Kathey Avery

Panelist Kathey Avery, director of clinical and community connections with the Asheville Buncombe Institute for Parity Achievement. / Photo by Damon Dahlen/HuffPost

There has been much talk about the national movement for social justice, anti-racism and inclusion in 2020. However, Rebecca Chaplin believes solutions to these much-debated issues start with listening, learning and understanding.

“As we witness the protests over racial injustice and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that our nation needs healing,” said Chaplin, associate state director for AARP NC Mountain Region. The question I hear most from non-Blacks is ‘What’s my role to do? “‘What can I do to end racial injustice?’”

Taking its cue, AARP NC Mountain Region has partnered with the Asheville Buncombe Institute of Parity Achievement (ABIPA), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health of African Americans and all underserved populations, to co-sponsor two unique one-hour webinars in the coming weeks.

Entitled “Creating Advocates of Change: Racial Justice and Equity,” the virtual events will be presented on Thursdays, Aug. 20 and Sept. 3 at noon.

Sophie Dixon

Panelist Sophie Dixon, president of the Shiloh Community Association.

“Racial violence and the coronavirus pandemic have had a disproportionate impact on people of color, which is a result of inequality due to a lack of social, economic and political opportunities.” Chaplin continued. “AARP was founded on the premise that ‘What we do, we do for all.’ has a history of fighting for what is right so all people can live a life of dignity regardless or race, age or income. This is an opportunity to use our voice and resources for the right for all people to live a life of dignity regardless of race, age or income.”

Registration, which is free, can be made on the AARP website, bit.ly/AdvocatesForChange.

ABIPA will provide speakers — all African American community leaders and Asheville natives — for the webinars.

“Essential conversations and action are key in advancing personal and professional advocacy,” said Je’Wana Grier-McEachlin, executive director of ABIPA. “The collaborative approach being modeled by AARP and ABIPA in hosting this virtual event is an example of harnessing the power of knowledge to propel institutional policy and individualistic practice.”

On Aug. 20, the webinar will feature an all-female panel that includes:

  • Kathey Avery, director of clinical and community connections with the Asheville Buncombe Institute for Parity Achievement and the 2017 Lillian Carter Award winner for exemplary Nursing by Modern Healthcare magazine.
  • Sophie Dixon, former president of the Asheville Buncombe County NAACP, current president of the Shiloh Community Association and 2019 City of Asheville Volunteer of the Year.
  • Dr. Dolly Jenkins-Mullens, professor emeritus at University of North Carolina, Asheville whose diversity efforts span 33 years.
  • Libby Kyles, CEO of the YWCA of Asheville and former long-time public school teacher who serves as president on the Board of Directors of the Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust.
  • Dr. Sharon West, a registered nurse, international speaker and published author who was appointed by Governors Pat McCory and Roy Cooper to serve on the NC Commission of Public Health.
Dolly Jenkins Mullens

Panelist Dr. Dolly Jenkins-Mullens, professor emeritus at University of North Carolina.

On Sept. 3, an all-male lineup will anchor the presentation, offering a different perspective. Those speakers will be announced in the coming weeks.

While the recent Asheville City Council vote to provide reparations for Black residents — a landmark decision that generated national media coverage — was not the impetus for these webinars, Chaplin readily admits that the timing is certainly fortuitous.

“Our hope is that these virtual exercises will give a better understanding of the pulse of our community and how to be a change agent,” she said. “Mostly, this will be a listening event, where we can learn and begin to form action plans. Maybe this will provide the motivation to improve conditions in Asheville, Buncombe County and all of western North Carolina.”

According to Chaplin, the programs will provide a historical perspective of the Asheville African American community and address a wide range of issues including inequitable housing, education, employment and both police and legal/prison reforms.

Participant questions will be taken during the registration process as well as during the real-time webinar, with panelists providing answers both during and after the formal presentations.

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