Asheville councilwoman to present program on MLK Jan. 26

Published 8:00 am Thursday, January 17, 2019

Asheville City Councilwoman Sheneika Smith will be the keynote speaker for the Thermal Belt Friendship Council’s annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which will take place at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at Tryon Fine Arts Center.

It will be followed by a reception open to all attendees.

Sheneika Smith

This free public program, including the reception, is made possible by the support of a Free Community Events Grant from the Polk County Community Foundation.

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When Smith returned to her hometown after years away at school in Winston Salem and at work in Charlotte, she saw her community with fresh eyes.

She realized that people new to the community or visiting would have little awareness of the culture and history of Asheville’s African-American community. Many of the businesses, cultural landmarks, institutions and social gathering places that gave the community a sense of cohesion and identity were no longer apparent in an increasingly gentrified and tourist-oriented area, much affected by urban renewal, she said.

In order to renew a sense of empowerment, presence and belonging for Asheville’s African Americans, she founded a company called “Date My City.” By offering social events in downtown Asheville, she hoped to reduce barriers between black Asheville and the broader community, as well as to give visitors of color a sense that this is a place they belong.

As the company has evolved, her events now all contain elements of entertainment, education and a call to action. Smith sees her company as a force for motivation, advocacy, hope and cultural renewal, she said.

Not one to stay still for long, Smith ran for a seat on Asheville’s City Council. In 2017, she was elected to a four-year term.

In a campaign statement, she noted that “the community is ready to have conversation about things that don’t get enough attention.” She is especially interested in issues of equity and concerns for minority and low-income residents brought about by increasing gentrification and elimination of affordable housing, she said.

Smith also serves as the Tzedek Fellow in charge of Community Development at Green Opportunities, an Asheville organization committed to supporting low-income neighborhoods by preparing residents for sustainable employment opportunities, completing hands-on projects that improve community health and resiliency, and linking residents of these neighborhoods to jobs and other community resources that lead to greater self-sufficiency and economic well-being. The Tzedek Social Justice Fellowship is a transformational experience for emerging social justice leaders designed to build the capacity of organizations to effect change in Asheville and beyond.

The fellowship is a program of the Amy Mandel and Katina Rodis fund, which is committed to social justice, broadly defined, yet focusing primarily on LGBTQ rights, racial equity and combating anti-Semitism.

Smith is the middle daughter of late the Rev. Theodore L. Smith and Beverly Wells Smith. She graduated Asheville High in 1996, and later with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Winston-Salem University. She resides in Asheville with her daughters, ZaiKharri and Alaijah.

She is excited to share her message of “Maintaining Victories and Sustaining the Positive” with the Foothills community, she said.

– Submitted article