Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development

Council Cast | June 24, 2022

July 12, 2022 Coalfield Development Season 1 Episode 2
Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development
Council Cast | June 24, 2022
Show Notes Transcript

Music: "What If" by Low Light

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Welcome to CouncilCast, a podcast from Coalfield Development, where we highlight moments from our monthly gathering, Coalfield Council Day. It's a time for reflection, team building, and celebrating the personal and professional developments of our Crew Members. This is episode 2, highlighting our Council Day on June 24, 2022. On Friday, June 24th, the Coalfield Development crew ventured to Marshall University’s campus in downtown Huntington to participate in Community Cares Week. The observance was inspired by the university's leadership’s desire to get staff involved in beautification efforts ahead of the fall semester.

Unknown:

(fountain rippling)

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

As our team gathered around the Memorial Student Center Plaza’s fountain, CEO Brandon Dennison provided an overview for the day and divided our group for various landscaping, painting, and powerwashing duties. Baleigh Epperly, manager of the ReUse Corridor social enterprise, was among the group landscaping the space between Old Main and Smith Hall. As a recent Marshall graduate, Baleigh said participating in the cleanup felt particularly meaningful.

Baleigh Epperly:

Any chance that I can take to be on campus, I always enjoy it, you know, especially being alumni, like being here and like giving back to the campus in a way that's physical and tangible. It's just really rewarding.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Throughout the morning, the landscaping crew continued to rake leaves off the incline separating the buildings, filling and dumping wheelbarrows before returning to collect another load. After less than an hour, the space had been transformed.

Baleigh Epperly:

It already looks a lot better. Honestly. It's crazy. Like the difference that it made just, you know, picking up some leaves and what was it like pine needles and things like that. And it actually is really cool to be back on campus doing something like this because I spent five years walking through this little, I guess you would call it alley walkway. And I've always thought everything looks so nice and have kind of wondered, like, I wonder who does that? And today it was me. So kind of full circle.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Baleigh said the experience illustrated the significance of volunteerism and investing back into our community.

Baleigh Epperly:

I would say that it's crucial on many levels, like on an individual level, it makes you feel like you are tangibly part of your community. And you can see something change so quickly when you get a group of people together, like for the employees here, you know, doing this whole bank side here outside of Smith probably would have taken, I don't know, at least a whole workday at the least. And we got it done in what, like 30 minutes, an hour or something like that. So I think there's something very valuable in working in your community, with your community as well that just adds an extra layer to it, I think.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Joe Johnson, a member of the Mountain Mindful crew, said he felt Coalfield’s participation in Community Cares Week showed how much the crew valued the Huntington community.

Joe Johnson:

It is important because they see us as part of the Huntington community and part of the Huntington team.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

He hopes that their volunteer efforts today would inspire others to partake in polishing up their corner of the Huntington community.

Joe Johnson:

It inspires them to do good and inspire them to probably help out or stay down here. And once they see them working good, hard, and doing nice things for the community, such as Marshall, or Huntington, so it gives relief to people that's watching say on the news, or say on the media, or on Facebook. It gives them relief of saying, 'Ooh, Huntington a nice place to say, oh, this place is something that can be something or help out or be a part of.'

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Across campus, Chief Operating Officer Ryan Stoner was painting the walls of Wellman Hall, an upperclassmen residence hall.

Ryan Stoner:

So these are really nice dorms. They've got a large common area, they've got high ceilings, we had to do a little ladder climbing today. Our goal is to at least get the common area complete. There are four dorm rooms and a restroom and some storage off to the sides. I don't know if we'll get to all of that, but we'll at least have the common area knocked out today. So that's the goal.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Ryan is no stranger to the campus. He’s also a Huntington native and Marshall graduate.

