Community 2020 Forum on Appalachia
TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Office of Community Planning and Development
451 7th Street, Southwest, Room 10130
Washington, DC 20410-4000
FATHER HACALA: Good evening. What a wonderful gathering here this evening, it looks like standing room only. In the name of Secretary Cuomo and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, we welcome all of you, our friends and colleagues here this evening, thank you for joining us.
I am Father Joe Hacala, Special Assistant to Secretary Cuomo for Outreach to Community and Faith Based Groups. This evenings Community 2020 Forum on Appalachia is part of an educational program initiated two years ago by Vice President Gore and Secretary Cuomo. It has dealt with great issues with great minds. Cutting edge issues for our contemporary times, crime, racial justice, economic equality and the future of our cities.
Tonight's event builds upon Secretary Cuomo's recent trips to Appalachia, to West Virginia, and last week to Eastern Kentucky. In our excellent program this evening includes remarks by Secretary Cuomo and by our special guest this evening, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, I can say proudly from the state of West Virginia. My Senator, my former Governor and friend. That will be followed by brief comments from Rory Kennedy, another special guest this evening, whose award winning film, American Hollow will be shown in its Washington premiere this evening.
I want to point out that due to the real life situations in this movie, the language may sometimes be graphic. I want to point out as well that this tonight is not only about discussion and reflection, but it is about action. Following his visits to Appalachia recently, Secretary Cuomo has committed himself to summits in both those states, in West Virginia, in Charleston, our home city, and also in eastern Kentucky that will deal with real life issues with significant action and follow-up.
Following the movie this evening we invite you to stay around in this lovely HUD cafeteria to socialize with famous HUD cafeteria popcorn, listen to the music of Jack Lederman on the fiddle and Richard Underwood on the banjo. And we would also invite you, if you have not already done so, to view our photo exhibit, a photo display from a West Virginia, southern West Virginia photographic from Lincoln County, Rick McDowell that is hanging in the corridors.
We're joined this evening by so many guests here this evening and we welcome all of you and indeed you are our special guests, I want to point out especially the Community Builders who are here, an important new program that Secretary Cuomo has initiated here at HUD to reach out to build community across this country, and there is some 200 new Community Builders here this evening. So we extend a special welcome to you from across this country.
We're also joined this evening by so many and I'll mention just a few and I'm sure miss many. We are joined by Mrs. Ethel Kennedy, by the Secretary's wife, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, by Jess White, who has provided such outstanding leadership as Federal Co-chair of the Appalachia Regional Commission, and by so many others. Congressman Kennedy is there and others. Welcome to all of you and I'm sure I missed several of you.
As we begin our program this evening, let's take just a moment with all the artifacts that we are surrounded with and pause to ask God's blessing in the spirit of why we gather this evening. In the word's of the monumental Catholic Bishop's Appalachia Pastoral, this land is home to me. I invite us all to pray. Dear sisters and brothers, we urge all of you not to stop living, to be a part of the rebirth of Utopias. To recover and defend the struggling dream of Appalachia itself. For it is the weak things of this world would seem like folly that the spirit takes up and makes its own. The dream of the mountain struggle, the dream of simplicity and of justice is, we believe, the voice of our God among us. Amen.
And now as we move along in our program its indeed an honor for me to introduce now the person whose vision and commitment to equal opportunity in housing and economic development for all Americans brings us here this evening. As Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development I would say only simply this, he has done the impossible. He has fixed HUD. More importantly he has worked tirelessly and continues to do so to provide the resources and the expertise to empower neighborhoods and build communities across this country. Most importantly for me and I think why it all works and you will hear this in just one moment, at the heart of his leadership is a deep passion for the poor and for justice. So I present to you now the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Andrew Cuomo.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Father Joseph Hacala for the very kind introduction and also for the great work that he does here at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He is a Jesuit, the only Jesuit who is in the employ of the Clinton Administration as a political official. And when he correctly said that in the movie there was going to be graphic language, that was, as a Jesuit he noticed that there was graphic language, so we will be absolved of any sins, those of us who participate in this evening's listening to the movie.
