TRI-COUNTY — You don’t have to live in Harlan County or work in the bowels of the earth to imagine what it would be like if your paycheck bounced. As the Blackjewel protest is underway in Harlan County, many Tri-Countians are empathizing with miners who are going without pay, have stepped up, reached out and lended a hand.
Nathan Brown, who owns several local restaurants as well as a food truck, said his cousin was one of those impacted. Brown’s cousin, who had a paycheck to bounce, remains hopeful as companies consider the purchase of the bankrupt company.
Brown, who has quite a bit of family in Harlan, has made two trips with his food truck to serve food to the miners who are camped out on the train tracks, blocking the coal from leaving Harlan. Brown said his trips have been emotional.
“Talking to a couple of those dads who were worried about buying school supplies, it was emotional,” he said.
Brown tried to talk to all of them, he said it was important to him to let them know that Corbin had their back. The outpouring of support from Harlan and the surrounding region was outstanding, according to Brown, and much needed as miners have no plans of ending the protest.
“They’re going to make sure that coal does not come out,” Brown said. “They just want paid the money they’re owed.”
Angie Bowling and Carl Weaver of Williamsburg also traveled to Harlan on Sunday, taking supplies to the unpaid miners on protest.
Bowling a proud Appalachian, or “Appalasian” as she describes it, did her research before she went, learning exactly what was being protested, taking water and other goods to the protesters.
While there she learned just how appreciative the miners were of the supporters who came more than two hours away to spend a sweltering Sunday afternoon fighting for a cause.
It’s a fight Bowling doesn’t mind to help fight.
The coal, mined by the workers with paychecks still bouncing, sits tight in Harlan.
“As it should, because this is a common thing with Appalachia,” Bowling noted. “People fail to pay our people and then they take the spoils of the land and use it, benefit from it and leave us high and dry.”
Bowling said whether or not you’ve mined or know anyone that’s mined, if you live in the area, this should be your concern.
Part of the problem also falls on the Kentucky Department of Labor Secretary David Dickerson, who allegedly was supposed to have a measure in place to ensure this problem could never occur.
“If you don’t want to send them Coke, if you don’t want to protest, then you can write a letter and you can send emails to the labor secretary to make sure this doesn’t happen to the other miners,” Bowling said.
Debbie Mays, a business owner in Williamsburg, lost her father, a longtime coal miner, to cancer this weekend. A photo of her father, Leeman Taylor of Whitesburg, hangs proudly on a bulletin board just inside the door of Mays’ beauty shop. Mays will tell you she is proud to be a coal miner's daughter.
Bowling visited with Mays on Tuesday. It all comes full circle — all of it.
Bowling is reminded of Mae Suramek who owns Noodle Nirvana and is an “Appalasian” just like her.
Suramek’s line is “we belong to each other”.
“Through her, I am connected to another Appalasian, Yin Chen, who did the Corbin TedX and is from Harlan,” Bowling said. “Yin Chen’s mother, Joyce, owns Panda Garden and has supplied the miners with food this entire time and also ran a 5k to raise awareness of the miner’s plight. Yin’s family migrated to Harlan when Yin was a child and has settled into the community of Harlan County.”
Bowling said there is a whole other side that isn’t being shown that is happening in our communities.
“I think what my friend Mae says is right, that we belong to each other. And that is something our friends in Harlan County are experiencing now,” said Bowling.
On Monday, Gov. Bevin announced allocation of more than $15 million in excess coal severance revenue to local communities additional LGEA Funds that will directly benefit 49 counties and 122 cities. Harlan County is expected to get over $100,000 of that.