Ryan Stoner:

I was the first one in my family to attend college, and went to Marshall right out of high school and studied Business Administration and Entrepreneurship. So I got to know campus, but I was always right here at home at the time. I didn't live on campus, but I had several friends that did and so my higher education years were spent here at Marshall getting a bachelor's [degree]. So I do enjoy being here on campus and being a part of that. And it's cool to see how things have changed over the now 20 years since I started as a student.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Education is a priority at Coalfield, Ryan said. Each week, our crews work through various themes and curricula as they grow professionally and personally. Today was a different kind of Council Day, but it was a wonderful opportunity to give back to our community together and bond with our fellow crew members.

Ryan Stoner:

So for Coalfield Development, we've got several personal and professional themes that our crew members and trainees participate in learning each week and each month and as they build throughout the month, we have our council day opportunities. We're taking this opportunity today, as council day to be together and give back to the community in a little different way than we typically do. We do a lot of litter litter cleanups and things like that community cleanups. But this is something that Marshall University, the campus had invited folks from all over the area to come here and be involved in getting campus ready for students. And at Coalfield, we value education, we often create opportunities for trainees and crew members to become higher education students.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Ryan said he looked forward to strengthening Coalfield’s relationship with the university through such initiatives.

Ryan Stoner:

This is a great connection for us, as an organization to have with the University, and so we're just excited to be a part of it and to be a part of cleaning things up and getting things ready. Knowing how valuable education is and the environment around education is very important. So hopefully the opportunity here to beautify things and make it a little cleaner and nicer will enhance the experience that students have here on campus. Hopefully someday our own students from Coalfield Development, our employees, our trainees, our crew members.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Amber Holcomb, a trainee with Mountain Mindful, says she enjoyed venturing out to try new skills today and every day with her Coalfield crew, specifically skills she never saw herself honing. Before joining the Coalfield crew, she worked for Estee Lauder.

Amber Holcomb:

I'm used to boutiques and things like that. So now I'm like doing pressure washing and I'm making t-shirts, girl. And I am on the dryer and just doing all these things I never thought I could do. And then we come to Council Day, and just like last month when we went to Heritage Farms and I was doing stuff there that I never thought I would do like climbing a treehouse, girl, in the pair of sandals. I was like, 'What am I doing?' But yeah, just learning to do stuff and not being afraid because you kind of have this sense of the people behind you. It's like you're gonna do it when you come to Coalfield, there's no saying no, that it's been really good for me and my self confidence. As a woman too, because I always thought that that old school mentality, women don't do that kind of job. Or only a select few women will pressure wash or do labor work. Well guess what, I do that now. And I came from Estee Lauder. So here I am.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Like Amber, CEO Brandon Dennison also enjoyed the day’s activities outside of the traditional office setting.

Brandon Dennison:

So we have people mulching, we have people painting, we have people power washing is pretty fun, so especially some of us who are in the office, usually, it's so rewarding, like you see a dirty wall, you fire up this loud machine, and then like when you're done, it's shining and beautiful. And it's just so rewarding in a way that a spreadsheet never can be. It was a fun day.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

After a few hours of power washing, painting, and landscaping, we headed to the student center for lunch before our afternoon featured speaker, Mr. David Harris, arrived. Marshall University’s President Brad Smith made an announcement thanking the Coalfield crew and shared with us the significance of the week’s events.

Brad D. Smith:

Marshall University's Community Cares Week is a result of a listening tour where people said, 'What can I do to be a part of the next chapter?' And we said, 'We have lots of opportunities to help with landscaping and painting and power washing and all the things you see happening around this amazing campus and in this last week, over 450 volunteers, 1,240 person hours, the community has leaned in and has beautified this campus because we are serious when we say we are Marshall. This is a perfect example of We. We are the community. We are the University. We are Marshall.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Brandon Dennison said he felt President Smith’s Community Cares Week activities would be impactful for many in the community, especially those navigating feelings of isolation or sadness. He hopes these collaborative efforts will help bring people together.

