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WNC African American conference to focus on reparations

Dr. Tiece Ruffin Dr. Tiece Ruffin

The eighth annual African Americans in Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia Conference will be held virtually from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6. The focus of this year’s event is “Reparations, Revelations and Racial Justice: The Path Forward.”

“The City of Asheville was one of the first municipalities in the United States to pass a reparations resolution behind Evanston, Illinois, and it has appropriated an initial $2.1 million in reparations funding,” says Dr. Tiece Ruffin, co-host of the conference. “The theme, ‘Reparations, Revelations & Racial Justice: The Path Forward,’ is based on the premise that now is the time to move forward to sharing knowledge, insights and next steps for racial justice.”

The AAWNC Conference illuminates the African American experience in Southern Appalachia through history, culture, community and enterprise. Now in its eighth year, the conference seeks to eradicate incomplete and false narratives about African Americans in this region, while creating new possibilities for the future.

The conference is a project of UNC Asheville and was started as part of an effort to illuminate a history of African Americans in WNC and Southern Appalachia that was for so long glossed over or simply ignored. 

Eight years in, the conference has undergone a transition — from the committee as led by Dr. Darin Waters via the Office of Community Engagement and the Department of History, to a living, evolving history with the Africana Studies Program. Waters has transitioned from UNC Asheville’s executive director of the Office of Community Engagement to a new role as deputy secretary for Archives and History for the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Therefore, this year’s transitional event will be co-hosted by Waters and Ruffin.

Ruffin is the director of Africana Studies and has been a faculty member at UNC Asheville since 2010. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning educator, Ruffin is also the managing editor of Moja: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Africana Studies.

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The Africana Studies Program, under Ruffin’s leadership, has worked on the organization and curation of this year’s AAWNC Conference, in order to preserve the important work of this event for the community. In this way, the conference will continue to be a community-wide effort in making the invisible histories of African Americans, and other highland minorities visible. 

Ruffin currently serves as the Director of African Studies, and a professor of Africana Studies and Education at UNCA. Her interests and past publications demonstrate her devotion to equity, inclusion, diverse and special needs learners, service learning, pedagogical approaches for the diverse and inclusive classroom and how culturally responsive education systems can create new opportunities for educational justice.

“Our hope is for attendees to be inspired with uncovered revelations and strategies that can be put into action and directly benefit Black Asheville,” said Ruffin. “If we are to uproot and dismantle racism, engage in restoration, restitution and make amends for historical and ongoing racial injustices, we must move to strategically map out the next phase with concrete tools and practices for justice. If we don’t, racial justice will not be realized, and resolutions will simply maintain the status quo.”

Other speakers include Keith Young, former Asheville City Councilman. He will speak about reparations in Asheville. Young received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the historically black Virginia State University and studied Implementing Public Policy at Harvard. Young returned to Asheville in 2003 and focused on community organizing in low-income communities. As a former city council member, he was the architect of the city’s reparations legislation along with other equitable policies. 

Young also played a key role in the recent resolution passed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the city formally apologized, for the first time, for the events of the 1921 race massacre and subsequent policies that negatively impacted the black community. The resolution is likely to become the base to build a reparations program for the recompense of the 1921 race massacre.

Following Young’s address, he will host a panel discussion on reparations across the nation. The panel will include Lori Decter-Wright, Councilwoman in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Robin Rue, former Councilwoman in Evanston, Illinois; Syndi Scott, Founder and Director of the Amendment Project; and Robert Thomas, of the Racial Justice Coalition of Asheville. 

The second address of the day will be given by Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, on reparations and education justice. Muhammad is an associate professor of Literacy, Language and Culture at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has previously served as a middle school teacher, literacy specialist, school district administrator and school board president. Muhammad’s scholarship has appeared in leading educational journals and books. She also works with teachers and young people across the United States and South Africa in best practices in equity, anti-racism and culturally and historically responsive instruction. She is the author of the best-selling book, “Cultivating Genius: An Equity Model for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy.”

The second panel will be moderated by Ruffin and will discuss reparations and education justice. Panel members will include Brandi Hinnant-Crawford, Ph.D, Western Carolina University; Summer Carrol, Ph.D, Lenoir Rhyne University; Darrius Stanley, Ph.D, Western Carolina University; Nicole Cush, Principal of the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville; and Seth Bellamy of the Racial Equity Ambassador Program. 

Following the afternoon panel, there will be two presentations given by faculty and undergraduate students at UNC Asheville — “Towards a Comprehensive Accounting of Urban Renewal in Asheville: Initial Findings from the Urban Renewal Archival Database and Lost Black Wealth Study,” and “History Erased: Examining the Intersection of Redlining and Historic Preservation.” 

After the academic presentations, there will be a virtual exhibit tour on reparations and health called “Black in Black on Black.’’ This exhibition features three WNC-based artists: Ann Miller Woodford, Viola Spells and Ronda Birtha, as well as data from the “Heart of Health: Race, Place, and Faith in Western North Carolina’’ project. This is a three-year community-participatory research study that seeks to better understand the role and impact of race and racism on health. “Black in Black on Black” presents an exhibition about the lives and contributions of Black/African American communities in WNC.

The final address will be given by Dr. Dwight Mullen, Professor Emeritus, on regional reparations in WNC. As a teaching professor at UNCA, Mullen was committed to both his students and to being professionally active. He offered courses in public policy, American politics and African and African American politics. His scholarly activities included panels chaired and papers presented at meetings of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists; overseeing undergraduates’ research projects covering the State of Black Asheville; and serving in local, state, national and international capacities that aim to improve the delivery of public services to underserved populations.

Leave a comment

2 comments

  • It took me some effort to find out where the conferece is being held, which should have been in the first sentence.Who, Where, what when.

    posted by Charles K. Dayton

    Saturday, 10/30/2021

  • And let me ask this question... who is going to pay for these so called 'reparations"? I sure as hell am not. What if these Black groups don't get their way? Expect riots and looting. Pay up or face the consequences.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Friday, 10/29/2021

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