What do we pay attention to as the months roll by, and therefore remember for a year in review?
Politics –local, state, or national? International affairs? Pop culture? High culture? Sports? The national economy? The local economy?
Those subjects, and a hundred more, fill newspapers and airtime. We pick and choose what we read about – and what we ignore. And as we filter through the available stories, how do we perceive them?
Here’s what I noticed happening in 2015.
In January, Buncombe County’s got a new District Attorney, Todd Williams, for the first time in a generation, and long-time educator and former school principal Larry McCallum retired as board chairman of Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council. The new film Selma painted a portrait of Dr. King that showed him, warts and all, in a new light. Jacquelyn Hallum and Bernadette Thompson were honored by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Association with, respectively, the Community Humanitarian Award and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for their lifetimes of service.
In February, civil rights leader and health advocate Minnie Jones died at age 81. Buncombe County’s public medical center had been renamed the Minnie Jones Health Clinic to recognize her work as cofounder of the WNC Community Health Service. In Tryon, the late diva Nina Simone was honored with a hometown gallery installation designed by Asheville artist Valeria Watson.
March saw worldwide observations of the 50-year anniversary of Dr. King’s march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. Also honored were Asheville resident Clark Olsen, a retired Unitarian Universalist minister who was attacked in Selma in 1965, and Rev. James Reeb, who was brutally murdered by white supremacists.
The NC Democratic Party elected former Buncombe County Commissioner and state Representative Patsy Keever its new chairwoman.
In April Asheville mourned the passing of attorney George Weaver at 66. For decades Weaver had ensured fair and honest representation for uncounted clients and mentored numerous younger lawyers. Meanwhile the Gamma Gamma chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority celebrated 75 years of supporting and uplifting women of color through education, achievement, and community leadership.
In Raleigh, Governor Pat McCrory appointed Asheville health advocate Sharon Kelly-West to serve on the North Carolina Commission for Public Health, and in Washington, President Obama announced a preliminary agreement with Iran to cease its development of nuclear weapons research.
May saw the opening of the time capsule buried in the Vance Monument downtown, and the birth of a movement to recognize black history in Buncombe County. A coalition of leaders, black and white, called for the addition of some public acknowledgements – statues, plaques, monuments – to recognize the contributions of people of color. Tammy Hooper, from Alexandria, Virginia, became Asheville’s new police chief after a six-month search following the retirement – under pressure – of former chief William Anderson.
June: Contractors began reconstruction of the DHHS building on Coxe Avenue. Michael D. Griffin and Ulisse Rotolo were named winners of MLK Association Youth Scholarships. Asheville’s Brewer family attended a reunion in Washington, DC, at which one of their own, who was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, was honored with a proclamation from the White House.
In Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld (again) President Obama’s Affordable Care Act; an absolute right to marriage equality for all people, citing the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause; and Arizona voters’ right to set their own rules for redistricting. And it was learned that the Chinese had hacked millions of U.S. government files, accessing Social Security numbers and other private information.
An avowed Southern reconstructionist massacred nine worshippers at Charleston, SC’s historic Emanuel AME Church – the “mother church” of the AME denomination – leading the South Carolina legislature to remove the confederate flag from its grounds after some 50 years.
In July the Burnsville Playhouse presented the world premiere of a new musical drama, the life of one of country music’s little-known, but seminal, African American pioneers. Esley, by Asheville playwright Jeff Douglas Messer, showed how Lesley Riddle befriended the famous Carter Family and taught “Mother Maybelle” her distinctive style of playing the guitar. And Folkmoot returned for its 32nd year of bringing world cultures to western North Carolina.
In August, Kathey Avery, RN, spoke in favor of expanding Medicare, saying, “We have held (health) screenings through ABIPA and found diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Medicaid can help our communities obtain annual physicals to detect and treat these individuals early so they can live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.”
Stephens-Lee held a two-day reunion of graduates from classes ranging from 1945 to 1967. But in Raleigh, Republican legislators voted to prohibit any NC community from removing the confederate flag, monuments, plaques, or other “historic artifact” memorializing symbols of white supremacy.
Former president Jimmy Carter, 90, announced he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, but would undergo treatment (which proved successful: in early December he was pronounced cancer-free). Singer Bobbi Kristina Brown, 22, died after being found unresponsive in a bathtub on Jan. 30 – just as her mother, diva Whitney Houston, had died three years before.
September saw the unveiling of a portrait of Dr. William Barber, leader of the NC NAACP and the Moral Mondays movement, at the YMI Cultural Center. The legislature finished its work for the year, having returned partisanship to the NC Court of Appeals; eliminated unemployment-based waivers that allow food stamps for childless, non-disabled adults; cut money to Legal Aid; and eliminated all state funding for Planned Parenthood. In Kentucky, Christian firebrand Kim Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, leading to a weekend in jail, continuing defiance, another court ruling against her, and finally unemployment.
October: The local NAACP elected Carmen Ramos-Kennedy its new president. The Asheville community joined in solidarity to keep and restore the Walton Street Park and Pool, both threatened with closure after decades of neglect and deferred maintenance.
In early November Asheville’s ASCORE was honored at UNC Asheville for its pioneering civil rights work with a keynote speech by Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates.
Asheville voters elected Keith Young – the first African American City Council member since two-term Mayor Terry Bellamy retired – to City Council, along with Bryan Haynes and Julie Mayfield. Mt. Zion Church, led by Rev. John Grant and First Lady Belinda Grant, celebrated the 135th anniversary of its founding as a key Asheville institution.
December: Who knows what will happen next?