The Overlook with Matt Peiken

Ruminations on Reparations | Dr. Dwight Mullen, Torre Garrison and Rob Thomas

October 16, 2023 Matt Peiken Episode 98
The Overlook with Matt Peiken
Ruminations on Reparations | Dr. Dwight Mullen, Torre Garrison and Rob Thomas
Show Notes Transcript

We launch a special week of episodes recorded from The Overlook Live with a deep dive and dissection into Asheville’s commitment to racial reparations. Three years after city leaders committed to a formal reparations resolution, the commission tasked with drafting specific proposals is still debating what reparations even means. 

My guests are Dr. Dwight Mullen, a retired UNC-Asheville history professor who co-chairs the city’s reparations commission, Torre Garrison of the Reparations Stakeholder Authority of Asheville and Rob Thomas of the Racial Justice Coalition. We talk through their views of the reparations process and their vantages on this question: Will Asheville see a meaningful, impactful resolution at the end of this?

The Overlook Live, our first podcasting event in front of an audience, happened Sept. 27 in the Tina McGuire Theatre at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.

Photo by Meredith Katz.

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Matt Peiken: We're going to talk about something that this city has been really grappling with long before the city decided to grapple with it. And it's reparations to our black community. One of the things that strikes me, and I don't know if anybody in the audience caught this, but very recently, and Dr. Mullen can speak to this, that now a year and a half into this commission's existence, three years since the city has committed to a reparations resolution, we're still trying to define reparations.

I found that really startling that it's still watery, that we haven't built beyond that. Dr. Mullen, can you talk a little bit about why, or maybe my expectation that we should have that definition down by now maybe is misplaced, but why do you think this far into the commission's life and three years after this commitment to start a reparations process are we still struggling to define reparations?

Dr. Dwight Mullen: At a personal level it's not a struggle for me at all. But I understand that my understanding of it is a bit further down the road. And when I got involved with this whole conversation with the community, I realized that we needed to find where folk were. The vocabulary to discuss it didn't even exist.

The idea of the parties within the black community sitting at the same table, that had never happened before. The idea of being conversant and understanding that there had been harm that needed to be addressed, that was not a universal appreciation. So getting that conversation going in a direction that addressed the kinds of disparities that have been documented, the kind of historical areas that we understood in general, that was, that's been a process that's been a process.

Matt Peiken: You said it's not a struggle for you, have you been working to impart or impress a certain definition of reparations that perhaps others on the commission are not lining up with? 

Dr. Dwight Mullen: Initially, it was a data based approach. And before I retired, I directed an undergraduate research program called the State of Black Asheville.

And what they did, what the students did at the junior and senior level was collect data on what happens with the public policy areas that we are joined with at the city and county level. What are the outcomes by race and by gender? And over the 10, 15 years we did this we're talking about the disparities in black and white outcomes, and African American women and outcomes of other women being so stark and widening over that time until it became obvious that part of the first stage of reparations meant stopping that harm, at least addressing it.

Matt Peiken: Rob and Torre, either of you can, or both of you can talk to this from your, not outside perspectives, but neither of you are on this commission. Are you happy with the progress and the talks that have been made to this point? Rob, you were a guest on my show several months ago, which you were very clear that you expected this to take quite a long time, that any expectation of a timeline that would lead to something On the near horizon was unrealistic.

I want to ask both of you, from your vantage points looking in, how do you feel about how things are going with the talks of reparations, let alone anything leading to a resolution? Rob, can you talk, you start first. 

Rob Thomas: When you ask that question, you say talks of reparations do you mean conversations with the community, conversations with the city, or the process


Matt Peiken: I guess I meant the process itself. 

Rob Thomas: Of course I'm going to be dissatisfied I feel like I'm extremely proximate to the process and, I have the burden of knowing what could be happening compared to what is happening. So when you ask that in my own personal opinion no, I'm dissatisfied, but I have to also say that I am grateful for where we are at.

Matt Peiken: Can you distinguish between the two, between where you think we could be, should be, versus where you're grateful for where we are? 

