Commentary #91: “Appalachia has a new story to tell, and it’s not an elegy” (Editorial)

Ridgeview High School Robotics Team

This is the championship Ridgeview High School robotics team from Southwest Virginia. Way to go! Image Credit: Dickenson County Public Schools

This was a fascinating editorial that one of my good friends, Mr. Lin, shared on Facebook a while ago. Mr. Lin used to be a teacher at my local elementary school, but has since created an impressive career in school administration. He has been an assistant principal and a principal in the Roanoke County Schools, Floyd County Schools, and now in Pennsylvania.

Here’s the link to the original post:


On The Roanoke Times’ website, the caption with the photo I used states: “The first team from Ridgeview High School in Dickenson County to win a state championship was its robotic team in 2018. That team went on to the world championship in Detroit, where it placed 9th out of 64 teams. Our editorial at left looks at how J.D. Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ perpetuates negative stereotypes of Appalachia. There’s a different story the region ought to tell, and the engineering skills of students in one of the state’s most rural localities ought to be part of that new narrative.”

Every time I read something new about Appalachia, whether it’s an editorial or not, I always learn new things or discover something different. This editorial was no exception.


When I first heard about Hillbilly Elegy on NPR’s Fresh Air, I was immediately intrigued. I kept telling myself I was going to read it, but here we are, in July 2019, and I haven’t read it yet. Maybe that’s a good thing.

I didn’t realize Ron Howard is planning to make a movie about the memoir, either. I admire Howard immensely. However, I’m hesitant to see it, whenever it is released. I don’t appreciate negative stereotypes, whether they’re implied or not.


Maybe my feathers are ruffled because of my own Appalachian “history.” Much of my mom’s extended family hails from West Virginia. I have fond memories of many family reunions in Ripley and Beckley. I loved visiting my great-grandmother, Laura Bethany Powers, whom I am named after. She lived to be 102!

In addition, I started researching Appalachia on my own in high school and throughout college.

This editorial opened my eyes to the progress that has been made and seen in Southwest Virginia. Since it is the Roanoke newspaper, I understand why they focused on their own region. Still, seeing the positive statistics made me happy, and hopeful.


I still plan to read Hillbilly Elegy, eventually. I have another 15 or so books I want to read first.

But, after I read Hillbilly Elegy, I’ll likely look up the other two books that were mentioned in the editorial:

  1. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, by Elizabeth Catte
  2. Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, a collection of essays by scholars and community activists in the region, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll

I found one other part of the editorial to be striking:

“Given all this talent, technology companies ought to be competing to locate in Appalachia, not acting as if it didn’t even exist. These are the stories we need to be telling the world — that we are a topographically-challenged and economically-challenged part of the country that is populated by smart, hard-working people.”

An interesting thought, and that needs to be explored much further.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #84: “As GM’s Lordstown plant idles, an iconic American job nears extinction”

Lordstown GM Plant

Image Credit: CNN

I saw this fascinating CNN article on Wednesday, March 6th:


The Lordstown, Ohio plant has been closed for nearly a week now. It made its last Chevy Cruze sedan on March 6th. Another sign of the times. General Motors (GM) has shrunk from more than 618,000 workers to just north of 100,000 people.

Auto manufacturing in the U.S. has been declining for a while now. The closure of Lordstown is part of GM’s shift in strategy – Away from sedans, more focus on higher-margin trucks and light SUVs, as well as researching and developing electric and autonomous vehicles. GM has also invested in a ridesharing platform called Maven.

In addition to a declining workforce, U.S. auto workers have experienced a drop in wages (Roughly 18 percent since 1990, adjusted for inflation), and less retirement benefits. Just two years ago, only eight percent of factories offered pensions.


Lordstown sits in the Youngstown, Ohio region, halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The average worker in Youngstown made $38,000 per year in 2017. Compare that to $61,000 to $88,000 per year for full-time GM production workers, according to their United Auto Workers union contract. And that doesn’t include overtime pay and bonuses.

The Lordstown plant started to see changes about two years ago. As the demand for the Cruze sedan declined, the second and third shifts were cut, and 3,000 people were laid off. Of the remaining 1,400 people, about 400 accepted transfers to other plants, and they are able to hold on to their healthcare and pensions. There were 350 workers eligible for retirement. Those transferred workers will receive $30,000 in relocation assistance.