Joe mentioned the number of people here and we have really a number of special guests and when you start to mention some of them inevitably you leave out others. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention just a few. First we have the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Saul Ramirez, please stand, Saul. We have Senator Paul Wellstone, who is no stranger to these issues. Senator Paul Wellstone. We have Congressman Patrick Kennedy, stand up Patrick Kennedy. When I pronounce Kennedy I use the Italian inflection which is Kennedy. My partner, my wife, and the best thing that ever happened to me, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo. We have Mrs. Sheila Wellstone, Sheila please stand up. And we have my mother-in-law, oh, they've heard about you before, Ethel. I've mentioned you in many discussions in this cafeteria. My mother-in-law, who, the only negative thing I can say about my mother-in-law is we have such a good relationship that I lost that entire repertoire of mother-in-law jokes that I would have otherwise had, Ethel Kennedy. Thank you. And thank you all for being here.
I'm going to have the pleasure of introducing Senator J. Rockefeller who is going to make some remarks and then we'll hear from Rory and then we'll see the movie. But if I might just a point of context for this evening and Joe said it. What the Community 2020 Seminar Series is all about is talking about the real issues that face this nation. Sometimes not always the most visible issues, not always the issues that are in the headlines every day, but the most important issues, and this issue is one of them.
The American story that we hear about every day is a great American success story. They talk about the DOW Jones about to hit 10,000 historic heights, the strongest economy in history, more millionaires created by this economy then any economy in history. They say a millionaire is created every day and that's a beautiful story of American success, capitalism at its best. Look what we can do, look at the wealth we can accumulate. And that no doubt is an American success story, and one to truly celebrate as we do.
But we would be doing this nation and ourselves, excuse me, an injustice if we thought that was the only American story that was going on, because there is a second American story. There is a shadow to that success and the truth is also that not everyone everywhere is sharing that great American success story. And yes, you have more millionaires than ever before, but you still have one out of five children who will sleep in poverty. You have the highest homeownership rate in history, 66 percent, you will also have 600,000 homeless people on the streets tonight. More millionaires, the greatest income inequality in 30 years. Those stories are both true American stories. The second story you don't hear about, you won't read about, and you don't see it, because it doesn't make us especially proud. It's not about people who have power or who have influence. It's not about places that we pass every day.
But that's the story we want to tell here at HUD, it's the story that you'll hear tonight. But it is a story that is from coast-to-coast, different faces, different complexions, different accents, but it is all too common an American story. You hear it on the Indian Reservations, Pine Ridge, the Navaho, the Black Feet who are in conditions that despicable. You can see it public housing, in conditions that most people wouldn't let animals live, let alone children. You can see it in cities that are dying, the Gary, Indiana's of the world, the Buffalo, New York's. Cities who are struggling for an existence and that is very much an American story, and a story that we need to tell.
Why? Because we can do something about it. That's what Senator Paul Wellstone has shown us. That's what Senator J. Rockefeller shows us. That's what President Clinton demands of us. That we do something about it, that's what the strong economy necessitates that we do. Strong economy in and of itself is not a success. Show me what you do with that wealth and I'll tell you whether or not you're a success. The size of your paycheck does not make you a success. What you do with that wealth, where did you invest it, who did you help, who did you bring along and then I'll tell you whether or not you're a success. It's not the size of the feast, but the number of people at the table. And then I'll tell you if you're truly a success as a nation, and now is the time to do it. When will we ever have this opportunity again.
Strong economy, the deficit is gone, right. How many years did we hear about the deficit as the obstacle to progressive Government. When we talked about investing, well, you can't do it, we have the deficit. We can't do jobs programs, we can do economic development, we can't do housing, we have the deficit, well that's gone. We have the people who know how to do it, we have the approaches that work, we have the leadership in the President, and we have the economy that gives us the resources. Now is the time to answer that second American story and have this nation live up to it's true potential which it has never realized.
Opportunity for all was the promise of this nation. Discrimination by none was the promise of this nation. It was the promise that Martin Luther King pointed to. It's the promise that Robert F. Kennedy fought for and we've never reached. Let's reach our potential, let's tell the story, let's come together, let's make a difference, that's what this is all about. And tonight we take a step in that direction, and thank you all very much for being a part of it.
