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Congratulations to the 2023 third-round recipients of the Tzedek Impact Awards! 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 these leaders and are honored to celebrate their past achievements.
Asheville native and esteemed early childhood educator Ms. Ann Davis has advanced local literacy through her weekly virtual read-alouds on her Books Alive! Facebook page. These accessible, interactive learning experiences have been instrumental in preparing diverse learners for early school success. Collaborating with Read 2 Succeed, Ms. Ann expanded her reach to hundreds of local Black students at various community centers and schools, including the Christine Avery Learning Center, the YWCA of Asheville, and the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center‘s Chosen PODS afterschool and summer camp programs.
Carmen King dedicated 25 years with Asheville City Schools to dismantling white supremacy in education. As the Isaac Dickson Elementary Equity Lead and as a member of the Root Cause Analysis and District Equity Teams, Carmen has been an impactful advocate for students of color. Her unlearning journey, sparked by a 2018 Racial Equity Institute workshop, deepened her commitment to educational justice. Beyond the classroom, Carmen’s work with “Team US,” a Shiloh community organization, included guiding students on college and Black history tours throughout the southeast. Her efforts emphasized the empowerment of Black and Brown students, and have led to transformative change in Asheville’s educational system.
Colombian immigrant and trauma-informed therapist Diana Parra founded Riding in Color Western North Carolina to create inclusive healing spaces. As a sex-positive nonbinary queer person of color, Diana has nurtured community support and mutual care, believing in the transformative potential of recreational spaces. Diana has collaborated with Asheville on Bikes and Blue Ridge Dirt Skrrts and partnered with local bike shops to provide free rentals for those without access. Backed by United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, Diana led therapeutic groups for middle schoolers and established affinity spaces for Latine adolescents and newly arrived immigrant children to help enhance community resilience and connection.
Giannina Callejas, a bilingual, queer, cisgender woman of color and first-generation college graduate, has been a champion for intersectional social justice. As an OnTrack Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) volunteer, Giannina provided free tax support and interpretation services for Spanish-speaking families and successfully advocated for volunteer anti-bias training. Since 2020, Giannina has organized BIPOC and queer community events, using joy and play as tools of resistance and resilience. She has also helped challenge racially insensitive educational materials and empower older communities to bridge the digital divide as ways to break down barriers and foster greater inclusivity. Giannina’s board member service with United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County and Asheville Latin Americans Achieving Success (ALAS) continues to power change.
Jesse Rosenblum, a Jewish, bisexual, and non-binary rights advocate, fought structural racism and white supremacy within the food system as a leader of the WNC Food Justice Planning Initiative (WNC FJPI). Jesse made strides in creating a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient regional food system by connecting with diverse communities across 18 counties and the Qualla Boundary, including Latinx, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian, Black, and rural communities. This collective effort resulted in a coalition of over 60 stakeholder organizations dedicated to improving local-level food sovereignty. Jesse’s leadership significantly improved WNC FJPI’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices and achievements, contributing to broader community discussions on equity and justice.
Justin Blackburn has partnered with many local organizations to fuel community advancement, including Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM), Community Action Opportunities, The SPARC Foundation, and the YMI Cultural Center. As an Asheville Youth Football & Cheerleading League board member, he positively impacted local youth in Black and Brown communities. Justin also founded The HOME Center for Men, a low-cost recovery home, and initiated the YMI Brother’s Brunch at YMI, providing a safe bonding space for men and boys of color. Additionally, his WNC Community Resources Facebook group has connected residents with vital services.
Keena Proctor is a lifelong learner with over 30 years of experience as an instructional assistant and nearly 10 years as a church Youth Department Director. As a certified community resilience trainer, Keena has been part of a mental health team advocating for Black community engagement in mental health services. In her work with youth, she educated students about systems of oppression, calling for unity amidst differences. Keena also advocated for fair educator pay as part of the North Carolina Association of Educators. Keena continues to serve as a member of the Buncombe County Associations of Educators and Asheville City Associations of Educators, reflecting her deep commitment to educational excellence and community upliftment.
