Member Spotlight: The Mullins Family

A former coal-mining family seeks better future

The Mullins family

(Clockwise from top left): Rustina, Nick, Daniel and Alex Mullins

Nick and Rusti Mullins left their home in Berea, Ky., in May with their son, Daniel, and daughter, Alex, for a summer vacation of a very different kind. The plan: to drive some 3,800 miles through 13 states in Appalachia, the Midwest and Northeast over 45 days on their “Breaking Clean Tour.” Their aim: to raise public awareness about the ravages of mountaintop removal coal mining on families, communities, and their beloved mountains, and to learn how other communities are becoming more sustainable.

Nick and Rusti are both students at Berea College, where they are studying for degrees in communications and history respectively with a focus in Appalachian studies and environmental studies. As part of their coursework, they are undertaking the “Breaking Clean Tour” as interns with Appalachian Voices for the summer.

“We developed the idea for this trip as part of our internship to educate the public about where energy comes from and how it impacts people in Appalachia, as well as to discuss the complexity of the economic situation of Appalachia, especially when considering the well established mono-economy created by the coal industry,” Nick says.

Nick is a fourth-generation underground coal miner from Georges Fork, a small valley in the far southwestern tip of Virginia near eastern Kentucky.

Follow the Mullins family on the web, Facebook, and Twitter.

Hear a recent NPR interview with the family.

“We were raised knowing the coal companies were only around to make a profit, not to make the lives of Appalachian people better,” he says. “Today, this fact is as true as ever, so I left the mines to do what I can to save Appalachia for future generations and to give my kids a fighting chance at a better life.”

The family’s Breaking Clean presentation is part slide-show, part storytelling, taking audiences on a journey from their families’ long history in the heart of Appalachia to the tradition of underground coal mining and labor unions, up to the present-day destruction of America’s oldest mountains and the privation of Appalachian communities.

“We are also seeking to learn ways in which communities are working towards a more sustainable future, one that can reduce and perhaps even eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels and the problems created in their extraction, processing and end use,” Nick says.

In addition to public outreach, the Mullins family is visiting various locations that have adopted energy efficient and sustainable living practices in their efforts to find environmental and economic alternatives to coal mining.

As well as his summer internship with us, Nick is also a volunteer distributor of The Appalachian Voice and a guest blogger on the Front Porch Blog. He also has his own blog, The Thoughtful Coal Miner.

Follow the Mullins’ adventures this summer at BreakingCleanTour.org.