Pictured (l to r): Hannah Schroyer, Elizabeth Sines, and Chantelle Friend

Written by Linda Carr

It’s been a tough few years for most of us, and oftentimes; it seems easier to focus on the negative. If you look for it, however, it’s easy to find big examples of empathy and goodwill, even in our small community. Enter Anti-Racist Appalachia, a volunteer and social justice group designed to bring conversations and knowledge about race to those living in our area.

Although the group has only been in existence for a little over a year, they have already changed the conversation in our community. Anti-Racist Appalachia is the brainchild of three amazing women – Elizabeth Sines, Chantelle Friend and Hannah Schroyer, native Garrett Countians with different backgrounds but they have two major things in common – a love of our area and a desire for all to be treated fairly. The three met while working summers at the popular Lakeside Creamery, where they found an immediate bond and easy friendship.

All three women were born and raised in Oakland, MD. Liz graduated from Cornell University in 2016 and from the University of Virginia Law School in 2019. She is now a practicing lawyer who lives and works in Baltimore, MD. Hannah graduated from James Madison University in 2020 and is currently attending graduate school at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill where she will graduate this May with her MS in Speech Pathology.

Chantelle graduated from West Virginia University in 2020 and has remained there to work towards her Master’s in Social Work, expected in May. She is currently a Rural Integrated Behavioral Health trainee. All three women are passionate about racial and educational equity, rural advocacy and criminal justice reform.

Although they are not current residents of the county, they still have family here and have kept abreast of local news and happenings. After a racial incident in the community allegedly involving the Ku Klux Klan in the fall of 2020, Liz knew she wanted to start a conversation about it…and she knew just who to call. She, Hannah and Chantelle met virtually to discuss ways they could help bring knowledge and understanding to others that still lived in their hometown.

At that time,Liz was working with a local group that had been discussing racial justice issues in the county. She didn’t want to duplicate work that was already being done, so she sought space where all the community groups working on these types of issues could come together and integrate information. This is how Anti-Racist Appalachia was born. “Our goal has always been to share information and promote discussion,” explains Liz.

Their first event was a town hall style meeting held online in November 2020, and the positive response they received from the community was overwhelming. This helped Liz, Hannah and Chantelle establish the group’s mission with the community. “Anti-racism is a social justice cause,” explains Chantelle, “but it involves many identities. Labor rights, gender affirming projects, poverty – these are all issues that intersect.”

Hannah adds, “Our overwhelming goal is to make Garrett County a more accepting and equitable place that anyone can enjoy. We all share a love and a passion for our home.”

Chantelle agrees. “People think that because we no longer reside here full time, we are anti-Garrett County. Anti-Racist Appalachia is not about bashing our home. We don’t do this because we hate Garrett County, we do it because we love it and the people here.”

Born of a white mother and a black father, Chantelle has experienced some of the biases faced by people of color and other minority groups first-hand. Even though she is a member of one of the oldest families in the area, she knows what it feels like to be an outsider. “I didn’t look like I belonged in Garrett County and wanted to reach out to others like me and foster understanding between everyone. We’re not here to trash talk the county but to make it better.”

According to the trio, there are no conversations that can’t be held within their group. Their goal is not to ensure political correctness or to make others feel awkward for not knowing all of the issues surrounding minorities, it is simply to foster open communication and understanding of what is needed to make everyone feel welcome here, visitors and residents alike.

“We want people to think about racial issues in ways that they traditionally don’t,” says Liz. “Sometimes people are scared because they don’t want to say the wrong thing or offend somebody. We want to help eliminate that fear.”

Since their initial meeting, they have provided weekly email updates to subscribers, hosted a virtual Black Love Day celebration and held educational monthly member meetings. “Along with the opportunity to work with local government officials and other organizations, we have truly loved meeting, speaking with, and learning from folks throughout our region of Appalachia”.

As they find interesting readings or topics, they bring it up for the group. They are also open to suggestions from members. In addition to their monthly meeting, they also hold a book club meeting once a month to discuss relevant books, films or podcasts. Currently, they are discussing “Exterminate the Brutes”, a documentary series revolving around colonization and genocide, directed and narrated by Raoul Peck.

They try to choose books and films that are easily accessible and inexpensive, although they are happy to reimburse costs if needed. They want to share information and resources with others that in turn can be shared with more people outside their circle.

The latest endeavor of the group is a podcast, set to debut on February 1st of this year. They will discuss all things Appalachian, including the history and issues impacting its residents today.

“Podcasts are living history, an historical record of life today,” says Liz. The three find this incredibly important especially as recent research has found that much of the history of black residents in our area has been erased. The podcasts will be available on Spotify, Apple Music and Anchor.

Although they hope to host live events in the future, for now meetings will stay virtual. The next meeting is slated for Thursday, February 17th at 8 PM. To learn more about the group or to subscribe to their newsletters, email them at antiracistappalachia@gmail.com. You can also follow them on Facebook for updates and discussion topics.

The group is open to anyone who is open to learning and growing. “We’re not here to tell people they are wrong,” says Chantelle. “We want people to know it’s ok to make mistakes and that it is more important to understand the truth of what minorities face in our area, rather than to be correct. We just want to leave the world a little better place,” she adds.