As we continue to travel across the South, we decided to branch out a little farther north to listen to local leaders and residents in Appalachia. It’s a part of the country deeply rooted in its own history, identity and sense of place.

Over the course of a week, we visited key cities and towns from Charleston, WV through eastern Kentucky to Knoxville, TN.

Along the way, we heard about the hardships and resilience of coal miners who are looking for ways to transition to the new economy. We learned about a school using innovative trauma-informed approaches in St. Alban’s, a drug court program in Boone County that is giving people a second chance and a community health center in Williamson that is an anchor for revitalization. We stopped in at the Appalshop in Williamsburg, Kentucky, to learn about the storytelling they’ve done for more than 30 years. In Hazard, Kentucky, we saw the passion and dedication of educators working to create new pathways to economic opportunity in a longtime mining community visited by Bobby Kennedy over 51 years ago. And in Knoxville, Tennessee, we visited with food policy experts, our partners at the Urban League, and the Change Center, all working to tackle many of the challenges we seek to address.

While many of these communities are in times of trial and despair, there are great stories of resilience and hope. The people of Appalachia are strong.

Since September of 2018, we have had the privilege of meeting with elected officials, organizations, and community members who are actively working to bring about positive change and economic development in cities in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. In 2019, we have continued visits in rural parts of Louisiana and Mississippi and in the Appalachia region. As 2019 moves on, our final visits will ensure that our work reflects the diverse perspectives and insights of communities across our region.

The next stops are Richmond, Virginia, and Louisville, Kentucky. We’ll also be making stops in Florida, South Carolina, and Texas. We hope to understand the important work our communities are engaging in to address them and to move our communities forward together.