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Asheville Youth Voices & Leadership

Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 2.39.15 PMOur youth deserve dignity and respect as they ARE our leaders. The premier issue of the Word on The Street/ La Voz de Los Jovenes teen magazine just came out. I’ve met some of these youth and they are AMAZING. These are the voices of leadership we need to be listening to NOW. Read. Learn. Share what touches your mind or heart.

This is Asheville.

Our youth deserve dignity and respect and one way we can show that to them is by being real with the conditions they are facing right now, recognizing that some youth do not have access to some opportunities as fairly as others do. We must face how opportunities do or don’t prepare youth to navigate the world. We can shift that narrative that is playing out and create a new reality… This is Asheville.


Footage for the film, Beneath the Veneer, a documentary currently in production about opportunity, success and inequity in America?

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Listen to and Follow Young Leaders

Me2WeYoung people want, deserve, and need spaces where it is safe to voice their opinions and where they can talk about the issues that are relevant to their daily lives. This event on MLK day was powerful because it was designed by young people, for young people. The adults collaborating were in service to helping the students create an agenda that allowed them to have the conversations that they thought were most important. CAYLA (City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy) high school students generated a list of over 20 topics and then narrowed it down to the 7 table discussions that they hosted (safe sex, housing shortage, police brutality, discrimination in school, leadership, dealing with stress, and gender equality/HB2). In the closing circle the power of the event was felt as participants shared that they were feeling educated, empowered, inspired, motivated, hopeful, connected, that their voices mattered, and grateful for the opportunity to talk about things that don’t get talked about in regular conversation. Asheville’s young people have so much wisdom, insight, and clarity about what our community needs. It was an honor to get to learn from them. Let’s keep listening to them and giving them opportunities to lead themselves and us.

Media Articles

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What Do We Do?

Urgent messages are coming out of Aleppo, horrific violence against civilians (particularly women and children) has intensified. A genocide continues to happen and the world sits silently, including myself. I breathe and offer prayers and light a candle. May their souls escape the suffering… And I wonder… what do we do?

I will me honest, I don’t really understand all of the pieces and connections between Russia and Syria. What I gather is that people on the ground say that Russia is heavily involved in the inhumane mass torture and murder of civilians, while Russia says it is terrorists. What do we as global citizens do to join together to over-power the violence and hate-filled terrorism that is overcoming this world… and also our local communities?

Meanwhile (cause we only care when it threatens our own safety?), Trump has just announced that he has nominated Rex Tillerson, the CEO of EXXON, as the U.S. Secretary of State. Not only is that horrifying from big corporate OIL money being at one of the most powerful positions in our government, Tillerson was awarded Russia’s prestigious Order of Friendship by Putin in 2013 for his work with the Russian oil giants, further illustrating the potential ties between Tump and Putin moving forward. Is what is happening in Syria a glimpse into what could happen here? There are so many warning signs from points in history and realities in other countries that point to the possible future of the United States. Can we of good hearts find the vigilance to step out of our comfort zones, activate, and unite to truly make our communities safe against violence and terror? Starting now?

And then moving closer to home… yesterday a black man was found on the side of the road here in Asheville, beaten on his morning jog, and left there with a chord wrapped around his neck. This is terrorism. This is unacceptable. How do we stand up against the increase in hate crimes?

Last week Bryan Stevenson spoke about 4 things that are essential for us to do at this time in history. One of them is to STAY HOPEFUL, that we have to protect our hopefulness because when we become hopeless we become part of the problem. And it is our hopefulness that will motivate us to stand up when others say sit down, or speak up when others expect us to be quiet. My hopefulness rests in the power of all of us with good hearts… all of us who believe in human rights, in treating all people with dignity and respect, and in caring for our planet in ways that support its ability to be alive and healthy for our children’s children and their grandchildren.

And… those with good hearts have to be ACTIVE and ORGANIZE ourselves and do all that we can to connect with the good hearts in other people, particularly those who might be vulnerable to following orders of violence. As Renku sen said, “If you have some privilege, then you must risk it.” What sacrifices are we willing to make to protect the dream of freedom for all people?


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Houses Not Handcuffs

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BeLoved Asheville is an intentional community of people on the streets and margins of our city, working to end homelessness, poverty, and prejudice. BeLoved’s Homeless Voice Project is about amplifying the voice of people who are living on the streets and in shelters on issues concerning homelessness and the housing crisis in Asheville.

