Our 50 Years of Learning

Map of Sub-Regions in Appalachia

Hear me I’m calling,
all my sisters.
Hear me I’m calling,
all my brothers.

Carol Judy and Marie Cirillo will talk about development work in Clearfork Valley, Tennessee over the past 50 years and how they, with a handful of other women, are working to establish a learning center built around the people's efforts to be heard through their actions. Absentee corporations have taken ownership of the our land and are destroying our earth and water, but Clearfork Community Institute (CCI) will not let them continue to destroy our resources and force us to move away from familiar places to live out our lives.

As long as rural places are valued only for how they can provide the larger human settlements with their basic needs, places like Appalachia will be depleted of fossil fuels, land and water with them. Once identified as rich lands poor people, we are quickly becoming poor lands, poor people, affecting people far beyond this place and this moment in time.

The people of the Clearfork Valley retain their commitment to act on behalf of their rural settlement. We believe everyone is losing as our essential resources dry, as human needs increase. Natural life is the basis from which we build governments and unite people in their responsibility to let life breathe and structures adapt.  

Clearfork Community Institute
P.O. Box 81
Eagan, Tennessee 37730
(423) 784 - 0095
Email - [email protected], [email protected]  
As a Community Center intent on learning from what we know, CCI thanks RDLN for giving us this opportunity. We will present, for later discussion, three major steps in building our curriculum for sustainable and supportable local developments for and by the people who live in the coalfields of Appalachia. We hope within these steps there are principles that can apply to your work in your place. 

First, We ACT on what we SEE 

Marie Cirillo: Our community is defined by its actions. Small groups set their priorities. Our work is motivated by human rights, restoring beauty, and saving the land, as we learn how to shape a new dream for rural communities and rid ourselves of absentee land owners. We are fundamentally moved to provide a good home and environment for our families. 

Carol Judy explains how a coal mining community of 30,000 in the 1950's became one of 3,000 by the 1960's.
Over these past 50 years residents have rebuilt their community. Each project starts with a bubble of enthusiasm, moves into informal ways and most often gets structured as a nonprofit organization.

Our history will record
  4 attempts at health clinics with 2 remaining
4 economic development groups with 2 remaining (+ 1 profit company)
4 educational efforts of which CCI remains representing a collective effort.
2 family centers of which the second is an outgrowth of the first.
2 systems for water delivery, from a public water spigot to a water utility serving over 600 families
1 Community Land Trust now holding 450 acres amidst a 60,000 acre land base.
2 groups that have opened their doors for public uses
4 sites where families open their space to meet.  

Second - We DIG a little DEEPER into things we don't see 

MC: In order to gain something from government systems, we organized as 501-3(c) nonprofit corporations. Through these activities, people began to understand our marginalized position in relation to mainstream systems and structures of government. Laws of the land help absentee land holding corporations; laws that protect water take second place to laws that protect gas and oil drilling. How far did we get before we were challenged, cut off and threatened? How long did it take to find principled partnerships to work with us to change systems and structures? We realized we needed to do serious research into what keeps our efforts from growing, flourishing, and being part of a viable economy. Over time, local efforts gave us answers to bigger questions about a nation that is now also looking for answers to bigger questions. We are convinced that a nation built on an urban society without a healthy rural constituency will not find right solutions to the serious questions we all face today.

CJ: We start with our history and make history with our children while connecting to our elders. We run with our own people and then make trips and work the internet to connect to state, regional, national and international grassroots groups and their allies and principled partners.

We provide special opportunities for our young adults and recruit college students to join them so that the rural-urban interface can happen as people are thinking and mobile enough to explore.

We invest in our place-based community and carry many people with us on this plunge.

We run with the water, climb the mountain, work with the loggers, miners, root diggers, storekeepers and family homesteads.

We acknowledge and celebrate the fruits of our labor, the rewards of our investment, and the endowment provided by our natural environment  

Third - We FLY a little Higher into time and space:

CJ: How long will it take?

1) We build on our strength as a region:
  a) Intergenerational learning among our people.
b) The life cycles of our mountains, starting with forest trees, moving into the understudy that is not as easy to see and going a little deeper into the life cycle of coal.

2) We move in circles beyond our community to get a perspective on peaceful actions for change.
  a) We welcome people to visit us and share our sense of times and resulting behavior.
b) We send our participants out to other places so they can see that everyone's needs must be respected.  

MC: Where is it?

The laws say differently, but we continue to believe Earth is the commons for all that lives. Earth has land and water that we can see and air and energy that we can feel. Here in the Clearfork Valley we see it, feel it, taste it, struggle with it, rest with it, are born and reborn and feel passionate about it.

Our Community Land Trust is the best expression of how we have come to grips with what we believe in and want for this country.

Our Community learning center is the best expression we have for passing on our beliefs and best practices.

The people's shaping of an architecture for democracy is where the power rests. We women see it, taste it, love it and flex with it.  

Land Trust Definition: The purposes of a Community Land Trust are to provide access to land and housing to people who are otherwise denied access; to increase long-term community control of neighborhood resources; to empower residents through involvement and participation in the organization; and to preserve the affordability of housing permanently….[T]he nonprofit trust owns the land and leases it for a nominal fee to individuals who own the buildings on the land. As the home is truly their own, it provides the homeowner with the same permanence and security as a conventional buyer, and they can use the land in the same way as any other homeowner.

. ..[B]y owning the land, CLTs are able to greatly reduce the initial housing cost to the potential buyer. Second, …The buyer agrees to limit the amount of profit they make on the house sale in order to insure that the property remains affordable for the next person.- National Community Land Trust Network

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