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Congratulations to the 2022 second-round winners of the Tzedek Impact Awards! The Tzedek Impact Awards 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.
Queer, trans, body positivity speaker, educator, activist, and yoga instructor Allé K founded Trans Yoga Teacher in 2019 and has since led over 100 online and offline LGBTQIA+ healing events in Asheville. In providing affordable, LGBTQIA+ inclusive, trauma-informed, weight-neutral yoga classes, Allé has offered a much-needed yoga space alternative. Through his intersectional collaborations, Allé has helped redistribute tens of thousands of mutual aid fundraising dollars to uplift queer/trans BIPOC folks. Additionally, his 2022 summer yoga classes have been a pick-up point for abortion care packages in collaboration with Mountain Area Abortion Doula Collective.
Since moving to the Asheville community in 1992, Anthony Thomas strived to “bring Black faces to white spaces,” believing in the power of perspective-sharing as a tool for building greater equity and inclusivity. Anthony’s 30+ years of community work have focused on system-level transformation, including supporting equitable housing, education, and economic development initiatives. In serving as a YMCA coach, YMI Cultural Center Board Chair, or Mountain Housing Opportunities Board Vice Chair, Black-led liberation has always been the path and the destination. As a YMI representative, Anthony helped host Black Town Hall meetings and collaborated with YTL (Youth Transformed for Life), YMCA, and Land of Sky to address the existing and emerging needs of local Black communities.
Ashley Tolbert is an African American female and Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist who has brought healing, community connection, and educational resources to local Black and Brown communities struggling with substance use/addiction. Ashley’s educational advocacy centers BIPOC voices, experiences, and culture in the local treatment and recovery conversation. Her collaborations have deepened BIPOC community awareness and improved organizational cultural competency through partnerships with Grind AVL, YMI, Green Opportunities, Umoja Health, Wellness and Justice Collective, Sankofa Market, Noir Collective AVL, the Buncombe County Court system, and the City of Asheville.
Cuban immigrant and community health advocate Elio Gonzalez is the founder and producer of Miss Gay Latina Asheville (MGLA), a drag pageant that emphasizes traditional Hispanic heritage by showcasing Latinx diversity. MGLA first began in 2008; since then, the pageant’s mission and reach have expanded beyond the western North Carolina (WNC) Latinx LGBTQ+ community to include greater racial diversity, ethnic inclusivity, and gender-diverse representation. The purpose is to help others see, share, and celebrate their unique selves as part of a community that honors and uplifts all bodies, genders, and identities. In 2021, approximately 500 people of all ethnicities and experiences attended the event.
As an immigrant rights activist and popular educator, Chiapas-born Geny Hernández López spent the past 8+ years improving the lives of WNC Latinx immigrants and communities. Whether volunteering as an afterschool folkloric and traditional dance with Raíces Emma – Erwin or as a verifier with Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción, Geny has invested her time, energy, and heart in promoting Latinx community resiliency, safety, and healing. She currently serves as the Early Childhood Education Cooperative Network Coordinator for PODER Emma and supports Colaborativa La Milpa partner organizations focused on mestizo and native peoples’ education and culture.
Jenny López Alvarado is a Colombian immigrant, social worker, domestic violence specialist, and immigrant rights advocate who cofounded the Rural Immigrant Services Collective in response to the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Latinx communities. RISC is an association of 20+ groups working to support WNC immigrant communities by strengthening alliances across people, organizations, and systems. In addition to advocacy education and partner training, Jenny provided free, high-quality, bilingual mental health services to local Latinx community members and championed system-level change by regularly meeting with local, regional, and federal leaders on immigrant equity and access issues.
Visionary Jessica Tomasin cofounded numerous Asheville-based programs designed to improve local music industry diversity, equity, and inclusion. Inside Out is an 8-week program that helps urban area BIPOC artists and musicians develop critical music, business, and life skills. Similarly, Jet Up Productions is an arts education, advocacy, and collaboration nonprofit. Jessica also spearheaded the development of Asheville Music Professionals, the musicians’ advocacy non-profit, and the Connect Beyond Festival, the collaborative creative arts social justice non-profit cultivating social change.
