Thu. Dec 5th, 2019

LETCHER COUNTY EFFORT FINDS WAY TO BRIDGE DIVIDES

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In America, where the political divide has reached Grand Canyon proportions, one Kentucky county is trying to build deep community relationships to overcome these differences.

It’s happening in Letcher County, where 80-percent of the residents voted for Donald Trump. It is known as the Letcher County Culture Hub and Ben Fink, who has been heavily involved in the effort, believes it can be a model for other communities. He says divisions are “never absolute,” and can be bridged through culture on two levels.

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The Culture Hub brings diverse groups together, from artists and musicians to volunteer fire departments and business associations. In the tiny town of Hemphill, which began as a coal-camp over a century ago, lifelong resident Gwen Johnson says the idea has helped unite people, despite their differences over who should be president or the future of the coal industry.

Johnson helps her mom run the Hemphill Community Center, a gathering spot for meetings, concerts and classes. She says while some folks celebrated Trump’s win “to the fullest” and others “went into mourning,” busy times at the community center have helped heal those differences.

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Fink tells a similar story. He came to Kentucky from the Northeast to work for Appalshop, the grassroots cultural and media center that started the Culture Hub. While helping cash-trapped local fire departments put on a bluegrass music festival, left-leaning Fink says he became friends with some of the volunteers – even one he says supports “far right” politicians.

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And that, says Fink, is what the Letcher County Culture Hub is building – bridges he hopes are built across America.