Sasha Mitchell: Confronting The Roots of History

Where the issues of environmental protection and racial inequity intersect.


When you target the forest...

Meet Sasha Mitchell, the Operations Manager at the Dogwood Alliance, a collective specializing in the mobilization of diverse voices to protect forests from the dangers of industrial logging.

What’s there to fear? “The biggest threat right now is in biofuels. European and Asian countries subsidize companies to clearcut standing forests. The trees are made into wood pellets, shipped overseas and burned to generate electricity. They’ve convinced the public that it’s a net zero carbon loss, but never take into account the destructive process.” According to Dogwood, these processes are ravaging southern US lands at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, those affected by these transgressions go unnoticed and unheard.

Who are the diverse voices referring to, exactly? Sasha explains, “when we talk about protecting the forests from industrial logging, the people who are most affected are those living in rural communities where there isn’t a lot of economic opportunity.” More often than not, that means the neighborhoods of people of color.

...the effects go beyond the trees.

Is logging really so bad for these communities? Don’t they provide jobs? Sasha explains those myths away: “there’s always talk of a company coming in to provide economic incentives and wealth to a community, but that’s never the reality. Instead the people lose a buffer from industrial hazards, they lose the quality of their roads, and they lose all the benefits that forests often provide.” Additionally, they never see the large profits reaped by harming the land that these communities call home.

More topically, Sasha tells us forests also prevent flooding when tropical storms like Florence roll through rural areas. Many of the severely impacted zones are those whose forests have vanished and depleted the natural, protective safeguards.

History repeats itself...

Prior to working at Dogwood, Sasha held a few various interesting titles: professional organizer, family historian, seamstress. Now in addition to working at Dogwood, she also serves on the racial justice committee. In her free time, Sasha serves as Chair of the African American Heritage Commission in Asheville and Buncombe County. Sasha’s side work seems to be just as big a passion as what she does for a living, and she makes a point that these passions inform her day job experiences.

Where did this love for social justice and history begin? When Sasha was just fourteen, she set out for the Regional Federal Archives to discover what her grandfather’s family had forgotten: their genealogy. “Just my grandparents’ responses to what I did fueled me to continue my passion in history, and I’ve never stopped since then.”

Racial tensions and the political climate have been tense as ever in America, and Sasha believes looking back through our history can serve us in the future: “there’s obviously deep-seated trauma over the condition of race [in America]. The history of taking from the black community goes back generations. Most areas that are targeted for destruction or restoration or removal are those with the smallest amount of political power.”

...unless you learn from it.

That isn’t to say Sasha isn’t hopeful about the path America is on. In fact, she sees progress being made every day. Though there’s still a lot of work to be done, Sasha reflects, “I’d like to see a mechanism to address racial inequity in American housing, especially when it comes to accounting for wealth and how to redirect it back into the hands of people who need it the most.” Whatever the task, Sasha continues to keep looking forward.

The deck Sasha decided to pass along is The Tuskeegee Red-Tail Angels Deck, reflecting: “I chose this deck because for these black men and for many others, military service was the gateway to positions of leadership in their communities and careers.” Play the deck above!