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We are so excited to introduce the first cohort of Tzedek Grantmaking Fellows.
Clarissa Harris, Anna Marie Smith, Ashley Cooper, Sala Menaya-Merritt, and Ray Hemachandra will be working together to create a community-led grantmaking process to redistribute money in Asheville, NC.
This program represents an important shift in decision-making power from our Founder/Funder and Tzedek staff to local community leaders. Fellows will collaborate to design a process and distribute funds to address pressing needs identified by Asheville’s BIPOC, Jewish, and LGBTQ communities.
The incredible leaders selected for this process could be described as “justice doulas,” revolutionary love practitioners, authentic and impactful changemakers, but perhaps the best way to introduce them is through their own words.
Anna-Marie Smith, born and raised in Asheville NC, is the owner of her own consulting business called Black Coffee and Culture. As a local business owner and advocate for her community, Anna-marie focuses on teaching money management to anyone in need or whomever is willing to listen. Anna-marie’s ultimate goal is to spread love through education and networking. Because of Anna-Marie’s passion for people and education, her consulting services are at no direct cost to her clients. Anna-Marie has provided over 100 hours of FREE service to community members around WNC since 2019.
Sala A. Menaya-Merritt has been a resident of Asheville/Buncombe County for approximately 4 years. She currently works in the justice system. Her background includes non-profit work related to racial justice and overseeing the grant research, writing and oversight process. She has experience in human services, community engagement, program development and implementation. Ms. Menaya-Merritt currently serves on the board of SPARC and the Haywood Street Congregation. She also serves on the Kairos Advisory Board – a prison ministry at Swannanoa Correctional facility for women. Ms. Menaya-Merritt states : “It is both an honor and a privilege to be chosen as one of the Tzedek Fellows. I welcome the opportunity to give back to the community during this process but also, an opportunity to work with a great group of people who are already doing great work in our city.”
Clarissa Lynn Harris (She/Her/Hers) I’m from Durham, NC originally. I come from a long line of folk in movement work (folk who did the work before it was called movement work lol). My unmarked work and community are what inform the way I approach racial justice. I think my specific set of gifts makes me apt at being what a friend of mine (Mickey Scott Bey) deems “a justice doula.” I just facilitate the natural and healthy collaborative practices of making room for folk to live their chosen best lives in loving balance with others. I’m dedicated to supporting and bridging communities.
Some conversations and trainings I have facilitated in the past include:
- “What Really is Allyship?” for Movies and Meaning Film Festival
- “You, Me, and Microaggression” and “A Good Place to Start: Critical Race Theory 101” for Warren Wilson College
- “De Escalation During Demonstration” for the city of Asheville via Black Asheville Demands Collective
- Building Bridges Training Facilitator
- “Booty: Locating My Behind in the Context of Black Female Sexuality” at Hollins University
- “Umarked: Unpacking Whiteness and Mapping White Advantage Manifesting in Community Organising.” for various orgs via the Center for Participatory Change Black Learning Exchange
Ray Hemachandra serves on numerous nonprofit and governmental boards, committees, and workgroups, especially involving disability, mental health, substance use, and autism populations and often involving diversity, accessibility, inclusion, and equity issues. Ray has worked as a communications professional for book, newspaper, and magazine publishers, as well as a content creator for social media, blogs, and other platforms. He is a business, brand, communications, and change-management consultant for Golden Moon Circles, a consulting firm based in Asheville.
Ashley Cooper believes in the goodness of humans — in our abilities to collaboratively address the complex challenges we face and care for one another along the way. She is an educator, community organizer, facilitator, coach, and consultant with over 20 years experience working with people in schools, foundations, nonprofits and grassroots initiatives. Ashley’s approach is relationship-oriented, systemic in scope, and centers equity. She partners with determined individuals, mission-driven organizations and companies, and philanthropic foundations to design deliberately for anti-racist outcomes and to move in relational and participatory ways. Born and raised in the South and living as a white, Jewish, queer woman, she is devoted to the internal and community work necessary to cultivate a more loving and just world and local community.