This week, the Hazard Herald wrote a love letter to its host city, Hazard. We liked the idea, and thought we would write our very own love letter to Appalachia.
Many people from many places have had many things to say about you. To them, you are a “dark and bloody ground,” a “strange land of peculiar people,” an isolating place of imprisoning power. Don’t listen to them, Appalachia, because to us, you are a “River of Earth,” a place of great potential, and our home.
We can see all that you have to offer: lush mountain forests; rich cultural heritage flowing through music, art and story telling; resources that power the nation; and strong, proud people who open wide in welcome and work hard for community. You are modest, but we both know how truly incredible you are.
You’ve lived a hard life, Appalachia, but you’ve persevered through it all. There has been feast and famine, literally and figuratively, in food, ideas and people. But you are strong, and resilient, and it’s hard to keep a good region down.
Times have been especially hard lately, Appalachia. You’ve stuck with your sometimes dear, sometimes strained, companion, Coal, through many a threat of leaving. But this economy, this world in which we now live, and the rising importance of other resources is all forcing Coal’s hand. It’s leaving, and you’re left to pick up the pieces.
We know the hole Coal creates is a hard one to fill. We know it’s meant a lot to you through the years. But, don’t despair, fair Appalachia; we see a brighter future on the horizon for you, dear place.
Hold on tight to the energy of your young people. They are devoted to you, despite all the references to a “brain drain.” They are trying to work with you to make this new future work. They are rebuilding communities – sometimes from the ground up – filled with restaurants and art galleries and cafés. They are willing to stay with you for a long time, Appalachia. Embrace them and their ideas. They will build your future’s foundation.
It’s been said that the only thing Appalachian people have done longer than mine coal is farm, and your people want to revive that past, when you were an agricultural maven. Already, we can see a landscape dotted with small family farms all throughout your borders. These folks want to feed their families and their communities with the food you help them grow. They want to find ways to make a living doing this.
Follow the lead of small, local entrepreneurs. They believe in your potential, too – that’s why they are starting their businesses close to home. They also believe in the strength of a sound economic foundation built upon many different types of businesses to serve the varied functions of communities, from rubber manufacturing to eco-friendly niche t-shirt printing. Allow them to flourish, Appalachia – they are providing jobs for local people and funneling money back into the local economy which will prove invaluable to your success.
All around us, we see your history and heritage being respected, your future being reimagined and your present being renewed. We see your Main Streets and your communities once again humming with a sense of possibility and hope for tomorrow. We feel the famine created by decades of economic neglect easing, and we feel the drought of vocalized ideas for what is possible dissipating.
We see your brighter future that is more just for more people and communities, and that moves toward achieving the vast potential you’ve always embodied. We see it, and we are dedicated to reaching it.
So, don’t despair, Appalachia. We see you, we are here for you, and we don’t plan on going anywhere.