Utilize Our Strengths & Build on Our Weaknesses

By: Anthony Watson

A quarter of children in Alabama live in poverty. More than 10 percent live in extreme poverty.

More than 75 percent of public school eighth graders can’t read or complete math at their level.

But that’s okay, right? Because students don’t get pissed off at that, we furrow our brows over the lack of ice cream in Trojan Dining. We’re pissed off because we don’t get our refunds back in a timely manner.

We’re lucky to be studying at an institution when a large majority of our peers couldn’t even dream of getting in to Troy, let alone pay for it.

I read an article on care2.com that ranked the worst states to spend your childhood, and guess what? Alabama was in the top five. Kaiser Health compiled “state-level data on Medicaid and food-stamp enrollment and the numbers help paint a bleak picture for child poverty in this country.”

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which measures quality of life issues like health care, education and poverty, Alabama has ranked “in the bottom eight states in the Kids Count survey in each of the past 10 years — coming in at 48 out of the 50 states six times.”

The thing I wonder is: “how many of my peers came from absolutely nothing?” Judging by reactions and everyday conversations, not many of you, because if you had this would piss you off. I get pissed off at the statistics above. I get pissed off at mediocrity. Not being ranked among the best infuriates me.

I remember when I used to travel I would deny being from Alabama. I would always claim North Carolina or Florida (I couldn’t get rid of the accent, so I couldn’t be from Massachusetts) because I was ashamed of where I was from. It wasn’t until I met a gay couple flying back from Ecuador this Christmas break that being proud of where you come from was something to think about.

They’d been together for 25 years, and we talked about traveling, the changing scope of journalism, the 2008 economic crash (one of them was a former investment banker for Bank of America) and I filled them in on Alabama’s history. I’ll never forget what the banker said to me.

“You have to be a champion of where you’re from,” he said. “You’re traveling, you’re meeting new people and they’re forming and basing their opinions of your state off of your actions.”

And this got me thinking: “Alabama really could be a wonderful place. We have the richest soil in the world, we’re the only state in the union that can produce iron from start to finish and, somehow, we have some of the most intelligent people coming out of our state (Tim Cook, Jimmy Wales, etc), yet we can’t seem to solve our most basic problems?”

Why is this? Why do we provide such a bleak future for our people? My uncle and I were installing a wood burning stove in a shipping container turned cabin the other weekend, and I asked him why he moved to Texas.

“Because there’s nothing here,” he said. “No jobs, no opportunities and no people who want to step up and try to solve the state’s problems.”

We’ve been called “the Detroit of the South” because of all the automobile plants that have located within the state, but let me ask you this: What happens in 50 years when automotive jobs move somewhere else? Then we’ll be just like Detroit now – a sinking population, rising crime and even less opportunities than before.

We’re struggling to keep up today, but a bright tomorrow is possible if we can utilize our strengths and build on our weaknesses as a society and culture.

The idea for which this nation stands will not survive if the highest goal free man can set themselves is an amiable mediocrity,” said John W. Gardner, a marine during World War II and former cabinet member of Lyndon Johnson. “Excellence implies striving for the highest standards in every phase of life.

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