Growing up in Kentucky is great. I live in a house on a hill by a church and a pond and live a good life. My parents raised me to appreciate nature, love animals and get an education. My mom once told me that I have lived more in 19 years than some people live in a lifetime, but that's because I have seized every opportunity that has come my way wholeheartedly.
When I would travel outside of my hometown area in southeastern Kentucky or come into contact with "city folk," some would jokingly ask me, "Do you have running water?" after they learned from where was I. In my mind, I would always think: What kind of ignorant being would assume such a thing? But the fact is, there are people who don't have running water. There are people who have dirt floors. There are people who have one pair of shoes to last them all year. It's a harsh and heartbreaking truth, but poverty is prominent in my area. It is a battle that people fight every day, and it should be acknowledged. However, rural, southeastern Kentucky towns aren't just full of "stupid hillbillies," "drug heads," "white trash" or "lazy, check-drawers." Kentucky is full of hard workers.
Diane Sawyer once came out with "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains." Let me just tell you, she and I disagree on a hell of a lot. In this set of episodes, Sawyer portrays "mountain people" as stupid, uneducated and miserable "Mountain Dew Mouths." If you ever feel inclined to watch a documentary that alters your perception of Appalachian people for the very worst, do watch it.
The first time I saw it, I was in fourth or fifth grade, I guess. I was the top reader in my class. I had gotten second place in the science fair. I was doing just fine for an elementary school kid, but then I watched this. Although the poor individuals in the episode did not surprise me, because I had seen what poverty looked like in my classmates, I was ashamed of what people might think of my area.
I was afraid that people might think Kentuckians were all miserable and poor and uneducated. Diane Sawyer made me mad! I was a happy Kentucky girl, and I knew my state better than she did. Kentucky has so much to offer. We have the Kentucky Derby, Mammoth Cave, a Moonbow at Cumberland Falls, the Corvette Factory (the only place that makes 'em), bourbon, Bluegrass music. Hell, we even have the Daniel Boone Festival and the world-famous Chicken Festival. If that ain't livin' high up on the hog, I don't know what is. However, there are lots of stereotypes for people of the south. If you've ever seen "The Beverly Hillbillies" then you know the hillbilly stereotypes to which I'm referring: dumb rednecks with no ambition and more resources than they know what to do with. That is not the case for everybody, though. Kentucky is home to ambitious, hardworking individuals.
I've been witness to people who will never ever leave our small town in Kentucky, but they don't want to. I've also known people who leave so fast they don't stay to see the dust settle behind them. The best people are the ones who put time and effort into making our town better, though. I want people, especially students, to know that if you work hard and get an education, you can choose your own path and get out of a bad situation if you have to. I've busted my ass in school, and I have a great internship, and I go to a great college. Anybody can do that if they want it bad enough. Some of the most successful people I know grew up with dirt floors, rats in the house and "chicken shit on their shoes" (it's an expression, just let it happen). Although those individuals may not be proud that they lived like that, to pull his/herself out of a bad situation like that is remarkable. The best part about those individuals is that they know how hard life can be, so they give back to our community. They contribute for a better tomorrow, as I intend to do.
Kentucky (and the general south) is a wonderful place filled with great people, tasty food and deep history. Yes, we have poverty out the wah-zoo. Yes, we have a drug problem. Yes, we have political issues. Despite all those problems, Kentucky is also full of pride, pride for the betterment of our state. Although I got the hell away from my small town, it's only because the opportunities that I seek are outside the boundaries of the "flood wall" we have. I want to feed my area with opportunity so that people don't have to get away to be successful. I want to help my area. If you know someone who is a "child of the mountains," don't associate them with what you see on television. Get to know the real people of Appalachia. Get to know their stories, their history, their personalities.