Reparations architect for Black Asheville residents gets Soros fellowship to spread idea

Keith Young attends a Communuty Reparations Committee meeting on June 6, 2022.

ASHEVILLE – The former city council member behind the city’s groundbreaking reparations initiative has been awarded a fellowship to help other cities implement similar programs.

The Soros Foundation awarded Keith Young the $130,000 fellowship as part of a plan to help other cities start government-based reparations programs for Black residents as well as private programs that work in tandem.

Elected in 2015, the first Black council member in six years, Young, 43, was the author of a 2020 reparations resolution that passed unanimously and kicked off the initiative to compensate local Black residents for slavery and more modern injustices. It was the first such government-approved effort in the South and second in the country. Young later co-founded the Reparations Stakeholder Authority of Asheville, a private organization that could raise money and use it for reparations in ways local government could not, such as giving residents direct cash payments.

“Keith Young’s steadfast commitment to racial justice and community engagement continues to drive change, inspiring a broader conversation on historical reparations in the United States,” the foundation said in a statement on its website.

Created by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, the Open Society-U.S.’s Soros Equality Fellowship program said it seeks to “support individuals whom we believe will become long-term innovative leaders impacting racial justice.” (A supporter of progressive causes, Soros has long drawn the ire of conservatives.)

Young said he was “personally grateful, but the job’s not finished.”

“It doesn’t feel like much of anything until this work actually bears fruit and creates real amends, real progress and real results,” he said.

Young said he would use the resources to help bolster Asheville’s Reparations Stakeholder Authority and to start similar efforts in “multiple cities across the country.”

After his time on council, Young was recruited by four Tulsa City Council members to help address the 1921 massacre of Black residents in Oklahoma. This collaboration led to Tulsa’s historic unanimous vote to apologize and make “tangible amends.”

More than three years since the city and Buncombe County signed on to reparations, a Community Reparations Commission, a 25-member body seated in April 2022, is working toward a series of recommendations meant to repair damage caused by public and private systemic racism. 

But critics have said the commission, of which Young is a member, did not do enough to engage the community, something the stakeholder authority was designed to do. Meanwhile, the second manager of the city and Buncombe County’s initiative stepped down in October.

In 2000, 20% of Asheville’s population was Black. That decreased to 13.4% in 2010 and is now 11.2%, according to 2020 census data.

More:What has been achieved with Asheville reparations? Summit encourages participation

What is reparations? 17 months in, Asheville board is still struggling to define itself.

Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He’s written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times. 

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