Given all the negative reporting about Appalachia’s problems and the subsequent “brain drain,” it may seem surprising that there are young people who are committed to their homes and communities, who feel an unbreakable tie to the mountains and who want to make their homeplaces better. Earlier this year, we were subjected to yet another “expose” on the region by someone who parachuted in, found what he needed to confirm his preconceived notions and ran back to write an article about it, calling Central Appalachia “the great white ghetto.” Ugh.
Clearly, the author of that piece had not met Rance Garrison, a 27-year-old recent college grad from southwest Virginia. He posted an essay this morning called “Appalachia: The Great White Ghetto? Why I am Staying.” Garrison is not blind to the problems of his hometown. He reflects mournfully on the decline of the once-bustling Main Street and the growing drug problem. And he worries about the growing income inequality in this country that will only make Appalachia’s challenges more difficult to overcome. But that’s no reason not to fight:
People tell me all the time that I would be best off leaving this place, this whole general region, but roots are roots, and many times in this modern world, we have a tendency to lose touch with those roots. In doing so, we lose a part of who we are, a part of our identity, part of the uniqueness of our human experience. We lose touch with something that is fundamentally real and important. We lose touch with ourselves.
I am determined to spend my life fighting for this region in whatever way I can. Because it’s worth fighting for. I know it will not be easy, but if there is one thing I have learned in my twenty-seven years, the most worthwhile things usually aren’t. I have been lucky enough to encounter other people, both young and old, rich and poor, highly educated and under educated, who feel as strongly about fighting for this region as I do, and I can only pray I will be lucky enough to continue to encounter others like them.
Just like Amelia Kirby, Joel Beverly and David and Kae Fisher of Whitesburg, Garrison knows that there is life in our towns yet. The folks of Sustainable Williamson, the STAY Project, Sustainable Pike County, and all the other folks of all ages and walks of life who are dedicated to their homeplaces know that this is a place worth fighting for, regardless of what anyone else has to say.