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My People. My Hope. – Reflections on Gratitude and Connection - Theo Edmonds


My People. My Hope.

by Theo ‘Alan’ Edmonds

My firsts in life happened in Breathitt County  

My first laughter and first steps.  

My first love and first tears.  

My first and best friend. She now rests at peace in this place    

Breathitt County is where my people live.    
Times have been and are tough. We have seen resources go down and workloads go up. We have seen uncertainty rise. I know that some of my people feel so overwhelmed and exhausted. Many may even want to give up.   

And, if you just look at the statistics about Breathitt County, it is easy to understand why people are tired.  

But when I think about who I am, I don’t think of statistics.  

I think of the place and the people for which I am grateful.   

I’m grateful for hand-sewn quilts and the memory of Ma hand-churning butter on her front porch on Shoulderblade.   

I’m grateful for Moon Pies, the memory of creaking floorboards in a little country store, old men in overalls with whittling sticks philosophizing, laughing, and endless summer days following old wagon wheel tracks worn into the creek bed in front of the house where Granny was born over 100 years ago.   

I’m grateful for the mountainside that rises behind the abandoned rock church at Highland. It’s where mommy and daddy, uncle Gordon and aunt Connie were all married. At the top of that mountain behind the church, surrounded by a chain link fence are gravestones with worn silk and plastic flowers where rests strong-faced ancestors who gave me my watery eyes and a servant’s heart. 

I’m grateful for my first clogging lesson on the stage of the old Breathitt County High School. It was torn down to build the new one in the 1980s. I’m grateful for my last dance with Scarlet.  For mountain music "unplugged" and made in the moment.   

For shucky beans, green onions and sweet cream coffee that Papaw would pour into his saucer for me to drink.  For the taste of salt, of lemons and of those little slightly burnt parts on the edge of an apple pie crust that has just been pulled from the oven.   

I am grateful for the little scar on my lower lip, for it connects me to someone very important from my youth who is no longer here.   

I am grateful for a partner that constantly reminds me that my heart is worthy of being loved... and worthy of being able to love in return.  
I am grateful for the times in life when I have succeeded and even more for those times in life when I failed, for in adversity I have gained character and integrity.    

For the way daddy's eyes look when he gets excited about something, how mommy sticks her hip out when she's trying to be cute.  

 I am grateful for pancakes, people who work for justice, nurses and caregivers and Breathitt County teachers who keep going even when they are tired, for the words and life of those whose leadership is moral and just.  

For the grace I have experienced in always being able to get up one more time than the number of times I have fallen.  
I am grateful for the sound of a train whistle, it brings me back to that room with the gold tinted windows and stories about Jesus sitting on Mrs. Johnson's lap in the little church by the railroad tracks.  
I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of building communities where different kinds of people are respected and valued.  
For fresh peaches, old time mountain songs, the ability to love with fierceness, to laugh with my whole body and to be awake in my journey as son, friend, artist and mountain boy.   
I am grateful for the yellowing plastic piggy bank in the shape of a church where pennies were dropped on Sunday mornings by us kids during collection time at Elkatawa Methodist.   

For being taught how to be kind and freely give that kindness to others.  
I am grateful for butterflies, rocking chairs, and for a package of peanuts poured into an old fashioned, glass RC Cola bottle as a snack… for black skillet cornbread crumbled into buttermilk… for innovative friends, creative leaders, being born in Breathitt County.  

Looking back over the generations… we all know too well that our people’s stories were stolen, our culture corrupted, and our mountains robbed.  

Today, many of our people feel invisible. I see you my people.   

I am grateful for this place. Our Breathitt.  

One spirit. Connected. Inseparable.  

Out of many, we are one.   

While we breathe, we hope.  

Our Breathitt connects us.   

We are worthy. Worthy of everything.     

What in your life fills you with gratitude?  How did the gifts of your Breathitt childhood help form who you are today? 

Theo “Alan” Edmonds, from Jackson Kentucky, is a faculty member at the University of Louisville School of Public Health & Information Sciences’ Center for Creative Placehealing  and  the co-founder of IDEAS xLab . 

This column is brought to you by Our Breathitt, a community arts and health experience bringing together artists and Breathitt Countians from across Kentucky. Project is organized with IDEAS xLab (an artist-led nonprofit), and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Starting in August 2019, five collaborating writers, each with their own perspectives and ties to the county, will offer weekly columns and audio stories for radio and podcasts. Contact us at 859-397-1317 to join this conversation by leaving a voicemail with your response to the questions we raise and adding thoughts of your own! You may hear your responses incorporated into future posts and narratives! You can also email at We hope you will mark your calendars and join us at the Our Breathitt Summit, October 11-12 in Jackson, Kentucky. Information at