Rob Thomas: Okay. There have been so many moments throughout this process, so many different battles that would have drastically altered where we're at right now that is, incredible.

And I guess I'll just go back to... I guess the first biggest one was after the resolution was created, we had the opportunity to start the process out with 10 million. We worked with the CFO, Barbara Whitehorn, to identify money inside the fund balance account, which is, like a emergency fund for the city.

Now, there are parameters. You have to keep 15%. I think of the annual budget within inside of the fund balance account, but they were at like in excess of 21 million. So the 10 million to start out reparations wouldn't hurt. 

Matt Peiken: I don't want to interrupt your flow on this, but is this a discretionary fund from the city?

Rob Thomas: Not discretionary. Let's say like you have the annual budget, correct? It's the money that's left over. The money that, that gets unspent and rolls over to the next year. Fiscal year. Okay. Yeah, the next fiscal year. Okay. And it's, again, it's extra money. And it's money that could have been used to start off the process and we had the opportunity to place that on the city council agenda for Keith Young's last council meeting.

Cause he had been, he didn't get reelected. Behind the scenes, the mayor and a few other councilwomen took it off the agenda so that it wouldn't even come up for a vote or conversation. And we had identified several other things, like how do you create an entity that the community can control and be outside of the bureaucracy of government, which is extremely it's causing a lot of problems to the process.

And they... Wouldn't go with and this is like at the very beginning this has been several battles But that's just one the one of the earliest I could think of so 

Matt Peiken: Before you get to where you're happy with how things have developed that has to be disheartening for all of you Where the city has on one sense committed to a resolution in Here mentally they put this on paper, but it doesn't seem like in spirit that there's a real commitment there.

Am I wrong in seeing it that way? 

Torre Garrison: I would say for me It's working as it's designed to work, and I think that Being black on my life. That has been the case with a lot of things that get passed, whether that's locally, state nationally, there are things that are put in place and then it's like, let me do this so people can be quiet and hopefully they'll forget.

And then it takes a while for things to, to come to fruition. For me that, that has been what I feel like has been my entire life of laws being passed, resolutions being passed. It seems to be very slow and it can be frustrating and I think to some degree we're so used to it that it doesn't shock us, or at least for me it doesn't shock me.

Matt Peiken: That's such a stark and bleak way of that, of the way you just put that, Torre, that we're so used to this. It's almost that it's a certain kind of trauma you expect. That you can't not only get your expectations up, but you can't even take people at their word at a certain point.

That, it sounds like that. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like. You have a certain things you think should be happening that aren't happening. But Rob, you pointed to a certain ray of light. You said there are, you're very happy or at least pleased with a certain progress.

Can you talk about where you think progress has been made in a very substantive way? 

Rob Thomas: My standards of substantive may be different. So the progress do I see made is mostly qualitative. No, it's not exactly quantitative, I don't, I believe that a lot of the progress can be measured in conversations acceptance of the word reparations itself, and like this right here.

This wouldn't happen five years ago. People would not even be considering feasibility, nor does it logically make sense to do reparations. So I'm seeing social environments changing. I'm seeing the political environment changing. And I am seeing Money being allocated, but at the same time, this money that's allocated is still under the jurisdiction of the city, and still waiting to see if the community will actually end up with control of it or not.

Matt Peiken: Dr. Mullen, there seems to be disagreement about whether what the commission is actually going through is a reparations process unto itself because some people believe the city and county don't have the financial resources to fulfill cash reparations and I wonder I have two strands of questions to this.

One is it incumbent on this reparations process to have a financial outcome and, or? Are there other avenues that the city and county can go down to fulfill around the edges of reparations that aren't necessarily cash disbursements? 

Dr. Dwight Mullen: I think it's definitely both.

You, I think that there are resources that are monetary and there are resources that are in kind that the city and county have in abundance that could begin to address many of the issues of reparations. For me, the historical errors are being ignored. I refuse to not consider enslavement. We have also got to consider a longer, the era of segregation.

