Fulbright MTP participant from Germany, Desiree Garcia, right, with fellow MTP participant, Leah Elizabeth Edwards, on Millennial Train Change Journey 2016.
Imagine walking around your city. All you see are evacuated stores falling apart, “for rent” signs dominating the view, yet knowing the chances for these spaces to be rented out are slim. Suddenly your memories take you back to a time when the stores were filled with people and all kinds of products. You remember how you, too, used to purchase your things here and you can still recall the smell and warmth of the stores, and the stories you were told by the store owners that were around for generations and knew the neighborhood and its people better than anyone. You find yourself smiling at that thought and then it hits you.
All this is no more. Main Street is dead.
Though I wished this was a fully fictional scene, I am sad to say that we are moving towards this quite quickly.
Nidhi Sen is Fulbright Student from India pursuing a joint degree master’s program in gender and sustainable international development at Brandeis University.
Driving around the central part of the Appalachian region in early spring, one is struck by the jagged, rocky hills and the bare-leaved trees. All along the winding roads, I saw old and rusting conveyor belts and mining equipment lying abandoned by the wayside. It was a stark reminder of what used to be considered the heart of a billion dollar coal industry and what sustained an entire culture and way of life for generations. It made me aware of how the burden of history looms large over this landscape and its people—one that even visitors like myself cannot escape from.
Arriving in Williamson a few days ago, I was initially struck by the absence of people on the streets and the lack of human activity. It was strangely new to me, and I fell into the immediate trap of comparing it to small towns in India and with familiar images of urban decay. But a few hours into my stay here and after interacting with the dynamic team of Sustainable Williamson, I realised that underneath its “sleepy” mask was a group of passionate and dedicated individuals who are trying to revive the local economy and revitalize the lives of the local community.