Three NOSW graduates joined author Cassie Chambers for a conversation about the resilience of women, what folks get wrong about Appalachia and more on December 6 on Zoom.
Raised in Berea and Owsley County, Kentucky, Cassie is the author of the 2020 memoir Hill Women, which honors her mother, grandmother and aunt, who raised her to be strong despite the challenges of poverty, isolation and backbreaking work.
“I call Hill Women the anti-bootstraps narrative because I think too often we talk about this idea of one person being able to change their circumstances and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and I wanted to tell a more complicated story about generations of women who came together and how that change, that progress, those opportunities really began with Granny and I’m just the one that really got to take advantage of them,” said Cassie.
“So what I hope people take away from Hill Women is the creativity and grit and incredible strength of women in the mountains, and the fact that communities in the mountains are full of follks who, if you give them the right opportunities and resources and partnerships, can solve the community problems that they face.”
Cassie asked graduates Sarah Rose (2015), Tami Gentry (2016) and Chaney Jackson (2018) about the role that support from other women has played in their journey. All three talked about NOSW.
“I’ve got the support, I’ve got encouragement, I’ve got love,” said Tami of her NOSW community. “Those are three things that I get. I need it in my life.”
Chaney said NOSW gave her a renewed spirit and hope. “And when you left there, that hope didn’t leave. It stayed and it’s in your soul, embedded.”
They discussed resilience.
“Once you have something like the NOSW to encourage you, and then you start realizing you have a lot more than you think you did, you can just start from there,” said Sarah.
For Chaney, resilience is how you react when there’s an obstacle in your path.
And for Tami, though she never thought much about resilience, “I’ve been persistent in improving my life.”
Cassie asked the women what has surprised them along their journey.
“The amount of willingness that people were willing to go to to see me succeed,” said Tami, a recovering drug addict. “Even with just their attitudes, the love, the hugs. … Just having that kind of feedback from people has truly surprised me and kind of made me rethink how people in society really are.”
The women were joined by about 30 audience members, including NOSW founder Jane Stephenson.