Brandon Dennison:

So President Smith, this is a new tradition he started called Community Cares Weeks. I thought it was a good chance for us to emphasize our mission statement which talks about Appalachian courage, creativity and community. And we define community as a place that cultivates opportunity for all its people. Community is so important, because none of us can get where we want to go alone. It's just not possible, even if you tried. And I think a lot of people right now, a lot of our problems are rooted in people not feeling part of the community, not feeling connected to others, feeling very lonely, very isolated, that can lead to anger, and all other sorts of things. So I really, I cannot think of anything more important right now in this country, in this world, than cultivating community, and making sure we're doing it in a way that brings everyone along, rather than divide ourselves.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Following our lunch break, Brandon presented hats to new staffers, with each hat representing the crew member’s role in our organization. Then, he introduced Mr. David Harris, a renowned member of the Marshall community who taught at the university for nearly 30 years and also served in the role of Director of Equity Programs and Associate Human Resource Director. Earlier this week, our nation observed Juneteenth, the day that marked the end of slavery — two years after President Abraham Lincoln declared freedom through the Emancipation Proclamation. After introducing himself, Mr. Harris shared with us the story of Juneteenth.

David Harris:

So today, I want to talk to you about one thing: What is Juneteenth? And secondly, I want to acknowledge people who had influenced, I believe in my opinions in Huntington, African Americans who have impacted Huntington, West Virginia. Who knows what Juneteenth is about? Effective January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. And it said that all folks who were held in, in slavery, were hereby free in the rebelling states, it didn't free the slaves in the states where they didn't hold slaves, it freed the slaves in the states where slavery was. Now what that meant, it didn't mean that all of us African Americans were free. It meant that the folks in those rebelling states were free only. Now what that tells me is that good old Abe Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to be effective January 1, 1863, not to free all the slaves, but he did it, and we hear that a lot today as a political endeavor to get the states who were in rebellion, to say if we end the rebellion, because we want to keep our slaves it was that important, to them. So what happened is, two and a half years later, in Texas, a slave was working in the field. And a black soldier said to him, he said, 'First of all, I've never seen black soldiers before, what are you doing here?' He said, 'We come to make sure that you know that you're free.' It was on June, the 19th 1865 in Galveston, Texas. And that soldiers told him, 'You guys have been free for two and a half years. I don't know why the master didn't free you.' And first, the slave was astonished that there was a black soldier, what in the world is going on? Has the world turned upside down while we weren't looking? And the answer to that was they just didn't know, and the slave owners didn't really want to get rid of them slaves, they wanted to keep their slaves. And if nobody said anything, they'd probably be slaves today if nobody said anything. But the federal government sent in troops to let people know one that we're serious about the slave issue. Slaves are going to be free. Because they extended slavery, the freedom of slavery to everybody, even where slaves weren't permitted. So once this soldier told the slave, you're free, it was on June the 19th 1865. Now slaves back then could not articulate June the 19th. And they called it Juneteenth. That's where it came from. Because the slaves weren't educated enough to say June the 19th. They abbreviate it to say Juneteenth. Just recently, the federal government said it's going to be a national holiday. There are still some states that don't recognize it. It's about the day we recognize the freedom of African Americans, in the south primarily, and in the states where there was slavery, it was a way of life. It was true here, because this was part of Virginia, till June 20th 1863, when West Virginia said, 'Slavery is not really important to us. And so we're going to secede from the secessions. We're going to be a free state, and anybody who lives in Virginia, in the western portion of Virginia, you're here by free.' And so guess what happened? The slaves came to Virginia, from the Deep South, they came to Virginia, and they floated on logs across the Ohio River. So the second thing I'm going to talk about now, we know what Juneteenth was about, is what happened. What happened to those folks who were courageous enough to try to escape slavery? The Burlington 37 were 37 people who crossed the Ohio River from Virginia here, in 1820 or 1819, they floated across the rivers, some say they walked across. I can't imagine walking across the Ohio River. But that's what they said they did. And on their way, the route to the Underground Railroad led from Virginia, over to Ohio. Why Ohio? Because Ohio was a free, state free. Once you got to Ohio, you were free. But they didn't stop there. Most slaves would go from Burlington, they come from Virginia here, go across the river to Ohio, go down to that what is now Route 52, to Cincinnati, up north to Toledo and then to Canada. Because Canada had abolished slavery years and years earlier. So they were free up there. Macedonia Church is the first stop for the Burlington 37. And what they did is when they came across that river to stay in Burlington, the folks over there said, 'You are in free territory. Stay here, make your home we will make you welcome.' And they created this church and I've been there. The church still stands Macedonia Baptist Church. It's back up in the woods. Why in the woods, because it was safe back there. They were relatively sure that slave catchers would not come up there because they didn't know what it was. And if you haven't seen Macedonia church, I would encourage you to go over to South Pointe or to Burlington, take Macedonia Road just follow it up the hill. And the church still stands, Macedonia church, it was a refuge for people and that's where they worshipped. Black folks worshipped up there for years and years. And one of my three projects I have three major projects that I'm engaged in right now. One is getting Macedonia church moved down to Burlington property. Now you start in Huntington. Has anybody ever heard of Diamond Tooth Mary? If you've been downtown, there was a sign by David Harris Riverfront Park. I used to tell my students who I taught, they named that park for me. Until one day, one of the students came in and said, 'You know what, I went over to David Harris, Riverfront Park, there's a statue there, it doesn't look like you.' I said, 'Busted.' I'm happy to report now that I'm one of 11 people, and I've been researching and researching to find out if there are any other cities, large or small counties, towns, villages, with recognition of 11 African Americans, I can't find it. So I think Huntington is unique in that it recognized 11 people, and I want to just talk about some of those people today.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