It's now my pleasure to introduce from the State of West Virginia, Senator J. Rockefeller, who is now the Senator, who was the Governor, who was a College President, and began as a Vista Volunteer in Emmons, West Virginia, working with people who needed help. And that sense of community, and that sense of public service has stayed with him all these years and he now brings that voice to the United States Senate. He's very much a voice for the voiceless, he is the power for those without power. He is a true American hero. Let's give him a big HUD welcome, Senator J. Rockefeller.
SENATOR ROCKEFELLER: Father Joe, I called you Joe, I didn't know you were so highly ordained, much less a Jesuit, much less the only Jesuit who is a political appointee in the Clinton Administration. Andy, and first above all of us, Ethel. Because it was because of Bobby that I became a Vista Volunteer, Bobby Kennedy. And a couple of things I want to say. It's interesting to me that Paul Wellstone and I are here together. It would be difficult rational case to say that Paul Wellstone and I grew up in the same way, it would be a hard case to make. No sense of humor, this audience.
But what is not interestingly enough a difficult case to make is that Paul Wellstone who has been Vista Volunteer virtually all of his life and no, yes, he has, and I who was for two years coming out of the Peace Corps, trying the State Department and then being told by, you remember, Charlie Peters, and he said, Jay, you don't know anything about your own country. It's nice to know China and Japan, but it would be nice to learn a little bit about your own country, so do Vista. So I 10 did Vista for a year which became two years which is now 35 years. And I think the thing that's common to both Paul and I, which I think we secretly celebrate.
Is that the more that you serve in the Senate and the more you deal with problems that are large and international and global, in some ways the more you're pulled back to your original experiences of Vista Volunteer and that you discipline yourself not out of an act of discipline. But almost as sort of a moral consequence of what you do or the position that you have, that you have to filter things through the eyes of the people that you once worked with who totally changed your life. I won't go into that, but just understand that in 1964 and 1965 I was one person who became another person. And maybe I had the potential to become that person, but who knows, the point is I became another person because of people in Emmons, West Virginia, which was stretched out along three miles of two county's. Rory and Kanawha County and Boone County in West Virginia.
And I will give two stories, which will help you understand what you will understand far better when you've seen the movie. One of the things that I did, Rory, when I went to Emmons, after they accepted me, for four months they wouldn't let me in their houses. In 13 other words, they wouldn't ask me in, why should they, it was a Rockefeller from New York City, for God's sake, driving around in some kind of a crazy car. No doctor, no law enforcement officer, nobody had ever been out to Emmons within the last 10 years. I mean, they didn't come out there for murders really. And there I was saying that I want somehow as an untrained social worker to help, I want to help, that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be helpful in some ways. And back in those days that was okay to think that way and talk that way and act that way, you know, because that's what we believed, and it's what President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy gave us, was the power to dream and to change our lives and there was nothing wrong with that.
So there I go at 27 into Emmons and finally I'm sitting on, I was getting discouraged and I was sitting on some railroad tracks, and there is just one that is, and I was flipping rock, you know, that particular kind of wonderful sharp rock that lies in railroad beds and I was just flipping it with my thumbs like a marble. And three kids came down from the side of a hill, the Gillespie kids and they say, they said come in and have some lunch. And that began my whole experience and from then on it was just, it was just a wealth of experience and emotions that can't possibly explain.
But let me just tell you two things. One of the things that I wanted to do very much because I'm convinced, for example, I'm very interesting in health care, I'm convinced that all started in Emmons. I know it started in Emmons, Paul and I talked about that.
There was a lot of, there had never been, for example, any pap smears made available to any of the women in Emmons, West Virginia. And the county happened to have a van and I decided this would be a good thing to do, kind of an introductory thing for me to do. And, no, actually that followed, actually, no, that followed another thing where I really broke in is they said this can't, this has got to be a joke. And I said, all right, look, let's just clear the air and we're going to have this big town meeting, which was hard to do because it was one room school and I wonder how they rate, you know, wire up a one room school, wooden school in Emmons, it's now closed so it doesn't matter. But I brought all the slides I had of my previous life and it showed, you know, big houses, and cars, and Christmas trees, and sisters, and all kinds of stuff. And I said this is who I am, this is who I am. You can accept me, I'm here for a year, it turned out to be two. You can reject, me it's up to you, but I am here to try to figure out some way together that we can do something.