I, I think that in many ways, what the State of Black Asheville began to document was the continued existence of an era of segregation in our outcomes, and it causes us to think and to respond and to act as though this is normal, because it's always been like this. 

Matt Peiken: How can a reparations process deal in a meaningful way with segregation?

Dr. Dwight Mullen: Yeah and it's counterintuitive. It's counterintuitive. My primary example right now for Asheville is the Peak Academy. The Peak Academy is a charter school sanctioned by the Department of Instruction for North Carolina to address disparities by race. It's a black school. Yet, at the same time, you start looking at our outcomes, and we are addressing outcomes with the resources of the state and the locality.

Because often what we find with reparations are that the problems we are encountering, the things that need to be addressed, far outstrip the monetary resources of the community to be affected. And so we're dependent, we need the whole community to help repair this damage, the whole community once created.

Matt Peiken: Toward that end, do you think some people, and your work, Torre, really gets into community, What community wants from this process, and I guess I want you to address this first. Do you think some people think, other people got this? There's a commission, they'll figure it out.

That, Rob you spoke a little bit ago, or Torre you did, about People can talk and the news can inspire something to happen and then people forget about it. Time has a way of quieting down disruption and uproar. And I'm wondering, are you having trouble or challenges within Asheville's black community?

To even keep the fire on and inspire people to play active roles in this.

Rob Thomas: I'd like to point out that the things are structured to produce these outcomes. It's, that outcome that you are speaking on is intentional. If you have people engaged and informed to the process, that then gives them the ability to have an informed opinion, which then gives them agency and a voice.

It doesn't necessarily benefit the government to go out and engage the community and, have a great understanding of what is currently going on pertaining to it, right? Because then community can be easily mobilized to influence the outcomes of the process. 

Matt Peiken: To be clear, I just want to be clear on what you're talking about.

So you're saying a reparations process is committed to, yet the city and county, among Maybe shortcomings have not undertaken an educational effort and an outreach effort within the community to engage the people who are at first most affected by this. 

Rob Thomas: No, I'm taking it even further back and saying that this is the nature of how government is structured.

It's not necessarily the individual people. This is how government has moved, since its creation to benefit the people who have disposable time and the disposable income to engage with it. Community engagement, thick community engagement, because there's a difference between thick and thin.

Thick community engagement, that type of community engagement, by that definition, is not something that the city and the county does. And that's the type of community engagement we need for something like this, so that people can actually get involved and have informed opinions. Right now, if you ask most black people about reparations, they'll probably say something similar to 40 acres and a mule, without understanding the current context of what's going on.

Because they haven't been reached out to, and they don't have the disposable time and disposable income to engage with the process effectively making it inaccessible. And that means that you can then have a tokenized group or a picked group of individuals who can then make the decisions for a large group of people because, they're not engaged and their voice is not heard.

And, that's the biggest thing that my organization has been working on. It's uplifting those voices because that's how you change these mechanisms in these systems that I'm working with is community empowerment. And you start that through community engagement. 

Matt Peiken: Torre, your work through the Reparation Stakeholder Authority of Asheville directly addresses that.

Can you talk about the work you do on a day to day basis? 

Torre Garrison: Yeah. again, RSAA is It's still pretty new, although it's been operating for a little over a year. I came in back in May, and it has been a lot of infrastructure building a lot of connecting with community, a lot of connecting with black community members as well as non black community members, and really trying to make sure that people are educated on the process and know what the ask is.

I think about it as an ecosystem of organized disruptors and it's because History will prove that when we're organized, we can disrupt way more than when we're not organized. And when we have a collective voice, we can disrupt things way more than an uncollected voice. And day to day is constant conversations with individuals and understanding that not even all black people agree with reparations or the process and how we get to reparations. There are some people that I've had conversations with who say, yeah, the money is fine, but what do we do outside of the money? There are people who are like, we need the money and then there are some people like they feel they haven't felt any harm, and I think it's very important that people understand not all black people are exactly the same and we don't all see everything the same. But one of the things that I love about RSAA is no matter where you are in the process of reparations or your belief in reparations or your belief in the harm, that we know for a fact has been done towards black people RSAA welcomes those people in.

