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Congratulations to the 2023 first-round recipients 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.
As a Black man living in the American South, Bruce Browder Jr. understood racialized trauma’s role in sustaining white supremacist systems before he had the language to capture or share this knowledge. And, as a formerly incarcerated individual, Bruce wrestled with the realities of systemic racism, ultimately translating his experiences of injustice into catalysts for social change. Bruce believed in the transformative power of vulnerability and storytelling as impactful ways to build greater awareness, bring peace, and boost connectivity. In seeking to be a positive Black male presence in community, Bruce prioritized active listening and authenticity as keys to seeing, supporting, and empowering Black youth. Bruce has volunteered with various Black-led organizations in this healing work, including Umoja Health, Wellness, and Justice Collective and My Daddy Taught Me That.
Event organizer and entrepreneur Dionne Lytle-Young, is devoted to empowering minority business owners and young women of color. She is also a proud member of the LGBTQ family and excels in being a “practical visionary,” seamlessly transitioning from identifying problems to generating solutions. Originally from Black Mountain, NC, Dionne founded Gift the Gown to provide custom-fitted prom dresses to deserving high schoolers. She later shifted her focus to The Lady Bags, providing hygiene products to women in shelters. In addition, Dionne has been developing a scholarship program to honor and continue her late grandmother’s legacy of building self-confidence, academic excellence, and individual worth among young women of color. Driven by heart, Dionne aspires to create a lasting impact on future generations.
Erin McGrady is a Queer Asian American adoptee and community organizer who is passionate about eliminating transphobia, homophobia, and racism. Inspired by Black-led run crew Prolyfyck, Erin started a similar running group in Asheville to create a safe space for BIPOC+LGBTQIA2S+Ally runners. The group held their first successful community run/walk in February 2023, with over 55 participants showing up. Erin drew from her personal experiences of navigating systems of oppression to bring safe, inclusive spaces that center joy, healing, and connection to Asheville communities. As part of this planning, Erin collaborated with other local community leaders, including Pink Dog Creative, Grind AVL, and Southside Community Farm to support Black-owned businesses, encourage learning, and promote food sovereignty through her work.
Rooted in Asheville, community herbalist and poet Glenda Ro has worked to dismantle oppression, cultivate connections, and strengthen community through art, service, and activism. Her poetry, inspired by her experiences as a Queer, chronically ill person, reflects her love of mysticism, collective study, and compassionate care. A devoted disruptor of the status quo, Glenda has participated in protests, organized poetry events, and creatively supported social justice groups, including raising and distributing $3,000 to three queer BIPOC individuals through her mutual aid efforts. Her commitment to community wellbeing has led her to attend artist residencies, herbalism school, and volunteer-led anti-capitalism courses as part of her ongoing shared learning journey. Glenda’s work at Firestorm Books furthers her mission to provide accessible political education while promoting art and collaboration for liberation.
Milly Cristiny Barbosa Da Silva is a Black, Queer, Latina immigrant and intersectional essayist whose community work has been intimately shaped by her desire to shatter the oppressive systems that rely on silencing Black voices and subjugation of Black bodies. Where the system offered survival as the only option, Milly chose to thrive, grow, and challenge the dominant narrative in all aspects of their existence and relationships. Milly grounded their personal liberation plight in ongoing learning and unlearning in solidarity with others seeking to create brave spaces for communities of color to connect, reflect, and organize. Through their mutual aid work, community service, and healing relationships with OYE Collective, Southside Community Farm, Mountain Area Abortion Doula Collective, and Asheville for Justice, Milly’s unwavering dedication is a testament to the power of community as a resource for resilience and renewal.
Ms. Norma Baynes, a native of Asheville’s historically Black Shiloh neighborhood, has lived a life of dedicated service. As a child, resident, and nursing professional living under segregation, Norma helped activate community’s shared struggles to ignite collective activism. She has been instrumental in redefining and reinvigorating this community space, including co-founding and leading the Shiloh Community Association (SCA) in 2000. The SCA aimed to address residents’ concerns, enhance community well-being, and preserve cultural heritage amid urban renewal and gentrification. Norma also helped create the Shiloh Community Garden, a hub for community education and events. Collaborating with numerous local leaders and organizations, including Mars Hill University, UNC Asheville, Warren Wilson College, the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, the YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, Mountain Housing Opportunities, Bountiful Cities, and Asheville Buncombe Institute for Parity Achievement (ABIPA), Norma’s unwavering commitment to social justice reflects her deep love for humanity and her community.
Queer, nonbinary birth worker Paulina Schau has been queering yoga as part of their LGBTQ+ advocacy and outreach. As a full spectrum doula and perinatal yoga teacher, Paulina co-hosted “The Gayby-Sitters Club,” a monthly meetup for queer and trans families with young kids and expectant parents. The club fosters community while supporting and normalizing alternative family structures. Paulina also offered a donation-based weekly class, “Gentle Yoga for Queer & GNC Folks,” at West Asheville Yoga to provide a safe, inclusive, culturally competent space for mindful movement and connection. They also helped organize the Winter 2022 “Queering Birth Support” event held at the YWCA of Asheville to link local queer community members to full spectrum doula support, which includes birth, postpartum, loss, and abortion services. Paulina’s work has expanded representation and support for queer individuals and families, bringing Asheville one step closer to providing a comprehensive, whole-person-centered approach to queer and gender-nonconforming care.
