Over the past month, students participating in the Appalachian Scholars’ Program have worked through the “Place” module of our curriculum. During this module, we covered topics such as the history of Appalachia, Appalachian stereotypes and also watched Appalshop documentaries, Long Journey Home and Stranger with a Camera. Students also completed a family history project and began their own blogs where they will write throughout their journey through our program.
The past month has been great. My goal is for students to learn to love and appreciate the place we call home and then to take that love and appreciation to serve our community and help it to grow and flourish. However, I have encountered a great dilemma. By doing research and talking with students, I keep hearing about a mysterious group of people simply known as “they.” Apparently, this group of people is responsible for giving Appalachia everything that it needs to thrive and flourish and apparently they have the resources to do it all with the push of a button; if only they would just do it. If only ‘they’ would put in a movie theatre young people would have something to do. If only “they” would create jobs’ we wouldn’t have poverty and so on. I began to wonder who could this group of people be that carries the tremendous burden of solving all of our problems out of thin air? Who is “they”?
As I pondered this mystery, I began to think, who is able to give us our wants and needs and has the resources to make it all happen? “Maybe “they” are the parents. Parents like to give us our wants and needs, but it can’t be them because they have mortgages and taxes to pay and probably can’t afford a movie theatre. Maybe “they” are the government. They like to spend a lot of money to try to make the world a better place. Well, they tried that and now they are trillions of dollars in debt. Must not be them. Hmm…I got it! Santa Clause! Oh, wait…”
I searched and searched for an answer to this mystery to no avail. I wanted to meet these economic superheroes so badly so I could convince them to solve all of our problems. I wanted to march right up to them and demand that they bring back the Taco Bell that we use to have in Hindman when I was growing up. Those were the days I tell you.
After much anguish and despair, standing there before my students, finally it came. An epiphany! A revelation! The end to my search. It turns out that this mysterious band of superheroes was not off fighting bad guys in New York City or Gotham, “they” were sitting right in front of me. There they were, arrayed with backpacks full of wisdom and knowledge and every sort of sophisticated gadget that one might need to change the world. They had the resources. But did they have the desire? Were they willing and ready to take their resources and to go meet the wants and needs of their peers, their community, their world? Or were they sitting there waiting, expecting some mysterious, unknown group of people to come do it for them?
The mysterious “they” is not to be understood in the third person. It needs to be understood in the first and second person. I, you, we, and y’all. “They” is indirect and ambiguous. I, you, we, and y’all is direct and personal. No one else is responsible for me, except me. No one else is responsible for you, except you. “They” are not responsible for making our world a better place. I am responsible. We are responsible. You are responsible. If you want to see a change, then you are the one responsible for making it happen.
Our next topic in the program is Service, and I hope this launches the next Justice League team of superheroes from our program to take their resources (their education, their skills, and all of the amazing technology available to them) and also to take their love and appreciation for Appalachia and go out and serve to the best of their ability by creating value as they meet the wants and needs of their peers, community, and world. So next time you find yourself saying “if only they would,” stop yourself and remember that “they” is you, and then go do something about it.