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Old 07-29-2012, 05:28 PM   #1
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A profile of life in one of the US's poorest counties

Pressing On the Upward Way
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Old 07-30-2012, 03:10 AM   #2
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Great reporting and writing. She avoids the usual trap of exoticizing Southern rural poor people and their communities.
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When Owsley County’s leaders, official and unofficial, talk about what Owsley County needs, they identify different problems all with the same urgency. For the schools superintendent, Tim Bobrowski, it’s essential that the high school prepare students for college, which is difficult to do when you can’t recruit physics or chemistry teachers. Molly Turner, who runs the Owsley County Action Team, wants a new highway that will make it easier for folks to live in the county but work outside it. Molly’s brother, former county executive Cale Turner, argues that the county needs housing—real, solid houses, ones with foundations. Tim’s brother, Nelson, who runs the bank, thinks the town should have more entertainment, like the golf course he helped build, to lure college graduates. (Others in town said that Nelson just likes to golf.) Jamie Brunk, the Methodist minister, believes the town needs a drug-recovery program to halt the rampant use of prescription painkillers. All of them want more young people to stay or, to be more precise, they want more young people to go to college and then come home. They like to say Owsley County needs more energy, and it needs a critical mass of young people to create it.
In terms of what outside funding could help with, surely decent roads to nearby cities--ones that won't wash out in the rain--should be near or at the top of the priority list.

Sounds like the daughter is the most ambitious (not necessarily the most hardworking) person in the family, in view of which it's a little disturbing to read of her mother's determination that she not "forget who she is" (regarding her college choices) and ultimately "work close to home." In cases where there's strong precedent to suggest a child is highly likely to self-destruct leaping too far from home too fast, there might be good reason to strive to talk him/her out of it. But otherwise, it's hard to see such pressure being in his/her best interests. That said, it's perhaps also a bit too easy to dismiss the fear of losing your cultural connections to your own child as mere manipulation, or mere "backwardness." And it's commendable that the mother managed to make good on her grants and complete her education degree, despite obstacles most so-called "traditional" college students could hardly imagine.
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Most people will tell you that two kinds of folks live in Owsley County—those who draw and those who work. There are families who receive aid and families who don’t, and, because the county has only one grocery store left, everyone knows who they are. There are families who send their children to school neat and clean and fed, and those who don’t. It’s easy to think appearances don’t matter, but country poverty has its own wardrobe, and, sometimes, seeming less poor is about clever costume design. When nearly everyone in the county is poor, the distinction between have and have-not becomes meaningless. There are have-very-little’s, but even they wouldn’t always call themselves poor.
Sounds familiar...it's not unlike the role class distinctions play in better-off communities, only among families whose material circumstances are in truth very similar.
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Old 07-30-2012, 07:54 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by yolland View Post
Great reporting and writing. She avoids the usual trap of exoticizing Southern rural poor people and their communities.
I agree. Journalism like this is one of the best forms of social history.
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Old 07-31-2012, 02:59 PM   #4
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That is a really great article, thanks for finding/posting it.

I have driven through that part of Kentucky a few times - we used to drive down to Florida, 2300 km each way, almost on an annual basis when I was younger. I remember the first time we stopped off at a gas station and then at a family restaurant and we were shocked at how cheap everything was. It was like being on another planet. But the area was also eye opening - I can honestly say that I saw nicer towns in very poor areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Really mind boggling.

I also found it pretty impressive that the woman went back to school at her age. I know that it was driven by economics ultimately and improving her lot in life by getting into the school board, but I think probably everyone in that community sees that as an option and I'd bet very few make the same choice. Takes a lot of courage to take yourself out of the work force for 4 years, on a total gamble.
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