In 2021, as part of its 40th anniversary celebration, and in recognition of Black history Month, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County honored Rosa Parks, who was born Feb. 4, 1913, by bestowing awards on four area woman.
Founder and chair Dr. Oralene Anderson Graves-Simmons noted that the organization would “celebrate and recognize Rosa Parks for her acts of courage that set in motion a chain of events that changed forever the landscape of American race relations.” She added, “Her bravery has motivated us to carry out her legacy through our programs and activities.”
Continue reading to learn about the four area leaders (listed in alphabetical order by last name), who were honored with the Rosa Parks Award.
Tara Jeanne Brown
For over 15 years, Tara Jeanne Brown has worked through local government and nonprofits to build inclusive economic development. She designed and implemented programs to support asset building, affordable homeownership, and entrepreneurship in underserved communities. She previously lived in New York City, where asset-building programs she created with the NYC Office of Financial Empowerment have been replicated across the country.
In 2016, seeing that many social programs fail to address underlying inequities including the racial wealth gap, Brown launched Reckoning with Whiteness, a project to help individuals with racial privilege understand and address inequality in their communities.
Now living in Asheville, she works as Associate Director of the Western Women’s Business Center and serves on the Board of Witness for Peace Southeast, an anti-oppression organization that works in solidarity with people in Latin America and the Caribbean. She previously served on the board of the Cooperative Economic Development Alliance of NYC.
Brown holds a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University and a BA in Political Science from Trinity College.
Tracey Greene-Washington is president of Indigo Innovation Group, a consulting firm dedicated to serving as a strategic thought-partner, advisor, coach, and consultant to philanthropic, nonprofit, and private/public organizations committed to accelerating change through system-level approaches, equity, and strategic collaboration. She is also founder of CoThinkk, a social change philanthropy committed to shifting the economic mobility, health, education, and leadership narrative of communities of color in western NC through strategic investments, network-building, and civic discourse.
For more than 20 years Greene-Washington has led high-level initiatives that address complex issues and gained a reputation as an innovative leader committed to partnering with organizations and communities to be more impactful by targeting systemic change, taking risk, and accelerating efforts at the intersection of community economic development, health, education, and leadership development.
She served most recently as Director of Special Initiatives for the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, leading its two long-term, place-based initiatives: Healthy Places NC, focused on improving the health of 10-12 rural counties, and Great Expectations, an early childhood initiative in Forsyth County. Prior to joining the Trust, she served as a Program Officer at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation; as a Program Officer and Director of Learning & Evaluation for the National Rural Funders Collaborative; and as Director of Technical Assistance, Training & Policy with the South Carolina Association of Community Development Corporation.
Greene-Washington is the former Board Chair for the Center for Leadership Innovation and Vice Chair for the Southern Rural Development Initiative and currently serves on the board of the NC Early Childhood Foundation, Education NC, North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research. She has completed a Ted-X presentation titled “Addressing Complex Change, What If” and recently released her first book, an Amazon.com #1 International Bestseller, titled Choosing Purposeful Alignment: The Messy Middle of Transformation. She is the recipient of the 2020 Linetta Gilbert Service Award, 2019 Bubbles Griffin Award, and 2019 Best of Women to Know Feature.
A native of Asheville, Greene-Washington is a Certified Coach through Coach Diversity Institute. She holds a BS in Social Work from UNC Greensboro and an MSW from the University of South Carolina.
Libby Kyles is the founder of Changing LENS Consulting, which focuses on racial and educational equity, professional and personal coaching. A graduate of Western Carolina University, Kyles spent 20 years in North Carolina classrooms while also earning her National Board Certification and completing her master’s in Educational Leadership from East Tennessee State University.
While teaching, she cofounded Youth Transformed for Life (YTL) in 2014 and served as its Executive Director until June of 2019. Under her leadership, YTL developed two summer and after-school programs, GRACE for Teens and ROSES and MOSS for elementary school students, and an advocacy program to improve the communication between participants, teachers, and parents.
In 2019, Kyles transitioned from the classroom to the board room, accepting the position of CEO of the YWCA of Asheville. As the first Black CEO of the organization in more than 30 years, she worked to address equity issues previously identified within the organization. During her tenure, she led their response to the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring that the YWCA transitioned services to support the community, staff, and participants safely. Her season with the YWCA came to an end in September of 2020.
Kyles continues to work in the community as Board Chair of the Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust and Vice Chair of the Board for Asheville PEAK Academy charter school, which will open in August. She also chairs the Buncombe County Women’s Commission and contributes to local social justice movements aimed at the liberation of Black people.
Dr. Sharon Kelly West
Sharon Kelly West is an international speaker, historian, and author focusing on healthcare disparities and culturally appropriate approaches to medical care inclusive of the topic of cultural humility. She is a well-known keynote speaker, workshop leader, and panelist addressing various cultural health topics.
Dr. West also serves as adjunct nursing faculty, teaching Bioethics and the Law for nurses at Mars Hill University (NC). She has been appointed by two governors of North Carolina to serve in the registered nurse seat on the NC Commission of Public Health.
An RN herself, West received her undergraduate degree in nursing from Winston-Salem State University (NC), her Master of Science from Western Carolina University, did post-graduate studies in Clinical Ethics at Wake Forest University, and completed doctoral studies in Clinical Ethics from Albany Medical College in NY.
She is currently Nurse Manager of Women Veteran Services at the Charles George VA Medical Center Asheville and a freelance columnist writing on various health topics. Her publications on health care preferences of African Americans at the end of life have appeared in Home Care Nurse National Journal and Omega Journal of Death and Dying.
Along with the elimination of health disparities, Dr. West’s interests include the impact of racial stratification on the health and health-related decisions of adults, culturally appropriate medical decision-making at the end of life in African Americans, and medical access options for African Americans 1890-1960.