We welcome all black members in Asheville and Buncombe County, and we will heal from the inside, and we get to do that by being in control of our healing and being in control of what our ask is without outside voices controlling that narrative. And I think that's one of the biggest things about RSAA that I love and what made me want to join the organization.

Matt Peiken: What Torre just spoke to is clearly, it's not a monolithic opinion about what reparations is, what reparations should accomplish. Given that, yet, Dr. Mullen, your body has been put together to Have at some point, a resolution on paper that is defined.

Does this make it all the more, if not challenging, impossible to come up with a reparations resolution that is meaningful, that is encompassing on at least what a broad public, broad spectrum of the black community wants or is feeling, and has the mechanisms in place for the city and county to accomplish what this commission puts out?

Dr. Dwight Mullen: Yeah I actually think that the diversity of the commission is not broad enough. I think that there, there should be a far larger number of youth that are there. Um, And I think that we should even consider having permanent liaisons with other reparations commissions. And, other parts of the state, as well as the country, and even in some cases internationally.

Because we're all developing a relationship. Of ourselves locally through democratic processes to power that's never been challenged before, or it's, or hasn't been challenged in a lifetime. And I think that takes time, and I think that it takes strategy, but at the same time it means that we are accomplishing, we have to show accomplishments with things that we've already done, or things that we are, that justify the time that we have spent on it.

Matt Peiken: Can you point to those things now? Are there, Are there accomplished? Can you, Can you uh, kind of lay those out for us?

Dr. Dwight Mullen: I can and I think that the first, getting, and, we, we first phrased it as in perpetuity, but we actually know it's dependent on the electoral process, but getting permanent funding from the city and from the county, that, that's a huge step.

Matt Peiken: Permanent funding just for the commission's existence? 

Dr. Dwight Mullen: Just for the, for the reparations of our fund. That ensures the existence of our process, but also ensures that we'll have resources to address what we find. I think that another major accomplishment was getting the city to take a third party to audit itself, as well as county government, as being in compliance with things that lead to disparate outcomes.

For example in education, we have been dealing with end of grade, end of course exam results. Administered by the state for decades being disparate by race. No one has said where specifically it is and where and how they're being held accountable. And so plugging the holes in the bottom of the boat seem to me to be the first step, first in having resources to address it seem to be the first two steps.

And those are very tangible accomplishments, I think.

Matt Peiken: And do you attribute that to the commission finding some common ground unto itself, or is that also to some degree? The city and county also, on a substantive sincerity level, wanting this to move forward in a real way. 

Dr. Dwight Mullen: Both of those votes came from the reparations commissions as unanimous votes.

And they both went strongly to the city and to the county as worded from the commission. And if I remember correctly, both of those resolutions were accepted unanimously by the city and by the county. 

Matt Peiken: Rob, how do you react to that where, you've talked about how government by its very makeup is built to disenfranchise and to fragment people Uprise and collective voice.

Dr. Mullen just spoke to a couple of examples of meaningful, in his view, meaningful steps and progress that the commission has made with the city and county support. Do you see that as well? 

Rob Thomas: I don't think he was talking about progress. I think he was saying that he would assume that stopping the harm is the first step and that would be something the city and county would start out with holding their systems accountable to their disparate outcomes.

That hasn't happened yet. That's still in process. 

Matt Peiken: Again you and Keith Young were at the heart of just even developing the language to develop a reparations commission and a commitment from this city. You're not on the commission. What do you want to see happen next?

I'm not saying ultimately, but just what needs to happen next from your vantage?

Rob Thomas: A lot of things. Immediately. I would say legal support for the commission because the city and county attorneys are in there with the best interests of the city. They're not even going to do anything that's going to take any type of risk of, a potential lawsuit when at the end of the day, just because somebody files a lawsuit doesn't mean it's justified or it stands up in court.