One of the workers interviewed for the article, at GM since 1995, thought she had enough seniority to transfer to another facility, such as the metal fabrication plant in Cleveland or the transmission factory in Toledo. However, relocating is not ideal, either. She’s stuck, quoted as saying GM has her in a “chokehold.”

“I make $32 an hour. I’m not going to go get a $12-an-hour job. I couldn’t survive on that at all. I’m going to get up and go, ride it out, try to get the best gig I can get, and be done with them.” She’s hoping to net her 30 years at GM – which won’t happen until 2025.


The Youngstown region has watched manufacturing slide downhill since the 1970s. The auto industry started to crack less than a decade later, with stiffer competition from Japanese automakers. In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) dealt another blow, as work was outsourced to lower-paying suppliers. In 2007, as the automakers were having systemic issues related to the financial crisis and impending Great Recession, a lower-wage tier was created for entry-level workers, where they made 45 percent less per hour and got a 401(k) rather than a guaranteed pension. GM’s bankruptcy two years later tightened things even further.

For Lordstown, the community has thrived on GM. At one point, GM helped bring more than $2 million in tax revenue, among other benefits to schools and community ventures. Twenty years ago, Lordstown was competing with other cities to win another car model to replace the Chevy Cavalier. The community banded together, and along with plant officials, were successful in winning that car model. The community tried it again in 2018 – Posting signs, writing letters, and working with politicians. Unfortunately, one of the big factors was plant management wasn’t interested in participating this time.

Many are uncertain and fearful. They’ve watched GM shutter, and then re-open, their plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. What if that happens in Lordstown?

Another problem is many GM workers were hired without secondary education. Nearly two-thirds of the 13,000 purported job openings in Youngstown, including information technology and healthcare, will require a post-secondary credential by 2021.

One bright spot is trade adjustment assistance, available to GM workers through the state and U.S. Department of Commerce. Truck driving certificates have been popular recently, due to the quick turnaround to earning them, and relatively good pay.


As Lordstown begins to adjust to life without GM, the local high school has started a training program for the logistics industry, helping prepare students for jobs in the various distribution centers in the area. Roughly 15 percent of students have parents worked in the plant. And they’ve already begun to experience losses, as families leave to accept those transfers at other GM plants.

TJ Maxx is building a facility that will employ 1,000 people locally. However, the wage difference is drastic. Where many at GM made $30 per hour or more, entry-level listings for other TJ Maxx facilities sit between $10 and $13.50 per hour.

However, Lordstown doesn’t want the shuttered plant to be turned over to Amazon, Tesla, or any other company. Not yet, anyway.


This story isn’t just about one GM plant in one Ohio town. It’s about history, the manufacturing industry, the changes in the American workforce, and what can be done for those who need jobs now.


Resources


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #20: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

Pope Francis

Image Credit: AZ Quotes

To start researching for this post, I simply put the following words into the Google search bar:

sex abuse in the catholic church


On just the first page of results, this is what I found:

Note – For all my blog posts involving research, I do my best to cite multiple sources that are credible.


It was absolutely overwhelming to see the hits from that simple six-word inquiry. Google started to complete what I wanted after I had only typed “sex abuse.”

As I was beginning to compose the structure of this post, I thought of two recent forms of “entertainment” that specifically focuses on this topic:

  1. Spotlight
  2. The Keepers

I’ve seen Spotlight (2015) three times now, and it’s one of those movies that’s made a lasting impression on me. I was pleased that it received recognition, critical acclaim, and a few Oscars. Despite the plot centering on something so horrific and sickening, it quickly rose to near the top of my all-time favorite movies. It’s a well-written, well-cast, and well-performed motion picture. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you do so. I have a feeling you will come to the end of the movie a changed person. I know I’m glad that I went to see it in theaters, and watched it several times since then.

I recently wrote a blog post about The Keepers (2017). It’s a decent documentary series that was created by Netflix, and another one that I recommend that people watch and (attempt to) digest. While not nearly as good as Spotlight, in my opinion, it’s still something valuable to see.

Here’s a few sources I found on Spotlight and The Keepers:


I was raised in the United Methodist Church, but I have attended many other churches of different denominations throughout my life – Baptist, Catholic, Congregational, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ.

