On June 26, 2014 the New York Times published yet another story about poverty in eastern Kentucky, the place we proudly call home. The story’s headline screamed “What’s the Matter with Eastern Kentucky?” The opening paragraphs set the article’s tone:
“There are many tough places in this country: the ghost cities of Detroit, Camden and Gary, the sunbaked misery of inland California and the isolated reservations where Native American communities were left to struggle. But inits persistent poverty, Eastern Kentucky — land of storybook hills and drawls — just might be the hardest place to live in the United States. Statistically speaking.
“The [New York Times], compiled six basic metrics to give a picture of the quality and longevity of life in each county of the nation […] Weighting each equally, six counties in eastern Kentucky’s coal country (Breathitt, Clay, Jackson, Lee, Leslie and Magoffin) rank among the bottom 10.”
We’d be lying if we didn’t say that seeing this hurt. Sadly, we’ve seen this kind of story before- often! Media outlets all over the world love to come to our home region and report about its negatives. It’s as if poverty didn’t exist in places like New York. Worse, it’s as if, as with the poverty in places like New York, there’s not another story. We occasionally read the NY Times in these hills, and we enjoy the stories of successful businesses and entrepreneurs that rise above that city’s poverty.
Like New York, we too have another story. A hopeful story. A story of progress told by entrepreneurs and business owners, progressive citizens and movers and shakers, young turks eager to change their communities from the inside out.
Rather than wait on the New York Times to tell that story, we’ve decided to start telling it ourselves. Through words, photos, tweets, social media, and video, we will soon be launching a web effort to tell the tales of entrepreneurs living in eastern Kentucky. We’ll begin with one each from the 6 eastern Kentucky counties the Times reported as being in the bottom 10.
Through these entrepreneurs’ stories, we hope to present a different picture about this region’s quality of life, progress and hope. By celebrating these entrepreneurial successes, we hope to inspire more people in our region to adopt entrepreneurship as a way of life. And by highlighting these people’s interesting careers and lives, we hope to start a discussion in the media about a different side of the region than the one they so often choose to report.
This effort will be anchored around a soon-to-be-launched web site: ekyhelpingourselves.com , a play on the Times’ particularly hurtful graphic of a Kentucky license plate with the words “Help Me” stamped on it. The point: Eastern Kentucky entrepreneurs are helping themselves. They’re taking the bull by the horn and creating businesses and enterprises that provide a good living. And they’re doing all of it here because they believe this region is one of the best places to live in America, not the worst.
Johnathan Gay is the Director of the Kentucky Innovation Network office in Morehead. He supports entrepreneurs and works to promote entrepreneurship across the region. Johnathan is assisting these entrepreneurs in their grassroots effort. The group expects their page to launch sometime over the next two weeks. For updates, please visit their Facebook page by searching for “eky helping ourselves.”