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Background Image Photo by Tom Parker

Working Hard in the Heartland

On a recent September evening, a group of community volunteers gathered at the Kinsley Public Library in southwest Kansas. Over a chili supper, they received training on photovoice and photography for “Ad Astra: Working Hard in the Heartland, Edwards County,” a new project exploring what it means to be working class in the 21st century. Photovoice is a method by which community members can capture images of their experiences to share with the larger community. Over the next two weeks, the volunteers used their cell phones to take photos of people at work and on the job. Their photographs will be part of an exhibition at the library opening on November 16. 

“Ad Astra: Working Hard in the Heartland, Edwards County,” is part of “Ad Astra: Working Hard in the Heartland,” an initiative from Humanities Kansas to elevate the stories of working Kansans, especially the resilience of the working class, a population often overlooked. 

In addition to the photo exhibition, Kinsley is hosting a Community Conversations forum as part of National Rural Health Day on November 16.  Along with the photo exhibition opening, participants will have a chance to attend discussions and sessions on poverty and hunger, as well as other topics related to life in present day rural Kansas. Michael Walker of the Docking Institute of Public Health and sociology professor at Fort Hays State University moderates the forum. 

“One of the best ways to tell is a story is through a picture,” Joan Weaver, director of the Kinsley Public Library, told the Edwards County Sentinel. “There are lots of people in our county who go to work every day to make this a great place to live. I hope this exhibit will give voice to those people and make us more aware and more appreciative of the folks who provide services that enable us to live here.”

Keith Senn can relate. He’s the solid waste manager for Emporia in southeast Kansas and he knows firsthand that some people think of service professionals – a trashman, as he calls himself – as lesser. 

“Trashmen have a stigma,“ Senn said when interviewed by Emporia State University student journalist Margaret Mellot for HK’s Ad Astra initiative. “Oh, those dirty guys…It’s unskilled, they’re the lower class. At least, that’s the feeling you get.”  He wonders if that could be one reason why it’s challenging for him to keep his crew fully staffed. Despite the perception, Senn is proud of his work and says he loves helping people through this tough and dangerous work. 

There are more Ad Astra events coming in 2020, including public programs at the Emporia Public Library.  

Join the Movement of Ideas

ATTEND the “Ad Astra: Working Hard in the Heartland, Edwards County” and the Community Conversations forum on November 16 at Kinsley Public Library. 

READ essays about being working class in the 21st century by Emporia State University student journalists on the HK Kansas Stories blog: “The Intangibles Book Club,”  “Finding Humanity in Those Who Need in Most,” and “Not Buried in Trash? Thank a Sanitation Worker.” 

SEE photos from Think and Drink with Sarah Smarsh on October 23rd in Overland Park, the kickoff event of the “Ad Astra” initiative.” 

LISTEN to the Sarah Smarsh’s new podcast, “The Homecomers,” and “hear from champions of small towns, rural lands, and working-class communities – places Americans are encouraged to leave behind.” 


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