Over the past few weeks I have spent quite a bit of time researching efforts to support entrepreneurs in Appalachia and other parts of the country we don’t often hear about, including those that were at the heart of apparel and other types of manufacturing. Though it is not often on the radio or in the newspaper, as it turns out, there is a lot of work going on outside the limelight of the flashy tech start-ups and big cities to give us hope about bringing back jobs in the U.S. and getting communities that have been left behind to experience sustainable prosperity. Yes, you have to dig to know about efforts like Coalfield Development in West Virginia, which fuels social enterprises like green building or local farming, by providing paid on the job training and skills development to locals, or MACED (pronounced may-ss-id) which gives loans to underserved entrepreneurs in Kentucky to diversify away from coal towards more sustainable businesses, including loans which allow business and residents to cut down on electricity and use renewable energy.
Learning about all this work over the past few weeks is quite literally changing the way I see my country. A barren landscape of cynicism is gradually being replaced by the feeling of momentum from groups taking action to create hope and sustainable, diversified opportunity in the place of an expiring coal industry. It only occurred to me how much my perspective was changing when I went to see Laura Greenfield’s documentary “Generation Wealth”. I love her work, exposing the ugly underbelly of greed in America. And overall I really enjoyed “Generation Wealth”, which was the culmination of a lifetime of study of wealth in America as well as the woman behind this work. But very suddenly the expression “our reality is what we see” came alive for me. What she sees is an America going to insane extremes to obtain or experience wealth, in pursuit of an insatiable greed, that costs them everything.
I wanted to wave my hands at her and say “When you get past the final exists in LA, keep driving and come explore the nooks and crannies of America where a lot of interesting things are happening to do with sustainability, social entrepreneurship, green energy, diversity of wealth and resources, empowering communities, empowering creatives and local makers…” Indeed, if you are waiting to hear about this in your New York Times or on NPR, you may never hear about it. You may never know it exists, but there is a modest army of people working their butts off to make our country great in a way that perhaps it never was. Because let’s be honest, refocusing on sustainable development and making sure that all sorts of different groups are included in prosperity has not been the stated aim of pervious domestic development efforts. We had to learn the hard way by having our water poisoned, or our skies and lungs mucked up with pollution, or by realizing that we can no longer walk or bike anywhere safely, or by watching disenfranchised communities recede into addiction and hopelessness.
Something new and seismic IS happening. Don’t let you senses deceive you––not an easy task when so many of us have our attention fixed on our networked little electronic boxes. If we want to be energized and feel the hope of making this new vision a reality, we have got to believe in it, seek it out, support it with our consumer dollars, with little notes of encouragement, by mobilizing our bodies for the cool new shop that opened up in our town, or to cut the ribbon on a bike path. If you see a dark, sad, hopeless world, I assure you that a very different, much more hopeful reality exists, just waiting to be discovered.
If you are wanting a bit of inspiration to start changing what you see, listen to this amazing story on the Ted Radio Hour about a man who lost his sight and in doing so, learned how to see.
Thank you very much for following along and supporting me with you precious attention in such a busy world.