My Appalachian Identity

There’s a place in my hometown of Louisa, Kentucky that I always love to go when I visit. It’s a little diner called Dee’s Drive-In, and it’s the only one of its kind. It’s a place I always go to when I want good food, when I want to hear my dad talk about the extreme amounts of ice cream he consumed there in his little league days, or when I want to hear about one of my parents’ many dates there as high school sweethearts. It’s the first place I always take my friends from college when they come to visit, and it’s the last place I go before I drive back to my apartment in Lexington.

The chocolate milkshake and waffle fries that I always get reminds me of all the memories that I have of home, and how special it is to be from a place like Appalachia. Just like Dee’s Drive-In, Appalachia is a one of a kind place.

I could start my story about being from Appalachia at the beginning of my life, living in a trailer till I was 5, running barefoot through the grass every summer day, and being on my family farm for hours on end. However, I believe my story starts when I went to college, because that’s when I realized how much being from Appalachia shaped me into the person I am today.

As I was about to graduate high school, I decided I was going to attend the University of Kentucky, which was my dream school. I decided to major in History, which I later changed to Secondary Education, and I could not wait to get out of Louisa and move to the big city of Lexington. Eventually, August rolled around, and I moved in, and after a few semesters of being in school and talking to others from all around the country, I realized just how lucky I was to be from my small, little town of Louisa. There were a lot of things I couldn’t do in Lexington that I was able to do in Louisa, and I definitely missed the peace and quiet of the country.

I realized that Appalachia was a unique place, and I began to take pride in where I came from. To expand my knowledge, I took every Appalachian-tailored course that my schedule, and my advisor would allow me to. One of my required history courses centered around the Hatfield and McCoy Feud and Appalachian violence in the 19th century, and this class was the first time I was exposed to the history of exploitation of the region itself. After that class, I wanted to focus all of my time and effort on Appalachia anyway I could.

My junior year of college, a friend of mine told me about a research internship with one of our professors that I should look into. I was lucky enough to get the internship, and work directly with the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Project with a couple of professors in the history department at UK. Both of my mentors allowed me to focus my research on Eastern Kentucky. Through this internship I was able to learn more about women in the Appalachian region, their involvement in the U.S. Woman Suffrage Movement, and co-write a biopic about Laura Rogers White who was a suffragist and architect in the Appalachian region.

After my internship ended, I knew I wanted to keep going with my research. I decided to use my final capstone paper as a way to continue what I had done through my internship. Through 25 pages, I explained the role of Appalachian and Affrilachian women in the greater Woman’s Suffrage Movement. I was able to find newspaper articles, Kentucky Equal Rights Association convention papers, and oral interviews detailing woman’s suffrage and activism in the mountains.

Recently, I was able to present my research at the 10th Annual Appalachian Research Symposium and Arts Showcase at UK on March 2, 2019. I am also excited to present my research at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, from April 10th to the 13th, 2019.

I take a lot of pride in being a small voice for these women, and being a person who is able to share their stories with others. I firmly believe that I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without their activism and spirit for equality.

Today, I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky with my Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education Social Studies, with a specialty in Geography. I am about to start my graduate school program through the University of Kentucky’s College of Education, where I will complete my Master’s degree in Secondary Education. I hope to continue my research through graduate school, and continue to be a voice for Appalachia.

Written By: Kelli E. Lemaster

Small Town | Big Hopes

The smell of burning cedar and pine wood. Fresh, crisp morning dew lightly hovering over the

damp grass. Warm familiar scents drift softly from my memory and imprint forever upon my

heart the reality that was home.

My identical twin brother and I were born in a city of 33,000 but raised in its outskirts on a farm

in a town of 875. The journey of our lives [so far] has taken a scenic route. Much of childhood

was spend at grandma and pawpaw’s house, on their farm. We got eggs from the hen house.

We slaughtered our own meat (never name the animals). Very early in life, we learned that you

worked for not only what you wanted; you worked for what you needed.

The undergirded tones of my life responsible for much of what I have become is attributed to an

emphasis on family, faith and education.

Family - I am one of [now] 24 grandchildren with lots of other cousins, aunts and uncles, and

great-aunts and great-uncles. Every Sunday we had family dinner. My grandma’s moderately-

sized kitchen ever at full capacity. There was love. There was support. We are the descendants

of slaves. Slavery not only inhibited family formation but made stable, secure family life difficult

if not impossible. That reality not so far removed from present day, my family has always

maintained – with doggedness – an almost sacrosanct necessity of being a strong unit.

