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Why We Hope

You can find hope inside every quality that defines us as Southerners.

What do you do when you just get sick to death of yourself?

Starting in the summer of 2020, I took 15 or so months away from the writing and publishing business. My timing could not have been worse. I was confined to my home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and every time I turned on the TV, I just saw division breaking our nation apart.

I could have succumbed to the hopelessness (and did a few times), but I had to rise above it. I simply could not live in that place. And I realized that no one could pull me out of it but myself.

Then, I learned a trick: exercising my right to choose. Here’s what I learned.

Whatever thought I have that gives me despair is a thought about which I have a choice. I can give it room in my head to torment me, or I can choose not to let it in. And the trick has an obverse, too: When I have a thought that brings me hope, I can choose to let it occupy space in my head and heart. My job is simple: to keep the hope thoughts in and the despair thoughts out. This is not easy work on some days, but it’s always worth the effort.

Then, as I began to catalog the hope thoughts, something occurred to me: Every thought that brings me hope is a quality that I associate with being proud to be a Southerner. Humor, family, hospitality, music, food, writing, art, and — at least among the best of us — an unquenchable desire for change and reconciliation.

I focused on these qualities. I held them tightly in my head and heart. And finally, I built a publication around them.

Salvation South: a User’s Manual

Today is our official day of publication. Our site now has actual stories, photographs and illustrations.

As you look at our publication, I’d ask you to pay particular attention to our homepage. Each story has a label. This week, as our storytelling gets rolling, one of those labels says “Hope,” another “Humor” and still another “Family.”

To me, those labels are much more than “stickers” that identify what each story is about. To me, they represent the qualities that define the American South as a region.

For centuries, we have faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles — like the weight of slavery’s history here — but today, thousands of Southerners are having hard conversations, trying to learn new lessons (and unlearn old ones) about racism. People like that have Hope.

Humor has always been a treasured part of our culture. As the much beloved Southern songwriter Jason Isbell once told us, “Don't worry about losing your accent, a Southern man tells better jokes.” (And actually, that goes for women, too)

Every thought that brings me hope is a quality that I associate with being proud to be a Southerner. Humor, family, hospitality, music, food, writing, art, and — at least among the best of us — an unquenchable desire for change and reconciliation.

The third label says “Family.” Any Southerner will tell you how important family is for them. Most historians will tell you this feeling evolved from our agrarian past, which means vastly different things to Southerners of different races, but both will tell you that a fierce allegiance to family produced the cement that holds Southern culture together.

Identifying Southern qualities (and Southerners of quality) will be our method as Salvation South keeps evolving. We will do stories that speak about the qualities that make Southerners who we are. Over the next few weeks alone, you will see new labels on our homepage. Food. Poetry. History. Music. Literature. Art. By the end of our first year, there will be probably be too many to shake a stick at.

But getting to the end of our first year requires your help, specifically your financial help. Beginning a publication like this from the ground up ain’t easy. I know that for a fact. I’ve done it before.

A few folks have asked me why I want to do it again. You’re 60 years old now, they say. Why not just chill, maybe write a book?

Well, I’m doing it because it’s what I do. I am never more at home, never more in tune with my purpose, than when I am bringing Southern writers, filmmakers and photographers together to define this region we call home. And I think I’m good at this job.

Please contribute to Salvation South. Our kickoff fundraising campaign still has 19 days to go. I’m glad we’ve reached a point where you can see Salvation South as it was intended — filled with good stories that don’t take you too long to read — and we hope that what you see here will inspire you to give.

And remember this: We love you, and there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.

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