Recently, a column in USA Today ranked Knox and surrounding counties in their list of “Top 25 Worst Counties to Live In” in the nation. In their list, Knox ranked #16, while Bell County came in #9 and Clay County #6.
The criteria this editorial was based on included:
• 5-year population change;
• Poverty rate
• Bachelor’s degree attainment
• Life expectancy.
While this “ranking” puts our region in a dismal light, it doesn’t tell the whole story about where we call home.
Sure, the editorial went viral, as anything of a negative nature surely does. Stories of this nature feed into the social media “must be fact” mentality, and many people share it and say “This is why I don’t live there anymore” or “I can’t wait to get out of this place.”
What USA Today’s columnists don’t say is what makes our communities unique. It doesn’t tell the stories of rich heritage and history. I’m not talking about “rich” as in money. I am talking about “rich” in LIFE. People who are from here, and many who’ve made this their home over the years, know there is a vast history that includes love, close families, tight-knit communities, strong work ethic, and a claim to some of the most pioneering history of America’s past.
People don’t live here because we’re supposedly among the worst places to live. People live here because they don’t want to live in the big city. They don’t want to be elbow-to-elbow with their neighbors. They don’t want the hustle and bustle of life in a metropolis.
People value privacy. They value the beautiful mountains and rivers around us. They value the clean air that we so easily take for granted.
Sure, we have problems. We have serious economic issues. We have a drug epidemic that is taking the lives of our loved ones daily. We don’t all have PhDs, and we don’t make a lot of money. But those bullet points don’t paint the complete story of who folks are in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky.
I challenge other media to look for the deeper stories to tell. Talk to the people who live here. It’s easy to paint a negative picture based on narrowly-chosen statistics.