Posts Tagged ‘University of Kentucky’

Breaking Bad: Can Kentucky Get There?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Former University of Kentucky president, Lee Todd, coined the term “Kentucky Uglies” to describe the state’s rear-end rankings on lists of most things good and blue-ribbon placement on indicators measuring most things bad. The exceptions are in college hoops and horse racing — but few are content with our state having only those two things on the ball.

We have made tremendous strides in education and addressing our drug abuse epidemic and other struggles, but there’s always more to do. Policymakers, educators, the business community, churches, charities, and average Joes and Janes often express to me what I’ve rephrased in this five-word question: “Can Kentucky ever “break bad?”

Many believe poverty is the root of the ills besetting our commonwealth. Recent U.S. Census Bureau data finds that more than one in four Kentucky children lives in poverty. The nation may ‘have a cold’ in lean economic times, but pockets of Kentucky have caught and are keeping ‘pneumonia.’

The limping national economy has taken its toll on public, private, and individual coffers the last few years, but the plight of the perennially poor in Kentucky has long been a focus of national and state media and those they quote and source. And so it was last weekend in the New York Times Sunday Review by columnist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof presented a narrative of poor families in Breathitt County, Ky., who withdrew their children from literacy classes out of fear they’d no longer qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a monthly government check to parents of a child with an intellectual disability.

The report and Kristof’s commentary about it stoked a response from the Bluegrass state’s leading child advocacy group, Kentucky Youth Advocates. In a rebuttal headlined:“Don’t Pull the Net Out from Children,” author Katie Carter supports Kristof’s rally for more investment in early childhood education programs as a remedy.

But Carter defends the need for safety net programs and scoffs at hints there’s widespread abuse of public assistance. Carter writes “In Kentucky, the families of 29,922 children with disabilities received cash assistance through SSI in 2011. For context, there are a little over one million children in Kentucky, and there were over 100,000 students with some sort of disability in 2010. While any cases of holding a child back from achieving their full potential are disheartening, the data hardly suggest rampant overuse.”

Poverty is complex. It’s situational, generational, geographical, race-based, structural, and behavioral, according to Dr. James “Ike” Adams, the dean of the University Of Kentucky College Of Social Work. We talked about poverty in Kentucky during our “Connections” taping this past September.

“African Americans and people of color are disproportionately beset by poverty, similar to Appalachian regions heavily reliant on a mono-economy,” says Adams. Adams, an Alabama import, now a three-year Kentucky resident, described the Appalachian areas of the state as suffering from structural poverty. “There are simply not enough jobs to accommodate all those who need one,” he adds.

Terry Brooks of Kentucky Youth Advocates said during that same program, that 47 counties in Kentucky are labeled as ‘persistently poor,’ meaning those places have been economically distressed for at least 30 years.

Brooks believes many Kentucky families are working jobs that don’t create bright economic futures. “No state in the country has more children living in homes where neither parent has secure employment, meaning full-time and year-round,” laments Brooks. “It’s not because mom is at home watching Oprah eating bonbons; instead it’s mom holding not one, not two, but three jobs — all part-time, all minimum wage and none with benefits,” he adds.

There are more layers to  poverty than what I’ve laid out here, and different, disparate opinions on why it exists and if/how much government should help. Bill Goodman and I are planning a special program in January about this, entitled “The Price of Poverty in Kentucky.” We’ll both keep you in the loop on that special broadcast. It’s one none of us can afford to miss.

Al Smith, Journalist, Friend, and Mentor

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

For my first “Prompter” blog post, I thought it fitting to pay homage to a journalist, friend, and mentor who’s cheered and nurtured my career and work — Al Smith. We’ve all been eager to read Smith’s memoir, appropriately titled, “WordSmith.”    I won’t spoil the story for you; instead I’ll share a tribute I did in June at the University of Kentucky for Al the night he was recognized with a public service award named in his honor. There are times when I fight to find the right words, but on that occasion, they flowed like water from a spring.

The following is from that speech:

Al inherited me as his coproducer in the latter third of his career at KET. My Friday night dates as co-producer with Al of Comment on Kentucky began in 1997. He peppered me with so many questions about my background, professional and personal. And, after each answer, he’d reply in that seemingly approving, yet still skeptical, coffee-grinder voice, “I see.” It didn’t take long for us to find our groove.

Al would skid into KET each Friday night, an arm full of the week’s papers and notes only he could read. Then he’d dash into the makeup room and hold court with the panel he’d assembled for the night. But Al had a very sensitive side. He instinctively knew who could handle what charge or topic, even if he forgot who he assigned it to.

For viewers, Al’s end-of-show commentary made it clear that he wasn’t just invested and committed to journalism, but to history. Whether he mused about his rural roots, the foibles of leaders past and present, or the state of education, he was endlessly enlightening, amusing, and engaging. Not for his benefit, but ours.

Before Al walked off the Comment set a few years ago, we took a road trip together to his Russellville roots for a piece we produced in his farewell program. I spent the day taping him as me met up with old and new friends who carry on the work he once did in the downtown newspaper there. With his radio pal Don Neagle, he talked about the business and how it has changed, the fight over school consolidation, and better hospitals. When Al walked the streets of Russellville that day, he was a rock star, but his swagger was humble and introspective.

You could see the years of reflection flashing before his eyes. It was moving for me, and I realized in a new way — a more appreciative way — the treasure Al is to Kentucky. A man dedicated to his craft in all its incarnations, to telling the truth, putting up a fight for it, and guiding generations of Kentucky journalists and public servants.

Thank you, Al. Kentucky is better for your service to it!

Editor’s note: Al Smith was the host of Comment on Kentucky, KET’s longest-running public affairs program, for more than 30 years.

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