As a first-generation child of El Salvadorian immigrants and queer person of color, Mel Espinoza has used an intersectional lens to illuminate and address systemic oppression in fighting for collective liberation. As part of this solidarity work, Mel joined the Human Relations Commission of Asheville to better reflect ground movement demands by making tangible City Council policy recommendations, including the Vance Monument removal. Additionally, Mel cofounded the Oye Collective to raise funds to support local BIPOC communities and mutual aid groups, and remains active in sanctuary camping advocacy, HIV case management service provision, and harm reduction outreach.
Nicole Matute-Villagrana identifies as a first-generation American queer Latina of color. She is a community organizer and part of the mutual aid group Asheville Survival Program. Nicole participated in various Aston Park Art Build events in seeking to generate greater awareness of WNC housing crisis conditions and to advocate for houseless individuals harmed in the process. Through planning and participating in multicultural community collaboration and education initiatives, Nicole leveraged a systems-level analysis of housing instability to shift community understanding of how systems of injustice impact individual lives.
For the last 15+ years, Rosy del Carmen Islas has focused her gifts and energy on healing communities pushed to the margins, supporting thousands of lives in the process. Rosy is a Latina immigrant, metaphysical practitioner, spiritual teacher, and family business owner. Through Divine Essence, Rosy has used her lived experience to humanize healing work at individual, organizational, and community levels. Rosy has collaborated with local organizations invested in this journey, including partnering with the Center for Participatory Change, Colaborativa La Milpa, and Hola Carolina to create healing workspaces, share healing resources, and support local change agents in Asheville.
Filipino mother, blogger, activist, and healer Stephanie Morabe Harper cultivates inclusion and accessibility in Asheville through volunteerism. From protesting to babysitting, her community work is rooted in her love of the outdoors. Stephanie contributes to her neighborhood Southside Community Garden and is an active Racial Equity Institute POC Caucus member. She volunteered with MANNA FoodBank and Kids in Parks, where she established the first AAPI (Asian-American, Pacific Islander) group and currently coordinates quarterly gatherings. Furthermore, Stephanie’s board service contributed to the founding of two future nonprofits, Friends of Pisgah View State Park and Color My Outdoors.
As a radical, Black, genderfluid human and artist, Taz Crowley’s intersectional existence and work constantly push to challenge and dismantle white supremacy culture, systems, and standards. Taz cofounded the Oye Collective – a BIPOC-centered, BIPOC-exclusive community space – to fuel collective liberation and co-creation in Asheville. In blending decolonization art and activism, Taz has transformed shared experiences of oppression into a thriving network for healing, as demonstrated by Taz’s collaborations with Mountain Area Abortion Doula Cooperative, Word on the Street/La Voz de les Jóvenes, the Tranzmission Prison Project, and Asheville for Justice.
Ty Johnson’s “Community-I philosophy” is the foundation of his community advancement vision: “It takes a strong I to make a strong WE to make a strong COMMUNITY.” As such, Ty has supported Asheville’s communities of color in various ways, including responding to community emergencies, facilitating ad hoc community meetings, serving as a United Way board member and Equity Change Committee member, and supporting YMI communication sessions between local schools and parents. Ty was also part of the Juneteenth planning committee. As a youth mentor and equity advocate, he has led Radical Citizenship and Radical Entrepreneurship for the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy and worked with the Stephens-Lee Community Center to improve youth and staff diversity.
Zo Mpofu is a public health, policy, and media strategist and advocate with 20+ years of experience leading equity-focused initiatives in education, housing, and community health improvement. After Buncombe County declared racism a public health and safety crisis in 2020, Zo was selected and served as the lead public health strategist to address the historical and persisting impacts of structural racism on local public health outcomes. Zo is a member of the APHA Climate, Health & Equity, United Way of Asheville-Buncombe, and Organic Growers School Boards. Statewide, she is in her second term as an Advocacy Officer with the NC Public Health Association and recent Chair of the WNC Diversity Engagement Coalition.
Sincere thanks to these Impact Award recipients and to the countless others who have poured their hearts into the myriad of brilliant, beautiful efforts to make Asheville a more equitable, inclusive place where all people and communities can thrive.