Matt Peiken: What would precipitate a lawsuit that they would be afraid of? The city committed to this. What are they afraid of? 

Rob Thomas: Black, that, that word and any race based language. That's just one of the things.

Matt Peiken: Race based language in a resolution, in a binding resolution.

Rob Thomas: Like it didn't make sense to me.

Cause the word black is in the resolution more than the word whereas almost um, but you know, so that's, You gotta talk to the city and county attorneys on that one of how they are logically making this make sense to themselves.

Matt Peiken: But do you think it comes down chiefly to that? That there's just a fear, a risk based fear from city officials to put anything in writing that could put them behind some legal eight ball?

Or having to fulfill something that a certain political sector of this community just does not want?

Rob Thomas: Of course. I remember when we was removing the Vance Monument, one of the reasons why they wanted to keep it was fear out of retaliation of, of how white people could potentially retaliate and how that could affect the black community.

They wrote kind of an op ed type deal on it. So yeah, that's all a part of it and those fears are justified. I can't say that, that, that history hasn't shown and proven that those things happen. It's just, my generation, generation I'm part of. I've been through a lot worse than that, in my living years.

And yeah, it's whatever you got, bring it at me because I'm tired of going through what I'm going through. Yeah. It's just a different type of lens. 

Matt Peiken: Torre, you said a little bit ago that there are some people you've talked to black people in our community who don't believe a reparations commission needs to exist and that the city doesn't need to fulfill a reparations process.

I'm sure you get into conversations and drill down a little bit. How is that opinion formed by people in our black community?

Torre Garrison: I think a lot of times it's just an uneducated opinion. I think a lot of people bring opinions to the table and they tend to overlook facts. And facts are facts. Facts are that the United States was built on the back of black people. And at the end of the day no matter what disparity you look at, we're at the bottom.

And I think when you're looking at facts, people sometimes don't want to see that. And there's one particular person that comes to mind, and that particular person is not an Asheville native and I just think that person's experience has always been from a place of privilege. and they haven't had a lot of proximity to what I would consider black experiences.

Matt Peiken: Is that person Clarence Thomas? 

Rob Thomas: He's one of those. 

Torre Garrison: That could be one of them. 

Rob Thomas: That's definitely one of them. I'd like to add though, you got it. You got to understand that. I feel like a lot of these people's a lot of people from my race, black people, their decision on, not supporting reparations, I feel comes from only a couple of places.

One, either they're misinformed or uninformed about. What it is that we're talking about, and we haven't really talked about it here, we're talking about remedies for things that have been proven to have been done to us by the culpable agencies, implementing the reparations. And a lot of people, like I said, get caught up in the 40 acres and the mule and they don't believe it'll ever happen.

And then you've got the other side, which is yo, I've escaped my poverty, and even if reparations was given out, it wouldn't affect me you all should have To pull yourself up by your bootstraps, even though, that isn't even a real concept. And do the same thing that that I did, the hard way type thing.

Matt Peiken: Do you think some of this, and this just occurred to me, do you think some of this could also be fear within the black community? That if something meaningful and indelible were to happen, that there would be such a backlash from the white majority, that it could lead to violence and. Kind of a throwback to yesteryear.

Rob Thomas: So no, I'd say no just because There's only a couple black people I've ever ran into in life that said they disagree with reparations. All I'm saying is they exist. If you look at the metrics the majority of black people most definitely agree with reparations, but there's always an exception to the rule.

There's always a Clarence Thomas, 

Matt Peiken: but also, Dr. Mullen, you were starting to nod a little bit. 

Dr. Dwight Mullen: Yeah I've been told that. I'm from the West Coast, and from moving back down South I heard different responses, and the reality of a white backlash has its roots in history. Race riots and lynchings and desecrations of our residential as well as holy places is a very real, it's a fairly regular, consistent fact of life.

But I, when you said fear, I thought of white people. I really did I thought of white people in terms of privilege being threatened. 

Matt Peiken: Oh, definitely. I was just responding to something Torre had said about why some people aren't. In favor of reparations and in saying oh thinking it's good enough.

