The Past as Possibility in the Appalachian South
How chef and Eater Young Gun Ashleigh Shanti centers African-American voices through her cooking
Story excerpts originally published on eater.com Young Guns Rising Stars by Osayi Endolyn | Jun 3, 2019 Photography by Tim Robison
About a year ago, Ashleigh Shanti was trying to imagine her future in the culinary industry. A search was necessary. Shanti planned a meandering road trip hoping to feel a natural draw to the next thing.
A cook, herbal enthusiast, and food event producer from Virginia Beach, Virginia, Shanti had been reflecting on her life’s resume. Before attending Hampton University, she spent a gap year in Nairobi, Kenya. After graduating from college, she continued on to culinary school in Baltimore. She worked at Cindy Wolf’s restaurants Cinghiale and Charleston. She bartended for a while, then later became a certified sommelier. She catered for the El Paso Supper Club in West Texas. All this training had served her well. Still, she was struggling. “Being in this industry, a woman, an African American among a sea of faces that are typically white and male, it can be easy to feel like you don’t have a place,” she says. She carved out time and space to consider what 2019 could bring.
Not every path to chefdom is linear. Ashleigh Shanti’s star rose as the culinary assistant for chef Vivian Howard’s PBS show A Chef’s Life, and now she’s working as the chef de cuisine at Benne on Eagle, a new Asheville restaurant from big-deal Southern chef John Fleer. In her role there, Shanti brings her unique perspective to the restaurant’s mission of showcasing the African-American foodways of Appalachia, combining her love of culinary history and storytelling with the relentless forward momentum needed of anyone opening a restaurant.
Just six months after Shanti hit the road, she landed as chef de cuisine of Benne on Eagle, a refreshing Appalachian restaurant that declares a celebratory and exploratory focus on black regional foodways. Since beginning at Benne on Eagle last fall, Shanti’s menu, rich with spices, memory, and a remix of tradition, has attracted regular diners and popular industry figures alike, all enamored with her dexterity. Her cooking brings forward a part of Appalachia that many haven’t heard about, or have forgotten. Her work has earned her recognition as an Eater Young Gun for the class of 2019.
[Before meeting with chef Fleer] she’d spent months thinking not just about where she’d settle, but about how her identity appeared in her food. She wanted a culinary home that could speak to her skills as much as her heart. She had been remembering her great-grandmother who was also from Virginia. As a kid, Shanti would snap beans and help “hang britches” on the clothesline. She remembered how her mother, who aimed for quick dinnertime meals during the week, seemed to transform into an all-day home cook on Sundays. She remembered slow-stewing pots, put-up preserves, fresh leaves, and all sorts of pickled things.
Walking around the space that would become Benne on Eagle, Fleer pointed out four portraits of African-American women who’d once owned restaurants or bakeries in the Block. Shanti saw in their faces a sense of herself. This place — , this idea for a restaurant — it held pieces of her cultural history. That future Shanti had imagined was taking a more defined shape.
To read the complete article about Ashleigh Shanti go to: https://www.eater.com/young-guns-rising-stars/2019/6/3/18646491/ashleigh-shanti-chef-benne-on-eagle-asheville-eater-young-guns-2019
Appalachian Gay Pioneer
Walter Davis |June 18, 2019
Appalachian people were part of the early lesbian and gay civil rights movement even before the Stonewall Uprising advanced the struggle. But it is difficult to see role models if they are excluded from history.
Over forty years ago, then Berea College student Bill Fields tells us that his inspiration for coming out as a gay man wasn’t some distant event. It was the life story of someone from near Bill’s rural Leslie County, Kentucky home. The role model was a young man who grew up on the Cave Branch Hollow near Hindman, Kentucky just 37 miles up the road.
Lige (short for Elijah) Hadyn Clarke became a pioneering figure in the young movement.
Clarke worked in the federal government in D.C. where he posted signs describing rights of homosexuals in hallways. He was not an aggressive person, however. A biographer describes him as a “A beautiful, multi-faceted pioneer of the gay liberation movement, he lived out the many paradoxes of his being with an indefatigable aliveness and zest. Fiercely passionate, Lige was also gentle, androgynous and loving.”
