At the beginning of the application process for this program, I admittedly did not have a thorough understanding of the intentions, facilitators, or mechanisms of the Appalachian Transition Fellowship. Accordingly, I thought using that title was creating a taller order than any individual or organization could fill. The speculation I felt can be traced directly back to the very subject we spent hours writing and having dialogue about during our orientation: what does “transition” mean? This was a central theme of our educational experience as we were taken on a tour of Central Appalachia and shown some communities' definitions of transition.
The first stop on the tour was just as it should have been. It began with a training on how to facilitate a dialogue around the need for transition and potential solutions. We went to Charleston, West Virginia, for a two-day gathering and training on how to facilitate the specific discussion of “What’s Next, West Virginia?”, in our own community.
While in Charleston, we visited Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC) and the Corey Brother’s produce distribution to hear about their approach to transition: using the massive infrastructure of the healthcare monopoly that CAMC has developed to support local farmers.
We had an opportunity to visit many communities to hear what they had to say, which, individually, did not represent a wholesome approach to creating a new life in Appalachia, but to view all of the fellowships collectively: Fairmont’s main street development and community engagement; Athen’s cooperative incubator ACEnet and the local goods' salvager ReUSE; the energy efficiency and community engagement happening with the City of Benham and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth; the Appalachian Citizen’s Law Center working to access the Abandoned Mine Land Fund from Whitesburgh, KY; the Community Farm Alliance in Eastern Kentucky working on food access issues for low income communities; the worker-owned cooperative, Opportunity Threads, in Morgantown, North Carolina, who are empowering workers to own their livelihood in a way that can still compete in the marketplace; my work in Huntington, West Virginia, with OVEC in the legislature and doing storytelling on energy efficiency and renewable energy in West Virginia; the Alliance for Appalachia’s regional campaign coordinating; as well as the projects I named earlier in this blog - you see a broad-spectrum approach to taking a big step forward for a more just economy.
But, still, there has been no clear answer to that core question, “what does transition mean?” It’s clear to conclude that transition means something different to everyone. Not one of us has the same exact idea of the ideal transitional economy as another, but despite the significance of working with longer-term goals in mind, it is imperative for us to consider one another and the work we are doing collectively when taking steps forward with our work individually. Otherwise, we will defeat our potential allies in our collective inception.
Growing to understand the intentions, facilitators, and mechanisms active in this program will be a process I engage in far longer than the span of this fellowship, and seeing myself actually live out that realization is one of my intentions for this program. Throughout the fellowship, myself and the other 13 fellows will engage in dialogue and trainings on developing this understanding, as well as cultivating an appreciation for others working to take steps forward that expand the effectiveness and capacity of our own work.