Appalachian Transition

The Highlander Center has been rooted in Appalachia and working alongside Appalachian people and communities for economic, environmental, and racial justice throughout our 89-year history. The Appalachian Transition Fellowship was our most recent program responding to a call from the region to support emerging leaders, build capacity and connectivity, and increase cross-sector collaboration to advance a just economic transition in Central Appalachia. The program was designed and built in large part by Elandria Williams, with support from Susan Williams, Kierra Sims, Joe Tolbert, Jazmine Walker, and the Appalachian Funders Network,.

The 5-year program ended in 2019 after successfully supporting 89 host organizations, 34 fellows, and 34 communities in Central Appalachia. The program was an experiment, and in line with the popular education methodology Highlander practices, each year was thoroughly assessed, lessons and feedback from participants were synthesized, and the program adjusted each year to improve and move our work closer toward living into the world we were working together to build: a just, sustainable transition in Appalachia that advances the region’s economy from one based in extractive, fossil-fuel based industries to one that ensures the long-term well-being of our people, communities, and natural resources.
Each cohort year was assessed with support from Rural Support Partners. Read the evaluation reports here: 

As the fellowship program concluded, Highlander set out to inform the next phase of our work in the region. From 2020-2021, Highlander worked with Dialogue + Design Associates to develop and anchor a listening and assessment process to learn more about the values and principles embedded in just transition work throughout Central Appalachia, culminating in this report we are excited to share, “Beyond Transition: Appalachia’s Pathway to Justice and Transformation”, featuring a Vision for Transformation crafted from input shared from dozens of Appalachian organizers, case studies highlighting radical examples of the region’s transformative organizing work, and resources to address the opportunities, challenges, and strategies lifted up by the interviewees. 

We hope you’ll download it, share it, and engage your community with the material to help craft your own visionary strategies for transformative justice in our region and beyond.

We embarked on a journey to unpack transition vs. transformation, and to learn what opportunities exist to deepen the “justice” in the region’s work to not only transition our economies, lives, and communities away from harm, but to transform our economies, lives, and communities toward truly sustainable systems of care and collective liberation.

This process and its goals are highly informed by grassroots organizing across Appalachia for many years and the leadership of Black, Brown, Indigenous, low- and no-income, young, and Queer people in our region.

In this assessment, we sought to learn from these leaders and those who have led just transition efforts in our region to get more clear about what we are transitioning toward and how we can get there through values and principles rooted in collective liberation. It is vital that Appalachians remember and carry forward the solidarity in linked struggles for collective liberation that are a key part of our rich radical history.

Our futures toward a truly just transition depend on it.

The information gathered will help Highlander understand where our support is needed moving forward. Our intention is to take these lessons and continue to build capacity and collaboration in the region to strengthen these muscles toward transformative justice. We will continue to engage directly impacted folks in our region with the stories and strategies shared here to facilitate conversations and ongoing commitments to ground this work regionally in visionary principles. We hope you’ll do the same in your community and join us in building together in solidarity, creating new systems of care that honor the abundant resources and resourcefulness of our region, and expanding our beliefs of what is possible in Central Appalachia by building wealth and well-being for all our communities and all who create them.

To learn more about this work, the fuller narrative version of this report, or if you have any questions, please contact