Let's not rock the apple cart. I was just wondering if there was some of that 

Torre Garrison: I think there's always gonna be people who and I tend to see this with more seasoned Individuals that they're like, oh, let's not rock the boat I don't see that with my age group, because we all about, honey, let's throw them off the boat.

We, we ready to rock it. Let's, Let's, 

Rob Thomas: Just being all the way honest, it's a lot of that in this process. You know what I mean? I deal with that directly of, even commissioners, some of the commissioners themselves don't want to rock the boat, whether we're talking about the boat of the establishment.

Or the boat of, I don't want to say anything about this part of the process being messed up because it's a black person in charge of it, type thing. And it's a lot of different pieces to this process that are messed up. And a lot of accountability is not being held because a lot of things is being kept behind the scenes.

And the performance continues. When at the end of the day, you don't get anywhere until you... Admit you have a problem and then address it. And, when I look back through history, this is the same thing that destroys a lot of our movements, a lot of our entities, to where, Yeah, it's just, it's got to stop.

And, that's why I plan to myself in the very near future, create a documentary from like 2020 to now, of the behind the scenes of everything that's been happening, and what we could have had. And I got documentation. I got emails. I got proposals. I got all the evidence to show and prove that this could have been a thing that, that would already be working on changing systems.

Matt Peiken: You talk in the past tense. Do you think any of this can be corrected? Oh, of course. Okay, so you mentioned performance. You said this in your, what you just talked about. To your mind, Despite the sincerity, the knowledge, the forethought that Dr. Mullen and others on the commission bring to it, do you think because of the overall makeup of the commission, the politics behind it, that it's designed to be performative and not substantive?

Rob Thomas: Of course. If we look at how it was created back in 2020 right, you have... A little bit behind the scenes, look, you have me and Keith Young I'm on the outside doing my piece in the movement and making sure the momentum's keeping up. He's on the inside with the council people and we're strategizing.

He's like, okay they're really afraid, people in the streets this, this, and this is going on. It's almost time. And we had created a plan, like it was for like a week, like we got the. Resolution implemented in a week, but we wanted to use the momentum from the George Floyd protests. And so they're in there, and they're afraid, and we took advantage of that.

We have this issue, and we created the solution to it, like this right here will calm people down, and this, so they really didn't even know like, our long term strategy or any of that. That's how we were able to get it, was them thinking that they were going to do something performative, and then us making sure that we put markers in it, so that, The same type of attention that black people got in that moment in May 25th Through the end of August of 2020 that was captured and we could take advantage of that moment in time Without actually being in that moment in time That was the purpose of that resolution so the community could be brought in so that we could build out a process And we put parameters in there that would allow us to do that.

We knew that this was the hard part That was the easy part getting the resolution because they you know, they wanted to look good everything Blah, blah, blah, we knew the implementation was gonna be the hard part. So all this was expected. But that right there, just in essence of how it was created, it wasn't like a, oh, we know all this history about black people, this is what they deserve, let's do this as councilmen.

Nah, this was a strategy the community implemented. On the establishment to get it implemented and it truly they didn't really understand fully what they were agreeing to then 

Matt Peiken: You're saying City Council didn't fully understand. So a portion of City Council. Dr. Mullen given that do you agree with that assessment?

A good deal of it. So given that and you're the chair of this Commission now knowing that at least It's a good portion of the city council or piece of it had no intention from your vantages no intention of having a meaningful Reparations resolution you're on this commission you meet every other week. How do you go in with? Optimism. How do you continue to push forward when 

Dr. Dwight Mullen: Because the last time I saw it, I was a 12 year old kid living in Watts. And it was the height of the war on poverty. And what I saw were the neighborhood youth corps. And I saw federal money coming into the local neighborhoods.

And I saw optimism for the first time. Because we were in control of our own destiny. And it had, it lasted for about three or four years. And in that time, it allowed me to escape, it allowed several other people to escape. Deaths went down in Watts and Compton. There were a number of real serious things that happened when democracy was manifested at the block level.

