While the global pandemic challenged our best laid plans for 2020, it did not derail our mission. In fact, the pandemic and movements for racial justice underscored the very issues that the Rural Assembly and our partners have been working on for so long.
As we look back over the year, calls for equity, justice, access, and inclusion reverberate through all our livestreams, virtual gatherings, and missives from the field. We are determined to carry those calls with us into 2021 and beyond. The needs have not changed; our work continues. The Rural Assembly team is full of gratitude for the people and places with whom we get to play, create, and collaborate. We celebrate you this season.
We also remember those whom we have lost in the ocean of a pandemic. We remember grieving families and friends, and those working on the frontlines of this crisis. We carry you with us.
With gratitude, The Rural Assembly Team
1. We brought pressing issues to the forefront.
We were physically distanced, but we came together virtually to have critical conversations on some of the most pressing issues of the moment. We brought together practitioners and experts for livestream discussions about broadband, rural journalism, rural electric cooperatives and more. Revisit our discussion about rural broadband in the time of Covid.
2. We checked on our neighbors.
In the early days of the pandemic, people across the country started to check in with old friends, neighbors, and family. So did we, and we shared those with you in our Check On Your Neighbor series of interviews. We were thrilled to hear from friends like rural pastor Sarah Jane Nixon; Remote Area Medical CEO Jeff Eastman; local librarian Peyton Eastman; and Mississippi State Sen. Robert Jackson. We loved the conversation between Rural Strategies President Dee Davis and actor and Rural Strategies board member Bob Wisdom. Dee and Bob Wisdom became friends in the early 1980s when they had the “improbable job of hosting a national media conference in Whitesburg, Kentucky, a town of 1,500.” Bob went on to act in film and television, including the HBO series, The Wire. Watch their conversation as they recall their year together in Whitesburg, discuss his acting career, and reflect on events surrounding the George Floyd killing.
3. We amplified women's voices - and got a little Dolly in the mix.
We arrived in 2020 wowed by the power, resilience, and strength of the women we met at the 2019 Rural Women’s Summit. Our series of profiles featuring rural women leaders continued to amplify their voices. At October’s Rural Assembly Everywhere Conference, powerhouse female leaders from across rural spaces were among those sharing their expertise and knowledge on panels, as keynote speakers, and as musicians and artists.
Did you catch our fireside chat between author and journalist Sarah Smarsh Lead for America’s Benya Kraus? They caught up with one another just weeks after Smarsh released “She Come By it Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women who Lived Her Songs.” The two talk about returning to the small cities and towns we call home to lead, the quiet leadership of working-class and rural women, and, of course, Dolly Parton.
4. We met 60 young people from 28 states ... but never in person.
Canceled. It has to be high on the list of most used words in 2020. Well before the pandemic struck, we launched a plan to invite rural teens and young adults to participate in our second-ever rural Youth Assembly.
We invited 60 youth from 28 states to join us in the border town of McAllen, Texas, and then crushed their dreams (and ours). We canceled not once, but twice.
May we keep the faith for 2021!
In the meantime, we spoke with some of those students who were selected, including 17-year-old Renee Ramos of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who reflected on working as the assistant manager of a community kitchen during Covid-19, preparing 5,000 meals each day.
5. We added new members to the Rural Assembly family.
The Rural Assembly keeps getting stronger. We added 10 strategic advisors this year who form a powerful layer of support and counsel to the Assembly.
Our new strategic advisory committee will help shape and guide the work of the Rural Assembly. Bringing diverse perspectives, these strategic advisors are providing the Rural Assembly with trusted, expert advice as we vet opportunities, problem-solve, evaluate our work, and plan for the future. Check them out.
6. We fell even more in love with The Daily Yonder.
Our partners at The Daily Yonder have kept us thoroughly informed this year with coverage of Covid-19 in small towns and rural places as well as the rural vote in the latest election cycle.
The Daily Yonder broadens and deepens the reach of the Rural Assembly by distributing content to more than 750,000 unique users a year, including policymakers, journalists, nonprofit leaders, and philanthropists.
7. We heard powerful stories and words at Rural Everywhere to carry us forward.
It was virtual, yes, but Rural Assembly Everywhere was five days of palpable inspiration, challenge, and pure fun. We had heavyweights from government, healthcare, and public policy, and each day was sweetened with poets, musicians, and artists, whose words we remember coming out of this unbelievable year. Listen as Former U.S. Poet Laureate Jose Felipe Herrera reads his poem “Let Us Gather in a Flourishing Way.”
In that poem, Herrera reminds us ‘With kindness and compassion, the road is woven’. Together, we will walk with kindness and compassion into the new year, continuing to lift stories, issues, and voices from rural to the world.
See you in 2021, The Rural Assembly team