For me, one of the hardest things to do in this life is sing my own praises. For some this may come easy, but as for myself, job interviews and applications where you’re asked to ‘talk yourself up’ or elaborate on the experiences had or things accomplished leaves me stuck for hours on end. In June, I traveled over 2,000 miles in passenger vans all over the Appalachian region. Upon departure from the Highlander Center we were mostly strangers to one another, and we returned as friends. I have learned a great deal about my region, but I have learned even more about the other fellows who will be engaging in this work with me for this inaugural year. For my first blog, I wanted to give those of you taking the time to read these words my reflections on these twelve people, because if you asked almost any one of us, we would never tell you half of the things that have brought us to this path to transition, nor would they paint themselves as I, or the world see them as people.
To start, let me tell you about Tyler, who is the definition of one-of-a-kind. I can truly say I have never met someone quite like Tyler. With a backstory that could easily be penned by Jack Kerouac and an ever-present passion for this work, he is a person whose very presence in a space elicits a passionate call to action. Tyler is fearless, completely aware of himself, and makes no apologies for his near zealotry about the protection of Appalachia and its inhabitants.
Whereas Tyler is all fire, Joey is a calming balm. As mild mannered as Clark Kent, yet as powerful as Superman, Joey is able to take in the entirety of a situation and offer an analysis through a philosophical lens. Words spilt from his lips are wrapped in wisdom and offered with a kindness shining through his eyes and his very demeanor.
Mae is another one of our fellows that envelops her passion in a quiet and approachable way. Cultivating a new Appalachia from the fields of our local farms, she is as sweet as the strawberries that grow, yet as tough as the work it takes to cultivate the crop. With a background in working in the fields and a passion about local foods and farming rights—I feel she will be a force for those going hungry and for those growing the sustenance.
One of the most prolific people I have met while on this journey is Josh. Bursting with energy, music, and laughter, our conversations come easy and they are as fruitful as a Georgian Peach tree. Josh is bright and talented, already accomplishing more than most of us can dream, including the formation of a nonprofit, he reminds me of Kilroy looking over the brim of his tablet as he constantly documents his surroundings. Josh is full of questions, ideas, and inspiration all wrapped within the warmth of his smile.
Imagine a person deciding to begin working on this issue of Appalachian transition after getting a degree in animal behaviors and living in China while studying Panda Bears... That person would have to be brave, resilient, and possess a passion for Appalachia and gaining new knowledge. Luckily for all of us, Kendall is all of these things and most assuredly one of the most interesting and down to Earth people you will ever meet. Kendall has a dream to keep the youth in Appalachia and through the fellowship hopes to allow for this dream by revitalizing the economy of the region.
Side note, I am kind of cheating right now. Currently sitting in the Highlander Center listening to the incomparable Eric tell his story to our borrowed media guru Joe Solomon. As I sit in the corner transferring my written pages to these 1 and 0s, I find myself wanting to change my original reflections on Eric. Some of us approach this work through emotions, some through deep thought, some through passion, and as is in Eric’s case, some approach it through a political/policy framework. Eric will be working on researching a little-known fund of millions of dollars that is supposed to go to communities yet sits mostly inaccessible and unused, buried in layers upon layers of bureaucracy. Of all of us, Eric has the credentials, the passion, and the intellectual capabilities to tackle such an daunting task. In fact, Eric has all the good qualities of a politician - a winning smile, charming, approachable, and of course great hair - with all of these, he will succeed where Sisyphus failed and actually reach the mountaintop with the bolder.
The next person I want to introduce you to is my sister and kindred spirit Willa. Her name is a testament to her power, where there is a Willa there is a way. In my journey I have never come across someone who is as compassionate and engaging as my new friend. Speaking to Willa should always happen on a front porch with a big glass of iced tea, for she is as easygoing and gentle as the breeze. Yet, her childhood offers a glimpse into the dichotomy found within Appalachia. Equal parts hardship and hope, her story is one of resilience and determination.
A massive mane and beard will great you as you meet my new neighbor Zach. He will be working in the same host community as myself, and for this I could not be happier. Zach is quick to offer a joke, bring about some levity to any situation, and is honest with his words and passionate with his deeds.
Often found pacing about the room as if her passion for West Virginia and this thing we call transition is fueling her onward is Courtney. She is as formidable as the mountains she loves. A true champion for her home-place, Courtney is quick to dispel the notions of a negative Appalachia. Her words about Appalachia rival the beauty and majesty of the region and her passion is evident in every fiber of her being. She is magical in her ability to connect with people and ferocious in her need to bring about change.
- Carol Davey