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Melanie Meade

Clairton, PA

Bishop Marcia Dinkins

Warren, Ohio

Shana Goggins

Richmond, KY

Reverend Ronald English

Charleston, WV

Akisha Townsend-Eaton

Bowling Green, KY

Zabriawn Smith

Aliquippa, PA

Corinne Williams

Warren, OH

Pastor Orneil Heller

Warren, OH

Crystal Good

Kanawha County, WV

Melanie Meade | Clairton, PA

Why should we have to wait any longer for clean air when we deserve clean air now? We deserved it yesterday. Our children deserve it. My name is Melanie Meade; I live in Clairton, Pennsylvania, Southwestern PA, Mon Valley region. We have USX Clairton Coke Works as our neighbor. I am working to inform and educate the community about our need to stop the air pollution that is causing so much harm to the community, the animals, and nature. The air pollution has caused significant issues and harm to the community, where they make billions of dollars, and the people in the community are barely getting by. And they’re being told that they should leave if they don’t like it. The young men here in this community have always been presented with the NFL as their way out. So they’re told that they need to get out. It’s not a good place. This isn’t a great community. So get out as quickly as you can. And the NFL is usually where they think that they can get out. And right now, what we see happening with COVID-19 is that the NFL is inessential. So please stop sending our children who suffer from environmental injustices to inessential jobs, allowing them to use their brains and minds to find a resolution for issues within their environment.  We are lying to ourselves when we pretend the workers aren’t afflicted and affected. They are just as afflicted, if not more so. And they are…

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Bishop Marcia Dinkins | Warren, Ohio

While I may not currently live in Appalachia, my Appalachian identity and roots also run deep. Having grandparents and great grandparents from Appalachia and spending time with them brought about the tiredness and fatigue that we still experience today. We were finding ourselves living on a land with valuable natural resources and the reminder that the Black body was also a resource for the economic gain and greed for the institution of capitalism and white supremacy. We mustn’t forget that being a black woman in Appalachia was met with desire and despair. The despair of knowing the quality of life wanted for our family was always at risk, and the desire for a quality of life, clean water, clean air, and economic mobility. Unfortunately, the desire and despair haven’t changed much as those same disparities are still in grave existence today. Poor air quality, lead in the water and pipes, and environmental hazards kill us softly reduce our mortality while increasing infant and maternal mortality.  I know this all too well; living in a home that had extreme hazards caused three children to be prematurely born and created a well of mental and financial anguish for my family and me. This birth of my children and why they were born prematurely is a constant reminder that illuminates the health indicators and daily health risks black mothers and women are faced with daily. Poor air quality exacerbated the health conditions of my children, who had to be placed on oxygen machines…

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Shana Goggins | Richmond, KY

I think that I was probably an adult before I realized that the place I lived in was Appalachia and that also I could embrace that aspect for myself. Much of my family came into Kentucky via Tennessee. And at the time, the area that they came into was heavily entrenched in coal mining. And again, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that a great-great-grandfather was a coal miner. And I point those things out because we have this idea based on popular culture and media that the Appalachians are all white. They’re all rednecks. They’re unsavory characters; they are biased, they’re prejudiced, they’re uneducated, they’re misinformed. And I feel like to a certain degree, coming up as a child in an Appalachian community whose family had deep roots in Appalachia, these are things that we did not associate with. And therefore, we did not embrace that aspect of our identity in that you can go to Pulaski County, Kentucky today, and you could ask my grandmother if she’s an Appalachian, and she would tell you no. She would tell you no based on all of those reasons that we have discussed and/or we see every day and that she does not want to be identified or remembered as an uneducated or misinformed person. I think that is what has driven me to do a lot of the things that I have done in that we can be Black; you can be a person of color,…

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Reverend Ronald English | Charleston, WV

After I came here, as a pastor at First Baptist Church, everybody that knew me from Atlanta, I would meet at national conventions. They’d say, ‘Where are you?’ ‘I’m in First Baptist.’ ‘Oh, yeah, that’s in Virginia?’ I said, ‘No, that’s in West, by God, Virginia.’ Part of the identity crisis that Black folks have when they travel is being confused with being labeled as part of Virginia. And there is a uniqueness about that. The other thing—the power of stories, particularly in this area, is one that is unique across the board, in terms of how Appalachian stories just have that kind of unique character because of where it takes place. Why it takes place, and it also reveals three very important things in terms of how social institutions, educational institutions, have shared a common fate. And that is, what is the cause of that initiation? In terms of how they got started? What is the measure of the impact in terms of that intention for getting started? And when you look at Black institutions, like West Virginia State College now, and then other Black institutions that have developed in the West Virginia context, you can really see the connection and how this has been a part of its history. And how the current conversation and focus on it is really saying something that has been known for a long time but had not been exposed in terms of the President of the Charleston branch of the NAACP. And…

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Akisha Townsend-Eaton | Bowling Green, KY

