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One Year Later: Buncombe Makes Progress on Declaration of Racism as Public Health & Safety Crisis

While equity and inclusiveness have long been priorities in Buncombe County, one year ago on Aug. 4, 2020, County Commissioners laid a clear and deliberate path forward by unanimously approving a resolution declaring racism a public health and safety crisis. Since that time, the County has been intentional about creating new policies and resources while strengthening existing services to address racism. These actions are also fundamental priorities for the County’s 2025 Strategic Plan which specifically directs us to create systems, policies, and practices that support equity for all people and an organizational culture that embraces diversity and inclusion.

From visible actions such as supporting the decision to remove the Confederate-era Vance Monument to behind-the-scenes work on our organization and policies, the County is working hard not just to meet its goals of equity and inclusion, but to truly create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive agency.

One critical step toward fostering a community of inclusion is the creation of the Racial Equity Action Plan, which aims to provide racial equity education, improve quality-of-life outcomes through equity projects, and create genuine forms of community engagement while forming these strategies.

“The crisis of the [COVID-19] pandemic intersected with the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other BIPOC people, and the need for a Buncombe County Racial Equity Action Plan only grew,” said Commission Chair Brownie Newman in the plan’s introduction. “With hate crimes on the rise against members of our Asian community, the need for action is immediate. The work outlined in this plan is long overdue. We recognize that the land Buncombe County sits on is originally the homeland of the Cherokee as well as the Yuchi, and it is our County’s responsibility to ensure the atrocities of the past have no place in our future.”

Buncombe County is also bolstering itself as an organization with the addition of the Equity & Human Rights Office and increased staff for our Justice Services Department. “We are steadfast in our equity work and that includes adding a new Equity and Inclusion Coordinator position through our partnership with the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge,” says Justice Services Director Tiffany Iheanacho. “This position will work with community and court partners to address the drivers of inequities to include reducing failure to appears and increase community safety.”

While there will always be room for improvement and additional work, Buncombe County is proud of its efforts to address racism head-on while creating a more equitable and inclusive community. The following are some actions and policies created in the year since declaring racism as a public health and safety issue.