And I can't forget that. And what I see here is the same type of door opening. And if it was necessary for me to go to a meeting every month and other smaller meetings, or events with media, or if it was necessary for me to put my body on the door to keep that, just so individuals could continue to escape, I'm willing to.

However, if it means something even larger the changing of how we educate our children, or how we give each other healthcare, or we being able to physically live in a house in Asheville City, Buncombe County, if it means that the police are now not beating us to death in the street, if it means that we can seriously talk about generational wealth, I am willing to put the time in it takes to do it, even though I've been retired for five years.

It's just, I'm willing to do that. 

Matt Peiken: Do you think, then, from what you're saying, That being part of this reparations process is instilling this language, this way of thinking among city leaders that can't necessarily be written into a legal resolution. That it opens up certain doors of thinking and acceptance of responsibility and a sense of yes, we are in this together.

Is that happening in a way that can't be written into a resolution? 

Dr. Dwight Mullen: It, it has to happen at the informal level. It has to happen at the consciousness level. And, but look at how difficult that is. When I say that black schools educate black children because there are black teachers there, what does that say about what white teachers are doing to black children in the school?

When I say that mortality rates of black children increase when there are no black healthcare professionals, what does that say about white healthcare professionals? And so forth through the financial institutions, the courts, and the housing. It's the same thing. 

Matt Peiken: One of you mentioned the Peak Academy earlier.

That was developed by black leaders in this town. That wasn't. 

Dr. Dwight Mullen: And white folks. You know, In terms of actually carrying out the application process, but on a daily basis, what you see when you go visit the Peak Academy are black folk in charge. 

Torre Garrison: And black teachers. My daughter goes to Peak Academy and I will always toot their horn when I tell you I am a, it's the only.

elementary school my daughter has ever been to, but my daughter is amazing and what she's able to learn, her ability to read, understand, write she is very excited to walk in a classroom and see what my son has never been able to experience in 13 years a black teacher. My son has never experienced that in Buncombe County.

He has never had a black teacher. 

Matt Peiken: Is that a big step in terms of turning this tide? Having people, the black community uplift itself from schools, healthcare, faith communities to say, the next steps we need don't depend on the white Asheville.

Dr. Dwight Mullen: I think that black governed institutions and black professionals and black communities in charge of themselves is an absolutely vital step, but it's done in tandem. with the overarching community. It's done in a harmony that has never been sung in this country.

But I think it's possible and I think it's absolutely necessary. Really 

Matt Peiken: Rob, you were going to say something. 

Rob Thomas: It boils down to what he said previously about the power over our resources and. Over our reality, and it's bigger than just having a couple black people here in this institution or this organization.

It's like actually allowing us to have collective power. And again, it goes back to what he said. Again, I think a lot of that has to do with fear. It's what happens then? If if we give them 850, 000 for federal reparations, and now they have all this money. What happens then if they have their own businesses and all of these things?

I feel like a lot of that is, is at the subconscious level, but basically to answer your question, like I couldn't say it any better than he did. We need our own power, but still. That doesn't separate us from the rest of humanity. We're not saying re segregate but we're saying we need our own at the same time.

Matt Peiken: Yeah, so when it comes right down to it, what absolutely needs to be in this reparations resolution that eventually comes out of this commission? Torre, can you start with that? 

Torre Garrison: I think what has to be there is a separation from city and county so that there's real accountability.

And I also think making sure that black people are in charge of what is happening to black people. I think we have to not only be at the table for the conversations, but we also have to be a part of the implementation and the being a part of the checks and balances as well. I think every step requires us and not just the beginning steps and then behind the scenes we do something else.

I also believe that there needs to be a way that we get land back. We need to have land back. I remember again, born and raised here Depot Street was black, Eagle Market Street, the block was black. Montford was black, Shiloh was black, like all these different areas where it was normal to go down the street and see my aunts and my uncles owning their home and living there.

And so that needs to happen. It needs to be affordable for people that look like me to live within city limits again. 

