Op-Ed By Gerry Roll|
In the new world of reality TV, I guess you could call my life “The Real Green Acres.”
You see, about 12 years ago I moved from Palm Beach County Florida to Perry County Kentucky. Unlike so many people
before me, I didn’t move here to save Appalachia, I moved here so Appalachia could save me. I came here to find a
community of hard working folks who cared not only about themselves, but also about each other.
I came here to live in a place where a modest wage will support a modest lifestyle. I came here so my children could go to a
school where everybody knows everybody and the principal calls you at home when they aren’t there. I came here to breathe
clean air. I came looking for my own personal Camelot and I found it.
Now CBS is scouring my county for “The Real Beverly Hillbillies.” Evidently, CBS’s CEO Les Moonves thinks families who
have struggled with poverty for generations and overcome obstacles for survival that would make most urban Americans
cringe is good comedy. I am saddened by his assumption that anyone would think this is entertainment.
Appalachia, just like most of rural America, has all of the same maladies you find in the city. There is homelessness, which
occasionally appears similar to what you see in urban areas - people sleeping on the street, under the bridge, in the car. But
rural homelessness is more often hidden, experienced by families living in severely substandard housing; families doubled and
tripled up so no one is left on their own to freeze.
There is hunger, sometimes experienced by a child taken from a home with no food in the house or no potable water. But
mostly, hunger is hidden, experienced by families whose wages are so low than an inordinate number of them survive on food
stamps, gardening and sharing. And there is drug abuse in Appalachia. Yes, some people sell meth or crack on Main Street,
but more often, people overuse prescription drugs to combat depression and boredom.
In recent years, the problems of rural America - particularly Appalachia - have reached the radar screen for state and federal
initiatives. These programs have recognized our problems and engaged us in coming up with solutions.
Now, just as quickly as rural America gets the attention it deserves, we are threatened with losing the needed initiatives,
because of state and federal budget cuts. Now, just when we were gaining our momentum to truly be a part of the solution -
not just for ourselves, but by showing our entire nation what can happen when you still have a true sense of community - we
must waste precious time fighting backward media moguls who have obviously spent too much time watching TV.
The “Beverly Hillbillies” are fiction. What is real is the meaningful life and work that rural people who still live in community
with one another have. What is real is the responsibility we feel in Appalachia to take care of our own. What is real is the way
we rally around a problem and work towards a solution together. What is real are the high moral standards of hard working
We need good jobs and decent housing, just like the folks in the big cities do. As communities, we are working hard towards
creative solutions to the problems we have. We need people like Mr. Moonves to understand that to build a strong nation, we
have to build strong communities.
That means letting yourself be touched by someone else’s needs, not launching a “hick hunt” to take jabs at a mythical culture.
Rural America is still holding on to one thing our urban counterparts lost long ago, that sense of community. Perhaps CBS
should do a special about that.
Gerry Roll is executive director of Hazard Perry County Community Ministries in Hazard, KY, and a recipient of the Ford
Foundation’s 2002 Leadership for a Changing World award. She may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org,