The Ohio River, he noted, played a key role for many enslaved peoples’ escape. As did Burlington, a small community across the river from Huntington, where 37 freed slaves founded the community that still stands today. Mr. Harris then dove into the history of another Huntington resident, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an educator, scholar, and the Father of Black History.

David Harris:

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who's heard of him? The father of black history. The second black to graduate from Harvard, Harvard University with a PhD in history, that's why I like him because so historian, he has written more books 25 or so books about African American life in this country. He was also a resident of Huntington, West Virginia. I'm happy to say that I traveled to Philadelphia years ago to get a statue commissioned, and if you come out on Hal Greer Boulevard, you will see that statue. He was a principal at Douglas High School, the third principal of Douglas, he was the first Black to go before Congress and argue about Black History Week. And now we know it as Black History Month. Not because February is the shortest month, but because February was the birth of Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Mr. Harris is part of the Carter G. Woodson Memorial Foundation, which aims to preserve Black History in and around Huntington. Mr. Harris shared stories about his own upbringing and college experience in Huntington, including stories about the discrimination he endured as a young African American.

David Harris:

Hal Greer is important to me as well. As a matter of fact, I can remember when, when I was a young fellow, and I used to go to the swimming pool. I couldn't swim, I would dive into the deep water on the edge and come up on the other edge and grasp the wall. Somehow I dove in, floated out to the middle, couldn't swim 10 feet of water. And these big hands grabbed me and threw me up, and said, 'Get out of this water boy.' Guess who it was? Hal Greer. He said you shouldn't be out here diving in deep water. If you can't swim. So that day, I learned how to swim. I said I gotta go learn how to swim. A.D. Lewis, Reverend A.D. Lewis, he started what's known as the A.D. Lewis Boys Club, which exists today. It's the only swimming pool that is active in Huntington, West Virginia. And you can watch that I know. I can remember growing up. It was the only choice that we had to go swimming. Because you couldn't go to the Olympic pool, which was down in the park. You could go over to Ohio in Ironton, one day, a week, every Monday, you could go because every Monday was designated as colored day. So you could go over there. So we would go over on Mondays and guess what happened on Tuesdays. They closed the pool to clean it. Speaking of things that were limited to African Americans, obviously, you had to pay your fare on the bus. Go to the back, get on. Rosa Parks became important because she said, I'm in the back of the bus. I'm sitting down and I'm not giving them my seat. She went to jail for that.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Then, he described his friendship with the one and only Miss Memphis Tennessee Garrison, who lived on 17th Street and 10th Avenue downtown.