Rob Thomas: Yeah. And, I don't really think society does a great job of connecting everything because. We don't even really teach the true history, right? A lot of the things that I teach in my PowerPoint about the history of Asheville, how economic flow was created, off the expansion of the railroad system and how they used black bodies.

Several of them died and Black Mountain caved in. And so many other things. The stable yards using black slave labor as horse hands and people working. And a lot of these things are hidden, or even the outcomes of urban renewal, or how they have impacted the lives of people who are still alive today, right?

Torre said, talking about black people that can't live here, my family goes back probably four or five generations, as far as I've researched, and probably further, like my great grandfather built several buildings in this town. The last one was destroyed maybe seven years ago. I myself can't afford to live here.

I I rent, a house. Both sides of my family lost property through urban renewal. 

Matt Peiken: So getting to the question of what absolutely has to be in there, how would you answer that?

Rob Thomas: Pretty much exactly what Torre said. The community being in a position to control and create and implement their own solutions and remedies.

This process is not meant to be implemented in a governmental way at the local level because it's so personal, right? And I give you an example. So you've got regular community members with regular everyday lives with children and all these things attending and being part of a commission and participating.

Now they're expecting this commission to be organized and conducted just like A city process, so you've got Robert's Rules of Orders, which, if you look at them, they don't create an environment to where everybody has a voice. So it creates an environment to where, people who are comfortable with speaking speak and they take up all the space, and people who aren't, the operating procedures doesn't really give them voice and agency, unless they fill out a survey or something after the fact.

And that's just one example of how intentional this process is. needs to be to hear all the voices. There also has been no social cohesion created within the commission. There's been no intentionality placed upon it. And so when you have, it's like a football team. Just imagine a football team.

The only time they get together is to play on the field. 

Matt Peiken: And that half the team changes every, couple months and talking about the cohesion. 

Rob Thomas: And there's a reason for that. Like, There's so many issues with the process. And then I can go back to where, the RJC, my organization, and others have advocated putting more intentionality into the retreats and having an actual retreat that's relaxing where social cohesion can be created.

And then doing a lot more intentionality as far as education about what's going on around the nation for reparations and also compensating them fairly and justly. And so much more. I got out such a long list of things that should have been changed. And show improved to where I've advocated for all the things that I'm saying are inherently wrong with it.

In one form or another, given several proposals, one of them at the very beginning, Dr. Mullen helped create himself. And there's a whole history with that. And like, all these different pieces, a lot of it doesn't get implemented, and, my questions would be why. Like, I have my own personal opinion of why, but my questions to the ones who are

in the decision making position to shoot down said proposals or strategies or tactics, like why? Yeah. 

Matt Peiken: Dr. Mullen, what absolutely has to be in this resolution for you to feel it's at least foundationally effective? Yeah. 

Dr. Dwight Mullen: When Rob and I got to know each other, and I'm now getting to know Torre, that same question came up and I've learned a lot from my younger colleagues and to be more direct because people don't have the time that I'm willing to give them to catch up.

We don't have that luxury and it comes down really to land and money. And the land that was taken from us through eminent domain during urban renewal and the land that continues to be taken from us through gentrification. I think that land needs to be seriously put on a moratorium and given back in terms of personal injury, in terms of collective injury that the community endured.

I think in terms of money, I think that the poverty that will continue to exist will undermine any of our, Changes to be making our social policies and health care and education as well as economic development and Justice and so I think that the experiments that have been taking place locally across the nation in Guaranteeing folk a certain amount of money coming in per month to supplement their incomes I think the successes of those programs need to be taken seriously by Asheville and Buncombe County whether it's a guaranteed minimum income, or whether it's a supplement to incomes that that place people beyond the realms of poverty, but certainly allow them to live in the city and county in a healthy and vital way.

Matt Peiken: I, we could talk about this for hours more. We've run out of time for this episode, but Dr. Mullen and Rob Thomas and Torre Garrison White, thank you so much for being part of this panel. Really appreciate your presence here. Thank you.

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