I knew certain aspects were different from the United Methodist Sunday School and traditional 11:00 a.m. services that I attended nearly every Sunday, unless we were traveling or visiting family. Most Sundays until I went off to college, you would find me in a church. For example, I tasted my first Communion wine while attending a local church service with Christine Anzur and her family after a weekend sleepover in elementary school, and I nearly gagged. I was inherently used to King’s Hawaiian bread and Welch’s grape juice every first Sunday of the month at Aldersgate. I knew a few devout Catholics, and learning about Mass, cantors, and priests was fascinating and intriguing.

As I grew older, I started to have a lot of questions.

  • What is celibacy?
  • Why were priests celibate?
  • What made them different from our pastor or minister? We had a female associate pastor when I was growing up (And we have a wonderful one now!), but why wasn’t a woman leading any of the Catholic churches?

Things like that. As a child and a teenager, I felt confident that I could trust the pastors at Aldersgate – They were all married men and devoted to their families.


I don’t remember the first time I heard about sex abuse in the Catholic Church, but I do clearly remember that my mind immediately starting racing with thoughts like, “Why? Why on Earth would a man of God do something so horrible? And, why haven’t we seen more of this in the news?”

As an adult, I’m finally starting to realize how deep and wide this cycle of abuse has run. I’m glad that priests, cardinals, and other officials are starting to be charged with these unspeakable crimes, but I know this is a never-ending saga. This is only the beginning.

Exposes, so to speak, like Spotlight and The Keepers, are glancing just the tip of this massive iceberg. This is bigger than what sank the Titanic. At the end of Spotlight, viewers are shown a list of places around the world where major abuse scandals took place. It was something immensely powerful. I already felt immensely sick from watching the movie, and seeing that long list just turned my stomach even further. It compelled me to do more than just watch the movie multiple times. It’s inspired me to do more research on the subject, and write blog posts like this one.


This is such a deep topic that I feel like I can’t possibly cover everything that’s happened over the years, or say everything that I want to in this one blog post.

For now, I plan to keep researching, watching / reading the news sources that I trust, and follow any new developments. I hope to publish another blog post, with hopefully some more good news, at some point in the future.

I also intend to watch more films and documentaries, as well as look into other forms of media, to observe the different portrayals of this incredible saga.


This is a tough topic – One of the toughest that I’ve attempted to write about since starting this little blog of mine. I hope what I have written / presented is informative, to say the least.

I welcome any constructive comments, as well as recommendations of any compelling or interesting sources that you have come across.

Thanks for reading!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #50: “Students Turn the Tables on a Journalist”

It-is-not-enough-for-journalists-to-see-themselves-as-mere-messengers-without-understanding-the-hidden-agendas-of-the-message-...-John-Pilger

Image Credit: Ask Ideas

I read several advice columns, on almost a daily basis:

I don’t always agree, but several letters have made me think about certain things in my own life, such as dealing with certain friendships, how to consider money matters, and how to help the environment in different ways.


Last Monday, I stumbled upon an intriguing headline:

I don’t normally read “Parents Talk Back,” but I felt like I needed to read this one.

And, I was right.

Scenario: The columnist is approached by her daughter. Daughter asks mother to come talk to her middle school classes before starting a unit on investigative journalism.

Mother agrees, and creates a lesson plan with the teacher. Her ideas: Discuss the First Amendment, explore how the free press works, the different types of news sources, and examples of investigations.

She taught this lesson six times, to groups of 40 students. That’s 240 students! Armed with candy, she encouraged the students to answer and ask questions.

She later received over 100 notes from the students, thanking her for the enlightening discussion.

Here’s some of the responses:

  • “I learned a lot of new things about how to gather information on public files.”
  • “I’m taking journalism in high school, and I wasn’t that excited about it, but now i am! Can’t wait for that class.”
  • “Who knows — you may have possibly inspired a future journalist.”
  • “It gave me new insight on the steps reporters take to write a story and how they’re viewed by the public. My favorite part was when you explained the impact of journalism on real world issues.”
  • “My favorite thing you said was that reporters helped bring bad things to light.”
  • “My favorite thing you said was that investigative journalists don’t do it for the money, they do it for the truth.”
  • “My favorite thing you said was you’ve been a journalist for 20 years, and that’s a record to me, because most people quit because people say mean things.”

I found myself re-reading this column a few times over the last week. It’s awesome that one woman made such an impact on 240 students, in one day!

Reading this column has inspired me to look into opportunities of sharing my varied knowledge on topics such as reading, writing, journalism, mass media, blogging, donating blood/blood drives, and maybe even the world of healthcare.

I’m not sure where this will lead me, but I’m excited!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