February 5, 2009
From Asheville's East End neighborhood to the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, urban renewal and community dismemberment can have devastating effects on the residents. Clinical psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove calls the resulting stress "root shock," and it can have a negative impact on the entire community for decades.
"Root shock, at the level of the individual, is a profound emotional upheaval that destroys the working model of the world that had existed in the individual's head," says Fullilove. "Root shock, at the level of the local community… ruptures bonds, dispersing people to all the directions of the compass."
The complex emotions and theories of root shock and its ripple effects will be the focus of a series events sponsored by UNC Asheville, Buncombe County Public Libraries and a host of other communities groups in February and March. Highlights of the series include a keynote address by Fullilove, an exhibition of historic Asheville East End photos and a performance by the New Orleans-based Hot 8 Brass Band.
Root Shock Through a National Lens
In Fullilove's 2004 landmark book "Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It," she examines a number of black communities that experienced urban renewal following the Federal Housing Act of 1949. Fullilove found that residents had mixed feelings about relocation, gentrification and the loss of community ties. While some black families moved to nicer homes or newer neighborhoods, many found themselves isolated or placed into federal housing projects.
Fullilove also points out that urban renewal didn't just disrupt the black community. The anger that it caused led to riots that sent some white families fleeing to the suburbs, stripping them of their own sense of place, and a creating a deeper divide between races and economic classes.
Fullilove is a research psychiatrist at New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia University. She earned a medical degree from Columbia University and has conducted research on the relationship between the collapse of communities and decline in health.
Fullilove will give a talk on "Root Shock 2009" at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, at UNC Asheville's Humanities Lecture Hall. In her talk, Fullilove will argue that political and economic displacement is a leading problem in 21st century America. She will discuss current challenges faced by communities and why the public must address this problem. The event is free and open to the public.
A conversation with Asheville community elders followed by a reception for Fullilove and her husband will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Diana Wortham Theatre. The event is free and open to the public.
Urban Renewal in Asheville
Photographer Andrea Clarke discovered root shock locally when she moved to Asheville's Valley Street in the early 1970s. She began documenting the neighborhood's changes as the City of Asheville launched an ambitious program of urban renewal. Hundreds of buildings on and around Valley and Southside streets were removed and residents were scattered across the city. Dozens of schools, black-owned businesses and homes were lost. Clarke's photo collection is among the only remaining visual documentation of these demolished neighborhoods.
Selected images from previously unpublished photographs were displayed at Pack Library last year. The exhibition spurred community conversation and sparked the interest of the North Carolina Humanities Council. The Council awarded major funding to expand the exhibit this year. The grant has also allowed the Library to work with local partners in reclaiming the stories behind the photos, while continuing the conversation about urban renewal and its consequences.
A number of events surrounding Clarke's historic photos and the story of Asheville's urban renewal are planned.
Clarke will discuss "Visions in Black and White: Asheville's East End, A Community on the Cusp of Urban Renewal" at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, at UNC Asheville's Humanities Lecture Hall. The talk is UNC Asheville's 2009 Mill's Distinguished Lecture. It is free and open the public.
"Twilight of a Neighborhood: Asheville's East End, 1970," an expanded exhibition of Clarke's historic photographs, will be on view February 28-March 31, at AB Tech's Holly Library. Gallery hours are 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday and noon-4 p.m. Saturday. An opening reception will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, in the gallery. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public.
A panel discussion and public forum on "Learning the Lessons of Root Shock: Building Better Neighborhoods for Us All" will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 1, at AB Tech's Ferguson Auditorium. The program will feature presentations by Fullilove and local scholars and will conclude with a public discussion. It is free and open to the public.
New Orleans in Flux
Community displacement isn't always the result of federal acts or city planning. New Orleans is redefining its historical black neighborhoods in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Film director Spike Lee examined this issue in his latest documentary "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts." He featured the Hot 8 Brass band in this post-Katrina film as an iconic symbol of root shock. Band members were scattered to different cities following the storm and eventually returned to a hometown mired in loss. The tragedies inspired the young musicians to deeply explore their roots and to bring an educational aspect to their life's work. Now, the Hot 8 Brass Band members are heralded as ambassadors of New Orleans jazz who stress the importance of preserving tradition to better know oneself.
The four-hour documentary "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts" will be screened in two parts over two nights in UNC Asheville's Humanities Lecture Hall. The first will be shown at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, and the second will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 19. The Hot 8 Brass Band will hold a question-and-answer session following the film screening on March 19. The documentary is appropriate for ages 16 and older. The screenings are free and open to the public.
"When the Levees Broke" is a film structured in four parts, each dealing with a different aspect of the events that preceded and followed Hurricane Katrina's catastrophic passage through New Orleans. Director Spike Lee and his crew made eight trips to the region to conduct interviews and shoot footage for the film. It is his third feature-length film collaboration with HBO.
The Hot 8 Brass Band will perform in concert at 8 p.m. Friday, March 20, at UNC Asheville's Lipinsky Auditorium. The band will play their signature blend of rhythm and blues, jazz, hip hop and New Orleans street music. The members of the Hot 8 were born and raised in New Orleans to musical families and began playing music together in high school. Following Hurricane Katrina, the band focused anew on its deepest cultural roots, drawing a line of musical continuity from raucous contemporary second lines in New Orleans to slave and Reconstruction-Era African dances.
Tickets to the Hot 8 Brass Band are $10 general admission or $5 for area students. To reserve tickets by phone, call UNC Asheville's Highsmith University Union Box Office at 828.232.5000. To purchase tickets online, visit www.uncatickets.com. For more information about the concert, call 828.251.6991.
Events are sponsored by Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College's World Connections Committee, Buncombe County Public Libraries, Buncombe County Public Libraries Trust Fund, Friends of Buncombe County Public Libraries, Friends of West Asheville Branch Library, LINKS, North Carolina Humanities Council, Stephens-Lee Alumna Association, UNC Asheville's Africana Studies Program, UNC Asheville's Center for Diversity Education, UNC Asheville's Cultural & Special Events, UNC Asheville's History Department, UNC Asheville's Intercultural/Multicultural Student Programs, UNC Asheville's Mass Communication Department, UNC Asheville's Women's Studies Department, Urban News, YMI Cultural Center and YWCA of Asheville.
For more information, call UNC Asheville's Center for Diversity Education at 828.232.5024.