Courtesy of Machlyn Blair
Machlyn Blair speaks about poverty with John Edwards during his "One Road to America Tour" in July 2007.
Machlyn Blair speaks about poverty with John Edwards during his "One Road to America Tour" in July 2007. Courtesy of Machlyn Blair
Courtesy of Machlyn Blair
A vacant bus stop in Blackey, Ky.
A vacant bus stop in Blackey, Ky. Courtesy of Machlyn Blair
All my life, when I thought about poverty I thought of those people you see on television, who live in a Third World country, in a shack that might blow over in a strong wind.
After I saw myself on TV last year, standing next to John Edwards during his "One America Tour," my perspective began to shift. It made me realize that when lots of Americans think about poverty they probably think about all the usual stereotypes. Like hillbillies, junked out cars and kids without shoes — they probably think about here.
We get told by outsiders all the time what it's like to live in poverty. By the numbers, by the sad photos, but my story is a lot more complicated than that. For me, living in a community that defines for to the rest of America has actually been pretty great. I've got my own American Dream, and part of that is living on the same piece of land that has been in my family for over 100 years.
I always knew that things didn't add up around here, though. I saw people working hard every day and then going home with nothing. When I was 17, I learned the phrase "the working poor'" — I'm not sure that anything else has made me feel as small as those three words did, because then I started to realize that struggling with poverty wasn't a personal thing, that the whole problem was a lot bigger than me or where I live.
As I get older, living in a poor place feels more and more like being depressed. I can't figure out how to change things, can't go to college. For the past three years, I haven't felt like I was moving forward in life.
I'm thinking about getting a job in the mines. The coal industry pays miners decent wages to do dangerous work, but the industry also tears down our mountains and pollutes our water. I guess that's a part of living in a poor place: feeling like you have to do things that are not the best choices for you or your community. You do it because it seems like the only way you'll survive.
Right now, everyone is talking about a recession — what this country needs and what we don't have. But a lot of that talk seems to be about interest rates on million-dollar homes. And I understand recession is a scary thing for most folks. It's just that where I live, in eastern Kentucky, we're not on the verge of recession; we've been in one for the last 50 years.
The issue of poverty isn't about debates or which political party you're with. There are people here, who are in real need of a new kind of help.
Produced by the Appalachian Media Institute and Youth Radio