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Just A Dumb, Red-Neck Hillbilly

Just A Dumb, Red-Neck Hillbilly

"You are just a dumb hillbilly!" When I was a kid growing up, I heard this all the time. I do something that will be considered something that I love and right there was a person saying, “Just who do you think you are?? You’re nothing more than just a dumb hillbilly!” All through the stages of my life I have heard it time and time again. You see, I grew up in Eastern Kentucky.  More specifically, Clay County, Eastern Kentucky. If you look at any of the national demographics today, you find that quite often my home county is listed as one of the 3 to 5 poorest counties in the nation.

There was this one kid that continued to remind me that no matter what I did or accomplished, I was still just a redneck from Clay County.  We might call it bullying today.  It didn’t seem to matter to this person that he also was from the same county and the same neighborhood.  He just seemed to delight in telling me I was just a dumb hillbilly. He was bigger, stronger and what he said seemed to be correct.  I wasn’t much, and wasn’t ever going to amount to much, so why even try. 

Before I go any further, let me tell you about some of the people who may have been told that they were dumb hillbillies from eastern Kentucky, but today each of them are making an incredible difference. Meet Danny Finley. Danny and I grew up and went to high school together. Danny was an excellent guitarist and even today plays a multitude of different instruments. Danny saw the many deaths that were happening in Clay County were because of opiate abuse and overdose. He knew that he was never going to be able to stop that completely, but he was certainly going to try. Several years ago he was elected coroner. For many people, when they think about the coroner, they believe that he has little to do than a look at the body and say, “Yep…he’s dead!”   Danny took his job much more seriously than that.  He worked with local, state and federal law enforcement to help stop drug dealers who were simply drug dealers with M.D. after their name.  Is a drug problem is still prevalent in Clay County today? Yes it is. However there are some folks who have their sons and daughters, their moms and dads, their brothers and sisters alive today, solely because of the work that one man has accomplished and continues to accomplish today.  Not bad for a dumb, redneck hillbilly if you ask me!

May I introduce you to Dr. Aaron Thompson?  Dr. Thompson is a vice-president with the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.  I grew up with Dr. Thompson and attended high school with him.  In fact, both he and I sang in a gospel group called The Glorylanders.  Aaron has deep roots in Clay County, and has worked tirelessly to better education for all students in the Commonwealth, but especially those in the mountainous regions of Kentucky.  Aaron grew with the normal challenges of living in a poor county, but he had an additional challenge in that he was an African American in a very Caucasian county.  I love to listen to him tell about the influence that his mother had upon him and how she instilled the work ethic that he has today to drive himself more and more to become the leader that he is today.  When speaking to education leaders at all levels of government, his reputation is very well known. 

Lest you think that only members of the male gender from the mountains accomplish anything, meet Carol.  Carol is a valued member of the branch of state government that oversees the care of the foster and adoptive children within that system.  This is why I choose not to reveal her full name as to do so may place her in jeopardy.  I have listened to the stories that she shares about the many children found within damaged and dysfunctional homes and the work that she does in getting these children into a more stable environment.  Having graduated from Cumberland College, now University of the Cumberlands, she has to occasionally work weekends at a second job to supplement the small salary that social workers within the Commonwealth typically receive.  I would suspect that if you asked her why she does it, why she puts up with what she does, the long hours, occasional threats from less than thrilled abusive parents AND a low salary, she would point back to the young people in the county that are better off today because this one strong mountain lady stood up and said, "no longer!" 

As I close this blog post, understand that if you hear that same kid that I did and when you want to improve your knowledge and education, think about these three.  Above many obstacles, they arose to become a reckoning force within their communities.  As for that bully of a kid that I spoke of at the beginning of this post, that was actually me and the self-talk that I told myself on a regular basis.  He still shows up every now and then, but perhaps not so strangely, he is much smaller and less of a threat these days!

Published on June 06, 2016

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