Tag Archives: kentucky

Re-Imagining Carter County, KY

I’ve talked before on this blog about where I grew up, in Eastern Kentucky. It holds a special place in my heart, as I suppose all childhood homes do, and is a place that I am reminded of often. I am thrilled to see this video, thrilled to see that there is a group working to make the place a better one. If you want to know what it’s like where I grew up, this video is a fantastic place to start.

It does my heart good to see that the community identified the Carter County Library as a vital piece of the rebuilding and re-imagining of the area. Carter County has two “cities” (and I use that word very loosely), Olive Hill and Grayson, with the main library being located in Grayson and a branch library in Olive Hill. My take on the revitalization of the library would include more efforts being throw at Olive Hill, as the town has far fewer other resources for children and adults in the realm of education…read that as “none at all”. Whereas Grayson, as the County seat, has always had more people and more resources.

I’ve also just spent most of this past week at the Aspen Institute Leadership Institute on Library Innovation as a part of their Communications and Society Program. I’m writing a separate post with lots of details on that effort, but one area where I can see Carter County really benefitting is through the new efforts by the FCC to do rural connectivity via fiber optics and the E-rate program. Look for a post on that, and the rest of the Aspen experience, later this week.

Poverty, Libraries, Jobs, Me

A bit earlier today I saw a handful of librarians on Twitter posting a link to a Library Director’s job with what appeared to be an appalling salary of $7.25 an hour.

Each of these tweets have been re-tweeted a dozen or so times as I’m writing this, so people are sharing it. Heck, I clicked through when I saw the salary, curious what sort of place thought they could get someone for that price, and where you could possibly live on that salary.

The answer? Just down the road from where I grew up, that’s where.

Elliot county

So the marker there is the library in question, and the little town north of it that’s circled, that’s my home town of Olive Hill, KY. The library is in the county seat of Elliott County, KY, in a town of just about 600 people called Sandy Hook. Here’s a larger map to give you some additional context about just exactly where this is located.

Elliott County large

 

This part of the world is where I spent the first 22 years of my life, as a kid and teenager in Olive Hill and then as an undergrad at Morehead State University just down the road. If you check the Google Street View of where the Library in question sits,  it is right next to an elementary school where I played basketball as a boy.

So when I say this, I say it with the conviction of someone who knows: there is very, very little likelihood that anyone posting about this on Twitter has ever seen poverty of the sort that they have in Elliott County, KY. Hell, the entire concept of the “War on Poverty” started just down the road from Elliott County, an hour southeast in Inez, KY, where LBJ launched his famous efforts to eliminate poverty in the US.  Elliott County is the 49th Poorest County by Median Household Income in the entire United States of America. For some more reference, the median household income for Sandy Hook in 2010 was $14,313.

If there is anywhere in this country where kids need a library to help them dream, this is that place.

I was curious after seeing this tweet…

…so I decided to take a look. And if this news report is to be believed, it’s true…the poorest postal code in Canada (B1W, the Cape Breton – Eskasoni First Nation) has a median household income of $19,392 Canadian, or $15,401 US. So there is literally not a single place in Canada that is poorer than Sandy Hook, KY.

With that said: should a library director be paid $7.25/hr? No, of course not. But in this part of Kentucky, believe it or not, that is a decent salary. Not because it is objectively an amount of money that someone deserves for doing their job, but only because the area around it has been forgotten. This part of the world has been given up on by the former industries that sustained it, by the clay and the tobacco and the lumber that were the only reasons money ever flowed into the economy of the area in the first place.

This is a place that I love, this Eastern Kentucky. Even now, decades after I left, I can close my eyes and see the soft clay streaking the soil. I can feel the limestone bones that make up the gentle foothills of the Appalachians. I can smell the warmth of a tobacco barn on a Fall evening.

These are people that need help. I hope they find someone for that job that can not only show the children of Elliott County that there is a wider world, but that just maybe one of those kids will find a way to help save my Eastern Kentucky.

Blue in Kentucky

Most people have heard “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, but few have probably heard of the blue people from Kentucky. Seriously. Blue. People.

They’re known simply as the “blue people” in the hills and hollows around Troublesome and Ball Creeks. Most lived to their 80s and 90s without serious illness associated with the skin discoloration. For some, though, there was a pain not seen in lab tests. That was the pain of being blue in a world that is mostly shades of white to black.

There was always speculation in the hollows about what made the blue people blue: heart disease, a lung disorder, the possibility proposed by one old-timer that “their blood is just a little closer to their skin.” But no one knew for sure, and doctors rarely paid visits to the remote creekside settlements where most of the “blue Fugates ” lived until well into the 1950s. By the time a young hematologist from the University of Kentucky came down to Troublesome Creek in the 1960s to cure the blue people, Martin Fugate’s descendants had multiplied their recessive genes all over the Cumberland Plateau.

I grew up just north from Hazard and Perry County, and heard about these genetically interesting folks growing up. I never met anyone with this genetic quirk, but there are still some in the area. Here’s a really well-written story about them, how they came to be so blue, and how they’ve dealt with it. Story is old, but fascinating.