ATLANTA — In the stories I’ve told, I’ve met so many individuals offering solutions to challenging, complicated problems. It’s easy to be compelled by their missions and to be inspired by their determination. But it’s more important to be honest about the realities of their situations. That’s why we reached out to the people you’re about to meet— people you may have met before, who are taking on giant issues and learning about what it takes to make a change.
Jammella Anderson, Keith Weigelt, and Mark Lilly don’t know each other. At least, they didn't, until we connected them for a group Zoom chat. Last year, we visited their cities to report on their efforts. They want to make communities stronger. A year later, I wanted to see what they’d found.
Anderson supplies food for and oversees free food fridges all over Albany, New York. In the last year, she’s opened two more, including one in a school.
“My project has grown significantly, but the need has gone up significantly as well," she said.
It’s the same for Weigelt. He provides financial literacy training to low-income students and their families in Philadelphia. His program, Bridges to Wealth, is building partnerships in different cities.
“There’s a lot of talk now for students, financial literacy, and that’s great," Weigelt said, "but the adult population is still not being served.”
Lilly runs the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective, which trains and prepares many in coal country for a potential new source of income. Since our story, he’s received national attention, but word in West Virginia continues to spread slowly.
“After participants have been in it for three, four, five years, and each year their check goes up, they become our biggest cheerleaders in the community," Lilly said.
This is the slow, grueling work of effecting change. Since we last spoke, all three have expanded their impact and the conversation. But, they admit, that increase in understanding has not kept up with the increase in need.
"I mean, it’s not even close," Weigelt said.
“Food insecurity has almost gotten worse in a way, because of the housing crisis, as well as increases in food cost," said Anderson. "It’s a simple concept, but to run a simple concept effectively means that you have to do it, like, every minute. It becomes your whole life, right?”
At what point should it not? Topics like food insecurity, financial literacy, and dying economies require massive solutions. But there’s a massive divide in America about whether governments should provide them.
Nobody in this group can afford to wait.
“All of our projects have come out of government not assisting us," Anderson said. “I think that government has not stepped in historically, and they've only made all these issues worse by creating other barriers for people to jump through."
“Where it's extremely rural," Lilly said, "people don't expect a political answer because we've been shunned for so many decades. I think the communities want to find answers for themselves.”
It’s easy to want answers quickly. Quickly is how we consume information. Quickly is often how we form opinions. Quickly is sometimes how change takes place. But mostly, change requires slow, building, irrepressible effort. The results of that effort, no matter the size, is what sustains the individuals on this call.
“There is something about when someone tells you how they have more hope for their children and for their entire family," Weigelt said. "It just keeps you going.”
“Even if the projects all stopped today, you know, we’ve made leaps and bounds in our communities, small or large," Anderson said. “I just think that the more projects like ours that can pop up, the better. Because, like, that’s what’s saving us.”