The Appalachia’s Bright Future Conference, a three-day event focusing on the economic future of Appalachia , took place in Harlan over the weekend.
The bulk of the activities took place at the Harlan Center, with workshops, presentations and a lot of discussion on the economic future of the region.
The conference was sponsored by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC).
According to their website, KFTC “is a statewide citizens’ organization working for a new balance of power and a just society. As we work together we build our strength, individually and as a group, and we find solutions to real life problems. We use direct action to challenge — and change — unfair political, economic and social systems. Our membership is open to all people who are committed to equality, democracy and non-violent change.”
Carl Shoupe, a member of KFTC, said the point of the conference is to attempt to find new sources of income and jobs for the region.
“Our coal industry is pretty down right now,” said Shoupe. “If you study the industry, you can see that there’s some coal left here, but it’s not economically feasible for these coal companies to mine this coal at the present time, and it might not be in the near future.”
Shoupe said Harlan has a lot of things going for it, such as the zip line and Portal 31.
“I’d like to see everybody come together and not say what we are against, but what we are for,” said Shoupe. “We’re for a viable and a sustainable community. We’re hillbillies, we want this place to last. I’ve got eight grandchildren, and I would love for them to be able to run around these mountains and drink out of these streams.”
Roy Silver, a professor of sociology at Southeast Community and Technical College, was also in attendance.
“This is a very important gathering for us to figure out how to diversify our economy and create more employment opportunities,” said Silver. “We need it desperately. We’ve got a lot of great people here and maybe by putting our heads together we can start to build something.”
Friday night’s opening session included a panel discussion, featuring a speaker who traveled to Harlan from the United Kingdom. Hywel Francis.
Francis is a member of Parliament from Aberavon, Wales, was raised in a coal mining family and saw his country face many of the same challenges now being faced by Appalachian coal workers.
“I’m a historian, but I’m also a member of Parliament,” said Francis. “Since the 1970s,I’ve been involved in educational work in mining and former mining communities.”
This is not Francis’ first visit to the region.
“I brought a group of six miners over here in 1979 as part of an educational program to witness what was happening in the American coal industry,” said Francis. “We went to Lynch and met with miners who were on strike at the time.”
Francis said he hopes the link between Wales and Appalachia is strengthened through this conference.
“I hope there will be greater links between community groups in Wales and in Appalachia,” said Francis. “We’ve been developing these links for 40 years, and the need is greater now than ever to understand the impact of the changing fortunes of the coal industry on local communities and how people develop new strategies to cope with this.”
The three-day event continued Saturday, with a variety of workshops and information programming.
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-573-4510, ext. 113, email@example.com