Date My City: Driving Asheville’s Black cultural renaissance
It might sound like a cute hashtag, but Date My City is a real organization reviving the cultural identity of Black communities in Asheville and Western North Carolina.
Are you the type of person who feels the need to travel often but hasn’t even explored your own city, its history, and what it has to offer? Here’s your reminder that there are gems and jewels in your very own backyard. The North Carolina-based Date My City is showing us just how to integrate into our own communities more by throwing social and political events that enhance the cultural experience and identity of Black communities in the western region of the mountainous state.
To be specific, Date My City is a social organization created by Sheneika Smith in Asheville, N.C. The purpose of the organization is to encourage cultural diversity in downtown Asheville, in direct response to events and elements of the city’s segregated history.
“As a motivation of hope, a community advocate, and a source of empowerment through cultural and civic engagement, Date My City has the overall purpose of fostering social cohesion, increasing civic participation, and igniting pride through unity and self-determination,” reads the organization’s profile page on the Color of Asheville website.
Date My City’s mission is rooted in history. As occurred throughout Black communities in many American cities, “urban renewal” was one of those events—a federal program in the 1950s through 1970s that sought to end “blighted” neighborhoods by demolishing homes and local businesses, with promises of social improvement as a result. Considered slums by the government of that era, many of the areas targeted and rezoned through eminent domain were well-established Black communities, including four communities in Asheville’s Southside. Over 1200 homes and businesses in the Southside area were demolished as throughout the decades highways cut through neighborhoods on the city’s Burton Street, Hill Street and the East End, a linchpin of local downtown business and homes.
As a result, Asheville has never been the same, a detriment the popular Southern city now acknowledges through working on reparation programs with numerous organizations as well as new policies formed to try and right the wrongs of the past, including Asheville’s Office of Equity & Inclusion. The city council has also since approved a measure that prohibits the sale of city property once earmarked for urban renewal.
Date My City is one of Asheville’s restorative initiatives, created in 2013 with the mission of leveraging leisure and entertainment to mobilize the local Black community and cultivate and organize a cultural movement.
“Date My City is an intergenerational force supported by a power base of Black community members: leaders, entrepreneurs, professionals and activists, as well as a constituency of allies who share the best interests of communities of color,” its profile explains. “By joining our skills, mutual goals, resources and strategy, we can birth a cultural renaissance.”
The organization does this with a multifaceted and inclusive approach to its events, each of which “is an ensemble of political education, cultural relevance and chic sophistication, strategically arranged to enliven intergenerational support, like-minded partners and community activists.”
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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