Leverett-Kentucky dialogue to be featured on CBS News

  • Hands Across the Hills gathering in Leverett in October 2019. —File Photo

  • Filmmaker Jorg Daniel Hissen, with Paula Green, Jim Perkins and Tom Wolff, look at a poster of Kentucky that was presented to the town of Leverett from the Hands Across the Hills project. —File Photo

  • Nell Fields, center, speaks as one of 11 visitors from Kentucky’s Letcher County during a community forum for cultural exchange, Oct. 28, 2017, in Leverett. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 2/14/2021 7:33:17 PM

LEVERETT — A dialogue between Leverett residents and people living in Letcher County, Kentucky, beginning as a way to heal the country’s divide following the 2016 presidential election, will receive national attention this week.

Hands Across the Hills is expected to be featured on a segment of the CBS Evening News at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, with clips from the ongoing conversations that have transitioned, during the COVID-19 pandemic, from in-person sessions to discussions over online platforms such as Zoom.

Paula Green, an organizing director in Leverett of the sister-city cultural exchange, and her counterpart in Kentucky, Gwen Johnson, will be featured.

“My hope is that viewers will be inspired to reach out across divides within local communities, recognizing each person’s humanity and exploring common dreams for rebuilding our shattered country,” Green said.

The dialogue excerpted during the segment will show Debbie Roth-Howe, Stacey Lennard and Tom Wolff, all of Leverett, with Johnson and fellow Letcher County representatives Valerie Horn and Nell Fields.

In addition, a CBS photographer came to Leverett at the end of last week filming scenic shots to include in the broadcast, said Sharon Dunn, a member of Hands Across the Hills.

After the segment is broadcast, assuming no interruptions due to breaking news, it will be available at handsacrossthehills.org.

Hands Across the Hills began in 2017 when Leverett residents, fewer than 15% of whom voted for former President Trump, wanted to reach out to bridge the political divide and identified residents in Kentucky coal country, where Trump had won 80% of the vote.

The idea was to meet face to face with others who voted differently. Two small groups met for weekends of dialogue and cultural exchange, first in fall 2017, then again in spring 2018 and fall 2019. Structured dialogue aimed to allow people to express feelings honestly and deeply and build trust and care among participants. The participants also got to experience each other’s community and family life through potluck meals, music, excursions and home stays.

With President Biden calling for unity and healing the country’s soul, Green said the group’s dialogues are continuing through Zoom, with four new people likely to be joining soon from Letcher County. There is also a focus on soon having dialogue with teens from Kentucky.

Resuming in-person visits is a goal for when the pandemic winds down.

“Leverett had planned to return there in person last fall but COVID meant canceling our plans and perhaps that trip will be renewed later in 2021, depending on the virus status,” said Green, founder of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding and professor emerita at the School for International Training.

Hands Across the Hills is also continuing with an oral history project, a youth exchange and a speakers bureau.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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