He helped organize the first “Gay” protest at the White House in 1965. Together in 1969, Lige and his companion Jack Nichols founded Gay magazine, the first weekly gay newspaper to appear on some newsstands. In its pages, the term ‘homo-phobia’ first appeared. He co-authored with Nichols the first non-fiction book by a gay couple, I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody.
In 1968, Lige and Jack wrote a column for Screw magazine called The Homosexual Citizen, the first gay interest column regularly to appear in a non-gay publication. (The title – The Homosexual Citizen – first appeared in the 1950s in a column written by lesbian pioneer Dr. Lilli Vincenz.) They published Roommates Can’t Always Be Lovers.
On February 10, 1975, Lige Clarke was shot and killed under mysterious circumstances near Veracruz, Mexico; His death at 32 was too young but he left a legacy and is now recognized in the history of the 1960s.
Here are some sources of further information about Lige Clarke (including his family in Kentucky):
For more about Lige Clark and the history of the LGBT movement in Kentucky, go the National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/articles/upload/Statewide_LGBTQHeritageofKentucky-508-compliant.pdf
Lige Clarke: Body and Soul in Gay Today.com, 12/01/02
An Interview with Shelbiana Rhein & Jack Nichols By Raj Ayyar
Other books about Lige Clarke and the early movement
Before Stonewall (edited by Vern L. Bullough, RN, PhD, Haworth Press, 2002)
Rebels, Rubyfruit and Rhinestone: Queering Space in the Stonewall South (by James T. Sears, PhD, Rutgers University Press, 2001).
Voices of Revolution: The Dissident Press in America (Columbia University Press, 2001) by Dr. Rodger Streitmatter, and his landmark history of the gay and lesbian press, Unspeakable (Faber & Faber, 1995)
THIS IS APPALACHIA: When Johnson died, he was one of the richest black men in the South, famous for owning saloons, race tracks, and some of the world’s finest horses. #ThisIsAppalachia
Out in the South Project Team Job Description Administrative Scheduling regular meeting and status reports that will keep the project on schedule and keep all identified stakeholders apprised of the Initiative’s progress. Taking the lead in organizing: face-to-face gatherings, in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia or Virginia; individual meetings and/or phone calls; and, online, mail and/or in-person surveys. Managing and maintaining the grant database and
One of our ACF Divas recently shared with me an article that said writing an appeal letter was a creative process. Well I must admit that my creative bone has been a little paralyzed here lately with everything going on in the world and our region right now. Between the election, arson-started wildfires in our beautiful Appalachian Mountains, people terrorizing college campuses, police shootings…
My mommy always told me, if you don’t have anything good to say…..I’m sure many of you know how that sentence ends. Therefore, I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about what just happened on election day last week. We have a new president elect y’all. So now what!? Many of you know that ACF is part of the Appalachian Funder’s
I’ve recently been reading a lot about Ella Parker, community organizer and civil rights activist. Her life’s work and theory on leaders inspires me. She said, “You didn’t see me on television, you didn’t see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organizations might
“If you had to make a list of three solutions or places to start working on regarding correcting what’s happening right now, what would they be?”
We are currently living in a time of provoked fear, the time of the Fear Campaign. Living with the fear of driving while black or just being a black child period. Living with the fear of deportation and separation from our families. Living with the fear of being raped and living with that trauma all of our life while our attacker gets off with
Blog by Margo Miller, ACF executive director
Originally published by Alternate Roots.
Photo: Melisa Cardona.
I find myself sitting at my desk thinking about my work in social justice and reflecting on the different pair of shoes I’m wearing these days. I’m standing at the intersection of funding, arts, and activism looking at the word philanthropist.
noun, a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.
noun, the practice of performing charitable or benevolent actions, love of mankind in general.
I like the root meaning of the word philanthropy. Kindliness, humanity and love to humankind. I smile and am proud to call myself a philanthropist and to be working in the world of philanthropy. It fits in quite nicely with the work I’ve been doing most of my life, particularly my work with artists who have played a significant role in cultural and political change. I also know how transformative the action of investing in something you believe in can be.
