I spent this past weekend in Huntington. I was asked to give a boost to 50 some men and women working with Coalfield Development Corporation.
CDC was founded by Shepherd University graduate Brandon Dennison in 2010. It aims to revitalize southern West Virginia one graduation, one job, one family, one green plant at a time.
We started with a bluegrass standard: “Working on a Building.” Last verse—I’d quit my preachin’ and work on a buildin’ with you.
(I had other reasons to quit my preaching, but having time for these spunky men and women is one.)
I told them I was a grandson of a Pennsylvania coal miner. My grandfather died from a mining accident with no compensation afforded his family of four girls and three boys. It left a chip on my father’s shoulder.
The capitalists will always take advantage of the working man, he once told me.
His chip fell on me.
(Poverty, exploitation, and enslavement are not conditions of nature. People create those. Sympathy is nice. But repairs and reparations are necessary for justice to prevail.)
I spoke of growing up in Youngstown—of abandoned mills, broken homes, shattered lives, opiods.
We listened to a song made popular by Bob Marley.
By the rivers of Babylon
we sat down
and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
We paused and remembered southern West Virginia. What was. What is. What could be.
I told them a parable from the Great Ancestors.
Once upon a time the Creator stumbled upon a real mess. Chaos and darkness. Let’s see what can be done, said the Creator.
The Creator got to work—separating light from darkness, land from water, plotting, plowing, and planting—one day at a time right on through the work week until conditions were ripe for life to flourish.
Plants and animals arose from the earth, including one with divine-like powers to create and destroy. And, behold is was good.
Or was it?
The parable leaves us with a question: How will we use our powers?
We listened to Bruce Springsteen’s “My City of Ruins.”
Rise up, rise up.
With these hands. With these hands.
Come on, come on.
Then they shared stories of personal tragedies and of working to rebuild from the ruins. To bring light out of darkness. To mend the world.
It’s never perfect. But it’s good. And good ain’t bad.
See Paula’s photograph on the home page. “Roadrunner Road” Artist Way, Death Valley. 2020