are no longer here and how those families can still be helped due to having to sell property/land.

Have you been impacted personally by systemic racism in Asheville?

Employment denial due to race. Family (sister) a native as well and had to move away — there are no affordable housing for black folk. Lack of support for black business owners, although that seems to changing now. 

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

Giving lived experience to the process. Being able to provide insight to the neighborhood history. Being a voice for those who are still here and those who are no longer here.


CICI WESTON  

Cici Weston // photo courtesy Christine Avery Learning Center

Focus Area: Education

Representing: City of Asheville

Background: I am a longtime resident of the Asheville black community. I have ties to many of the African American churches and their leaders. I have worked in the Asheville City School system, the YWCA, and now The Christine Avery Learning Center for 32 years, This work is mostly education.

However, with my work in these organizations, I have been able to connect personally with many students and their families over the years. Through the years to the present, I have fought for and alongside families for black students to receive equal educational opportunities. Even today, the fight for equality in educational attainment for our black students are still present. This is seen in many forms from white teachers being afraid of our children (especially black boys) to black teachers not receiving the same compensation for the same job done in the schools. Those who were once students that I worked with when they were younger, are now bringing their children to our childcare programs. I have been impacted by the economic development here in the city in that in my business, I am not able to easily obtain some of the same resources that my counterparts can easily obtain. Systems have been put into place to keep organizations like mine from being able to receive top funding. Example: I like to hire blacks who not only know how to motivate and educate our black students well, but those who nurture and encourage. Many whom I hire have struggled to attend institutions of higher education because of money or simply not taking the right track in high school. Therefore, they are having to backtrack to get the education that is now required for a childcare center teacher, in order for the center to receive four or five stars. In order to receive funds for quality, the center must be a four or five star center. In order to be a four or five star center, a certain percentage of the staff must have a higher level of education. This rule applies not only to state guidelines, but local guidelines as well. As someone who supports our people, I am having to pay for my staff to attend school to obtain the educational guidelines so that we as an organization can receive the resources needed for operation.

Reason for Serving: Collective voices of people with different experiences will help drive the plan for how reparations will be distributed in Asheville. I have been working in education with many families through the years in the city. I know the struggles and the sought after solutions for the struggles black and brown families face. It’s time to not only look at things differently, but move the conversations to action. This is the only way the needle of healing will move forward. I am ready to create an environment of healing through action. Plus I have a lot of wisdom to bring to the table. As a native of Asheville, I have seen and experienced changes for those who continue to work toward a better community. I believe the changes will continue to evolve for the better of the black and brown community. A community that values all is one that prospers. Things we value, we tend to put the most energy toward. People from all walks of life need to be a part of the decision-making for the reparations.

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

I am hoping for many voices with many experiences to be heard. My portion of what I have experienced as a Black woman in Asheville is different from another Black community member’s experience. Our stories matter. Our experiences matter. I am sure that some of what many of us have experienced has been pushed to the back burner. It is time for these things to be brought to the forefront and dealt with so that everyone will have the right to receive what is given to all citizens. Housing that is suppose to be affordable should be affordable. Loans that should be available to all businesses, should be available to all businesses. Land available to purchase should be so that anyone is able to purchase it. Resources to our black communities are often limited. By this I mean that opportunities are not made known as well in our black communities as they are in other communities. I should know what the systems are and steps are to purchasing land if I wanted to purchase land. These things should be readily available in our black communities with the right people giving the knowledge and assistance.

Have you been impacted personally by systemic racism in Asheville?

My impact comes in various forms. As an African American business owner, I have sought funding sources and other economic development that were available in the city. It has been a journey in accessing those types of resources that are suppose to be readily available. Before becoming a business owner, I worked with a well-known organization that went after the same type of resources. I saw the ease that they had in obtaining the resources. This type of impact runs across the city in our education system as well. Many of the black and brown students struggle to graduate with the type of diploma that will allow them into colleges. They do not receive the same guidance as other students.

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

My strong connection with the black community. Understanding and knowledge of how to navigate the educational system so that our black students can be more successful. I also believe that some of my experiences will help in moving some of the barriers for others who may encounter the same barriers. I am one who looks to find and implement solutions that will help ease any difficulties presented.

ALTERNATES 

TIFFANY FLUNORY DE’BELLOTT 

Tiffany Flunory DE’Bellott // LinkedIn photo

Focus Area: Education

Representing: City of Asheville

Background: I have a Bachelors Degree in Psychology. I am an innovative problem solver, with skills in public speaking, collective liberation restorative practices, and a strong equity lens. I value shared decision-making and being a person that lends to truth telling and accountability. I am dependable and seek to solve problems rather than spending time salivating on issues.

Reason for Serving: I am interested in serving on this commission because I care about what happens to Black people. As a Black woman, I am ready to see a new day where it is now, important to this country and abroad that the repair and harm of the Trans Atlantic slave trade is recognized for causing genocide to a people. I desire to see Asheville lead the way regarding action steps to a reparations plan. I want my grandchildren to see me as an agent of change and therefore will model that same behavior for a better world.

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

I hope to achieve victory, the making of new friends, and the ability to work together for a common goal. This process is multidimensional, meaning it’s more than receiving compensation for the free labor my ancestors was forced to adhere.

Have you been impacted personally by systemic racism in Asheville?

Working at Asheville middle school, I experienced being left out of important conversations regarding youth of color and the disproportionate discipline practices toward children of color. I worked as the after-school’s program manager, and on many occasions White parents would walk into my office and bypass me sitting at the receptionists desk, only to walk up to a White female volunteer. They made assumptions as to my role as program manager. It took many years for me to move up into a leadership position with the company I worked for.

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

I have the ability to move us forward and help keep the commission on task.


OSONDU MCPETERS

Osondu McPeters // LinkedIn photo

Focus Area: Education

Representing: City of Asheville

Background: I have previous employment history in the healthcare industry, I have experience in racial equity training, I’ve been a mentor and tutor for education purposes for over 15 years and I currently work in the financial field.

Reason for Serving: To help create dialogue and share resources that can start addressing these issues and disparities within the community.

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

To identify the root causes of these issues, create awareness throughout the area and build a system to dismantle the issues from occurring in the future.

Have you been impacted personally by systemic racism in Asheville?

I have been pulled over multiple times by law enforcement for questionable incidents. I’ve witnessed minorities receive lesser opportunities for higher education. My career opportunities have also been jeopardized due to indirect racial incidents.

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

My ability to effectively communicate and relate to multi generations.

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