With over twenty years as a social worker in Buncombe County and over eleven years leading My Daddy Taught Me That (MDTMT), Keynon Lake has provided critical resources and support to historically marginalized and underserved youth, families, and communities. He has prioritized and built strong relationships with many local entities, including Buncombe County Health and Human Services, ABCCM, Eblen Charities, and Manna Food Bank. Keynon’s work has involved educating communities about systemic oppression, organizing community events, and holding listening sessions to foster understanding and empowerment in striving for greater equity and equality in Asheville.
A first-generation Latina immigrant, Margarita Ramirez has used her experiences of adversity and oppression to develop effective, comprehensive, community-based solutions. As the Executive Director of Centro Unido Latino Americano (CULA), Margarita managed to increase CULA’s budget from $88,000 to one million dollars and grew staff capacity from just three volunteers to a team of fourteen paid employees. She also helped introduce more than ten new, culturally appropriate programs addressing mental health, education, youth development, healthcare, language justice, and food insecurity. Margarita’s unwavering commitment to self-sustainability, community prosperity, and cross-movement solidarity has created innovative paths and practices to achieve individual and collective liberation.
Nonbinary blacksmith, woodworker, ceramicist, foster parent, and community garden enthusiast Max Mandler has dedicated their time and talents to supporting and serving Queer, Transgender, BIPOC, Refugee, and Jewish communities. Max’s approach to community work has been simple, relational, and anticapitalist. As part of a dynamic network of local activists, Max has fostered community resilience and resourcefulness – from lending tools to teaching skills to offering free home repairs. Max also helped build and grow two collectives: Liberation Tools, part of the Soul and Soil Project, and Garage Goblins, a mutual aid car repair group comprised of Asheville Survival Program members.
Paul Howell joined the Asheville racial justice movement in 2015, shortly after the murder of a dear friend. His dedication further deepened following the police shooting and killing of Jai Williams in 2016. Since then, Paul has been involved with several community organizations and programs, including Black Men Mondays, Young Struggle Inc., the Poor People’s Campaign, the SPARC Foundation’s “Life’s Greatest Reflections” men’s group, and Lovely Asheville Enterprises LLC. From intergenerational engagement to combating housing discrimination, Paul has worked to amplify historically marginalized voices to bring greater equity, inclusivity, and connection in addressing a spectrum of issues affecting the diverse communities of Asheville.
Téo Amil, a queer, trans, Boricua organizer, is dedicated to community care and liberation. In 2020, Téo co-founded the WNC Dance Safe chapter, focusing on harm reduction through consent workshops, contraception provision, drug safety testing, and Naloxone education. Téo also put their harm reduction, resource linkage, and medic training skills to work for Asheville for Justice and the Asheville Survival Program. They partnered with OYE, Soul Thrive Collective, and Southside Community Farm to support Asheville’s BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities. Recently, Téo performed in Firestorm’s Drag Performers Read Aloud event, challenging transphobic narratives and promoting queer visibility and inclusivity.
Tony Shivers has embraced creativity as a vehicle for driving social change. Storytelling and portraiture have been core to his community advocacy, bringing greater awareness to issues perpetuating inequality and inequity in BIPOC communities. By using his voice and art to speak and share truth in his workplace and community, he has challenged stereotypes and misinformation barriers that restrict BIPOC community progress and access to resources. Tony has also provided post-production support in collaboration with several organizations, including, Western Carolina University’s Film and Television Production program, the Justice Film Collective, and the UMOJA Health, Wellness, and Justice Collective.
Tracy Hopkins, a clinical social worker and certified DEI coach, has worked in various roles and capacities for systems change in Asheville since 2003. Tracy has served as a North Carolina Outward Bound School Unity Instructor, a Building Bridges small group facilitator trainer and board member, and a CoThinkk member. As a biracial, multicultural advocate, she discovered her passion for creating inclusive platforms to share diverse experiences and create transformative connections through her Dare to Rise Story Chaser Speaker Series and Tiny Mic Conversations. Throughout her community engagement, Tracy has collaborated with groups such as WNC BIPoC Runners, Riding in Color, NC BIPoC Climbers, WNC AAPI, Outdoors for All, and Noir Collective AVL.
Sincere thanks to these Impact Award recipients and 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.