Asheville, North Carolina’s Hood Huggers: Rebuilding ‘Affrilachia’

Black people have always lived in the Appalachian mountains, but Asheville's Hood Huggers is bringing attention to their contributions to arts, environment, and social justice in the region.

Have you heard of the term “Affrilachia“—pronounced “aff-rill-lay-chia”, like the words “African” and “Appalachia” put together? Affrilachia is a term developed by Kentucky-based writer and poet Frank X Walker that focuses on the cultural contributions of African-American artists, musicians, and writers in the Appalachian region. Now, Hood Huggers International is giving the term more life, taking it up a notch by concentrating on the act of rebuilding Affrilachia through art, environment, and social enterprise in a mountain town near you.

Asheville, North Carolina
Photo: AdobeStock

Hood Huggers International is a partner organization of Asheville Creative Arts that serves as a vehicle for community-engaged social enterprise work, environmental work, and art in the Asheville, North Carolina area. Asheville, N.C. is a city in western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, a province of the upper Appalachian mountain range known for its vibrant arts scene, historic architecture, and African-American contribution. Historically, people of the Appalachias were always presumed to be white, which is far from the real case. African Americans have always lived in these areas, building and rebuilding a culture that caters to the whole community, even when they were oppressed. This is the history that inspired Walker to come up with “Affrilachia’ in the 1990s, and has evolved into the basis for Hood Huggers International. 

In present-day Asheville, Hood Huggers is a great example of what it means to be an Affrilachian. The community organization is dedicated to constructing a culture of sustainability that is inclusive and economically just through a variety of community-centered projects for economic development. Those projects include environmental efforts, social justice, arts, and creativity.

In terms of environmental efforts, Hood Huggers moves in awareness of the statistics on how the climate crisis disproportionately targets and affects communities of color. In an effort to educate local youth, Hood Huggers teams up with local universities including University of North Carolina Asheville, Warren Wilson College, North Carolina State, and local organizations like Mountain Tru, and Asheville Greenworks to create youth-centered field trips, community initiatives, and activities that deepen understanding of the immediate environment. 

For visitors to the area, Hood Huggers offers tours called “Hood Tours “where participants can walk or drive to key sites in the city and journey through Asheville’s storied past—highlighting the challenges, contributions and resilience of Asheville’s African-American community. 

Through art and creativity, Hood Huggers introduced Peace Gardens & Market (formerly Burton Street Peace Gardens), an outdoor art museum and community garden which one can go to visit, bid on auctions of the beautiful local art, hear live music, and purchase plants & veggies. With the proceeds, Hood Huggers delivers produce to neighborhood elders and continues to improve spaces for gardening and the arts community. 

If you are ever in the Asheville region and are looking to learn more about Affrilachia, take some time out to visit Hood Hugger International, where you can make donations and purchases that support the rebuilding of Affrilachian recognition in the world beyond. 

Noel Cymone Walker

Noel Cymone Walker is an NYC-based writer specializing in beauty, fashion, music, travel, and cultural anthropology. She has written and produced visuals for several notable publications such as The Recording Academy/ The Grammys, The Fader, Billboard, OkayPlayer, Marie Claire, Glamour, Allure, Essence, Ebony, and more.

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