BENHAM--- Despite the common narrative that Appalachian youth are leaving the region for opportunities elsewhere, many of them are taking action to build a just and sustainable economy in eastern Kentucky. This weekend, young people are gathering at the Benham Schoolhouse Inn for the Solutions Summit, a youth-led and youth-focused event hosted by the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition. The summit is a space for young Appalachians to discuss what it means to work toward a just economic transition and talk about the importance of an economy that is good for workers, keeps wealth in Appalachian communities and protects the region's resources.
Event organizer Tracy Blevins said it is important for young people to know they have the power to create the future they want for their home communities. She says the institutions and organizations currently working to transition Appalachia’s economy should make a greater effort to include young voices at the decision-making table as Appalachian youth are the region’s future leaders and workforce.
Chase Gladson is in the eighth grade at Cumberland Elementary school. Gladson says he is attending the summit to learn how he can help build a new economy in eastern Kentucky. “I want to live here when I get older, this is my home. I want to have a job here and raise a family here,” Gladson said.
The event includes a panel highlighting existing businesses that are leading the movement for a just economic transition as well as workshops that emphasized building grassroots power and jumpstarting the new economy. The Solutions Summit is part of KSEC’s Solutions Tour, an effort to fill the gap in economic transition efforts by amplifying the voices of young people, highlighting businesses and industries at the forefront of the transition, and giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to create and participate in the new economy. These youth are showing the state that young people are not apathetic, rather they are taking initiative to create the future they want to see.