Anyone who was in an elected position on Jan. 1, 2020, could not have known what was coming.
No one signed up for dealing with a global pandemic, a resulting economic slide not seen since the Great Depression, civil unrest and division and more. And we’re less than halfway through the year.
Local officials can add continued misfortune for the coal industry to that list of things with which they’re dealing.
All that adds up to some big issues and some severe uncertainty about the future of not just our nation but also our individual communities.
That being said, while the local responses to all these things have not been perfect, there are few places we’d rather live in dealing with all these things.
Part of that is because of the very nature of our small, spread-out communities, but also a lot of that has to do with the people, including those in leadership.
Our local leaders have not shied from dealing head-on with the effects of all these challenges, any one of which could cause lesser men and women to simply give up. Have they gotten it perfect? No. But there are a lot of signs that our communities in Eastern Kentucky are faring much better than those elsewhere.
We’re well-acquainted with tragedy and disaster, having dealt with numerous incidents throughout our past and over the past few years that have, if not totally prepared us for what we’re facing now, have at least given us a foundation from which we can build.
And our local leaders are showing, many times more adequately than those in power at the national level, that they’re capable of weathering the storm and carrying the people they’re elected to serve forward into the future.
Our local health departments and healthcare providers have taken on challenges they never could have anticipated. Prior to COVID-19, local health department’s communicable disease efforts were mostly focused on things like sexually-transmitted diseases and diseases spread through activities such as sharing needles. A global pandemic was not in the day-to-day duties of our health departments, which were mainly focused on dealing with the various long-term health issues our communities face.
But they’ve not shied away from rolling COVID-19 to the forefront of their efforts. The novel coronavirus has created a series of challenges for our health departments and they’re doing the best they can to prevent the spread of the disease and ensure that what’s happened in New York City doesn’t happen here.
Our local hospitals and doctors have also stepped up, as well, totally changing the way they do business and moving onto the front lines of the war against COVID-19 without hesitation.
As national upheaval has resulted due to longstanding tensions between the black community and police departments, our community also has joined in those voices calling for change and for acknowledgement of the problems.
However, unlike in many communities, throughout Eastern Kentucky those voices have joined together in unity peacefully, putting forth their viewpoints, publicly gathering to mourn for the lost and to call for change without violence. For a very non-diverse place like Eastern Kentucky, it’s a testament to the best of what we have to offer.
All of these things did not happen in isolation. Our local institutions and government agencies are merely a reflection of what we are.
There’s a lot of negative stereotypes about Eastern Kentucky, in fact there’s too many to list here. But the one thing that often gets overlooked is the way we tend to come together, to take care of each other, despite differences and any kind of division.
In disaster, in times of stress and strain, we often turn our attention from inward to outward, seeking to help others, even as our own needs go unaddressed. That’s just the nature of people in the mountains. We tend to be caring, to be people of faith, to be people of action when it comes to meeting others’ needs.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone. But, for the most part, our people are caring and community-minded and want to see our neighbors taken care of.
Again, we’re facing a lot of challenges and the future looks incredibly uncertain from where we stand. However, we know that we don’t stand alone and that our past tells us that, just as our forebearers did in an unforgiving terrain that few could weather, we will get through whatever is thrown at us.