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100 Days, 100 Voices

When your job moves to Mexico

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“My initials are inside a casket, J.B.,” said Bean.

Jeffery L. Bean: We are making things for a person that they will put their loved one in. It’s a very memorable moment in their life. I lost two family members at one time – my mom and her sister. I had to bury them at the same time. I took pride in knowing they went in a Batesville Casket — something we had built, something that was built right here in Batesville, Mississippi. I got a lot of pride and consolation in that. That pride is no longer there, because they will not be made in Batesville, Mississippi. They will not be made in America, but be made in another country. I don’t take pride in that at all.

I sign off on everything I do. That’s something we started years ago. If you take pride in what you do, you don’t mind putting your initials on it. So, my initials are inside a casket, ‘JB.’ A lot of people do that. That’s the way we were trained years ago. When you take pride in what you do, you take ownership — you initial it. It’s on different pieces. It’s hidden. Sometimes it’s on a little board inside where the family can’t see — but it’s there. I’ve done something hopefully to make a family happy and worthy of what they put their loved one in. That’s the main thing, providing a service for a person’s loved one.

Back in November, everybody was working and all of a sudden the managers came by and said we need to have a meeting. We need everyone to meet in the cafeteria. We have a plant-wide meeting. It was very strange. The atmosphere was different that day. It was totally different. We knew something was coming, but we didn’t know what was coming. They announced that the plant would be closed on March 17th. It was silent. People actually could not ask questions at that time. They told us they would set up dates where they would meet with employees one-on-one or with groups to explain what the next steps would be to this closing. And they did not let us go back to work. They told everybody to get their stuff and just go home. It made me feel angry. Because, that’s where I work — that’s what my life has been. That’s where my job is. And to be, shut out of everything — not knowing what the next step is. That wasn’t a good feeling. That’s not a good feeling. It was devastating to a lot of people. A lot of people wasn’t aware this might happen. I’m not one of those people. I was kinda aware this might happen, because we opened a plant in Mexico seven to nine years ago and I’ve been looking for this to happen. It’s not a surprise to me.

It’s very frustrating because of the impact that it’s going to have on Panola County and the surrounding area. It employed all these people. You look at the economic impact that they will have, you are basically losing $30,000 a year times 240. That’s a lot of finance being lost. People have bought houses, people have bought cars. People have bought a whole lot of things because they wasn’t looking for this to happen. Who would have thought that you would not be making caskets? People die every day. They’re still making caskets, but they’re not going to be made in America. They will be made in Chihuahua, Mexico. And my understanding, the casket that will be made there will be like a laminated casket, which is not real wood. We make real wood, real hardwood, real softwood, real pine, real cottonwood here in in Batesville and Panola County. But in Mexico, I don’t think they will be making the quality that we make.

I think our mayor and some of the officials tried to reach out to President Trump. I think our governor has tried to reach out to him. Yes, cremations have come up. And buying caskets has gone down — but not that much.

Seven years ago we started making parts, producing parts and shipping to Mexico. We’d make parts for Batesville casket and you make parts for Mexico. The last few years Mexico became the priority. If we needed parts, and they needed parts, we’d box our parts up and ship them to Mexico and then do what we had to do to stay running. It is not right the way that this is happening, the way this is playing out. We’re not happy with what happened, but there’s no way we can change it. But we did say one thing as this group of people: we’re going to make sure we take pride in last year units that we make (we called caskets units). There’s a lot of pride, a lot of time and lot of effort put in those last units — that may not have happened a year ago — but it’s happening now because we know this is the last caskets that we were making — the last signatures.

Not everyone signs a casket. It kinda just fell by the wayside. They didn’t ask people to stop, they just stopped making it a part of your daily sign-off — because it takes time. Some of us still do it, because I see the mark as the casket is coming down the line. And you know somebody that’s been there a long time is still taking pride in what they do and signing off on it. It’s not a number. It’s a signature. There’s a difference between a number and a signature. All caskets have a number, but very few have different signatures.

Jeffery L. Bean was a pre-finish lug fabricator at the Batesville Casket Company, Panola division in Batesville, Mississippi.  He’d worked there for 26 years, doing 52 different jobs until he became a “displaced” worker on March 17, 2017. The company, a division of Hillenbrand Inc., made wooden caskets at the Batesville plant since the plant’s opening in 1988. At its height of production, more than 500 people worked at the plant, according to reports. Last fall, the company announced it was closing the plant and moving the manufacture of wooden caskets to Chihuahua, Mexico.

Panola County, Mississippi is the most western county in Appalachia according to the Appalachian Regional Commissions definition of the area.

Jeffery Bean and other long-time workers initialed every wooden casket they made while working at the Batesville Casket Company in Batesville, Mississippi. This is the pen he has been using the last few years to write his initials inside each casket he makes.


In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you have an idea for ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ please contact Nancy Andrews on Twitter @NancyAndrews or email at nancy.andrews [at] mail.wvu.edu.

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'Islam in Appalachia'

“Appalachian American Arab Muslim” Malak Khader

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“To be an Appalachian American Arab Muslim … that’s a big title. I feel like I’m wearing so many hats at the same time.” Malak Khader of Huntington, West Virginia finds herself constantly fighting stereotypes about her religion and her home state. She started a multiethnic Girl Scout Troop at the Muslim Association of Huntington mosque. “The Girl Scout values align with Islamic values. It teaches you to build your character, it teaches you community service, it teaches you to educate people and be educated yourself.”