Quiante Brown is the coach, CEO, and director of the Majorette Dolls of Asheville (MDOA), a diverse and inclusive dance troupe that promotes self-expression and unity through historically black college and university-style competitive dance. MDOA was born out of Quiante’s personal experiences with racism and homophobia. The program provides a positive, safe, and creative space for young people ages 5-18 to exist, expand, and express while sharing and celebrating this culture’s rich, Black, Southern heritage, choreography, and artistry. Quiante is fiercely committed to uplifting and engaging diverse communities. He has partnered with many local organizations, including the Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) and the Edington Center’s Chosen Pods program, to uplift and inspire young dancers to be proud of their unique histories, experiences, and identities.
Ray Hemachandra is a trailblazing change agent, author, activist, speaker, and business consultant with a vibrant, multicultural heritage that fuels his drive for social change. As a Black, Jewish, Asian-Indian man, Ray’s commitment to an intersectional, holistic, social justice lens ultimately embodies his belief in the innate value and humanity of all people. Ray is a powerful advocate and devoted father of an intellectually disabled and autistic son. Much of Ray’s recent work centered on championing intellectual and developmental disability rights, inclusion, and services optimization. For Ray, intentionally fostering love, growth, and connection through deep dialogue across identities and issues is crucial. From fighting for language justice to demanding accessibility in human services, in his unapologetic pursuit of expansive social justice, Ray has served on numerous boards and committees, including Buncombe County’s Strategic Partnerships and Tipping Points Grants committees, Liberty Corner Enterprises, Knee Brace Press, and the Camino Research Institute Community Advisory Board. Additionally, Ray chairs the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Committee for the Center for Craft‘s national board of directors.
Sharon Oxendine, a proud, enrolled Lumbee Tribe member, invested the last 30+ years of her life in serving marginalized communities in Western North Carolina (WNC). During this time, Sharon worked as a correctional counselor, pursued contract management, and found her passion for community advocacy at Mountain BizWorks. Together with her long-term female partner, Sharon later co-founded Medicine Wheel Way, a nonprofit providing cultural, indigenous ceremonies, rituals, and rites of passage, emphasizing BIPOC and LGBTQ inclusion. Additionally, Sharon worked closely with Cherokee leaders and elders as part of her cultural reclamation and healing process. As a tribal elder, Sharon has mentored young women and educated students on Native American history across diverse identities, settings, and lived experiences. Sharon continues to serve as the Asheville Chamber’s Vice Chair of Diversity for the Board of Directors and the Vice Chair for the People’s Community & Inclusion initiative in striving to enhance meaningful BIPOC-business owner visibility and development.
Born and raised in Stumptown, lifelong social justice powerhouse Ms. Sophie Dixon is a former Asheville-Buncombe County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) president, WRES cofounder, and Shiloh community leader. She also played an instrumental role in founding the Goombay Festival and preserving the YMI Cultural Center. At 85 years old, she continues to be an influential community advocate. As the current Shiloh Community Association president and in her ongoing leadership at WRES, she prioritized youth development and community empowerment as paths to securing community sustainability. Sophie’s service-driven legacy has grown from a desire to inform and inspire community in hopes of igniting change and improving the lives of the diverse people who call WNC home. By cultivating a culture of inclusion and collaboration, Sophie ensured that the seeds planted through her work will nourish future generations.
Asheville-based musician Tashi Dorji carved out a career while navigating the predominantly white US and EU music scenes. Using his music to express anti-hierarchical and anti-capitalist sentiment, Tashi strived to address and disrupt whiteness, which is a difficult task, especially given the lack of fair, equitable access to resources and agency. In 2022, Tashi took the reigns as organizer, curator, and host of the inaugural Catalytic Sound Festival, focusing on Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and BIPOC artists – a first for Asheville. Committed to fostering creative growth, Tashi plans to provide an informal residency for BIPOC artists. Additionally, through collaborations with venues like Static Age Records, The Mothlight, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, and Revolve, Tashi has and continues to champion diversity, equity, and inclusivity within the local music scene.
As a sixth-generation Asheville native with 25+ years’ of personal, educational, and professional social justice experience, Tiffany Iheanacho has been deeply affected by municipal government decisions. Her social justice lens was shaped by witnessing firsthand the effects of local urban renewal and criminal justice system policies. As a result, Tiffany has dedicated her career and public service to helping those most impacted by institutional and structural racism. She has been instrumental in developing non-profits, such as the Asheville Buncombe Community Land Trust, A Therapist Like Me, and Asheville PEAK Academy charter school. Additionally, she is the current chapter president of the Asheville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and a Youth Transformed for Life board member, thereby helping ensure the success and sustainability of these programs for generations to come.
Whisper Moore is a strong, innovative advocate for LGBTQ and BIPOC communities. Recognizing the link between equity and accessibility, she leveraged her personal and professional experiences to promote greater inclusion by creating safe spaces to support communities of color. In addition to spearheading BIPOC employee advocacy groups, Whisper offered free community yoga classes to increase POC visibility, participation, and representation in these often white, cisgender, female-dominated domains. As the Engagement and Resource Manager with Campaign for Southern Equality, Whisper has raised her voice (and funds) in pursuit of systems change. This social justice commitment extends to her board service with the Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust and her collaborations with other local nonprofits and businesses, including the YMI Cultural Center and Youth Transformed for Life.
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.