And in an interesting way after that, because I sort of bared myself, made myself vulnerable, it began to open up a lot. It helped by these three kids who came down from the side of the hill. And so the pap smear thing appealed to me because it would be a tangible way of helping. And I got the van to come in from Kanawha County and advertised it to the extent that you can by word of mouth, and of course nothing happened, nobody showed up. And that was, of course, my fault, because I had done the wrong thing, hadn't said the right words.
And so I waited another two months and worked harder on it, as well as other things, and it came back, nobody showed up. And the third time I did it, a couple of months later, two women showed up. And from them I learned a lesson, which I think may not have changed in some ways from what you'll see in Rory's film, except, of course, I don't know that for sure. And that is the reason that they didn't come is because in that hollow there is so much bad news, why would one choose to go to potentially to find out there is more bad news, why would you do that. So begins the education of Jay Rockefeller.
But all kinds of things did begin to happen. And we built community centers. We actually built a baseball field. We had to carve it out, it wasn't very even, we had a team. Over two years, we didn't win any game, but that wasn't the point, 0 and 24 had a certain dignity to it. And we didn't have any water, of course, and one of the great things that's going to happen next year, after 35 years of trying we're going to get water in Emmons, West Virginia, because Emmons to this day is always the last place in the riches county in the State of West Virginia that will get what is coming to it, always. It was true then as it's true now. But next year we get water.
I won't get into housing because to describe the housing, you'll see that in Rory's film and what one would have done with housing of that sort is beyond my comprehension, even if I were a HUD Secretary. I don't know what I do, you do, I didn't then.
The other thing I want to say is about jobs, and about the business of the expectations that we have in this country of people to be able to get jobs, and it's sort of a moral duty, it's part of the way you participate in the American experience. And there were a lot of kids at Emmons who were of the age, 18, 19, 20 where they could have gotten jobs, I mean, jobs were potentially available. And so I made it my point in my little jeep to take people in for job interviews.
And I'll never forget this one kid, who I will simply call Eddie, for the sake of blinding him. And he went to the local high school, that was a threat. And he was referred to there as a cricker because, you see, it was a very high income, that's where my kids would have gone, or would have gone to high school had I stayed in West Virginia, hadn't been elected to the Senate. And all the kids from Emmons had to go there because of the geography, so they were called crickers. And he had only one pair of pants. And so he dropped out of school. He was terrific kid, absolutely terrific kid, but he only had one pair of pants and there was nothing he could really do about that. And so he made the decision to jump out of school and not go there and not face humiliation. And I understood that, I argued with him for a while and then I stopped arguing with him, because it wasn't doing any good, and understood that.
But I took him to interview for a job experience, and the job experience involved going to downtown Charleston, crossing a street with a red light, which he had never done before, and then going up to the third floor of a building, which involved using an elevator, which he had never done before. And then we went into the job interviewer's room and I went with him and we sat down and he began the job interview, except that he was facing this window, and this window had the sunshine coming through it, but it was sort of open and it was venetian blind. So the fellow who was conducting the interview said to him, son, why don't you let down the venetian blinds, I think you'll be more comfortable. Venetian blinds weren't very big in Emmons, West Virginia.
And I watched this kid over a period of a minute or so try, you know figure, you've got the two loops on each end and then trying to figuring how and he couldn't do it. And then he sat down after a minute or minute and half, all he could take, and then he wasn't able to give his name in the job interview, so he walked out and we went back to Emmons. And that was true in 1964 and 1965 for a lot of our kids, and it's something I'll never ever get over, it sears you in ways you don't get over it.
And if you're in something called the United States Senate or if you're the Secretary of HUD or if you make great documentary films, you help people to have the chance to do what everybody ought to have of the American dream, the only problem it's not available to so many in America, and that's not right. Thank you.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you very much, Senator Rockefeller, we know that you and Senator Wellstone are going to have to depart because you have a vote coming on. But we have, as you heard from Joe Hacala, the Community Builders who are with us today. Community Builders, they're a shy group, the Community Builders. Senator the, but the Community Builder are about moving, going back into the community and giving us HUD personnel to make a difference. And we want to make you tonight, Senator, an Honorary Community Builder, and please accept this jacket, this is an Honorary Community Builder jacket. Congratulations, Senator, you made the big time now.
