Jack Henderson Riverlink

Rachel Edens Joins County as Chief Equity & Human Rights Officer

After a national search and competitive hiring process, Buncombe County has hired Rachel Edens into the newly created position of Chief Equity & Human Rights Officer. This role is an important new addition to the County’s leadership team, reporting directly to Assistant County Manager DK Wesley.

The 2025 Strategic Plan places equity as both a value and foundational focus area. The newly funded position of Chief Equity & Human Rights Officer was approved by the Board of Commissioners in the adopted Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

“Over the last year, our county has made significant strides in the area of equity and inclusion. Nevertheless, there is so much more work to be done. Creating this office and filling this role is a key moment in our path forward,” said Wesley. “As we systematically integrate equity in practical and impactful ways I am confident that Rachel’s varied experience in equity, education, leadership, and social justice advocacy will bolster these efforts and ensure forward movement on our goals.”

Rachel is a native of North Carolina. She most recently served as the Community Programs Officer for Vermont Humanities. In addition, she was the Assistant Dean for Pluralism and Leadership and Advisor to First Generation and/or Low Income & Black students at Dartmouth College, as well as Director of the Center for Civic Advancement at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tennessee.

“I am excited and humbled to have been invited to join Buncombe County government as a steward of this work,” said Edens. “I am buoyed as I enter this role, knowing how much has already been done and by the openness, enthusiasm, and willingness to collaborate that has been exemplified by the County Commissioners, Equity and Inclusion Workgroup, and community as a whole. As a native North Carolinian, I consider myself blessed to be welcomed into one of the state’s most beautiful, dynamic, and diverse communities; my husband and I are eager to return to Appalachia and to make Buncombe County our home.”

Edens holds a BA in English and African-American Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Masters in Public Administration from East Tennessee State University. She has trained students, faculty, staff, community members, and nonprofit leaders since 2009. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Education at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, where her research interests include Education and Health Policy and Practice in rural communities of color in the American South, Critical Disability Studies, Black feminisms, and racism as a public health crisis.

Welcome to Jack Henderson, RiverLink’s Land Resources ManagerJack Henderson has been gratefully living in Western North Carolina since 2010. A native of northern Virginia, he studied geography, GIS and recreation management at Appalachian State University in Boone. Since then he has been working on land protection, conservation, water quality and outdoor recreation projects in the southern Appalachians and beyond.

Henderson’s career includes stewarding conservation easements for land trusts in North Carolina, South Carolina and Idaho. He curated a nationwide spatial database and website for paddling opportunities. He identified, cataloged and planned stream restoration projects to improve native fish habitat. He’s also consulted on dozens of GIS and cartography projects with many of the nation’s leading advocates for responsible protection, stewardship, and public access to our rivers and trails.

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