Malak’s full interview is part of our 360° video series Muslim in Appalachia. This series enables viewers to step into the worlds of Appalachian Muslims to experience what it means to navigate Muslim and Appalachian identity while challenging stereotypes of both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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100 Days, 100 Voices

‘He’s a Mini Version of my Dad’

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Jakari Tinsley, age 2, lives in Lynch, Kentucky. His favorite word is "No." Photo by Nancy Andrews

“I hope he becomes a God-serving young man, that he loves everybody as God loves us.”

Jakari’s favorite food is chicken nuggets. His favorite word is “No.” He likes to play basketball with his mini-basketball hoop and watch “Blaze and the Monster Machines” and “PAW Patrol.”

At age 2, and living in Lynch, Kentucky, Jakari Tinsley has his life in front of him. “I hope he grows up and goes to college and gets an education. Whatever he wants to do I will follow him and support him,” his mother said.

Jakari is wearing his grandfather’s hat. “He thinks he’s a mini version of my dad,” said Jakari’s mom, Marisha Tinsley. “Whatever dad does, he has to do too.”

“I hope he becomes a God-serving young man, that he loves everybody as God loves us,” his grandfather Terry Tinsley said, “that he get in a profession that helps others, like a doctor or lawyer.”

Lynch was founded in 1917 as a U.S. Steel mining operation. At its peak it was home to more than 10,000 people, but now in 2017 less than 700 live within its borders.


In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Nancy Andrews at nancy@nancyandrews.com. She’s on Twitter @NancyAndrews and on Instagram @NancyAndrews

 

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100 Days, 100 Voices

‘We’re People – We’re Just Wired a Little Different.’

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The weekend of July 29, 2017 brought the first gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer festival to Wheeling, West Virginia with several hundred attending the Ohio Valley Pride. We talked to some of the attendees about why they came to the event:

“Today, I was around people like me. I could be me.” – Andrea Potter

“We’re here to celebrate,” Katreina Kilgore explained her support of her daughter Andrea Potter. “We’re here to celebrate that she didn’t hold back, that she is going to be herself.”

The family lives in Moundsville, West Virginia.  “We struggle,” she said of the entire family’s acceptance, “that’s why I think I am so proud of her.”

Melinda Tober, left, of Windsor Heights, West Virginia came to Pride with Kael Thomas, and Chelsea Camcho of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“No body wants to live in the closet and I think that they shouldn’t have to.” – Melinda Tober

“I’ve been out and proud since 2010,” said Tober. “It’s always looked down upon — so hush, hush, “ she said, explaining that she believes the event such as this help to increase awareness and reduce hate crimes.

Hailee Parker, lives in Williamstown, West Virginia and grew up in Wheeling. She came to the event with her sister, Brittin Orum who lives in Wheeling. Parker performs as “Donte Dickles”.

“We’re people – we’re just wired a little different.” – Hailee Parker

“To be part of it. To walk around the streets in drag and part of the first pride – to just be home for the first time in a long time, “ Parker said. “This is my home. We both grew up here… I feel we have come very far. There are still nicks in the road, and it’s not the end of us fighting for equality… It upsetting to meet a person who is not supportive. All you can do is hold your head high and just leave it at that – with respect… Be yourself, love yourself. Hold your head high and forget what other people think of you.”

Miranda Thompson with daughter Ava Thompson, Terri Laquaglia, with daughter Regan Laquaglia and Maddie Crum attended the first Ohio Valley Pride together.

“Some people don’t understand that we all have to be equal so the world can be at peace.” – Regan Laquaglia

“We care about people and we know that no matter what that person thinks about us – underneath all their hatefulness there could be a good person. ” – Ava Thompson.

Landen Menough, of Martin’s Ferry, Ohio (stage name Miss Rilee Rae Michaels) was emcee of the event.

“If you leave here with one thing today, leave knowing that you are all family to me. You pick your own family and your family are the ones that accept you to no bounds of the earth.”— Landen Menough’s message to the crowd.

Andrew Vargo has lived in Wheeling, West Virginia all his life.

“There’s strength in numbers. We share love and companionship. We might not all get along, but we all share the same view of our rights… I see a ton of smiles, people from all sorts of places.” — Andrew Vargo

Jordan Sewell, aka “Xenus”, performs for the crowd at Heritage Port. 

“It takes guts to come out here in public in drag.” – Jordan Sewell

“Worrying about how to live day to day, being who you are and how you should show who you are — it’s hard,” explained Sewell. Today, “ it feels amazing, a feeling of completeness… I feel like I am now, a little bit – no, a lot more comfortable being who I want to be rather than what others want me to be. It takes guts to come out here in public in drag. Just doing it for the first time – walking out in pubic – outside,” was new. “Never outside, behind closed doors, yes.”

Jordan Sewell, with his mother, Rauslynn Platt as she films the performances. They live in Bridgeport, Ohio.

“I am not gonna hide I was heartbroken, but he’s my son – and my daughter. I’ll support whatever he wants to do in life. He seems so free. He’s so happy and that’s what I want to him to be, happy.” – Rauslynn Platt, Sewell’s mother


In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Nancy Andrews at nancy@nancyandrews.com. She’s on Twitter @NancyAndrews and on Instagram @NancyAndrews

Editor’s Note: This article has been revised to correctly reflect that Jordan Sewell lives in Bridgeport, Ohio.

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