SENATOR ROCKEFELLER: Thank you.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Rory Kennedy, Rory Kennedy tells a story probably through the only medium that it can be told, through film with pictures. This is a story that words do not do justice to. You can't come up with the articulation with the rhetoric, with oratory to communicate the conditions that exist in Appalachia today, 1999. I spent a lot of times there, but I've seen things that I did not believe still existed. But words really don't do it justice and I think Rory's talent and Rory's venue can make a real difference in this nation. Because if American's saw the conditions that other American's lived in I am convinced they would insist that it end immediately, and that's what the Appalachia is about.
You can, it looks like time stopped. It looks like it was a bad dream in the fifties and the sixties, still no clean water, no sanitary, what they call straight pipes. You know what a straight pipe is, a straight pipe is a pipe that comes straight out of a home and spews waste in the creek that runs in front of the house. The creeks run down the front of the homes and the straight pipes deposit in the creeks, poisons the water, poisons the well and entire cycle, a hollow, except it's not pronounced hollow, it's pronounced hollow when you're down there.
My accent is not the best for a rendition of an Appalachian accent, I can promise you that. But they talk about the hollow and the hollows are the spaces between the mountains, it's the V between the mountain, where the only place can find flat land or the semblance of flat land to build on. And they crowd into the hollows and the creek is running down the hollow, because the water came down the sides of the mountain and is now going through chasm and that becomes the thoroughfare for the hollow, conditions that shouldn't exist.
Rory tells the story in a way no one else can show it. She's an award winning independent documentary filmmaker, founder and President of Moxie Films, which is a great name and really sums up a lot of Rory's charm. Moxie Films recently completed American Hollow to be broadcast 1999, HBO is going to show the film as part of their American Undercover series. It's not Rory's first film, she's also done a film called, Different Moms, which is a one hour documentary about mentally retarded mothers raising their children, that's going to air this April. And she's also done, Fire in our House, a documentary video on the AIDS prevention which has won awards from the Golden Eagle U.S. International Film and Video Festival, and the Silver Apple, who are National Education Media Network.
Upcoming projects include, Fallen Cradle, a documentary about children living in poverty. And Juvie's, a documentary for A&E about juvenile justice. She is a women of extraordinary talent and ability, who chooses to use that talent and ability to help other people. Let's give a warm welcome to Rory Kennedy.
MS. KENNEDY: Thank you. Thank you all. It's great when a brother-in-law introduces you, say wonderful things, so it will be paid back. Anyway, I'm just going to talk very briefly because the film is 90 minutes and I think speaks much more articulately then I ever could about the issues that many people are facing in Appalachia.
I'd like to talk about the evolution of the project. I was very interested in doing a project in Appalachia for many years. My father had gone down there in the 1960's and his experience there had a very profound impression on him and it was something that was talked about in my family often. And so it was an area that I was always interested in, and in 1997, when the new welfare law was put into place I wanted to see how that welfare law was going to affect people in rural communities. There had been a lot of attention on what was happening in the cities, but very little on rural communities. And yet, the 10 most impoverished communities in this country are in rural areas, so it was an important area to focus on.
When I got down to Appalachia I was introduced to the Bowlings through a social worker. And, you know, I spent some initial time with them and kept asking them questions about welfare and poverty. And ultimately, I think, we stopped asking those questions and a much more interesting film evolved. And so the film you're going to see tonight is the product of a year that I spent there. I lived with the family for about 30 days over the course of a year. So I do want to take a moment and just thank, I know they are not here tonight, but I want to thank the Bowling family because I really obviously couldn't have made this film without them. And they really opened up their home to me in a way that is really important when you're making a documentary like this.
And I also want to thank the Secretary, obviously, for hosting this event. And I also appreciate all of you coming here tonight. I hope you enjoy the film and I hope it challenges you a little bit. Thanks.
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