By Emma Castleberry
Long-time community organizer Nicole Townsend has recently announced her candidacy for Asheville City Council. Townsend’s list of qualifications and recognitions is long. She has been recognized with the Blue Ridge Pride Leadership Award, the CoThinkk Leadership Award and the Tzedek Brilliance Award. “I am honored to have received life-changing awards in recent years,” says Townsend. “However, I am most proud of an almost three-year journey that I have been on that has been deeply rooted in healing. I know that if I truly believe in transformative justice, healing and reconciliation on a massive scale, then I must do all that it takes to make sure that those things happen for myself, as an individual.”
A descendent of Mississippi Freedom Fighters, Townsend says social justice is in her blood. Her father is a Vietnam veteran and her mother is a factory worker. “I have lived a life that has shifted between poverty and working class at the intersections of being Black and queer,” she says. “While I am new to the political system, I am not new to the work.” Townsend currently serves as a board member of the Human Relations Council of Asheville, Bountiful Cities and Asheville Writers in Schools & Communities. She also works with a number of other community organizations, including CoThinkk, Grassroots Equity Alliance and the YWCA Racial Justice Coalition.
Born and raised in a small town in Missouri, Townsend moved to Asheville sixteen years ago. “Moving to Asheville in my youth was a culture shock,” she says. “This is my second home. It’s the place that has held me through my transition from adolescence to adulthood. I have found home and healing in these mountains.”
Townsend’s three-part platform has grown out of closeness with her community and years of experience as a community organizer. “Education Equity, Public Safety and Environmental Justice are pillars that impact everyone who lives in Asheville,” she says. “These are pillars that must be transformed if we want a city where everyone thrives, regardless of which neighborhood they live in.”
Through her work with youth development, Townsend has experienced Asheville’s opportunity gap and education crisis firsthand. “I am committed to collaborating with municipalities across the state of North Carolina to fight alongside our educators to have their wages increased, additional staff capacity added to their classrooms and smaller class sizes,” she says. When it comes to public safety, Townsend advocates for tackling the root of the problem. “We can’t police away poverty and suffering,” she says. “We can invest in neighborhoods and create economic mobility through implementing participatory budgeting that will allow community members to have more control over local resources.” In addressing the environmental justice pillar of her platform, Townsend supports a “municipal Green New Deal for Asheville” that will provide sustainable access to food, water and shelter for all residents. “We have the ability to invest resources into community land trusts and food cooperatives,” she says. “If we had locally sourced renewable energy investment, we could create living wage jobs that would put our people to work and create opportunity that isn’t so reliant on tourism.”
Townsend’s long history of in-the-trenches work in Asheville has informed her platform and will inform her approach to service if she becomes a Councilmember. “I believe that I will be an effective Councilmember because I understand that the role of Asheville City Council is to support the community in creating the Asheville they desire and deserve,” she says. “I will not play the game of politics and sell community members empty hopes and dreams. What I will do is roll up my sleeves and continue to link arms with those who have been silenced while offering up real solutions to real issues. I deeply believe in the power of the people. ”
For more information, visit TownsendForAVL.com.