For Sav Miles, A.B. ’18, Gadsden is home.
“This community showed me the world,” Miles says about the small Alabama city. “It took care of me. It showed me everything there is to love about life, from the food, to the people, to the music, to the beauty, the trails and rivers and mountains — all of it.”
After finishing high school in Gadsden, Miles left Alabama for Harvard College, but upon graduating faced a difficult choice. Like many young people, they struggled with the decision of whether to move back home, a place they loved, but which might not share the same views on equity, diversity, and justice.
Miles, who is gender non-conforming and queer, thought back on their Harvard College senior thesis, a model for bringing together diverse populations in places like Gadsden, and realized they knew the answer all along.
What their thesis found was unexpected and hopeful: People in small communities tended to welcome diversity. “Maybe they expressed some racial fears, like stereotypes,” Miles explained, “but in the same breath, they would tell me how ready they were for progress. … That showed me that there is hope and space for progress.”
That hope, combined with their love for the place where they grew up, was the deciding factor.
“No one is coming to rural Alabama to save our community,” Miles said. “We have to do it ourselves. That’s what brought me back.”
After returning, they spent months searching for a job, eventually earning a public service fellowship from the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) that funded their work with Hometown Action, a rural community organization focused on building multi-racial coalitions. Miles went on to work as CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Gadsden and Etowah County, where they built community programming for local youth with a focus on helping them build positive relationships in the community. Miles also organizes with Gadsden’s Black Lives Matter chapter, Stay Together Appalachian Youth (STAY), and the Youth Council of Alabama Sustainable Agricultural Network (ASAN).