My mother remains the single most influential and important person in my life. She raised my

brother and me as a single parent. My father without question loved us dearly but dealt with

addiction issues most of our lives and was therefore absent. Looking back, it was best he not be

a part of our lives during those times. We did enjoy time with him and retrospectively, because

it was so scarce and with his recent passing away, those memories have become more precious.

The inherent struggles that accompany single parenthood are daunting. And I saw this up close

every single day. But I was also privileged to bear witness to grit and determination and

survival.

My mother has always been rigid in her standards, but flexible in her approach. Life does not

happen in a nice, neat straight line. It curves. It stops. It is the ability to adjust and keep moving

that makes the difference. She worked hard to ensure our needs were met. She equally

emphasized self-reliance, encouraging us to learn and do for ourselves. It was both a help to

her, and an assurance for us that we would live a life free from dependence on anyone or

anything else. She has always been encouraging. When we were in high school, her job

experienced a massive lay-off. We had no savings; no safety net to fall back on. My brother and

I both worked part time jobs to assist with bills. Our jobs, by the way, never infringed on our

studies nor our extracurriculars. We were both a combination of state medalists in wrestling

and track.

Thankfully, we were able to secure government housing (a nice way of saying the inner-city

projects). I say thankfully because not everyone is so fortunate in their misfortune. It was

tough. Drug deals on the corner. Having to – some nights – sleep on the floor because there

were shootings. It was disheartening. But she would remind us that this was just a chapter in

the book of our lives. That this was not final. But that God had a lesson we needed to learn, and

this was how we would learn it. “God gives the test first, and the lesson after.” She was right. I

learned that the way out of poverty is education. She was blessed to see both her sons

graduate from 4-year colleges and universities, and to see me become the first person in our

family to achieve a graduate degree. She is also grateful that we helped to build her dream

home. She is and remains my hero.

Faith – I am a Christian. Church was a big part of my growing up – I lived in the “Bible Belt” after

all – and it went beyond sermons and nattily attired congregants. It was significant as a part of

my family’s history. My enslaved ancestors established and relied heavily on their churches.

Religion and the assembly of other believers offered a means of catharsis. Like them, we

retained our faith in God and found refuge in church. Wednesdays were for bible study. Sunday

mornings were for Sunday school and church services. Aside from lessons on ethics and God’s

will, church provided me an environment to public speak. Testimony time, usually after praise

and worship and right before the sermon, offered an opportunity to stand before the

parishioners and give an account of any good thing that happened to you the week prior. Here,

I was coached on how to stand when addressing an audience, how to project my voice, and the

significance of devices to emphasize a point, like gestures and repetition. I remain grateful for

these formative experiences.

But as is the case with anything, there were incongruencies with the evangelical vein of

Christianity in which I grew up. This was perplexing and frustrating. There were deep-rooted

norms of underpinning hypocrisy accompanied by unspoken exceptions. For instance:

● “Homosexuality is wrong (Lev. 18:22) but we will eat all the pork and shrimp we want”,

seeming to discard those dietary prohibitions (Lev. 11:2–3, 10).

● “Drinking alcohol is a sin”, but the first miracle Jesus performed was turning water into

wine.

Rather than be turned off by this, I decided I would take the approach of studying scripture for

myself and coming to an understanding of it outside of the confines of dogma. It has given me

space to doubt, which is healthy. It has given me a license to question, which anyone who

desires to grow should. And it paved the way for me to have a healthy disassociation with

wrong-hearted cultural norms that sound good as a talking point or on a bumper sticker but

aren’t fit for practice. It was this tact that more than assisted me in my education and career

endeavors.

Education – Education was of utmost importance in my family. It was the golden check that

could be cashed at any time; a license that could never be revoked. My grandmother was the

driver of this sentiment. I was always encouraged to seek wisdom and understanding. One hour

of studies was required after school every day. If we didn’t have homework, we would copy

from the dictionary or thesaurus. I rather enjoyed expanding my vocabulary.

I went on to double major in Music Education and Political Science at East Carolina University; a

university with 28,000 students. I excelled. Homecoming King, the Head Drum Major of the ECU

Marching Band for an unprecedented 3 years, elected Student Body Treasurer and elected

Student Body President and voting member of the University Board of Trustees – at the time,

only the second black student in the school’s 102-year history to do so. My hyper-activity in

undergrad lent itself to a work ethic and drive that propelled me to my first job out of college;

the United States Senate.