Art is a Philanthropic Act
I entered the foundation world in 2008, first as the Development Director and eventually as Executive Director for the Appalachian Community Fund (ACF). ACF was established in 1987 to provide grants to groups promoting progressive social change in Central Appalachia. Our motto, Change, Not Charity™, reflects our vision to support social change organizing and our conviction that, by networking and partnering with organizations working to address the root causes of the problems facing folks every day, we can create more just, equitable, healthy communities with opportunities for everyone – transformation.
My entry into the world of social change and social justice, however, came from working with the Carpetbag Theatre starting back in 1992. This is where I put on my cultural activist shoes. It’s also the place where I was introduced to the community of artists who make up Alternate ROOTS.
When I think about ROOTS’ membership and the work they do, I feel their investment of time, energy and creativity is a philanthropic act in and of itself. These artists use their craft as a tool for creating social change and have played a very important role in moving folks and creating change. Throughout time, social movements have been enhanced and elevated by some form of cultural activity, whether it be songs, chants, puppetry, signs, or plays.
Fund the Change You Want to See
For the longest time I used the quote by Gandhi as my email signature: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” What would it cause to create this change, mmmm? I say, take a bunch of brilliant artists and provide them with ample funding.
Now I could be a little biased, but what does it take to create change? We have to move. We must move away from the same ol same ol that we do day in and day out. What moves us? Often times it’s a piece of literature, a movie, a song, even a video that makes us laugh or cry so hard that we almost pee our pants or think so deeply that we begin to question notions that we have lived with all our lives. This is art. This is how art moves us. This is how art touches us. And who creates these touch points that many are not able to reach? Artists, that’s who.
Given the significant role the arts and artists play in all of our lives, you would think that there would be ample support of their work, especially from foundations that are well endowed. However, more and more, major foundations are focusing their grantmaking on “high impact” special initiatives. Many organizations do not meet their criteria, so most are left out in the cold when it comes to receiving major foundation dollars. Folks find themselves scraping and competing for the small pieces of funding that’s left available for them. According to Grantmakers in the Arts, “After adjusting for inflation, public funding for the arts has decreased by more than 30 percent” in the past 21 years.” This lack of funding and underfunding is why it’s so very important for us philanthropic individuals to put our money where our hearts are and invest in those things that matter the most to us.
I’m sure most of us can remember a time when we saw a performance, heard a song, or read something that moved us so deeply that we felt changed – transformed. Do you remember the last time you bought a ticket to a performance or a time when you made a donation to an artist or an organization during a fundraising campaign? I challenge you to view that contribution and donation as a transformative act too. You made a difference. You helped make it possible. Without the support, that piece may never have been created, rehearsed, or produced.
Watering the Tree: Artist-Philanthropist Partnerships
At ACF, we call our donors “Partners in Social Change.” When foundations and individuals invest in the arts, each then becomes a partner in a creative process. A creative process, when wisely invested, shapes and changes the world we live in that “promotes the welfare of others.”
At the end of the day, you may not be in the finished masterpiece, not as yourself in a starring role anyway. Think of it like watering a tree. You go in as water, that’s absorbed through the roots, then the trunk, up into the branches, finally making your way to the leaves. You are a partner, who has provided much needed resources for a creative process and you too come out on the other end of the journey – transformed.
Still sitting at my desk, reflecting a little more, finding myself lonely sometimes, missing the regular interaction with artists and cultural activist, missing being a member of an ensemble and working on a regular basis with folks in communities. Then I shake that off, and remind myself that I don’t stand alone. There are many individuals and foundations who put our money where our hearts are, who value the arts and the power of artists to create a culture of change that can transform folks and that can lead movements. I simply remind myself that my activism just looks different now. Instead of being this cultural activist interacting with other artists, activist and communities, I’m now a professional philanthropist, who spends most of my time in an office, on calls and in various meetings, writing reports and discovering and creating ways of leveraging resources for those who are working for change. I think I’ll change my title to “Storyteller for Justice” so I’ll feel more connected. But realistically, I’m still connected. I’m still a part of the work that’s dangling from the trees that others have planted.