The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation partners with organizations and funders working on Appalachian Transition. As our partners seek to create a more sustainable future for the Central Appalachian region, community controlled philanthropy has emerged as an important means for engaging and transforming community. Ethan Hamblin, a student at Berea College, is spending his summer vacation on staff with the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky where he founded the Youth Leadership and Philanthropy Initiative. In the first of a series of guest blog posts by grantee partners, Hamblin reflects on what Kentucky mother-daughter country duo The Judds have to teach us about the keys to successful community controlled philanthropy.
Love Can Build a Bridge
In December 1990 country music legends The Judds released their 22nd career single, “Love Can Build a Bridge.” The hit song’s lyrics encourage audiences to engage in acts of love that will inspire hope over despair and solidify justice and compassion.
As Appalachia continues to seek economic and social transition, there could be no greater means of empowerment than the call to action from “Love Can Build a Bridge.” Communities and individuals must dedicate themselves to “whisper love so loudly every heart could understand.” Through love-charged giving of our time, talent, and treasure we can actively pursue opportunity, eradicate social barriers, and build healthy, thriving communities for all people.
Love of Place
The greatest affection of a community is its sense of identity, its purpose or calling. Thus, the charge behind community-based action must be rooted in a strong sense of place. In simple terms: one must love a place to see it change.
Cultural organizers and grassroots movements within Appalachia have a long-standing commitment to place identity. However, businesses, schools, local governments, and private institutions must also sincerely invest in our community. Loving a place is much more than an appreciation of culture and heritage, it involves actively giving for the betterment of the place.
As a place changes, so does its identity. Industry shifts, demographics flip-flop, and traditions change. Today, as Appalachia faces an economic transition, we must be willing to explore new possibilities, embracing what has been and what could be. Loving a place includes seeing it change and being present for that change.
Love of Self
Love of self is crucial to understanding what we can give and how we give it. A person must believe their existence in a specific place is important. To achieve this mindset, the collective must adopt a common understanding that every person has something worthy of giving. Consider a potluck. Whether it is food, plates, drinks, tables, music, paper for the invitation, a Facebook guru to spread the word, or a photographer to make sure the scrapbook is complete, each person has something to offer. Each contribution is as important as the other. The community must encourage a “front-porch” mentality where all are welcome to a rocking chair and a glass of tea. Before many communities within the region (or the country) can achieve “front porch” status, social barriers such as institutional “isms,” poverty, lack of healthcare, and failing education systems must no longer remain the norm. Within a system where these barriers exist, an individual cannot and will not be able to love thyself nor contribute to the community. Thus, we are charged with eliminating injustice, and the Judds would remind us that, “the first step is to realize that it all begins with you and me.”
Love of Community
While love of place is rooted in giving, love of community is centered in the personal. Interpersonal relationships stabilized by mutual respect are the basis for loving one’s community. Simply, love people. In the spirit of honesty, this does not assert mutual agreement among all people. As we all witness, the diversity of experiences within our communities lead to many disagreements. Instead of criticizing those seen as “the other,” approach and engage change pluralistically and learn from those that are radically different from you. Interfaith activist Eboo Patel once stated, “To see the other side, to defend another people, not despite your tradition but because of it, is the heart of pluralism.” Seek out opportunity to bridge the gap across religious, political, and ethnic divides for the betterment of community. Create space for intergenerational collaboration where young and old are represented equally. Most importantly, abolish the injustices created by a system of power vs. powerlessness. We must learn to live in peace where all are welcomed to give and build a resounding love among all peoples. This is the call for love of community.
As we work on Appalachian Transition, let’s remember the words of Naomi and Wynonna, “When we stand together, it’s our finest hour. We can do anything. Keep believin’ in the power.” Love of place, love of self, and love of community must guide our hands as we work for the greater good. Once an individual sincerely believes in and experiences such love, giving will happen.
Only when we all serve as philanthropists, can mountain communities be transformed into the places we want to live, work, raise families, and retire for years to come.
Until then, we will continue to build a bridge of love.
To learn more about organized philanthropy’s response to Appalachian Transition visit the Appalachia Funders Network. To see the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation’s current grantee partners in Appalachia visit our grants section.
Ethan Hamblin was raised on Gays Creek, Kentucky, deep in the heart of Appalachia. He values community action and emerging leadership. Ethan is currently a student at Berea College where he is pursuing a degree in Appalachian Studies and is one of the student workers for the Brushy Fork Institute. Ethan has served as an intern for the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky where he helped establish the Youth Leadership and Philanthropy Initiative. In his spare time you can find him sitting on his front porch with a cup of sweet tea and talking nonstop with his fantastic family. Meet more MRBF guest bloggers.