Orientation and Learning Tour

Orientation and Learning Tour Blog

By Ricki Draper


On June 15, 2018, as we began the first day of the AppFellows orientation, news continued to break about families being ripped apart at the US/Mexican border. On June 18th, as we loaded the 15-passenger van for a whirlwind 6-day tour of our host sites across Central Appalachia, people gathered at detention centers across the country to protest family separation. 

While the world weighed heavy with these and other inhumane acts of state violence, our AppFellows cohort visited vibrant community centers, museums, gardens, and non-profit centers across Central Appalachia; meeting and visiting with the network of people and organizations that make up the 2018-2019 AppFellows program. 

One day as we discussed the enormity of climate change and white supremacist violence, my good friend and mentor, William Isom, asked, have we lost the luxury of doing the slow, long-term building work we so believe in? His question played through my head as I sat in on a brainstorming session about new community projects at the Big Ugly Community Center in Southern West Virginia, while children played on the playground outside. I thought about it while teenagers showed us community gardens they helped start in Marion, North Carolina and while we learned about the transportation system the Marion Community Forum built and maintains. I keep thinking about it as I approach the water crisis in Martin County, Kentucky, where I will work for the next year. 

As I become overwhelmed with the state of the world and question my position in it, I come back to the imperative “battle while we build”. I believe that we must take care of each other through crisis, the crises of poisoned water and capitalism and the crises of anti-immigration policy, mass incarceration, and police violence. Taking care of each other involves resisting repressive forces while also building community infrastructure and networks of support. Community organizing can be the most effective response to disaster, and those already doing the work in place are often in the best positions to respond.  

The Learning Tour strengthened my conviction in place-based organizing. We had met many of the hosts and partner organizations during our orientation at Highlander, but it was significantly different to see the hosts at the sites. There was a sense of comfort and pride as people welcomed us in, pausing in their day to introduce us to their work. Each of the Fellow projects are embedded in and tied to place. Visiting each site allowed us a glimpse into how people are engaged in their places as they respond to both local and global political, social, economic, and historical forces that together make a place.  

I am also strengthened by the conviction of the AppFellows cohort and wider network and our collective desire to build better worlds. I hope that our desire to ground our work in justice manifests itself in action this year, and that our work finds viable points of articulation with broader movements for justice. So...here’s to a year of earnest listening, learning, and building, while also humbly pushing, stretching, and battling. I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity to work with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center and Martin County Concerned Citizens this year, and I look forward to reporting back on our work soon!