In a procession and press conference today, the Homeless Voice Project presented public data concerning the arrests and citations of people who are homeless. The data reveals that over the past 10 years, there’s been an increase in arrests and citations for trespassing for individuals who are homeless. These citations and arrests levy fines on the poorest of the poor, give people an arrest record which creates further obstacles to finding a job or housing, and costs taxpayers a great deal of money.
BeLoved Asheville is calling on the city for a simple solution — “Stop charging people with trespass when they’re homeless. Just ask people to move.” Rev. Amy Cantrell of BeLoved Asheville.

The data was collected from 2005-2016 to correspond with the City’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. This plan was built on the fact that housing people is cheaper than jailing them. The data reveals that in these 10 years homelessness has not ended and the City is criminalizing the homeless through the increase in trespassing charges.

Homelessness is a public health emergency, not a public safety issue.

BeLoved Asheville hopes to work with leaders to reduce these numbers. They believe that taxpayer money ?could be better utilized ?by diverting those funds to support people moving from the streets and shelters into housing and to stop contributing towards people who are homeless having a criminal record that only makes it more difficult for them to obtain jobs and housing.

Today’s press conference was part of the national campaign, “Houses Not Handcuffs” launched by the National Coalition of the Homeless.

BeLoved Asheville partnered with Code for Asheville to obtain public records — citation and arrest data from the Asheville Police Department. Code For Asheville’s goal is to use this data as the start of a larger initiative to empower the community to access and analyze public information and data. In October 2015, Asheville passed an Open Data Ordinance to improve the availability of government data sets to the public.

What to do:

  • Call City Council and the Asheville Police Department and let them know that you would like to see a decrease in the number of arrests and citations for trespassing for people who are homeless. “Please just ask them to move.” Let City Council know that you would like to see that money diverted towards programs like BeLoved Asheville and others that support people who are homeless moving from the streets and shelters into housing. Contact BeLoved Asheville to learn more.
  • Encourage City of Asheville to advocate for the release of a regularly updated, complete public data feed of all citations issued in Asheville. An improved data feed would allow the community to engage with our local government in an informed, data-driven manner. Contact Code for Asheville to learn more.

See the data:


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Ideas That Move Youth Challenge

Working with real people in real communities making real efforts to take action that will support the maximum benefit for everyone is what inspires me, lights me up, brings me to life. How do we really take action that brings about well-being and positive movement for 100% of humanity?

What I know is that there is no single answer. There is no direct path there. And there is no shortage of amazing, intelligent, compassionate humans on this planet to invest themselves in truly making a difference. How do we continue to find one another, find the small things we can do that contribute to the larger story? Find the unique piece that we each have to offer and give our whole hearts towards making that contribution to the world? And how do we enjoy life, honor love and connectivity, and celebrate beauty as much as possible while on the journey?

One initiative that I’m working on now that is deeply inspiring me is the Ideas That Move Youth Challenge. Public schools and private schools collaborating together to create a platform where young voices can be heard and their efforts to be leaders are supported.

Check out some of the ideas they have to make Asheville healthier and more sustainable:

  • Aquaponics as Food Insecurity Solution
    Problem: One out of every six people in Western North Carolina suffers food insecurity, not having an adequate healthy food resource.Solution: An urban solution we propose is to create aquaponic farms in Asheville or other urban areas in Buncombe County, particularly areas with low socio-economic demographics. This will produce fish (i.e Tilapia) as well as vegetables (i.e. lettuce, other greens, tomatoes, peppers, etc.). It can even be completely off the grid and therefore provide a stable food source during conditions of extreme weather.
  • Swim For Life
    Problem: Every year hundreds of stories about people drowning are reported in our area. We see this as a preventable tragedy. Youth need to acquire the ability to swim as a survival skill. Due to income and opportunity limitations many young people would benefit from free swimming lessons.Solution: We would like to create a community service project that would work with local public schools to provide free swimming lessons to students who may not have the opportunity to take them otherwise. This would benefit students in many ways, such as increasing their self-confidence, keeping them safe and providing an exercise outlet for the future.
  • Youth Diversity in the Classroom and School Community
    Problem: Many students who attend SILSA do not realize the issues that arise regarding an equal learning environment for all, due to the segregation of social groups and diversity problems on campus. All students need to feel as if they have the same opportunity as others in order to be successful in high school and beyond.Solution: Our idea is to start a Diversity group on the AHS/SILSA campus. We will meet twice a week to discuss current adolescent issues with people from different backgrounds. It will also be a great opportunity to build new friendships with people of various cultures and build more community on our campus. We will also discuss possible ways to address issues that face teens on our campus.
  • Switching Asheville City Schools buses from diesel to biodiesel
    Problem: Asheville City School buses run on diesel fuel which is a nonrenewable resource and creates air pollution. If we continue using diesel fuel in our buses, our air quality will continue to worsen and we will continue using harmful nonrenewable resources. Western North Carolina is known for clean, healthy air. Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen, which is dangerous for students to be breathing.Solution: Asheville City School buses run on diesel fuel which emits harmful pollutants into our clean air. Diesel exhaust harms our environment and everyone exposed to it, including the 25 million children that are transported by diesel fueled school buses. Particulate matter in diesel exhaust has links to causing asthma, bronchitis, and even lung cancer. Biodiesel is a clean, renewable alternative that reduces diesel air pollution. Biodiesel contains virtually no sulfur. This reduces the amount of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter released.
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On Thursday, February 24, national scientists and leading developers of serious games and gaming technologies will convene at Gaming the Future: Connecting Innovation & Education, a national press conference and interactive science exhibition in Asheville, North Carolina. Hosted by ABSCI, a North Carolina-based sustainable communities initiative, Gaming the Future will take place at Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa from 9:00 AM until noon.

