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Congratulations to the 2021 winners of the Tzedek Impact Awards! The Tzedek Impact Awards are designed to honor individuals who have engaged in systems change or community healing work in the Asheville region using the wisdom gained by directly navigating systems of oppression. We are deeply inspired by the work of these leaders and are honored to celebrate their past achievements.
This past year Stephanie Johnson brought back the Black Student Union back to Brevard College. BSU organized two peaceful protests on campus and partnered with the Transylvania County NAACP and We Can Vote to help get students registered and encouraged them to vote.
In her practice at Ashes Cultural Arts & Counseling, Heather Tolbert has celebrated, educated, and empowered African American and diverse people from all walks of life towards culture pride and community unity through substance abuse counseling, facilitation, and the magic of art.
Anita Hackett Bacon spent the past three years creating the House of Victory, a residential program of Jordan Peer Recovery where she provided assistance and countless hours of support to women and men as they transitioned back into the community from jail, drug rehab, prison or a psychiatric hospital stay. Bacon gave her personal time and resources to those who had no natural support system and may have felt discouraged due to classism, ageism, income inequality, and discrimination. That has included directly working to provide equal housing opportunities for trans women that have been denied fair housing in the past.
Abel Gonzalez Bueno has been a leader in the preservation and revitalization of the Hñähñú language and culture within Asheville’s Latinx community. Viewing community healing and cultural change to be crucial in racial justice efforts, Abel co-created culturally affirming language classes to ensure that the Hñähñú language, indiginous to the Americas, does not die. At the The Indigenous Language Preservation Project, Abel hosted events not only to revitalize the language but also to celebrate the culture of the Hñähñú people.
With the goal of awakening the inner-leader, Apollos John-Paul Kimbrough organized a track team for eight to ten young men. Kimbrough’s work exemplifies a community-led approach to community healing, an important strategy for addressing racial inequities. He created spaces where young BIPOC men were able to challenge the negative stereotypes about their potential. As part of his community work, Kimbrough held virtual and in-person events to focus on the athletes’ internal world and the values and lessons learned to discover their internal strengths.
Nicole Lee experienced first hand the struggles and victories of single motherhood as a Black woman in America. She used the lessons learned from her own experiences to create a support network, Warrior Moms, for other Black single mothers which ensured they and their families could thrive in the face of racial injustices and other forms of oppression.
Brianna Elise Martin is a Black student leader at Warren Wilson College with a focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Martin addressed issues of racial inequity at her college while also organizing BIPOC students to engage in Asheville’s local racial justice efforts, all while maintaining a full course load and a 3.77 GPA.
Gregorio Ortiz Martin has been a leader in the preservation and revitalization of the Hñähñú language and culture within Asheville’s Latinx community. Viewing community healing and cultural change to be crucial in racial justice efforts, Abel co-created culturally affirming language classes to ensure that the Hñähñú language, indiginous to the Americas, does not die. At the The Indigenous Language Preservation Project, Abel hosted events not only to revitalize the language but also to celebrate the culture of the Hñähñú people.
In service to her community, Chiloh Reece addressed the racism and educational injustice being imposed on Black students in the Asheville City school system. To achieve her goal, Reese was deeply involved with the Asheville Buncombe Community Land Trust Planning and Boards and Bylaws Committee, Asheville Peak Academy Planning Committee, and the Claxton Social Justice Committee. She is champion for efforts that redistribute land and community decision-making power to support the well-being of Asheville’s Black community.
Dr. Tiece Ruffin, is a veteran teacher, educator, and defender of human rights who has worked to dismantle oppressive and structurally inequitable education systems in the Asheville area. Dr. Ruffin has worked to eliminate the opportunity gap in Asheville City Schools in a wide variety of spaces. Most notably, she is one of the key leaders behind the development of Relevant Education Grows All Learners (REGAL) learning pods, a framework for adults to create inclusive learning spaces in their own communities. These pods were a vital source of academic support for students engaged in virtual learning during the pandemic. In 2020, Dr. Ruffin co-organized a symposia on racial equity in Asheville’s schools.
Daniel Suber has volunteered with a wide variety of social justice organizations to help dismantle systems of oppression. Suber utilized his poetry, facilitation, and event-organization skills to push for positive change in the community. Suber lived in public housing for over a decade and felt that the community has better outcomes when citizens can see and be a part of continually making the community better.
Bruce L. Waller worked tirelessly, outside of paid work hours, to increase access to educational and economic opportunities for Asheville’s Black communities. He engaged in deep community outreach to ensure that local families could access the United Way’s community school resources. He is also one of the founders of GrindAVL and Black Wall Street, both of which are innovative models for economic development for Black entrepreneurs.
Naomi Waller, owner of Ayoki Styles Beauty Collection, focused on empowering and educating women and young adults with textured hair by redirecting the concept around beauty. Through personal experiences and conversation with her clients, Waller found that there was a continual problem in the beauty industry that she was led to bring awareness to. A beauty consultant and cosmetologist, Waller intentionally dismantled the thoughts of insecurity around textured hair and freely gave this information to help uplift and encourage the Black community in the discovery of their identity. Waller was also a principal player and co-facilitator for The Black Wall Street Movement. Alongside J. Hackett and Bruce Waller, Naomi Waller encouraged and informed other Black businesses while exemplifying leadership in her industry.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Ramona Monique Young engaged in community healing work among the Black communities of Asheville by addressing food insecurity. Ramona launched food pantries in various Black churches in Asheville to support families who were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Young also collaborated with Meals On Wheels to support our Black senior population via Asheville’s network of Black churches.