When, in January 2014, the Urban Appalachian Council’s Annual Meeting voted to dissolve the corporation. I addressed the meeting saying in effect that they could dissolve the agency, but the urban Appalachian social movement would continue. Later that month a group of 40 Appalachian activists held a meeting at United Way to discuss the situation. We agreed to form a new organization. We hired Jeffrey Stec of Citizens for Civic Involvement as consultant and raised money from ourselves to pay his fees. We had to decide what kind of organization we wanted to be, how to fund it, its mission and program and type of governance. We set up as a coalition “staffed” by a core team of eight volunteers (hiring consultant as needed) concerned with the self care of the Appalachian community in this region. A larger group of volunteers called Stewards would also be part of the governance. UACC would provide support to existing networks and form new ones called Action Groups in such areas as research, advocacy, communications, archives and historic preservation, and youth leadership.
Elissa Pogue who was a program officer at Interact for Health attended that initial meeting. I asked if we could apply to her foundation for a startup grant. She agreed and we then received a small grant and technical assistance for our first five years. We are now supported primarily by a grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation ad our annual appeal. We also get small grants from the Appalachian Community Development Association, ArtsWave and other small foundations.
Highlights of UACC Work – 2014-2020
We began by forming partnerships with social agencies, schools, universities, and foundations to advocate for the needs of our community. These include the various agencies that serve Appalachian neighborhoods. We helped form the Greater Cincinnati Coalition Against Hate and obtained representation on the Child Poverty Collaborative and All-In Cincinnati. We have formed partnerships with the Cincinnati Arts Association, Cincinnati Public Schools, the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, Thomas More University’s Creative Writing Vision Program and the Appalachian Community Development Association in such activities as presenting Appalachian arts to public audiences and school children and developing youth leadership. We joined a network of civic organizations called the Rookwood group which advocates for social justice and human services for marginalized groups.
We established a communications system to connect the Appalachian communities in the Greater Cincinnati-Dayton-Hamilton communities. This system includes a web site, e-list, Facebook, and e-newsletter. Core member, John Bealle, played a key role in building our communications system, and more recently we have contracted with a young Appalachian woman, Erinn Sweet, to help maintain and expand our reach.
In 2017, core member Debbie Zorn became president of the Appalachian Studies Association. We then hosted the 2018 Annual Conference of the Appalachian Studies Association which brought over 900 Appalachian scholars and activists to Cincinnati. This activity helped UACC expand its volunteer network and generate new community partnerships in support of our conference.
Our research and advocacy efforts secured inclusion of Appalachian data in the report of the Child Poverty Collaborative and the Child Health Status Survey. We are, now with our partners, planning the Sixth Edition of the Social Areas of Cincinnati, a demographic study which will include data on Appalachian neighborhoods and their needs. We continue to support the Urban Appalachian Research Committee which meets quarterly to plan and share information about projects that focus on or benefit Urban Appalachian communities. We secured the archives of the Urban Appalachian Council in the Appalachian Collection at the Berea College library. This included a collection of photographs. We invited the community to join the Berea archivists in identifying the photos. We restored the Frank Foster Memorial Urban Appalachian Library at Community Matters in Lower Price Hill. Our partner, Community Matters, also supplies us with space for meetings and events.
In the arts, we and our partners are major presenters of urban Appalachian literary, performing and visual arts. We produced a series of literary salons, two arts showcases at the Aronoff center, as well as presentations on Appalachian arts, culture and social issues to teachers, school issues to teachers, school children, and social workers in several Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana counties. We sponsor community celebrations such as the Lower Price Hill Community Appalachian Festival and Ringin’ In the Appalachian New Year. Core member Nancy Laird and the Lower Price Hill Women’s Group have helped organize these projects and are key figures in self-help and service projects with families and children in Price Hill. We are organizing a Cultural Resources Directory to connect our musicians, writers and other arts and cultural presenters with their potential audiences.
Our Urban Appalachian Leadership Project launched in 2019 had encouraging results engaging young people and mentors in a variety of Appalachian community projects presented to the community. We are gearing up for a second round in the coming year.
The highlights of our first six years of operation would not be complete without including being the first community-based organization to host the Appalachian Studies Association Annual Conference, our community forum on Child Poverty, and the recognition our writers and poets and musicians have achieved. We do not claim credit for Core member Pauletta Hansel becoming Cincinnati’s first poet laureate and being presented the 2018 Weatherford Award for best Appalachian poetry book, or Dale Farmer’s production of an award winning film, Mountain Minor, which has attracted sellout crowds around the region, but we certainly see these achievements as part of our social advocacy and cultural movement. The same with the publications of Phillip Obermiller (sociologist), Michael Henson (poet, novelist), and Richard Hague (poet, writer). The book that won the 2020 Weatherford Award for nonfiction (Appalachian Reckoning), includes the work of three UACC members.
Looking to the Future
In the years ahead, I see UACC continuing to be the primary voice for Urban Appalachians. We will continue to find and connect grass roots leaders, college students, activists, scholars and artists of all genres. We will try to inspire them to join together to strengthen our community’s capacity for self care We will help them with their projects and encourage them to advocate for social justice, health, education, and human services for our people We will strengthen their knowledge base through the internet, our library, community gatherings, celebrations and training, and through the publications of our creative people and our scholars.
Perhaps most important of all is the work that our members do in support of their kin and neighbors’ efforts to cope with poverty, drug addiction, and job finding, and access to help in times of sickness and death.
In this time of global pandemic, and the resulting fears and tangible losses faced by so many throughout the Cincinnati area, the country, and the world, I believe that our self care network and communications system will be even more important to our community.
Michael Maloney is a community organizer, social researcher and consultant to non-profit organizations. He is best known for his founding role with the Urban Appalachian Council and the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition and as an activist, leader, teacher, and writer for the urban Appalachian part of the Appalachian movement. He has also served in leadership positions in the Council of the Southern Mountains, Episcopal Appalachian Ministries and the Appalachian Development Projects Committee.