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The Appalachian Community Fund
ACF was founded in 1987 as a publicly supported, nonprofit grantmaking organization providing resources to grassroots organizations working to overcome the underlying causes of poverty and injustice in Central Appalachia (east Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia, and West Virginia). The history of Appalachia is one of economic and environmental exploitation as well as organized and grassroots resistance.16 Over 20-plus years ACF has awarded over $5 million to more than 300 community-based social justice organizations.17 Many of ACF’s grantees work in small communities far from urban centers and across large geographic regions, without mass transit and with limited or inconsistent Internet service. In its large area and low population density, the region served by ACF differs from the locations of most other FEX funds.
ACF had not previously defined media justice activities as a funding priority. When FEX launched the MJF, Gaye Evans, executive director of ACF, saw an opportunity: “We know groups in the region are doing media justice work, and there’s the history in Appalachia of people trying to tell their stories themselves instead of others telling their stories. We wanted to raise the discussion and analysis to a different level by convening people to share what they are doing.”
ACF partnered with the Fund for Southern Communities (another FEX member) to host the February 2007 conference. “The MJF opened this up for us— we wouldn’t have arrived at this level of engagement and analysis without the new resources,” Evans said. ACF planned to apply to FEX for funding to make media justice grants; one rationale for the conference was “to educate ourselves about who might be applying.”18
The 2007 Southeast Media Justice Conference was designed as an opportunity for social justice organizations to expand their understanding of media justice work in the South and Appalachia, to deepen understanding of issues around media control and media justice, and to explore places for further work and collaboration.19 “The MJF and Ford emphasized the importance of media policy issues (ownership and control) for social justice, but our conference had a broader scope, reflecting the experiences and needs of groups in our region,” explained Evans.20 In their evaluations of the value of the conference, participants shared new understandings and identified next steps with their organizations, including the following:
After the conference, ACF circulated a request for proposals and encouraged community groups to think more strategically about the relationship of media to their social justice agendas. The need for media strategy was already understood by these groups. The region has a long and well-documented history of pervasive stereotypes22 as well as cultural traditions using music, drama, poetry, and film to tell its stories, but the availability of grants from ACF to support media activity as part of social justice work was new—and not just for ACF. The Media Justice Fund was “the first fund to deliberately connect smaller, grassroots social justice organizations with those who do more traditional media policy work.”23
In addition to the national media justice grants awarded through the MJF, for three years FEX made media justice monies available to member funds to disburse through their own activist-led grant making. During two funding cycles (2007 and 2008), ACF awarded $54,000 in media justice grants from $5,000 to $7,500 in two categories: (1) Media Justice Toolkits, which were “popular education materials for social justice activists and the general public on media justice issues” and (2) Community Media Collaborations, described as “projects that address media policy, infrastructure or accountability within the context of a social justice issue or campaign.”24 Tennessee Health Care Campaign, the Appalachian Institute for Media Justice, and the Community Media Organizing Project received grants for Toolkits; the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the Center for Rural Strategies, Appalshop, South Central Educational Development, and Citizens for Police Review received grants for Community Media Collaborations. Most were one-time awards; the Community Media Organizing Project and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition received grants both years.
The Toolkits funded by ACF incorporated hands-on training for members and allies in public speaking, developing media strategies (framing, messaging, and best practices for events and different media), and introductions to new technologies. Media policy issues were addressed but skills and strategy were prioritized. All the Community Media Collaborations emphasized new content production and new producers, with variations that reflected the missions, locations, scope, and needs of each organization. Citizens for Police Review, inspired by Deep Dish Network and the independent radio news program Democracy Now!, aimed for the “‘technical empowerment’ of residents which can in turn lead to community and political empowerment”25 by encouraging increased production of community access programming by African American residents of Knoxville; Appalshop’s project was designed to bring ten organizations into the online community through radio webcasting; and South Central Educational Development planned to train youth and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) community and others without voice in southern West Virginia counties in webcasting and to provide the organizational and studio infrastructure for their webcasts. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition embarked on a long-term strategy to develop an alternative grassroots media network for distribution of local citizens’ stories of fighting for community survival with increasing numbers of individuals and policy makers, to place community media stories to positively influence policy decisions, and to strengthen the base of community activists in the region and beyond who are working for a sustainable future.26
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