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Walk for Appalachia's Future highlights environmental and economic justice

On a hot May morning, Roanoke historian and community organizer Jordan Bell guides about 30 people through the city’s Gainsboro neighborhood.

"This was southwest Virginia’s own Black Wall Street," he says at the tour's start. "It had over 200 businesses. It had a medical clinic. It had its own hospital. It had its own library. It had doctors offices. It had taxi companies, movie theaters, hotels…"

The once-bustling African American community was cut up and left to wither by what was described as urban renewal in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.

The themes from Bell’s tour—eminent domain, unkept promises and communities with limited resources to fight—are familiar to people on the Walk for Appalachia’s Future. They spent the last few days learning about and advocating for efforts to fight the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline.

"Yeah, you can’t get away from how it all relates," says Laura Kaye as she walks along Gilmer Avenue.

Kaye is from Massachusetts and was involved in efforts to stop two pipelines there. She admits she didn't know much about the Mountain Valley project but has been surprised by what she's seen. "After I got here and I saw the contrast between the beautiful mountains here and these slashes in them caused by the pipeline construction, it’s just shocking."

Soledad Haren joined the group from New York City. "It’s really eye opening to see that across the country, cities big and small, we’re all fighting the same fight," Haren says at a stop on Henry Street. She travels frequently for her job and has seen a similar result from so-called urban renewal efforts. "I have seen this in every city in America and it’s infuriating. It’s destroying our history, our culture."

The walk will end with rallies in Richmond on Friday and Saturday. Laura Kay says she'll take a feeling of solidarity home after the walk. "The energy, the continued resisting, the fighting back, not allowing corporations to roll over us."

David Seidel is Radio IQ's News Director.