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We are excited to announce the third round of winners of the 2020 Tzedek Impact Awards!
With cancelled travel, a closed office, and no in-person meetings, one unexpected result of 2020 is that Tzedek had surplus funds to relocate to the Impact Awards. We were thrilled to redirect these unused operational and programmatic expenses to honor the activists, artists, healers, and organizers who have been a light for so many in this deeply challenging year.
Here are some of the impacts made by these innovative and powerful leaders.
Since 2013 when she joined the staff of Nuestro Centro, Mirian Porras has advocated for the rights of immigrants through community advocacy–fighting against checkpoints, raids, and racial profiling. She has walked alongside the community to fight against the separation of families and the unjust immigration system, and the tremendous economic burden that disadvantages immigrants. She has fostered cultural organizing through Raices and promoted systematic change in Buncombe County Schools.
For the last four years, Alice Dixson has conducted Unity Fire Circles in the Asheville area and been developing strategies for racial equity and social change for the Adverse Childhood Experiences Collaborative. In addition, Alice has served on the Resources for Resilience team and as the Principal Coordinator for Umoja Health and Wellness Collaborative.
As the Program Director & Resource Specialist at Consulta Tu Compa, Iliana Hernandez has facilitated a bilingual resource and referral program which serves mainly immigrant, low-income, or Spanish speaking individuals in Buncombe. Iliana has offered assistance and meaningful support in a way that promotes personal agency to those who may be discouraged when having to face yet another obstacle like a language barrier, income inequality, or discrimination.
Omileye Achikeobi “Omi” Lewis has spent years fighting to build an equitable society and local community. She directs all her resources and gifts in this direction as an author, artist, trauma-focused psychotherapist and SEED Social Equity and Social Justice Trainer. Her recent diversity affirmation art series Peace Am inspired a children’s yoga and mindfulness book that has been acquired by North Atlantic Books partner of Penguin Random House.
As the Bilingual Case Manager at Helpmate, Sara Arana has worked in domestic violence advocacy and crisis response. Sara has infused her work with a racial justice lens that honors that survivors are sometimes afraid to speak up and engage services because of legal status or fear of the criminal justice system. Additionally, Sara has facilitated education about how to confront racism and anti-blackness within the Latinx community.
Al Murray has supported queer Ashevillians and local LGBTQ youth with creative projects, community-building events and direct actions. They work with the Campaign for Southern Equality for the lived and legal equality of LGBTQ people across the South. Al helped pilot the Southern Equality Studios program at Campaign for Southern equality and connected queer artists with community and creative support since 2019.
Andrea Clarke has extensively documented East End and Southside, illustrating the reality of the Black community prior to urban renewal. She partnered with Pack Library to create a program called “Twilight of a Neighborhood,” the largest program ever to document the impact of urban renewal on the Black community. Andrea has served on the Board for the local branch of the ACLU and was named President of United Community Development, which was instrumental in “Ban the Box” advocacy.
As the Transgender/HIV Bridge & Retention Coordinator at Western North Carolina Community Health Services, Michael Hoeben has been instrumental in the creation of the TRANSition Assistance Program (aka “TAP”) and THE HIVe 828 to serve and uplift marginalized patient populations and catalyze a cultural shift of how we see and represent diversity in social media, marketing, and outreach efforts. Through visual art, Michael has advocated for the power of applying a queer lens in the service of HIV and trans healthcare optimization.
As a case manager in a domestic violence shelter at Helpmate, Effy White focuses on serving LGBTQ+ survivors. She has integrated a knowledge of systematic oppression to meet survivors where they are and to support LGBTQ people who are seeking safety and healing.
DeWayne Barton has worked tirelessly for racial justice in the Asheville and the Burton Street community for almost 20 years. His work Rebuilding Affrilachia (African Americans living in the Appalachian region) includes running Hood Huggers International Tours to inform people of Asheville’s rich Black history and present-day challenges, creating arts-based education projects in the schools, maintaining and expanding the Burton Street Peace Gardens, and launching various youth-oriented programs to empower and uplift young people of color in Asheville.
Jae Forest has facilitated peer-led support groups for trans and nonbinary folks in collaboration with Tranzmission. Additionally, Jae organized volunteer food deliveries to folks in the community who are quarantining and promoted local food distribution events for folks in need with Center for Art & Spirit at St.George, Asheville Survival Project, Bounty & Soul in Black Mountain, and Western Carolina Rescue Ministries in Asheville.
As an independent financial coach, Anna-Marie Smith has committed to serving BIPOC in Asheville, her hometown. Anna has offered her skills and knowledge to folks directly through education about money management, credit, and first-time home buying.
Julio Tordoya co-founded JMPRO TV in 2014 to create a platform to inform, share opportunities, and raise awareness about pressing issues in the Asheville Latinx community. Julio has been a bridge, Informing the Latinx community about campaigns, services, and opportunities provided by LGBTQ local organizations, sharing key information about accessing help provided during the COVID-19 pandemic, and covering Black-led actions in order to advocate for racial justice within the Latinx community.
Jenifer Sterling co-founded ROOTS (Rural Organizing and Outreach for TLGBQ+ Support), an organization dedicated to building community connection, education, and support for TLGBQ+ people in WNC with a special focus on supporting youth. Pre-COVID, ROOTS sponsored monthly TLGBQ+ brunches, a bi-weekly queer youth support group, and offered education and trainings to local schools and businesses.
As a Black Latina business owner, certified Life Master Coach, and yoga teacher/student, Michele Ashley has supported the wellness of BIPOC Ashevillians. She has facilitated workshops and classes that incorporate somatic wellness tools and racial equity education, and she has offered racial equity workshops for yoga studios across Buncombe County to increase awareness of the lack of racial equity in the industry.
