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There's always connection: Lessons learned from a year's worth of stories from Two Americas

West Virginia
Posted at 9:15 AM, Aug 25, 2022

ATLANTA — One year ago, we launched an ambitious plan. We wanted to travel the country to share stories that expand the America we know by illuminating the America we might not. We called it "Two Americas."

I cannot encompass a year’s worth of stories into a few minutes of summary. But I can tell you what intertwines seemingly every trip we take, every path we profile.

At a time of immense challenges and not-always-immense hope, we have found those who, regardless, push forward. Sometimes it’s individuals taking things upon themselves. Jammella Anderson saw how lack of grocery stores keeps down her community in Albany, N.Y., so she organized free food fridges all over town. Kani Ilangovan worried about the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, so she kick-started an effort to mandate AAPI curriculum in her state of New Jersey.

Location has never mattered. In Milwaukee, we learned of a night market that takes over downtown once a month and brings diversity to one of America’s most segregated cities. In Tucson, we found a support group for kinship caregivers: those raising nieces, nephews, or grandchildren in the absence of the children’s parents. In South Dakota, the state with the highest rate of LGBTQ+ depression, we discovered a center for transgender individuals inside a church.

Often, those working on solutions want to help those who can’t often find them. Veterans often resist or reject traditional mental health services. Guitars 4 Vets is one of many programs that offer a path. We found them in Richmond. In Phoenix, we found a college program designed for those with developmental disabilities, one of three of its kind in all of Arizona. And just north of Charlotte, we found one of a handful of programs in the country for those with severe traumatic brain injury. Each effort had three things in common: strong funding, stable services, and the desire of all involved to aid those in need.

We discovered that desire even in the deepest of despair. After tornadoes leveled homes and businesses in Mayfield, Kentucky, we came across volunteer firefighters who drove hours to help chop trees. After a mass shooting in a grocery store devastated the East Side of Buffalo, New York, we found nonprofit leaders, inundated with demands, who stepped up to meet them.

It is easy to feel down. It is important to be concerned. We aim, in our stories, to show an honest look at the America you know and the America you may not. But we also look to show, that wherever we go in America, you can always find someone wanting to make their community, make their country, and make the world better.