I’ll start by saying that I am a millennial, and I’ve always heard stories passed down that shed light on my own family’s Appalachian roots and contributions to Appalachian society, even Appalachian catchphrases from some of my older relatives, like ‘over and down yonder.’ But interestingly enough, you know, I always grew up thinking, you know, I live here, but I don’t consider myself an Appalachian because of those images—growing up—of Appalachia. I felt while growing up that I was here and that my family was rooted in the state, but that at the same time, we were on the periphery. Interestingly enough, I think that the only reference to Black Appalachians that I could remember, growing up in popular culture was through the lyrics of ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ which talks about a slave story and use the term ‘darkies’ to refer to black people up until 1986. So even when I was alive, we were still singing ‘darkies,’ you know, ‘the darkies are gay,’ in our official state song. But I’m so glad that BLAC is here to invite these stories and to recognize the culture and contributions— it’s made me think of stories, such as that of my great great grandmother, who went by the name of Mammy Kelly. And you know, I remember hearing stories about her. She was a midwife who traveled by horseback. She was located in rural Tennessee and part of the Appalachian region. She delivered both white and Black babies who didn’t…

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Zabriawn Smith | Aliquippa, PA

The story of Aliquippa Green really starts with a partnership I attended. I participated in Public Allies, a program that helps people find their place in nonprofit organizations. I began to learn the nonprofit world in that sector and what demands of you as far as an individual looking to do good and still find a way to build sustainable systems. I feel it was a common issue in many other nonprofit organizations that they were trying to develop but were in a difficult place with growing administrative costs and things of that nature. I think I noticed that, and then my partner Alexandra Jones, also a co-founder of Aliquippa Green, noticed a similar pattern. I think one of the things that have made the work that we do important is just the understanding of making sure that it’s more about the impact of the work than the sustainability of the organization or the system or anything of that nature. So about two years back, we began discussing things that were necessary to see in the nonprofit work in communities. I am from Aliquippa, born and raised in Aliquippa. So I spoke a lot of Aliquippa in the conversation, and it comes through our work towards Aliquippa in just saying, ‘Well, what if we just focus just here and use this as a way to model successful economic development, if we are able to achieve so?’  The first place that we’ve looked was trying to close or reduce the disparity…

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Corinne Williams | Warren, OH

I’m a jack-of-all-trades. I’ve worked in daycare and had my own day childcare business for years. I was assistant manager at the food stamp-issuing center when they used to issue just books of food stamps, and I’ve done some of everything. But I always had a compassionate heart to help. When I got involved with CCC, and they were doing all kinds of community stuff, it’s like wow, you know? And Quimby Park, that’s where we used to meet. Well, we still do have that meeting, but it was going down. Nobody used Quimby Park, but as kids, when we all grew up that was like a big, you know, sledding point but you know, it’s a great big hill that we had sleigh rides down with the sleds, you know, and it was just all just there, no one used it except us. And so we said, we start pushing for them to try to save it because the roof went bad on it and everything and we kept on, kept on, and they put the roof on.  Then they just stopped. Then we got a couple of people in to start helping us fight, and they started renovating, then they started seeing how many people were excited to, you know, see Quimby return. It was like, okay. So now they’re doing a lot to Quimby; they’re supposed to, you know, keep on improving it. But, they refuse to put restrooms on the outside. The park has swings and…

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Pastor Orneil Heller | Warren, OH

First of all, let me say, as Bishop Dinkins said, I was a firefighter for 29 years. I retired as an assistant fire chief. I’ve been in the city of Warren for most of my life, and I’m a pastor and also a part of the clergy. So I wasn’t born here, but I was raised here, and I’ve been here long enough to see how things have evolved and how things are done for the better, and some not so good.  And if I could just give a brief history about Warren: it started off as an industrial city, to where we had all the factories, the steel mills, the aluminum factories, the old Packard Electric. It was flooded with factories, so many people came here for job opportunities. And I was looking over some statistics. At our highest level—so we’re a small community, but we were flourishing at one time—at our highest level, we reached the population of 63,000, and that was in the 1970s. And once the steel industry took a downward turn, the population has been steadily declining, and the progress that African Americans and others have made in the city of Warren and its neighboring communities, that progress seems to have evaporated now because Warren as a whole doesn’t have very many opportunities.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and things have changed. And I might be all over the place, but as things come to my heart and mind,…

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Crystal Good | Kanawha County, WV

Someone sent me a message on Twitter yesterday and asked if this was who I was. If I had always been, since I was a little girl, trying to amplify the voices of Black people in West Virginia. And I had to think about it. And I thought, my goodness, I really have been curious and trying to understand, because, you know, when you’re a child, and you look around, you question things differently. You wonder what’s missing, right? And so I think from a very early age, I understood the sort of, you know, the flying WV’s, the West Virginia ‘rah rah’ that so many people have. Where was that for Black people? And that’s when I started to discover history. The more I discovered history, the more I understood that Black people in West Virginia had had a powerful presence. But that history is not always front and center in our textbooks. It’s not front and center in the way that the media frames West Virginia. And, you know, when I say West Virginia, I mean the greater Appalachia, too, right? And so, as far as my work, you know, my work is to be me. And to keep exploring who I am in the context of how to help other people and help myself. And I don’t want to carry this sort of narrative of, ‘I speak for the voiceless people,’ which so many people say when they talk about Appalachia. I think that’s sort of like…

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