Jana Parris

Athens, Limestone County, Alabama

Photo: Joy Thomas

I am from North Alabama where my family has lived for over eight generations. I am married and the mother of three children ages 20, 17 and 11. We live on five acres of land in Limestone County, Alabama. I graduated from Auburn University in 1999 with a BA in English and supporting coursework in American History. I am currently the program manager of the Burritt Folk School at the Burritt on the Mountain Museum in Huntsville, Alabama. We hold workshops in various traditional skills and arts, such as blacksmithing and pottery, taught by instructors from all over the region. Prior to that, I was a stay-at-home mom for 16 years, during which time I began documenting my own family’s origins and stories. In 2017, I completed the Genealogy Research program at Boston University and began doing genealogy research professionally. I also perform research on a volunteer basis for local groups and organizations. Finally, I maintain a website and blog called The Intuitive Historian, where I write about the intersection of history, places and ideas, as well as the occasional poem. 

What prompted Jana to get involved?

As a person who has lived almost my entire life in Appalachia and has deep family ties to the region, I have always been captivated by the people and places that have been such an integral part of my story. I have usually found it to be much more diverse and complicated than the media has portrayed it. I was excited about the prospect of being a part of a project that seeks to correct that. 

What she’d like to see happen during the first 100 days of the next presidential administration:

I hope people learn to listen – really listen – and to question their own narratives as well as that of others. I hope it becomes more acceptable to change your mind when confronted with new information, without shame or ridicule. I hope we can accept feelings of discomfort and loss for the sake of justice. I hope I can hug my parents’ necks without being afraid of giving them a virus that may kill them. Mostly, I hope that no matter who wins the election, we can begin to heal from the traumas of the last few years through acts of kindness, respect and when necessary, change. 

Jana’s advice for journalists who want to cover Appalachia:

Come see us! We have a lot to show you. We are not just one people or culture, but a region of diverse communities with a shared background and connection to it. Approach us with a desire to learn and be ready to be surprised. Seek out the people who are doing the quiet work in their cities. Don’t forget about the small towns that may be hard to pronounce or the rural communities that may look like they haven’t changed in a hundred years. I promise, they have. There are people there with stories that matter. There is an abundance of music, art, food and faiths you’ve probably never heard of before. There are people of all races and creeds growing things, making art and educating children. Please find them.

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