In the Bible, the book of Deuteronomy tells the story of Moses speaking to the Israelites. They have been set free from bondage; however, they have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years during this time. Finally, Moses tells them a message he has heard from God, “You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn North.” This story has become symbolic of people doing the same thing repeatedly with little to no results. At some point, you would think the people would pause and say this looks familiar. We have been here before. Perhaps it is time for us to take a different route, try another way, or do something new. While this is a biblical story, many find themselves in the same situation, going around the same mountain repeatedly. When you continue to find yourself in similar situations, I believe life is offering you an opportunity to do something different. Life gives you a chance to learn a lesson and move on to the next level.
That is how I feel about Kentucky.
Over the past 48 hours, I have read a lot of criticism about Kentucky. Criticism from people who have never been to Kentucky, have no vested interest in Kentucky, and probably can’t locate Kentucky on a map. What people think about Kentucky is of no interest to me. What Kentucky believes about Kentucky is my focus. Let me be clear, I have and will continue to criticize Kentucky because Kentucky is my home. As James Baldwin said, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Similarly, I love Kentucky, and because of that, I insist on the right to criticize Kentucky perpetually. This is my home and has been home to my family for generations. I am always seeking to challenge Kentucky to be better and the Kentucky that I know we can be.
We find ourselves, like the Israelites, once again at the mountain. We find ourselves once again with the opportunity to stand together, to do things differently. We have the chance to refuse to go around the same mountain.
We had this opportunity before with the pandemic. We were #TeamKentucky, and Governor Beshear often told us during his briefings, “We are in this together.” And I truly wanted to believe that Kentucky was in this together. I wanted to believe that a global pandemic would shift this state, our nation. That we would finally see how interconnected our lives are and work together to lessen the loss of life. We know how that worked out. People refused to stay indoors, refused to wear masks, and made a virus political, and unfortunately, many people died.
Around the mountain again.
We had an opportunity to stand together during the protests for Breonna Taylor. We had a chance to say our state will not be a state where Black people cannot find peace. We had an opportunity to say our state would not be a state where the police harassed Black people. We had the chance to show the nation that we would be a state where compassion and reconciliation were not just lip service. We see how that worked out. Protestors were teargassed, assaulted, and arrested. David McAtee, a beloved community member who was nowhere near the protests, was killed by the National Guard, and no one was held responsible. When it comes to race, we remain a state divided.
Around the mountain again.
And now we find ourselves facing yet another crisis, another time of trauma after the devastating tornado that impacted and, in some towns, decimated entire communities. One town that was hit incredibly hard is Mayfield, Kentucky, where dozens of people are dead. Buildings and homes are destroyed. Lives have been upended by a tornado that swept through the town, leaving destruction in its wake.
A disaster such as the pandemic, the death of Breonna Taylor, and now the Tornado of 2021 always reveals things that we have turned a blind eye to. The tornado pulled back the curtain and revealed a candle company paying employees eight dollars an hour to make candles and fragrances for many of the products we use, such as Febreze. The holidays are a time when many people purchase candles as gifts, use them in their homes, and what are the holidays without spraying a little Febreze so your home can smell like gingerbread or pumpkin spice? I believe that the workers were not permitted to stay home, although it was discussed widely that storms and a tornado were likely in Kentucky, because Christmas is when people purchase many of those products. I believe the greed of some helped contribute to the death of those buried in the candle factory. They died for eight dollars an hour.
Who are we, Kentucky? Are we the type of state that puts our residents in harm’s way for eight dollars an hour so that we can have candles and Febreze? Is that who we are?
This tornado has caused me to look inwardly. And I hope that it is causing all Kentucky residents to look inwardly.
A good friend of mine lost his aunt in the candle factory; however, I do not personally know the people of Mayfield. Yet, I do not need to know the people of Mayfield to know that people are hurting, suffering, and are devastated. I do not have to know the people of Mayfield to care about the people of Mayfield.
Online many people said Kentucky got what it deserved. Mayfield is a predominately White town and overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump and Rand Paul – two people who are not supporters of climate change or (some) states receiving funds from the government after a natural disaster.
Some Kentucky residents wanted to focus on their dislike of Governor Beshear, questioning his ability to handle this crisis. Immediately, people were making the tornado political as if the tornado cares who or what it destroys.
You would think that Kentucky would have gotten that lesson after the pandemic, after the protests, but it looks like that lesson missed a few people. For instance, when I mentioned the company online this person believes I am trying to “score points against a company.” Their focus isn’t on a multi-million dollar company paying Kentucky residents 8 dollars an hour but their focus is on me having the audacity to mention the company.
I shouldn’t be the focus but I understand even in a tragedy some people refuse to see the truth. Some people refuse to pause and ask themselves what lessons can I learn from this?
We again find ourselves at the mountain.
We have an opportunity to decide, do we go around the mountain and remain the same, or do we do something different? Is this a chance for us to stand together or remain divided? Is this a chance for our leaders to point fingers or point this state towards healing? Is this a chance to look at paying a livable wage or continue to pay people eight dollars an hour? Is this a chance for us to really be in this together or care for a week and then go back to our lives, back to our hate, back to our apathy?
We have the chance to emerge from this better. We have an opportunity to genuinely be a community. We have a chance to work together, to show compassion, patience, and understanding. We get to decide who we are at this moment.
We can either do something different or be prepared to go around the mountain once again.
Categories: Thoughts, Musings and Reflections