Asheville, Buncombe reparations commission Chair Dwight Mullen steps down from role

ASHEVILLE – Dwight Mullen stepped down May 13 from his role as chair of the city and county’s historic reparations commission. 

The commission was seated two years ago to make progress toward repairing the damage caused by public and private systemic racism. Mullen was elected to serve as the first chair of the board in April 2022. 

“The time and stress has taken its toll. You can hear my voice. That’s not emotion, that’s fatigue,” Mullen said in a May 13 address to the Community Reparations Commission. He said he would stay on the commission as a member. 

Mullen is a retired political science and Africana studies professor at UNC Asheville. He founded the State of Black Asheville, which began as an undergraduate research project at UNCA.

Chairman Dwight Mullen listens to committee members during a Community Reparation Commission meeting on June 6, 2022.

“I appreciate, first off, the support I see from every single one of you sitting at the table today,” he said as he took to the podium. “However, it is just time for me to step back from being chair. In terms of my health and the welfare of my family, it’s just time for me to step back.”

Mullen has a long relationship with the cause, going back to the formation of the city and Buncombe County resolutions passed in support of reparations, and before. 

“This is something I’ve used my entire life working toward — reconciliation between communities by repairing damage that was done,” Mullen told the Citizen Times in a May 14 phone call. 

“When I became chair, it really was more than just the acceptance of another committee assignment. This was something where I thought we could begin addressing the disparities that were being reported on by the undergraduates at UNCA for years and years with no response from city or county government.”

Dr. Dwight Mullen, a retired UNC Asheville professor and founder of State of Black Asheville, addresses supporters before the start of a Black Liberation March through downtown Asheville on July 4, 2020.

Mullen said he’s proud of the work done by the commission, and though they’ve been criticized for the speed of the process, he said, “I don’t think we could have gone faster and gotten the things done that we are.”

The commission is in the process of making recommendations that will be sent forward to local elected officials. These include guaranteed income, creation of an economic development center, paying for existing initiatives in historically Black neighborhoods and creating a Reparations Accountability Council. 

Mullen acknowledged the numerous shakeups among reparations leadership. In the two years since its formation, the reparations commission has seen three different project managers, as well as turnover in both the city and county’s equity offices and on the commission itself. 

With those shifts came changing timetables, frameworks and emphasis, Mullen said. 

“And our commissioners rolled with it,” he said. “I’m really proud of what they’ve done.”

Sala Menaya-Merritt, the city’s equity and inclusion director, told the commission May 13 that the transition to a new chair would be discussed at its June meeting.

“It’s not the work, it’s not the politics, it’s not the fight that I’m stepping back from,” Mullen told the assembled commission. But he felt he needed to step back from some of the demands of the role. “I just can’t lead it, but I am there supporting you.”

More:Asheville, Buncombe reparations commission votes unanimously for guaranteed income

More:Despite a new lawsuit, removal of Asheville’s Vance Monument base will begin May 14

Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. News Tips? Email or message on Twitter at @slhonosky. Please support local, daily journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

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