By Mike Templeton
The work of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition grows organically from the lives and experiences of urban Appalachians. Using our own resources and relying on the leadership from within our own community has served us well as we have drawn on the insights of our people and culture to make advances in areas like public health, education, and furthering of our cultural heritage. An emerging project in rural Appalachia will take similar methods and ideas in new directions. Writer and educator Amanda Jo Slone has founded and directed a project called The Appalachian Way which is designed to locate and facilitate leadership within Appalachian life and culture.
An important question for how we are to continue formulating and shaping Appalachian life and culture is the issue of leadership. How are we to find ways and people to lead the way into what will continue to grow as Appalachian identity, life, and culture in the twenty-first century? This is an open and complex question, but one thing we know for sure is that the leadership to come will emerge from within the Appalachian communities. Amanda Jo Slone’s The Appalachian Way grapples with this and other equally open and complex questions.
The purpose of The Appalachian Way is “to create a comprehensive resource on leadership in rural Appalachia that is accessible to a wide audience.” This is clearly an enormous project, and to carve out some ideas for how to begin, Amanda Jo Slone is beginning by simply asking people for their stories. This has some clear affinities with our own “Story-Gathering Project.” Slone states on The Appalachian Way website that “(a)t the heart of the project are interviews with various leaders from the region to uncover their unique leadership journeys and the ways in which their Appalachian culture has shaped their leadership style.” The idea is to draw on the insights, experience, and wisdom of Appalachian people to develop further insights for leadership within the Appalachian communities.
Amanda jo Slone certainly has the background and credentials to launch a project like The Appalachian Way. A single mother of three, 22-year-old twins and a 12-year-old, Slone has lived in Pike County, Kentucky her entire life. As she told me, “I live on a holler called Pond Creek, on the land my grandmother once lived on.” She is also the first of her family to go to college. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Pikeville College, and a Master’s in English at Morehead State University. And, if that were not enough, she completed her MFA at West Virginia Wesleyan College and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at Northwest Nazarene University. All of these educational credentials would appear to be sufficient to engage in a project such as The Appalachian Way, but her work is equally shaped by a life in the Appalachian holler. This is why she places emphasis on the stories of lived experience to develop idea for Appalachian leadership.
Slone explains that The Appalachian Way combines several of her passions: “Appalachia, leadership development, and stories. I have always been interested in how sense of place and identity influences different aspects of our personal and professional lives.” Some of this is guided by her academic research which focused on “traits that are important for academic success, but are not academic in nature such as GPA and test scores.” These traits consist of things Slone terms “grit and mindset,” traits that are quite familiar to Appalachian people from experience. Thus, Slone is relying on individual accounts to compile data and gain insights on how best to guide the ways we may conceive of leadership strategies that could guide advocacy and development within Appalachian life and culture.
Slone makes it clear that she recognizes that there is no single Appalachian identity, that we are plural and constantly changing. This is one of the reasons she wants to draw on individual stories. As she explains: “When I think of what my Appalachian identity means to me, the first things that come to mind are community and stories because those are the things that have shaped me and many of my beliefs.” The idea is that a combination of personal stories and directed focus on leadership development can “create a community of leaders in Appalachia who will continue the conversation about connecting place and leadership.”
The Appalachian Way is just getting off the ground. Amanda Jo Slone is getting the word out and compiling the stories and information she needs. Slone is clear that she hopes to gather as many voices and stories as possible. As she explains: “I hope to include many diverse voices in The Appalachian Way. I don’t believe there is one Appalachian Identity. I hope that the project will help us illustrate commonalities even throughout different parts of the region.” The commonalities that bind through differences is something quite familiar to the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition as the urban Appalachian communities in greater Cincinnati have spread through all the other communities in the region. We support people like Amanda Jo Slone as they work to empower Appalachian people and advance leadership from within our own communities. We encourage our urban Appalachian community members to check out the website for The Appalachian Way and sign up to be interviewed.
The webpage for The Appalachian Way can be found at this link: https://sites.google.com/view/theappalachianway/about-the-project.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the The Chief of Birds: A Memoir, available from Erratum Press, and Impossible to Believe, forthcoming from Iff Books. Check out his profile in UACC’s Cultural Directory. He lives in West Milton, Ohio with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city and the country snapping pho