Gaming the Future is a nexus of cutting edge games, science, technology, art and design that highlights the best in the growing field of science-based games. Through formal presentations and interactive exhibits, the event will spotlight international organizations and companies that are using the power of games to raise awareness about the effects of global change.

Learn more.

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Kids Have REALLY Good Ideas

This word art was created by the feedback that organizers and presenters gave regarding their experience participating in TEDxNextGenerationAsheville. It will be clear to you why I dedicated a huge part of 2010 to launching this initiative when you read their thoughts. The following are all responses from youth under 18 years-old except for the last one, which is from an adult.

What do you want people to know about TEDxNextGenerationAsheville?

  • I want people to know that sometimes, kids have really good ideas. Ideas that everyone can learn from, ideas MEANT for adults to listen to. And I want for the adults to listen. To be proactive, and help our generation (the next generation, that is) feel like we can make a difference in the world. I feel like that was the whole reason behind TEDxNGA in the first place, and I feel like it’s slowly becoming more and more noticed, respected, and listened to throughout the country. ~Xandy, Production Team
  • It’s a great thing for young people and something adults should encourage their kids to get involved with. I had a very transformative experience and I think other people could benefit just as much. ~Nate, Presenter
  • TEDxNGA is an expierience that is not so common in today’s busy world. We become so involved and focused with our own thoughts that is can be difficult to hear the voices of those who are below us- kids. Minors do not necessarily have a chance to always express their views in the world, but at the same time, they are not bound by the confines of the the larger world. They are able to think ‘outside the box’ and communicate the importance of many issues. TEDxNGA is an oppurtunity for that communication to take place, and is a forum for adults to hear youthful voices. It is truly an incredible expierience- one that I feel honored to have been a part of. Not solely because of TED’s name recognition, but because of the design. The guiding principle which has incredible value in our system of Government is exhibited on a local scale. The “Sharing of Ideas” is what makes TEDxNGA unique and an awesome expierience for all involved. ~Wyatt, Production Team

What part of your TEDxNextGenerationAsheville experience means the most to you?

  • The fact that kids controlled or at least had a great deal of input in what went on. ~Ceante, Production Team
  • The most important part to me for the experience was helping other peers my age get heard, and working with adults side-by-side. It was really awesome making the connections also. Oh, and brainstorming powers are like +1Billion for me now! ~Julien, Technical Director
  • For me the best part of the experience was the process of working with the NGA design team and the youth that were involved. The positive and fun supportive environment you created to offer all of us to imagine with our minds, heart and spirit wide open was one of the best processes for group collaboration I have participiated in for many years. Working with the young people in our community and watching them soar was very rewarding. EVERYONE on the team was included and felt part of the process. ~Eileen, Core Organizer

So I welcome 2011 with open arms and with a twinkle in my eye, ever more curious about how the precious seeds that we each harbor filled with passion, compassion, talent and inspiration will sprout in our communities and the gardens we can grow together when we are genuinely connecting with one another and working together towards our shared future.

My intro at TEDxNextGenerationAsheville 2010.

To learn more about TEDxNextGenerationAsheville, visit the website and read our recent newsletter.

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