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100 Days, 100 Voices

‘We are Called to be Stewards of God’s Creation, Not to Rape and Pillage and Plunder God’s Creations.’

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Rev. Morris Fleischer on Palm Sunday at the Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church in Newport, Va.

Just because we’re located in a rural part of Appalachia, this part of Virginia and in a small, rural county — don’t count us out. The people here — they have lives, they have lives that tell stories.

Morris Fleischer: Depending on the measurements, we’re basically in the zone. We’re seconds away. There’s a lot at stake. My office is overlooking where the pipeline is going to cross Route 42. God forbid there would be some sort of conflagration — we would all pretty much be incinerated. We’re in the blast zone and all of historical Newport would just go up in flames as it did in 1902 when the whole village burned up except for the church. So it’s the only pre-1902 building in the village itself because somehow it was able to escape that fire. I think about the safety of the people who come to worship here and come to work and serve out of these walls that have been here for 167 years.

It’s been quite challenging. As a church, the pipeline has had several manifestations. It’s moved around quite a lot and each option has affected people in our church. It’s terrifying to be honest with you. People are pretty scared — mainly because it’s such a large pipeline. It’s not like you are putting in a new line to a subdivision. There’ a lot of fear. There is this feel of uneasiness. We’re having this kind of the Sword of Damocles hanging over you with this threat of this pipeline.

We are called to be stewards of God’s creation, not to rape and pillage and plunder God’s creations. So, I believe that there is an underlying theology that we are called to be people who preserve and are caretakers as opposed to just take advantage of. If it’s going to cause future generations of trouble, then what gives us the right to contaminate or to use up resources that might be necessary down the road?

There’s no direct community benefit. It’s not like it’s bringing natural gas to the community. It’s bringing natural gas through the community. There is no local benefit to this thing at all. It devalues property. It’s a private company that’s somehow being allowed to operate under utility laws that were constructed for eminent domain. You get property rights issues involved in this thing and so you have people on both sides of political aisle. Conservatives may really be upset about the property rights issues. Others may be more concerned about the environmental issues — but all their voices are united against the pipeline as it is.

When we talk about politics, it’s unfortunate that we have to bifurcate everything into a left and right kind of issue with a hyper partisan nation. It’s very challenging to play that middle line — what the founder of Methodism John Wesley would have called the ‘middle way’ or the ‘via media’.

We have to remember that Jesus was political. He was not partisan, but he was very political in the sense that he challenged both the religious and political authorities of his time.

We have to not take things politically in the sense of left and right politics, but rather politically what do we say to power when that power is abused? How do we stand up for the oppressed and the vulnerable and the poor? While the community and the church may be small, we still do have a voice. Out of small things big things can happen. I’ve seen this small community organize in a way that I’ve not seen any community of this size organized before.

One of the big challenges — is the legal component where U.S. corporations can hire attorneys and things. We have to pull out of our back pockets in order to afford attorneys and do fundraisers — fried chicken dinners — to fundraise in order to have the legal voice and representation to voice our interests. But don’t discredit or discount an area or a church or a community because of its size. Jesus only started with 12 disciples.

Just because we’re located in a rural part of Appalachia, this part of Virginia and in a small, rural county —don’t count us out. The people here — they have lives, they have lives that tell stories. There’s a history here that is rich. We had people in Newport, Virginia that were on the beaches of Normandy. Out of this very congregation is the head of nursing for the surgical unit that was on the beach the day after D-Day. She represents all of us and grew up in this congregation.

So don’t count us out just because we may be small. We may be rural. We may be living in a part of America that sometimes is discounted or discredited and just have a blind eye turned toward us.

Morris Fleischer has been the pastor at Newport’s Mount Olivet United Methodist Church for nine years. The church is “always open and accessible” as Fleischer explained that the “locks are a more modern development,” and thus not found on the sanctuary doors of the church built in 1852. His church is about 400 feet from the proposed path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through Newport, Virginia.

The historic town of Newport, in Giles County, Virginia is in the proposed path of the 42-inch diameter Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The MVP is one of multiple large-diameter natural gas pipeline proposals under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The MVP’s proposed path stretches 303-miles from Bradshaw, West Virginia to Pittsylvania County, Virginia connecting Marcellus shale gas production to the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline System (Transco). Transco is a 10,200-mile pipeline network that stretches from the northeastern U.S. to the Gulf Coast serving major metro areas and international markets. FERC is expected to release its MVP Final Environmental Impact Study in June 2017 and a decision to approve or deny is expected in the fall. 

This interview is part of a series about natural gas pipelines and the people and places along the routes in Appalachia.


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. Follow her on Instagram @NancyAndrews.

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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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