Dr. Dasha Lundy

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — One stood up in the face of adversity, one walked out on indifference.

Meet Sylvia Peters and Dr. Dasha Lundy. Two different generations, both determined to change the divisive mindset in Knoxville Tennessee.

Sylvia Peters

Sylvia Peters is well known and respected locally and internationally for her work in the art world and was instrumental in the successful opening of Gathering Light: The Delaney Project, a celebration of Internationally renowned African American artist Beaufort Delaney who was born in Knoxville.  Over her 85 years on earth, Peters has also been an educator who also has worked to help transform public schools across the nation including being a founding member of The Edison Project and has tirelessly worked in the field of racial justice. Born in 1980, Dr. Lundy, Executive Vice President of Knoxville College, currently serves on the Knox County Commission for District One, is a native of Knoxville and is also co-owner of The Women LLC, a financial firm working to serve small businesses. 

Both women are bold enough to square their shoulders, step forward, and are asking the community to come to the table and dialog about the racial issues that have seemingly sent the country backwards. During a program held at The Episcopal Church of the Ascension on the 21st, Sylvia Peters spoke passionately of her lifetime, saying despite her great accomplishments, there were times she was horribly treated in Knoxville. Peters said even now there are those angry with her for bringing up the problem of the divisive nature that exists in Knoxville and her plan to do something about it. Dr. Lundy has experienced the same and that treatment was on exhibit at the last commission meeting.

“It’s like we are living in 1960,” were the words angrily spoken by Lundy at the commission meeting last week. She was referring to the reaction of the sheriff department and her fellow commissioners to her request that the Sheriff Department attend a commission meeting to explain their side of an incident involving an African American 15-year-old who was fired from her job at McAlister’s Deli and is being cyber bullied after the sheriff departments official spokesperson made social media posts claiming three officers said she refused to wait on them. 

The young lady had appeared at the December commission meeting to speak about what happened to her. A request to the sheriff’s department to have the officers come to the commission meeting to explain what happened from their side was refused. Discussion by commission members, including statements by Commissioner Rhonda Lee that perhaps the child should have gotten a job at McDonald’s instead of McAlister’s Deli resulted in Commissioner Lundy, the only person of color on the commission, gathering her things and walking out of the meeting.

For both Lundy and Peters, enough is enough. They are now working from their respective platforms to try and create dialog. The women are calling on the communities from two different pathways to have those difficult conversations on race. 

Dr. Lundy spoke about the system of oppression that exists in Knox County saying racism is still alive in 2023. She is calling for a disruption of racism and prejudice of all kinds. Lundy said, “People need to be seen, heard, and valued.” Lundy has called for fellow commissioners to step up and has asked the community to speak out about the issues at public forums. Lundy lamented, “It feels like 1960 in Knox County. We need unity”. While Lundy works through her position as a representative of the people, Peters has chosen to take her call to the churches.

Peters has taken the position that the church has to do something,” or we will perish”. She is creating a place for dialogue, a place to create something new through a program she founded, and chairs called, Days of Dialogue: A Southern City Speaks. In speaking of the goal to engage the whole city of Knoxville, Peters quoted an old African proverb: infinite boiling will soften the stone”. Peters is working to develop teams of dialogue in churches all across the city of all races and denominations to bring the people together “ to get comfortable being uncomfortable”. Those interested.in joining the conversation can go to http://www.asoutherncityspeaks.org.

Peters envisions Knoxville becoming a model for the world to see, a southern city that dares to speak peace, love, and purpose. Peters said, “It’s a radical vision to begin the work, and it will be work”. 

Both women have put their hands to the plow and are not looking back.