Jessie Nell Coleman Named
One of Asheville Living Treasures
Jessie Nell Coleman, longtime MHO Board Member, was honored as one of the first four inductees as Asheville's Living Treasures in a ceremony on May 22, 2011.
MHO Executive Director Scott Dedman nominated Miss Coleman with these words:
"I am writing to recommend Jessie Nell Coleman to be named as one of Asheville’s Living Treasures. Having known and worked closely with Jessie Coleman for over fourteen years, I believe that you could search far and wide and find no better candidate to honor the wisdom and community service of Asheville’s seniors.
I met Jessie in the fall of 1996 as a result of her tireless efforts to improve and rebuild the West End/Clingman Avenue Neighborhood (WECAN) near downtown Asheville. She was a leader of a small group of neighbors who had begun to pull people together some years earlier, to heal neighbor relations and restore the neighborhood.
Historically the neighborhood had been largely racially divided between white residents to the west (West End, above the east bank of the river) and African American residents to the east (along and near Clingman Avenue). Jessie and her neighbors – of all races, ages, and incomes – began to break down those barriers.
Jessie is a “green-thumb gardener” and neighborhood clean-up and gardening parties became the first big way to bring people together with energy and spirit. Since those days, Jessie has led and participated in hundreds of gardening and clean-up events, organizational meetings, pot-luck suppers, and just about every other community-building activity you could imagine.
In May 1997 the volunteer Board of Directors of Mountain Housing Opportunities (MHO) invited Jessie to serve on the MHO Board, where she has now served for ten of the past fourteen years, most of those years as an officer. She has served always as a steady voice of reason and wisdom, but always too as a voice for justice and right for all people in the community.
Constantly, in every decision and action, Jessie thinks first of those whose voices may not always be heard in the course of community life: the elderly and frail needing assistance to keep their homes, the unemployed seeking a job, children needing a firm love and an enriched learning environment. At a community gardening event, Jessie would bring with her five generations of family members, from her very elderly mother to her grandchildren and eventually great grandchildren, all the while teaching and encouraging them, as well as learning from them.
As to the obvious question, what sets Jessie Nell Coleman apart from other dedicated neighborhood volunteers and community-builders, what in Jessie merits the high honor of being called one of Asheville’s Living Treasures, I would say the following. More than anything – more than the economic and physical and social revitalization of her neighborhood, more than the 2,000+ Asheville/Buncombe County homes that have been built or repaired under her he leadership at MHO – I would say that it is Jessie’s constant teaching and guidance for children and grandchildren and parents and grandparents, of every race and walk of life, that demonstrates her true spirit, her wisdom and her deeply caring heart, and that merits her recognition.
A story about Miss Coleman is also in the Urban News and in the Asheville Citizen Times.