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  • Sharon Dunn

Guns, Coal, Vaccines, and Abortion: East Ky Meets Western Ma

Hands Across the Hills presented a live virtual encounter between members Kip Fonsh of Leverett, MA and Gwen Johnson of Letcher County, KY on April 6, moderated by Ben Fink. CLICK HERE to watch the hour and a half discussion. Johnson and Fonsh shared the story of their own unlikely friendship, borne of a heated argument over gun ownership where they nearly came to blows—and ended up hugging instead.

They discussed topics from vaccines to coal and more, sharing their own stories and those of their neighbors in the Northeast and the southern Appalachian mountains. The conversation tackled some of our country’s most difficult questions. How can people possibly be refusing the vaccine? On the other hand: how can people blindly trust a government that has betrayed them so often? How can we support violent people owning guns? On the other hand: how can others try to take away our means of defending ourselves?

Photo by Roswell Angier: Kip Fonsh of Leverett MA and Gwen Johnson of Letcher County KY in Fall 2017

About the Two HATH Members in Conversation

GWEN JOHNSON, a self-described hillbilly woman from the coal camp of Hemphill, Kentucky, is founder of Black Sheep Bakery and Catering and board member of Hemphill Community Center. Gwen is the daughter and granddaughter of coal miners. She graduated high school unable to read beyond a second-grade level; she learned to read while reading to her children and went to college the same year her oldest daughter, receiving a BS at the University of Pikeville and an MA at Goddard College in health arts and sciences. She has worked as an administrator in the University of Kentucky’s Early Childhood Development program since 2003.

KIP FONSH of Leverett was a teacher of social studies at Amherst Regional High School and has served on the Leverett School Board and Massachusetts Teachers Association Retired Members Committee. Like Johnson, he has been a member of Hands Across the Hills from its inception in 2017.

This event is a production of Hands Across the Hills, an ongoing cross-partisan dialogue project started in 2017 by the Leverett Alliance in western Massachusetts and the Letcher County Culture Hub in east Kentucky.


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