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In Appalachia, Margo Miller Leads From a ‘Place of Courageous Joy’

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Ms. Miller said her experiences with racism were not the same today. “I’m currently surrounded by a community of social justice folks who are all about equity and inclusion and anti-racist practice,” she said. “I’m fortunate and do not have the same experience of other sisters who work for mostly white boards and trustees. Many of them have uphill battles.”

African Americans make up about 10 percent of Appalachia’s population while those identifying as Hispanic or Latino account for 5.6 percent of the population, a number that is growing, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission. Still, sociologists and historians said, Black and Latino people with roots in Appalachia have a deep connection to the area and their rich history should be studied and appreciated. People like Ms. Miller, who are connected to the region’s history, help with this effort, they said.

“You get coal mining stories or you’ll hear of good race relations here because there weren’t many Black folks here, but those stories distort,” Dr. El-Amin, of West Virginia University, said. “Black folks have always been in the region. From slavery on up.”

The fund that Ms. Miller heads supports all Appalachians, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or other identities, but under her leadership, which started in 2011, minority Appalachians say they have felt more included. For them, merely seeing a Black woman who is committed to the growth and development of the area is a comfort and source of encouragement.

Richard Graves, an artist in Abingdon, Va, a 2021 recipient of $5,000 from the community fund’s fellowship program said that the money made it possible for him to find stability during the first year he worked as an artist full-time. The foundation gave a total of $80,000 to fellows like Mr. Graves. But even more valuable than the financial support, he said, was the community support that came with being in the fund’s network.

“Because of how sectioned and pocketed off these rural communities are, doing community work together can be hard,” he said. “It gave me faces and names of people across the region. We met on Zoom every two weeks and continue to keep in touch.”

Strengthening community and bringing people together is one of Ms. Miller’s strongest qualities, according to several organizers and beneficiaries of the organization’s fund.

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