Friday, May 09, 2008

Poverty is about real people, not politics, Youth Radio essayist says on NPR

Machlyn Blair of Blackey in southeastern Kentucky talked with former Sen. John Edwards last fall about what it's like to live in a poor place, during a stop on the "poverty tour" of Edwards' presidential campaign. When he saw himself on television with Edwards, "My perspective began to shift," the 21-year-old said in an essay on National Public Radio today.

"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. . . . 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."

Blair said he has been unable to go to college and is considering coal mining, the best-paying job in the area. "The coal industry pays miners decent wages to do dangerous work, but the industry also tears down our mountains and pollutes our water," he said. "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."

Blair concludes, "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." To listen to his essay, click here. It was produced by the Appalachian Media Institute and Youth Radio.

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