I am also protective of those things. That is why I get so infuriated and frustrated when the national media and journalists from the "outside" come into our mountains and portray the area as a wasteland. The main stream media has for decades portrayed the people of the mountains as backward, uneducated, dirty, poor and lazy. I admit that I expect the worst when I see a media van or hear about the latest prime time news show coming in to do a special report. I have seen them before, and they are NEVER positive. They come in with a VERY narrow scope, visit the worst communities in the region, portray that as "standard," offer no suggestions as to how to help, exploit families and, especially, the children, shake their heads and cluck their teeth at "those poor, barefoot hillbillies" and leave. Nothing happens. Nothing except that stereotypes are perpetuated, self esteem is made even lower, and our children question their worthiness of access to education and something better. In a nutshell, they exploit the people and the region.
With that said, Diane Sawyer and ABC is responsible for the latest focus on Appalachia. She specifically visited Martin County, Kentucky, and Harlan County (MY county) to film families and coal miners. I watched an interview Ms. Sawyer did on The View promoting the piece, and after seeing it...well, let's just say I'm not optimistic. She discussed how the babies' teeth are all rotting because the mothers spend their money on Pepsi cola to put in their bottles instead of milk. She talked about how the children of the region are "forgotten," and apparently no one in the region is capable of doing anything about it because we're ALL uneducated, poor and helpless. A friend told me that the first question she actually asked one of the families was, "So, tell me about the incest" (Does it sound like this reporter has allowed stereotypes to affect her professionalism? I can't even COMMENT about this!). She drones on and on about the drug problem that has infested the mountains and how nearly every family is affected by it.
I have a news flash for Ms. Sawyer. You can go to any region in this country and find a drug problem. You can go to any region and find people who are poor and uneducated. THIS is not an "Appalachian" problem, this is an American problem. Does she discuss the programs like the University of Kentucky's Robinson Scholars, a scholarship program that awards full scholarships and assists children of the mountains in gaining access to higher education? No. Does she talk about the cuts to programs that would help buy food for families who need it, provide medical and dental care to children, or train injured miners to work in other fields? I doubt it. Does she discuss how outsiders come into our mountains and threaten the livelihood of our people because they disagree with coal mining and its effects on the environment? I would be completely shocked. Most people who disagree with underground mining do so because they are not informed and educated well enough about the industry to know better. Environmentalists, don't get me wrong, have their place and do much good, but they have also helped to shut down mining production in our region that puts food on the tables of many families. Mining, when done carefully and within certain parameters, DOES NOT harm our environment. It does NOT threaten wildlife or watershed when done the right way. Again, many environmentalists, just as the journalists, go in with that narrow scope and report ONE VERSION of the issue. What happened to full, fair and accurate reporting?
I had the PLEASURE of working with the UK Robinson Scholars Program for nearly a decade. During that time, I worked with hundreds of "Children of the Mountains." While there were certainly families who did not have much and struggled to get by, there were also families who thrived. I bet you won't find ONE of those families in Ms. Sawyer's report. I bet you will not see her highlight any of those students who have gone to college, graduated and moved back to the mountains because they love it there and want to help the region. Many are doctors and lawyers and dentists and physical therapists and teachers. They work in the fields of forestry and engineering. THEY are a product of the region as much as the other families in Ms. Sawyer's report. Are they highlighted in a special segment? Of course not.
I am skeptical. I do not believe that this report will be any better than any of the others that came before. Another exploit. Another slap in the face of our people and our region. Another national airing of something that will only perpetuate the stereotypes we have fought so hard against our entire lives. Am I bitter? Probably. Am I angry? You bet I am.
So...Friday night, 10pm eastern, 9pm central. I'll probably be seething. But I can only hope that Ms. Sawyer is professional enough of a journalist to report accurately and fairly. So far, it doesn't look hopeful.
Here's the link to the promo. Try not to cringe when you see it.
Photographs above are courtesy of (in order): www.ky.gov website, flikr.com. Harlan County Mountain range, the Harlan County Courthouse in downtown Harlan, Aerial view of the City of Harlan, Underground miners in Harlan County.
The photos below were taken the last time Michael and I visited home...Harlan. Most are taken from the top of Pine Mountain on Little Shepherd Trail.
My mountains...aren't they beautiful?
Rebel Rock, Little Shepherd Trail
Michael and Max (can you find him) exploring one of the rock formations.
Because we were visiting in winter, we could see views that just aren't possible in the summer when all the leaves are on the trees.
The Mountains at Twilight. Beautiful, rugged, hauntingly enchanting, breathtaking.
So, this former Child of the Mountains will leave it at this for now, and reserve my next comments for Saturday morning after I have had time to calm down.