Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

May 15, 2014

Learning to block out local negativity

ASHLAND — Growing up in a coal-driven region exposes you to the many negative perceptions other parts of the state and country have about your quality of life.

We have all heard it before: Your father makes a living mining coal? You must be poor. You make a living mining coal? You must be uneducated.

That’s all fine. I have learned to take the comments lightly and go about my business. But to hear these notions are shared with others who grew up in eastern Kentucky disturbs me.

It is graduation season and many students are about to be honored for completing their educational journeys.

I recently met an eastern Kentucky native who later moved to the western end of the state for work. Though I am sure she thought her comments were uplifting and encouraging toward group of past graduates in Pikeville, I found them to be full of unnecessary pity.

She said she was proud of the students who found their way out of poverty and can stand on their own two feet, referring to a class of women who graduated from a technical school in the ’70s and ’80s.

Later, she referenced eastern Kentucky as still being devastatingly poor, with little to no positive prospects for those graduating from the region today.

When I graduated from Pike County Central High School, there was a mix of poor and financially stable families in the school system. But when we were handed our diplomas, our first reactions were not, “Yay, we beat poverty!” It was more like a recognition of reaching a goal in a series of achievements that will build our futures.

Yes, my hometown has its share of poverty to go around, but most people I know do not think of themselves as disadvantaged, like the rest of the state and country want others to believe.

Growing up, the bar was set high for my friends and me. We knew we had opportunities opened to us if we were open to them and willing to work hard.

We built a wall around ourselves that blocked out the negativity people outside our region cast on us, implying we were poor or unskilled. We did not think we were different than students in California, Ohio or Lexington. We were all just kids trying to make something out of ourselves.

But to hear someone who grew up inside the region say comments that imply the bar is set low for eastern Kentuckians is more disturbing than if it had been from someone else.

So, for those growing up in the “poor” towns in the east, do not let anyone, insider or outsider, claim you should be proud to graduate because you are poor or unable to stand on your own. Be proud because you worked hard in school, because you are a smart, intelligent person and because you will go on to make a difference in lives. Be proud because you achieved a step in a series of many more steps you will take in creating a bright future for yourself and your family.

LANA BELLAMY can be reached at lbellamy@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.

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