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100 Days, 100 Voices

We still live here and we still make it, despite the obstacles.

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Left, Vanda Rice, 63, and Margy Miller, 57, on the Rocky Branch Bridge which crosses the South Fork of the Kentucky River. The two are part of a grass-roots group, “Stay in Clay.”

It’s sort of brought out a little bit of pride in us — because if we can make it in the toughest place in America, that means that we’re pretty resilient. — Margy Miller

Vanda Rice: Three years ago The New York Times released an article saying that Clay County was the hardest place to live in America. We didn’t know whether to cry or just get upset and angry or get drunk. Margy and I were actually attending a training in Maysville, Kentucky when that was released.

Margy Miller: On the way back we had planned to stop at Owsley County, and see their play. Owsley is a neighboring county. It always ranks right near the bottom like us. We’re the poorest. We have the most food stamp users, etc. Owsley County’s right there with us and they have a community theater there.

At the beginning of the play, the members of the cast stood up and said the community name that they were from. They were funny names like we have here in our county — Standing Rock, Flat Rock, Goose Branch. But when they stood up and said those things, you could see the pride that they had in the place that they came from, even though it is one of the poorest places in America. They still love it. They still have pride and love for their communities. That was the first thing they did in the play. So Vanda and I just busted out crying and we ended up crying the whole play. Because Owsley County is in the same boat with us and we can so identify with everything in their play.

It’s sort of brought out a little bit of pride in us because if we can make it in the toughest place in America, that means that we’re pretty resilient.

We had coal business. Now it’s gone. We had tobacco farming and now it’s gone. We had the salt industry and after the Civil War it was gone. We still live here and we still make it, despite the obstacles. We do have many obstacles. But we kind of made a joke out of it.

Rice: Yes, we were upset for a while but then we thought, ‘You know, what we’re going to turn that around,’ because we know that this is not the worst place in America to live.

Miller: If we asked for a grant and we’d say, ‘We’ve been called the toughest place to make it in America,’ so who can say ‘no’ to a grant to this terrible, horrible, poor place to live?

Rice: We were working with Joy Jinks, who is a community development lady and a great friend and mentor out of Colquitt, Georgia, she said, ‘If you name it, you claim it and you get legislature to stamp it. Then you are it.’

We decided to take our swinging bridges and declare ourselves ‘The Land of Swinging Bridges.’ So we named it. We claimed it. We got our Kentucky legislature to do a resolution. So now we ARE officially ‘The Land of Swinging Bridges.’

Miller: In order to keep our town from dying, we had to reach for the low hanging fruit because we don’t have any money. That’s how we got started with touring and the swinging bridges because we’ve got those already here. We thought that people would be interested in them. People tour covered bridges so we thought, why not swinging bridges?

Rice: As is a lot of places, — things that you see  every day — you are blinded with daily activities that you forget this is something that’s great. And, it’s right here before my eyes. That’s what’s happened with a lot of our people. They just have seen these bridges all their lives and so they’ve been completely taken for granted. But, we’re seeing that a lot of people are really intrigued by these bridges. They want to come and walk them. They want to come and see them because they are very unique. It’s opening up even some entrepreneur opportunities for people — that’s our whole goal is to stabilize the economy, bring more people into our county.

You have to start somewhere, so start small if you have to, but start someplace.

If you could tell The New York Times a different story, what would it be?

Miller: I would tell them that if they were out on the road traveling through Clay County and their car broke down and they walked to the nearest house that the people would probably help them fix their car and cook them a meal – like, a really good meal.

Of course, they’d want to know where you’re from and the views from the state of New York. Then they’d think of somebody that they knew that was once from the state of New York because that’s how we are. That’s how we identify with each other here, ‘Who’s your daddy and where are you from?’

We just have good people here. We don’t have many homeless people because we take care of our families. If they’re crazy, we let them stay at home on the front porch. We don’t throw them out so they can be homeless — we just live with ’em.

Rice: That’s one thing that we have found, that we have this Southern kind of hospitality going on even though we’re a border state. Kentucky is not really North and is not really South. It’s kind of in the middle, but you will find that most of the people here are very open and inviting and welcoming. They want to love you. They want to make a connection with you and they will talk to you and question you until they find a way to connect with you – a common ground.

Once we meet you, you’re always our friend. It’s like you be nice to us and we’ll be nice to you. That’s kind of the way it is around here, very accepting.

Vanda Rice, 63, and Margy Miller, 57, are part of an all-volunteer, grass-roots organization called “Stay in Clay.” The group was the driving force to officially make the county  “The Land of Swinging Bridges” in 2015. Rice is also the chairperson of the Manchester and Clay County Tourism Commission.

From The Old Homeplace Farm Bridge you can see the “low water bridge” used for cars to cross Goose Creek.

 

The Rocky Branch Bridge crosses the South Fork of the Kentucky River and connects communities to the outside world in the event of flooding. Clay County, Kentucky.

 

Each of Clay County, Kentucky’s swinging bridges are different and each require a different level of nerve to cross. This one is The Old Homeplace Farm Bridge crossing Goose Creek just south of Oneida.

The Frazier Road Bridge crosses over Goose Creek connecting a family owned farm with Frazier Road.

Note: This version corrects the age of Margy Miller.


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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