As our first group of UACC’s Urban Appalachian Leadership Project (UALP) participants finishes up their tenure we have invited them to share their reflections of having attended and produced cultural events. Two of these young leaders, Erin Carrus and Brook Batch, shared their experiences from the Wide Open Mic held earlier this spring.

Thanks to all that attended, brought home-cooked food or performed at this unique community-building event.

Erin shares:
UALP has been such a blessing to me. Not only have I gotten even closer with those involved, but I have also had the chance to witness and participate in events such as the Express Appalachia Wide Open Mic held on Thomas More University’s campus that brought a diverse set of people together for a night of sharing, music, and fun. The Open mic consisted of a skit-like reading of poetry and identity by myself and my fellow grant recipients. We had the chance to tell those who attended the event about the Appalachian community, Urban Appalachian Leadership Project, and about ourselves as members of this community. We also shared some pieces that were written with intentions to bring ourselves closer to our identity. The rest of the evening consisted of volunteer opportunities to share poetry, music, identity, and dance. By the end of the evening, every person in the room was circled around the room, holding hands, singing together; It was simple magical.

This event was nothing more than the powerful nature of identity bringing people together. I was a bit concerned while we were putting this event together that there may not be many people there, or that the people that did attend would be too shy to stand up and read their work, but that proved to be a naïve state of mind on my behalf. I have been constantly reminded throughout this grant that it is not the amount of people that are impacted through what we do, but the amount of impact that we have on each person. Although we did have an incredible turnout, I still feel as though each person who experienced the open mic took away much more than we could have ever hoped for.

Russ and Barb Childers playing music together as Bear Foot, surrounded by delicious home cooking provided by the community.

Brook shares:
On Sunday, March 24th, 2019, we hosted the finale Express Appalachia Homecoming Wide Open Mic event on Thomas More University’s campus. Express Appalachia featured a lively melody of music performed by Bear Foot and Tellico, poetry from our Urban Appalachian Leadership Project grant team and the local Thomas More, Northern Kentucky, and Cincinnati communities, dance, and comfort foods.

As with all of our Express Appalachia Open Mics, we strove to broaden the borders of community and provide an environment for individuals to creatively share their homeplaces and identities with others. We kicked off the event with music by Bear Foot followed by poetry readings from our UALP Express Team. After that, we spoke about the diversity in Appalachia, outmigration issues, and the goals of UACC and UALP. We introduced our Express Appalachia project and shared our project goal to host creative, expression-based events to help encourage the blending of communities and cultures.

After that, welcomed everyone to the open-mic stage. Pauletta Hansel and Dick Hague, two accomplished local Appalachian writers read their work, followed by several members of the Thomas More community, participants in Thomas More’s Creative Writing Vision Program community, and other community members. Later, Bear Foot lead us through the Virginia Reel, an energetic dance sequence that included the participation of nearly every person present. This was followed by music from Tellico. The event closed with a rendition of “I’ll Fly Away” by Bear Foot and Tellico.

Overall, I think this event was a success. We were able to draw in different people than our other open mic events. Everyone seemed eager to read their work and support those who performed.

Participants dancing the Virginia Reel at Thomas More University.

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