Hip-hop group promotes diversity, inclusion at performance

By Hanna Lesky – Staff Writer – [email protected]
Leaders of student organization [email protected] [email protected] en Las Americas said they brought hip-hop group Rebel Diaz to campus to entertain and educate attendees on the racial inequality that affects many cities, including Asheville.
“At the end of the day, I want Rebel Diaz to be bringing people together that normally wouldn’t be together at UNCA, and so I think that this will be a catalyst for that,” said UNC Asheville senior Kaley Fry, co-president of HOLA.
The group led a workshop to teach students about hip-hop and immigration before playing a show later in the evening.
Rodstarz and G1 of Rebel Diaz explained hip-hop emerged after minorities were kicked out of their homes and pushed to live together after the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway.
“The shocking thing is that if you look at a map of Asheville during Jim Crow segregation, and you look at a map of Asheville now – like a real estate map – you’ll see that Asheville is more diverse during segregation than it is now,” said junior Reid Drake, co-president of HOLA.
Asheville city planners used infrastructure to cut through and displace the black population, Drake and Fry said.
“The way the segregated neighborhoods were set up, black and white citizens had to cross through each other’s space to go anywhere,” Drake said.
Drake said you will not see many minorities in Asheville unless you seek them out.
“The city planners thought that a better Asheville would be a whiter Asheville basically. And so throughout time, and in Asheville the city, they have pushed minority communities out of downtown and segregated them to neighborhoods on the outside,” Fry said.
This is part of the process called gentrification, a tactic that replaces minority communities with affluent, mostly white ones.
“In terms of gentrification, urban renewal, highway expansion, housing prices and shifting demographics has meant changes in residential neighborhood patterns. All of which is to say Asheville has changed a great deal and is not the city it once was,” said political science professor Kenneth Betsalel.
Betsalel teaches two service-learning designated courses, Civic Engagement in Community and ReStorying Community, which deal with oral histories about these issues.
“At one point, African-Americans were close to a quarter of the city’s population.  Urban renewal in the late 1950s through the late 1970s, along with highway expansion, had a major impact on African-American neighborhoods. Today the African-American population is around 12 to 14 percent,” Betsalel said.
HOLA works on raising awareness on issues like this, Fry said.
“HOLA is mainly a Latino outreach group, and so we try to educate the student body as well as ourselves and connect with the Latino community within Asheville and within the wider U.S. region,” Fry said.
Fry said Rebel Diaz begins its shows by getting the audience to shout, “People power.”
“One of the reasons we wanted to do this was because the music that Rebel Diaz puts out is very conscious and critical, and we believe that that’s fundamentally at the heart of HOLA and what HOLA is doing, so we felt that our politics aligned.  Bringing Rebel Diaz would just be another stepping stone in our pathway towards educating Asheville,” Fry said.
HOLA brought Rebel Diaz to campus as part of its annual Latin American poetry festival.
“What I wanted to do is kind of to show to communities off campus that UNCA can be a place that is inclusive.  I think the university kind of has a reputation among immigrant communities, communities of color, communities that are not highly represented here on campus and around Asheville, as being disconnected,” Drake said.