By SCOTT CARROLL, Asheville Watchdog
The idea to provide reparations to the Black community of Asheville was cemented in the form of a historic resolution passed unanimously by the City Council on July 14, 2020. The three-page resolution listed many of the ways Black people here have been mistreated over the centuries, beginning with their unjust enslavement, segregation, and incarceration. It also details systemic discrimination that continues to affect many areas of everyday life in the Black Asheville, including housing, education, employment and healthcare.
The Asheville resolution apologized on behalf of the city for the history of mistreatment of its Black residents. It received national and global media attention and was hailed by racial justice advocates as a historic first step toward righting centuries of injustice and discrimination, possibly providing a roadmap for other communities seeking to make address past injustices.
Simply put, reparations are an effort to make amends for past wrongdoing. Reparations acknowledge the government’s role in denying wealth-building opportunities to Black people.
The Asheville resolution called for North Carolina and the federal government to provide funding for reparations on the state and federal level. However, local officials, including members of the Community Reparations Commission, have said unless and until that happens their role is to focus on efforts here in Asheville/Buncombe County.
Locally, the reparations are not to be paid directly to individuals, but rather take the form of investments in areas with large disparities between Blacks and other residents: education, health, criminal justice, and home and business ownership.
“Racism and discrimination have choked economic opportunity for African Americans at nearly every turn,” William Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen write in their book From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century. “At several historic moments the trajectory of racial inequality could have been altered dramatically,” they write.
“But neither Reconstruction nor the New Deal nor the civil rights struggle led to an economically just and fair nation. Today, systemic inequality persists in the form of housing discrimination, unequal education, police brutality, mass incarceration, employment discrimination, and massive wealth and opportunity gaps. Economic data indicates that for every dollar the average white household has in wealth, the average Black household possess a mere 10 cents.”
Community Reparations Commission
The Asheville resolution directs the City Manager to establish a process to develop short-, medium-, and long-term recommendations to specifically address the creation of generational wealth and to boost economic mobility and opportunity in the Black community. It calls for the process to be overseen by a Community Reparations Commission.
Twenty-five local residents, all of them Black, sit on the Community Reparations Commission. The Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commission each picked five representatives. Two representatives were picked by each of the following historically Black neighborhood groups: Burton Street, East End/Valley Street, Heart of Chestnut/Northside, Shiloh, Southside, and Stumptown. Three people were chosen to represent the Asheville Housing Authority communities.
Six alternates were selected; two by the City Council, two by the County Commission, and two representing the neighborhood groups. The alternates attend meetings and participate in discussions, but cannot vote on matters before the Commission.
All of the commissioners are assigned to one of the five designated impact focus groups (education, economic development, criminal justice, healthcare, and housing).
The Commission will issue a report that will be considered for incorporation into immediate, short-term and long-term priorities and plans.
The Commission is also entrusted with providing budget and program priorities for the following to include but not be limited to:
- Increasing minority home ownership and access to other affordable housing.
- Increasing minority business ownership and career opportunities.
- Developing strategies to grow equity and generational wealth.
- Closing gaps in healthcare, education, employment and pay, neighborhood safety, and fairness within criminal justice.
$4 Million in Initial Funding
The reparations effort has been backed by about $4 million in initial funding, with $2.1 million earmarked by the City of Asheville and $2 million coming from Buncombe County. The city has pledged another $500,000 in its 2022-23 budget and county officials said they will review funding requests as they are received.
The process has mostly been been a slog, with nearly two years elapsing between the initial city resolution laying the groundwork for reparations and the seating of the Community Reparations Commission.
It will take about another two years for the process to conclude, according to a timeline recently released by city officials and the commission. That timeline calls for a series of recommendations from the commission, each to be presented to the Asheville City Council.
The schedule calls for the commission to release a list of immediate recommendations this summer and fall and then spend the remainder of the year focusing on research.
The timeline also calls for short-term recommendations to be decided this winter, medium-term recommendations submitted next spring, and long-term recommendations provided by the winter of 2023-24.
A final report is expected to be issued in early 2024, and the entire process concluded by mid-April of that year.