As the number of opioid-exposed babies born in the U.S. has peaked, the crisis is reshaping life in some Appalachian communities, where calls for new approaches to care for these babies and their mothers are growing louder.
This piece was originally published by 100 Days in Appalachia. Growing up in southern West Virginia in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Jeff Mann first came to terms with his sexual identity in the pages of Patricia Nell Warren’s “The Front Runner.” His favorite teacher, who confided to him that she was a lesbian, lent him the love story about a running coach and his star athlete.
“That’s how I learned I was gay,” Mann said. “I read a novel.”
His teenage revelation helped to name a lot of things he’d felt for years, but it also meant some new, hard truths for the West Virginia boy. If he were to be honest, Mann knew, he would likely be shunned from his little hometown of Hinton, or worse. Books and stories, however, offered a safe, inviting refuge, a place to learn and relate.
Tennessee-based writer and journalist S. Heather Duncan covers two recently published books by Jessica Wilkerson and Ginny Savage Ayers that uplift lesser known histories of Appalachian women at the heart of hard-fought labor struggles.
While a three-week reprieve to the 35-day government shutdown is easing some of the pain, the month-long spat between President Trump and Democrats in Congress threatened the livelihoods of people receiving government assistance all over the country. Local economies are still feeling the ripple effects, and many fear the new negotiations could lead to another damaging impasse. In central Appalachia, where one in four residents live below the federal poverty line, the shutdown adds urgency to a long-standing debate about what a safety net in rural America would look like, and whether there are ways to construct programs that would be more immune to the politics of the moment. One solution increasingly becoming a part of the mainstream political discourse: Universal Basic Income. UBI—a federally-provided, no-strings-attached monthly payment to all U.S. adults, similar to Social Security—has been proposed as a potential solution to rampant poverty since Richard Nixon’s presidency.
“When people hold Appalachia as ‘the most American,’ they’re doing it in a racialized way. The reality is, people have always come in from the outside — and more likely than not, they’ve mixed with those already there.”
After a historic nine-day strike, West Virginia teachers return to their classrooms today. In their own words, they explain why they went on strike, and how this fight was about far more than education.