Two County employees are this year’s recipients of very special recognition from Black Wall Street AVL’s recent award ceremony. During the 2023 Black Asheville Awards, Community Development Specialist Leonard Jones won the Community Leader award while County Manager Avril Pinder took home the Community History Maker award. Originally, Avril was nominated for the Business Trailblazer category. After reviewing her nomination, the award committee was extremely impressed with her accomplishments but didn’t think it fit the business trailblazer criteria. So they created the History Maker category (getting your own special classification is pretty historical!).
“I was really shocked, to be honest. Since joining the Public Engagement team in 2021, I have learned, met people, and seen a lot of good work that is being done in the community,” says Leonard while noting his first thought was wondering who nominated him. Meantime, Avril says the experience is very humbling. “It’s an honor to be Buncombe’s first Black County Manager and help advance critical issues like declaring racism a public health concern, developing a Racial Equity Action Plan, advancing reparations efforts, and making other significant strides for people of color in our community,” says Avril.
Leonard’s work takes him all over the County from running Community Engagement Markets to forging new relationships on emerging issues. So what gives him the energy for such a massive undertaking? “Being born and raised in Asheville, this is my home. This is the community that I chose to raise my family and want to be of service in some capacity. These are my people, and my family has been a part of this community for multiple generations,” explains Leonard. As far as holding the mantle of community leader, he shares these wise words about leadership: “A community leader is someone who is willing to show up for community. They will use their voice to advocate for those who may not be in the room and when decisions are being made or discussed, they think about community first.”
As for Avril, she hits a similar sentiment regarding her motivation for community-based work. “My family has adopted Buncombe County as our home. Making this community the best place to live, work, and play is my mission,” she explains, adding her favorite aspect of working in Buncombe County is “The openness to try new things while building on tried-and-true practices.”
While Leonard and Avril might have been caught off guard and humble about their awards, CAPE Director Lillian Govus says it’s hard to find two more deserving people. “Neither Leonard nor Avril seek attention, so to be recognized in such a big way couldn’t have been easy for them, but it’s important to give them their flowers and honor what they do and the contributions they make to our organization and our community,” she says. And when you work as closely with this talented pair as Lillian does, you can’t help but be impressed. “It really is a privilege to get to spend so much time with both Leonard and Avril. They both model integrity and compassion. Avril is deeply committed to serving our community, and that’s evident in how she invests in our organization so we can provide the highest level of service to the residents of Buncombe County. As a community engagement specialist and the manager of our community markets, Leonard meets community members where they are, and then takes those lessons back to our organization so we can be better.”
While these awards are part of a celebration of Black Legacy Month, it’s a reminder that our Black leaders are making Buncombe County a better place to live year-round. On that note, Leonard leaves us with some words of motivation: “I strongly encourage people to show up for community, especially the underrepresented and marginalized segments of our community. We all live in this community, and everyone should have to opportunity to thrive. No matter how big or small your contributions, it will have an impact. Everyone has their own unique gifts and talents, and if we use those skills to help or improve our community, there’s no telling what we can accomplish together.” Well said, Leonard.
Buncombe County is honored to have Avril and Leonard as part of our organization and community.