A real estate broker and cooperative business developer, Kimmy Hunter has worked with farmers, property owners, and small businesses often unable to access traditional forms of financing to secure long-term, sustainable investments. She has also served as a Board Member for Mountain True and as a member of Asheville’s Downtown and Civic Center commissions.
Magaly Urdiales has been organizing communities since 1998. She found a home at Center for Participatory Change and has collaborated with WNC Workers Center, JMPROTV, and many other community organizations working collaboratively and collectively for a more just and equitable WNC.
Ann-Lee Waite’s understanding about “how difficult and contradictory it is to navigate systems built on white supremacist beliefs; a system that gives a hand but never quite enough to get you over the top of the mountain” led her to bring a trauma-informed perspective to her community work focused on helping others metabolize and heal personal and ancestral trauma. She has completed trainings in trauma resiliency with UMOJA and Resources for Resiliency.
Fourth generation Ashevillian, Dewana Little co-founded Positive Changes Youth Ministries nearly 10 years ago to provide equitable opportunities for Asheville’s youth, teach them tactical organizing skills, and give them a platform to create their own ways of expressing their support for social change. As director of the YMI Cultural Center, Dewana has been on the frontline of movement organizing in response to racial injustice.
As Executive Director of Umoja Health Wellness and Justice Collective, Michael Hayes has created collective healing spaces to discuss racial equity, alongside historical, intergenerational, and systemic trauma. In addition, Michael has supported people of color to obtain certifications as peer support specialists, WRAP facilitators, resiliency educators, and recovery coaches to create equitable opportunities in the fields of mental health, substance recovery, and reentry for the justice involved.
As the Campaign for Southern Equality’s first Artist in Residence, Liz Williams used art to tell the stories of queer southerners with the goal of creating change. Through Southern Equality Studios, she has provided other queer artists with opportunities to flourish, specifically, increased exposure of their work, invitations to host art workshops and participate in collaborations, free portraits and headshots, and education about CSE grants and resources.
As the community engagement specialist at Helpmate, Zakiya Bell-Rogers has focused on bringing an equity lens to domestic violence work. Zakiya has collaborated with Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective to use the arts to engage the community in conversations about racial justice. In addition, she has served as a Board member at the Asheville YWCA.
J Hackett has used his life experience to connect the dots, build bridges, and connect people to resources. Aside from teaching at Lenoir-Rhyne’s Equity and Diversity Institute, he co-founded GRIND, a community hub and coffee house focused on telling the story of Black Asheville and providing space for community building.
As an Asheville native, Niconda Garcia has served as a cultivator of positive change and social justice advocate for close to twenty years. Through her venture Change the Rubric, Niconda has encouraged, motivated, taught, and empowered individuals and institutions to redefine success based on individual purpose, gifting, and self-concept.
As a healer, yoga teacher, and advocate, Daniele Martin has supported Black women in Asheville through self-care advocacy and opportunities. This past year, she created care packages to soothe the nervous system, wellness walks, and other simple tokens of love and appreciation to help Black women navigate these tumultuous times.
As a death doula, community herbalist, and circle facilitator, Courtney Smith has raised awareness about injustice. Through her community-run meetup group, Awakening Asheville, Courtney has convened people to find support and tools to be change makers in Asheville. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Courtney has been making and providing free herbal medicines for BIPOC communities of WNC.
Since 2017, Meta Commerse has taught “Story Medicine for Racial Healing,” a writing class specifically designed to raise the racial awareness of people with wide-ranging perspectives. The first class was offered through UNCA’s Great Smokies Writing program, and since then, it has been shared with many community groups and faith communities. As a YWCA Board member, Meta has supported Asheville’s annual Stand Against Racism event, and she has served as a member of Elders Fierce for Justice.
Timea Jones has served as an advocate working in the mental health and substance use field. As a community case manager with Helpmate, Timea has focused on serving diverse clients and advocating for those who have been repeatedly victimized and silenced because of their gender and race.
In 2017, Carmen Ybarra started the “More Than A Hashtag Project,” using her skills as a photographer to engage the community in conversations about justice. Through the CDC7 project, Carmen created portraits of people who embodied the experiences and identities banned from CDC funding, including the words trangender, diversity, and vulnerability. This project was shown at local venues including the Block off Biltmore, Blue Ridge Pride Center, Firestorm, and Habitat Brewing.
Growing up Jewish instilled a pull for social justice and equality in Leslie Rosenberg. Through her project Art of Belonging, Leslie has brought people together to create participatory art with the idea of building connection and creating change. As a musician with Brass Your Art, Leslie has brought music to protest spaces to inspire and sustain collective action for justice.
As Executive Director of River Front Development Group (RFDG), Catherine Mitchell has worked to achieve racial and economic justice in the Asheville African American community. In response to significant racial disparities in Asheville City Schools, RFDG organized the Berry Temple Community Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics Academy to use the sciences to guide and inspire student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.
As the LGBTQ services specialist at Helpmate, Max Racemosa has focused on ensuring that LGBTQ clients receive affirming services. As a community herbalist, Max has collaborated with the Asheville Survival Program and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief to get herbs and other needed support to queer, trans, and people of color during the COVID epidemic. Additionally, Max has co-created trans and queer-centered Jewish gatherings for queer and trans Jews.
After the ICE raids of 2018, Jose Manuel De La Luz Vaquero helped form the community group “Henderson Resists,” which helps connect families who have members detained by ICE with resources including supplies, food, and emotional support. He also works as an artist mentor with Word on the Street helping create opportunities for youth to tell their stories.