by Angela Wiley
After a car ride through the fall colors of Appalachia, I found my way to Whitesburg, Kentucky where the lobby of Appalshop Inc was full of community members, snacks and good conversation. The After Coal project teamed up with staff at Appalshop and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth to organize a forum to discuss policies for sustainable community development. Honored guests Mair Francis and Hywel Francis traveled from Wales to eastern Kentucky to share information about the cornucopia of community and government supported initiatives that have been tested in former mining communities of South Wales.
Mair and Hywel Francis were joined by WMMT-FM staff Elizabeth Sanders, After Coal director Tom Hansell and Panelists Evan Smith from the Appalachian Citizens Law Center and Robin Gabbard from the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky . The group watched short film clips and discussed how to create healthy communities after coal mines close. The first question from the audience, about finding and hanging on to hope in hard times, set the mood for a discussion rooted in desires, but also in reality.
Hywel and Mair Francis discussed three areas vital to community regeneration: investment in education, environmental reclamation, and locally controlled community funds. Evan Smith discussed the potential to use funds from the federal abandoned mine lands fund for community development, and Robin Gabbard explained how the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky helped provide educational opportunities for the regions youth.
Hywel and Mair acknowledged that there is a long road for communities in South Wales to recover from the industry collapse. “The great defining moment, really, was thirty years ago when we had the great miners’ strike of ’84-’85…we had to develop a new sense of community” reflected Hywel. In eastern Kentucky, and in many pockets of the southern Appalachian mountains, communities are just starting to talk about a life after coal through. In the United States, funding mechanisms for community based solutions may look different — but the attitudes and efforts required to build resilient communities after coal are not nationally determined. Through this visit from Hywel and Mair Francis, forum participants were able to ask the panel and themselves difficult questions about sustainable solutions for Appalachian mining communities.
The community forum in Whitesburg, KY is the second of three forums featuring the work of the After Coal project. A forum to discuss the role of youth and the arts in community regeneration will be held October 28 on the campus of Southeastern Kentucky Community and Technical College in Harlan, KY.