By Raynalle Rouse
Anxiety cycled in my stomach like the eye of a hurricane the night before the Appalachian Fellow Tour simply because it was uncharted territory for me. As an African American born and raised in an urban city, I had only become familiar with section of the Appalachian region I live. But, when its time for one to progress, life will make you uncomfortable to move one forward.
As I entered the 15 passenger van to embark on this tour I had no idea what to expect, but the Highlander staff created a safe and open environment amongst the cohort making it really easy to see Highlander will always have our best interest in mind. This formed a trusting relationship, that stands on what brought everyone to the same space, mobilizing the community. As we arrived to the first location in Cosby, TN , I noticed their was a scene of seclusion. Seclusion maybe by choice or possibly by the systems that benefits from cash poor towns. No matter the cause, I feel humans deserve the quality of life. In order for one to have all they need in a rural area they must have wealth to compensate for the large prices companies charge for service.
The organization SEAD understands the how Internet access is a necessity today and contributes to the quality of ones profession and personal life. They have hired a company to install broadband in their community. Broadband will allow the community to use satellite for Internet access instead of fiber optics underground. The new tendency we have to depend on technology will not end, I appreciated seeing an organization who understands that and aims to provide rural areas with internet access.
As we arrived to Eagan, Tennessee we witness an organization dedicated to rebuilding a strong and thriving working class in their area. One way Woodland Community Land Trust assists the community is by proving a program the assist with homeownership. Woodland owns properties that are rented to community members with the hopes of them building enough wealth to receive a mortgage loan to purchase the property.
I noticed that a couple of the groups, though well prepared for us, did not have deep connections to the community. When members state that their communities don’t know what they need, they show there is no interest to know what the community actually feels they need to change their circumstances.
The highlight of this day for me was the Portal 31 tour. There are many families whose history in the Coal Mines appears to be none existent because of white supremacy and racism but Portal 31, in its own way, displayed the diversity in the Appalachian Coal Mining history. It also showed the evolution of mining as technology and time changed.
As members of the Appalachian Community, we are beginning to see there is no running from the drug epidemic. Maced and Appalshop have provided a space for those who want to recover from drugs to work and contribute to society. They have started a catering company and pizza kitchen, used to feed the community.
This day, Wednesday June 20, 2018 was a little challenging for me because I knew we were entering and area that despised my kind, an educated African American woman who was sure and secure about myself. But knew I wouldn’t allow other peoples fear of me prevent me from being present and supportive of my cohort. When we arrived to Inez, KY I noticed there was no minority presence but didn’t allow that to make me anxious. Unexpected it was the actions of a local officer that interfered with my experience. Subconsciously I noticed that another fellow feared asking the officer where to find the restroom so joined her to provide support. Unfortunately for us this officer didn’t see the need to communicate with us, so he rudely shooed us away while local officials watched. Once our experience was brought up in the town meeting, we were invited too, I since us being dismissed so I eliminated all expectations. I knew the initial goal of this town hall meeting was addressing the dirty water in Inez. I appreciate the support other fellows provided when we met with host community members to discuss the ways they could support us better.
Another highlight of orientation for me was the West Marion Community Forum. With harvesting multiple community gardens, this organization is providing the community with veggies to assist with healthy lifestyles. They provide youth with a since of accomplishment because they literally get to plant seeds and watch them grow. This organization also holds forums to provide the community with a safe space to speak and share stories.
Orientation week as impacted my life forever. I am ecstatic to create partnerships while learning for my cohort. I believe we all have something to offer and genuinely care about one another and the empowerment of the people.