David Harris:

would call me she lived on the corner of 17th Street and 10th Avenue. And she would call me and I lived closer to 19th Street and say, 'Come and go to the store for me.' Now the store was located on 17th Street, and 10th Avenue, just across the street from Miss Garrison's house. I had to walk two blocks to go to the store. Now, as enterprising as I was, when I was young, I'm not like that anymore. I used to stop at every house and ask, 'You need anything from the store?' They would tell what they needed and give me the money, I go to the store, I'd save that money. She'd give me a quarter every time I went to the store, I saved those quarters. She said, 'Don't you dare spend this money.' She had such a commanding voice, it scared me, I was not going to spend that money on I didn't care what. She said, 'Save this money to go to college.' And when I came to Marshall University, you know how much money I paid and student debt? Zero. I took that money cash to the bank and paid my tuition for four years.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Through Carter G. Woodson Memorial Foundation, Mr. Harris and the rest of the board are working to restore Miss Garrison’s home to create an African-American history museum.

David Harris:

And the house still stands, and what we are doing, we are trying to get her home reestablished as a museum, an African American Museum. Now we're not just gonna honor Miss Garrison, who was the national secretary of the NAACP. She's the one who created Easterseals nationally. She helped me, she traveled to Washington D.C. in 1965 and convinced President Lyndon Johnson to issue the 1965 voting rights act. She's the architect. Now not many people know that about Memphis Tennessee, that she was a lady of import from Huntington, West Virginia, her footprints all over on it. Not many people know that.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Amber, from the Mountain Mindful crew, said she learned so much from Mr. Harris’ lecture.

Amber Holcomb:

I did not know the history of Huntington was so great. I always like to keep myself educated on things like that. But I remind myself that I'm always teachable. I was surprised about the cemetery. And also, you know, we hear that people have had these experiences with the different pools or the different theaters, or something like that, but we rarely get to meet these people in person. And it's so easy to sit back and just say, like, 'Oh, that's not a thing here anymore.' But like we have someone in the room that that was a real thing for them. It makes me emotional. We don't understand what they've been through, we have no idea. So we can at least lend our ear, find out how we can get involved, and let them know, you know, that we are trying to understand, we never will, but we're here and we sympathize. We can't empathize, but we can sympathize.

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

As our June Council Day came to a close, Brandon reflected on the day, Mr. Harris’ stories, and how they help shape our understanding of history.

Brandon Dennison:

One of the things with history is, you cannot change it, it what happened, happened. And for us in our personal lives, that's tough to grapple with, for us as a community, that's tough to grapple with. But you can you can reinterpret what happened, you can better understand what happened, you can put a different lens on and look at it from a different angle. You know what, what happened, but what I didn't really think about until today, you know, hearing a living person who experienced segregation, who could go to one theater, but not another, could swim in one pool, but not another, could live in one part of town, but not another; to think that history like that would not still have ramifications today would just be ignorant. And so it reminded me that you can't change what happened, you can reinterpret what happened. You can also unfortunately, you can ignore what happened, you can choose not to understand what happened, and that would lead to some very serious misunderstandings. And it would probably lead to continuing patterns and trends, which have oppressed people, and that's not what a good community does a good community, invests in people and brings people together and tries to create more opportunity for more kinds of people, not less.

Unknown:

(music)

Narrator Lindsay, JJN Multimedia::

Thanks for listening to CouncilCast, a monthly podcast from Coalfield Development. This series is hosted and produced by JJN Multimedia. Subscribe to CouncilCast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, be sure to leave us a review. To support or learn more about our work creating resilient Appalachian communities and helping people unlock their full potential, power, and purpose, find us on social media or visit www.coalfield-development.org. Thanks for joining us today. We’ll see you next month.