Career – I never forgot “where I came from.” It was a blessing and an affirmation of the true

power of grit that I worked for U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC). I served as a Staff Assistant, an

important administrative role that honestly keeps the office running. After a year doing that,

my heart felt a calling to return home to teach.

I began my tenure as Director of Bands for Rocky Mount High School. Continuing not to

abandon the lessons of my upbringing, I helped to transform an anemic program into a thriving

performance organization, achieving High School Teacher of the Year, District High School

Teacher of the Year, and NC Encore Award recipient; all this in my first year. I facilitated life

through music for my students, many of whom experienced identical upbringings as me. What

a blessing to take the hard-knock lessons of my life, to be proof-positive to my students of what

they could become if they were determined to become more than their circumstances. After 3

years of much success, I decided to become the first person in my family to pursue a Masters

degree.

I was accepted to The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political

Management. While in school, I was also the principal horn for the GWU Wind Ensemble and

Orchestra and was elected to the Student Body Senate, providing a forceful voice for graduate

students. I worked concurrently full time for U.S. Congressman G. K. Butterfield (D-NC). I

currently am the Director of Scheduling for Congressman Conor Lamb (D-PA).

Now what – The individuals and experiences of my life have steered me to a trajectory of

service.

In this service, I have relied on my own story; proof-positive that if you want more, get up and

do more. If you want better, go out and be better. You are not your current circumstances. And

along the way of life’s journey, you will face obstacles. But with education and experience(s),

you are equipped to take the stumbling blocks that were meant to trip you up and make them

the stepping stones that lift you up.

I appreciate my humble roots; my meager beginnings. I’ve had a scenic route of life and

experiences. And I am motivated by a desire to serve. As far as what’s next for me, I believe

elected political office is one of the sincerest forms of public service. I envision getting involved

politically. Stay tuned. You may see me on a ballot sooner rather than later. After all, I am from

a small town with big hopes.

Written by: Tremayne Smith

Kind Hearts and Community

My name is Bernadette Cutlip, but all my family and friends call me Bernie. I was born in

Dayton, Ohio to parents that were raised in the Appalachia region. We moved to the suburbs of

Indianapolis, Indiana when I was 5 years old. My younger childhood memories are of close

neighborhood friends and all the fun activities that revolve around living near a large city. We

made many trips back and forth to Southeastern Ohio for visits with grandparents, aunts, uncles

and cousins, but for me, Indianapolis was home. Southeastern Ohio was merely a great place

to visit. That was until my father bought a farm in Jackson County and moved the family. It was

the summer between my eighth grade and freshman year of high school. What was he

thinking? I was devastated!

I spent the summer sulking, but ultimately decided I was stuck in Jackson and it was up to me to

make the best of it. I rapidly discovered how friendly the people of this community were. I

immersed myself into becoming involved in every possible activity I could find: tennis, band,

summer softball leagues, Tri-Hi-Y, student council and 4-H. All of these organizations helped

instill the values of hard work, compassion, confidence, teamwork and leadership. Looking

back, I see the ability to be involved in so many different activities was a benefit of living in a

small rural community. Had I stayed in the large metropolitan area of Indianapolis, I may have

been lost in the shuffle of huge graduating classes of students.

I would generally ride the bus to school each day, which is unheard of today, and it was there

that I found my purpose. I would help the younger children on the bus with their homework

during the trip home. I would try and help my hard-headed brother with his homework as well.

Teaching just seemed to be what I was meant to do. I enrolled in Rio Grande Community

College. My plan was to attend 2 years there and transfer to Indiana University to complete the

course work and graduate. That plan was disrupted when my mother was diagnosed with

cancer. As bad as that diagnosis was, I again witnessed the loving, kind hearts in the small

rural community of Jackson. I graduated from Rio Grande College and taught 27 wonderful

years for Jackson City Schools.

I now live in a different area of the Appalachian Region, Tennessee. I love to watch the sunrise

peek over the Smoky Mountains and enjoy the numerous outdoor activities this area offers. I

volunteer at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and continue to substitute teach because it is

what my heart longs to do. With children and grandchildren still in Ohio, I take many road trips

back “home” for visits. My family and lifelong friends from Jackson are always close to my

heart, for these people, along with that area, helped mold me into the person I am today. I am

truly thankful and blessed that God chose to plant me in the Appalachian Region.